The Futility and Foolishness of the Gospel


For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

–1 Corinthians 1:18-19

Lately, I have been debating the Gospel…


…with people who believe in the state of sinless perfection in this life (…yes, unfortunately, it’s true), a belief that is otherwise known as “phenomenal perfectionism.” And while they won’t come right out and admit it, some of them think that they are getting pretty close to arriving at this glorious point. In speaking to people with this perspective, it has always been interesting to see just how much the Gospel has been denigrated. How the emphasis has been shifted. How the message is lost. In a very real sense, the Cross has all but disappeared. Also along with this perspective, one is hit by the apparent sense of spiritual pride, arrogance, and unmitigated estimation of their own self-righteousness.

So far, I have not been able to figure out a way to break through this high and thick barrier. The Gospel seems almost futile in reaching them. It seems as if they are beyond it and are now without need of an immediate Savior. Oh, at times they mouth the right words, but their heart does not seem to be in it. Somehow, the words and protestations seem to ring very hollow.

But in my thinking and researching an approach to answer this spiritual conundrum, I came across this thought from Luther:

“A preacher should know how to make a right difference between sinners.” –[that is] between the impenitent and confident [sinners] and the sorrowful and penitent; otherwise the whole Scripture is locked up. When Amsdorf began to preach before the princes at Schmalcalden, with great earnestness he said, ” The gospel belongs to the poor and sorrowful, and not to you princes, great persons, and courtiers that live in continual joy and delight, in secureness, void of all tribulation.”  –Luther’s Table Talk.

Luther and Amsdorf have conclusively hit upon the answer, “The gospel belongs to the poor and sorrowful.” Not to the self-complacent, spiritually prideful, arrogant and the self-righteous. No, in fact, the Gospel is “hid” to these people; it is “foolishness” to them.

I am reminded of a very old story about a missionary who discovered residing all along the Malabar coast an ancient sect of Syrian Christians. Their number at the time was about three hundred thousand, and they called themselves the Christians of St Thomas. Further, these Christians claimed to have sprung from the preaching of St. Thomas himself.

In one of their out-of-the-way churches there is a very ancient tablet which has become an object of interest. The tablet, which is set into the wall, shows a cross with an inscription beneath in some dead, unknown tongue. When an official of the church was asked what the inscription meant “He didn’t know.” Surprisingly, none of them knew.” The Inscription is, it is believed, to be in the Pehlavi language, a long extinct dialect of the ancient Persian tongue, and it has since been translated as to its meaning.” “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ Jesus my Lord.” But the language which was before their eyes, day after day, was as dead to them as the truth it expressed.

I guess what I am saying is that for many of these highly religious and pietistic sounding people, the Gospel really has very little significance. There is simply no way it can compute in their minds. It is a message to them that is as alien as the righteousness it promises.

So I cannot communicate the Gospel here, they are not ready yet. The Holy Spirit will have to do its work in opening the heart, so that others can water. It breaks my heart, but I will have to remember that…

“…if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. –2 Corinthians 4:3-4

Hidden Gospel, and very lost, but perhaps only for now.

Written by Michael W. Pursley