January 27, 2009

Is the Message of Salvation in Luke’s Gospel?

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

Many of you are familiar with the on-going series by Pastor Tom Stegall, The Tragedy of the “Crossless” Gospel that appears at the Grace Family Journal (GFJ).

The series has reached its ninth edition and appears in a Special Edition of the GFJ. Today, however, I want to direct your attention to the eighth edition of the series, which appears in the Fall 2008 edition of the GFJ. The article addresses some of the incredible statements coming from the Grace Evangelical Society’s Crossless gospel advocate by Bob Bryant.

In the opening paragraph Pastor Stegall introduces the article with,

In seeking to defend one axiom of the crossless position, namely that the Gospel of John is the only evangelistic book in the Bible, Bryant explained at the last national conference of the Grace Evangelical Society why the Gospel of Luke cannot be evangelistic.
Following is an extended excerpt from the series:

Yet, it is incredible that those who hold to the crossless position have a completely different impression of Luke’s Gospel. Some crossless gospel proponents believe that an unsaved individual who is seeking salvation from the Lord may not even be able to find the “saving message” in the Gospel of Luke. For example, regarding the evangelistic use of the popular “Jesus Film,” which is based on the Gospel of Luke, Bob Bryant says:
To their credit, they go to the Gospel of John after presenting the life of Christ through the Gospel of Luke. But you know what? They had to, because there’s not a verse in Luke that they could go to (audience laughter). There’s not one, to my knowledge. And to their credit, and I mean this, to their credit, they come to the Gospel of John at the beginning and end of the film to present the message.
Does the Gospel of Luke omit the “saving message” that Bryant is requiring? It seems crossless apologists are setting up a false standard and then imposing it upon the rest of Scripture.

The Thief on the Cross

The message of salvation is also set forth in Luke’s Gospel through the account of the thief on the cross. In
Luke 23:39-43, Luke records a powerful lesson in deathbed conversion. It is never too late, in this lifetime, to receive salvation by believing in Jesus as the Christ. One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus expresses his unbelief, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us” (23:39). The unbelieving crowd gathered around the cross utter the same taunt of disbelief (23:37). Both the criminal next to Jesus and the unbelieving bulls of Bashan encircling the Lord express in ironic terms the whole point of Calvary. By not coming down from the cross and saving Himself the Lord Jesus actually was providing salvation! This transparent truth is recorded in all of the Gospels (Matt. 27:40-43; Mark 15:29-32; John 19:17-22) for the reader to understand the true meaning of Jesus being “the Christ.”

But amidst the people’s unbelief and blasphemies present at Calvary, something wonderful happens in the heart of the other criminal next to Jesus. He fears God (23:40) and recognizes that he is a sinner being justly condemned (23:40-41). He even believes in the innocence of Jesus, exclaiming, “
this Man has done nothing wrong” (23:41). He then expresses his faith in Jesus as the Christ, saying, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (23:42). To say that a man dying on a cross is “Lord” and will possess a “kingdom” is an obvious expression of faith in Jesus Christ. For the thief to say that the dying Lord will enter His kingdom also means that Christ must rise from the dead. Based on such a lucid example of faith in Christ, the Lord promises him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise” (23:43). Has ever a greater promise been spoken? Can this great guarantee not be repeated to every soul in our day who believes in Jesus Christ? Is this not saving truth?

While this timeless story of salvation does not set forth the content of the “
saving message” in explicit terms, it contains far more than most crossless advocates are willing to admit. Implicitly, by way of the thief’s example, it teaches that the lost must recognize their need for salvation, that they are sinners before God and justly condemned (Rom. 1:18-3:21). It teaches the innocence of Christ and His deity (“Lord”). Through the rhetorical use of irony, the Lord’s death is a saving event and the very essence of what it means to be “the Christ.” The resurrection is implied, and the condition of faith alone in Christ alone is clearly illustrated by the thief’s example. There is no baptism, church membership, commitments to serve, or even coming forward at an altar call required. So, does this passage contain the “saving message?” Is this merely discipleship truth that is being conveyed which is non-evangelistic? Could a lost person be saved by reading the story of the thief on the cross, especially if he or she has also read the content of Luke’s Gospel leading up to Luke 23:39-43? Some crossless advocates aren’t sure. In fact, they’re not even sure if lost souls have ever been born again through the story of the thief on the cross. Bob Bryant explains this unfortunate doctrinal conclusion:
And I would hope, and would like to think, that perhaps there have been people that have read this story of the thief on the cross and have come to believe in Jesus for their eternal well-being, uuhh, I don’t know.

You can download The Tragedy of the “Crossless” Gospel, Part 8 in PDF form by visiting The 2008 Grace Family Journal and scrolling down to Fall 2008.


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