Summary: A Look at the Content

In ‘The Gospel According to Jesus,’[1] Pastor John MacArthur examines the various Biblical teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and compares them to the modern evangelistic method. We live in a society today that, by-and-large, has accepted the notion that one can accept Christ as Savior of their life, without acknowledging Him as Lord and Master as well. The latter has been deemed either an optional or even unnecessary component to the Gospel message, and many have rejected its claims based on a misleading interpretation of Christ’s own teachings. So we must ask, what exactly did Christ teach in regards to His own Gospel? Do the claims made by modern evangelicals hold to the flame of Christ’s own message? Or are many being misled with false hope and assurance of a conversion that holds no ground in the face of clear, Biblical teaching? How are we to live in light of Christ’s call to ‘take up the cross,’ or ‘follow’ after Him, and what does it mean to be a ‘doulos’ of Christ? Also, what do we make of the parables of the Kingdom, the individual dialogues and messages, or even the Sermon on the Mount? Are these to be interpreted as a radical call to obedience and submission to the rule and reign of Christ, or are they whimsical sayings meant for a more ‘rugged’ brand of Christian? Or do certain teachings on Christian conduct only apply themselves to believers living in the future Millennial Kingdom?

‘The Gospel According to Jesus’ is divided into five main sections. First, it begins by examining the ‘climate’ of modern contemporary evangelicalism. It is widely claimed that salvation is a mere intellectual acceptance of certain Gospel facts, which requires no formal commitment or obedience on the part of the believer. This, as Pastor MacArthur explains, is a perversion of the Gospel according to Jesus. In response, he confronts the various theological and interpretive approaches/conclusions made by such evangelicals throughout the book. We also are introduced to the concept of ‘Lordship Theology,’ which denotes the absolute, sovereign rule and dominion that Christ holds over all of creation. This has special relevance to the believer as we are called to be slaves (doulos) under Christ’s divine Lordship. This is a reoccurring theme throughout the book, as Pastor MacArthur seeks to provide defense against those who attack the Lordship of Christ and the rightful place it has in the believer’s life.

The second section deals with specific encounters that the Lord had during His public ministry. Familiar accounts include His discourse with Nicodemus (Ch. 3), the woman at the well (Ch. 4), and the rich young ruler (Ch. 7). In each of these, Pastor MacArthur seeks to shed light on the truth of Christ’s teaching with regard to how He presented the Gospel. It is often concluded, by some, that because certain elements of the ‘Lordship mandate’ seem to be omitted from these encounters, then it is safe to say that they are an unnecessary component of evangelism. Such proponents suggest that Christ taught a form of ‘easy-believism’ and required belief in the facts He presented, rather than radical obedience and submission. For example, concerning Christ’s encounter with Nicodemus, there are those who make the claim that Christ was offering Nicodemus a form of faith that did not require deep commitment or practical repentance. Instead, MacArthur emphasizes the clear notion that Christ was seeking to deconstruct all that Nicodemus stood for as a Pharisee. He was commanding him to denounce his ‘spurious faith, his works-based religion, his Pharisaical righteousness, and his biblical illiteracy,’[2] in exchange for the humiliation of being born again under Christ’s yoke. This is the case in all of such encounters that Jesus had. He did not offer an easy form of believism but gave difficult demands which required a deep commitment to His sovereign Lordship.

The third section deals with the various parables that Jesus told, which illustrate essential elements of the Kingdom. The introduction of such parables indicates a shift in the way Jesus taught. No longer did he proclaim ‘to Israel that the kingdom was at hand. Now the call He issued was for individuals-Jews as well as Gentiles- to surrender in faith to the yoke of His Lordship.’ [3] Interesting to note, the parables were told in a way specifically designed to keep the uncommitted from understanding.[4] Thus, He spoke of the four soils, which emphasizes the condition of the heart when it is presented with the Gospel. The wheat and the tares, which, rather than contrasting the nature of those who experience true and false conversion within the church, provides a framework of how we are to respond to the reality of sinners in the world. This is particularly relevant given that this parable is often used as a means of excusing the activities of ‘carnal’ church members, rather than exercising the Church’s mandate of discipline and expulsion.

The fourth section consists of the examination of Christ’s discourses to the multitudes. Pastor MacArthur explores ‘the principal themes that flavored Jesus’ discourses, and weigh[s] the popularized gospel of today against the Savior’s own teaching.’[5] It is in these accounts where we find some of the clearest public teachings of Christ’s gospel. As such, we encounter such themes as repentance, true faith, justification, judgment, discipleship, and of course, Lordship. As Pastor MacArthur successfully proves, Christ did not hold back any of these when speaking to the multitudes of lost Israelites as being foundational to salvation. To say, as many do, that these crucial elements of Christ’s own teaching are for a more rugged brand of obedient Christian, rather than the whole sum, is preposterous and misses the clear approach that Christ took in evangelism.

Section five consists of a brief chapter highlighting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Pastor MacArthur concludes our journey by emphasizing the sovereignty of Christ through His work on the cross. When He announced ‘It is finished,’ it was a definitive word, thus securing salvation for all those who come to Him in faith and humble submission to His divine Lordship.

Annotated Quotations

  1. Doulos,’ as MacArthur explains, ‘speaks of slavery, pure and simple… It describes someone lacking personal freedom and personal rights whose very existence is defined by his service to another.’ (p. ) This is a radical idea in today’s society, and we seem to be quick to shy away from such language. Yet, it is exactly the kind of relationship that Christ has called us to have with Him. He is the Master, and we are His slaves. This term denotes the idea that we are in complete subjection to His rule and desire for our lives. Our will, our desires, and our personal philosophies on life mean nothing in the face of His ultimate rulership. He is the great Sovereign unto to whom we owe our entire existence. Psalm 123:2 says, ‘as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master…so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till He has mercy upon us. (ESV). The Greek Septuagint translates the English word ‘servants’ here as doulos. Here we see that the sum of our reprieve is attributed as coming directly from the hand of our Lord, as we are literally at His mercy. Thus, it is an unambiguous notion that slavery to Christ is not optional but presents itself as a foundational element of the Christian faith. Furthermore, we are slaves to the perfect Master, and Christ has gone so far as to call us friends, under the condition that we keep His commandments (cf. Jn. 15:14-15).
  2. In commenting on Christ’s encounter with the rich young ruler, MacArthur says, “We have no business preaching grace to people who do not understand the implications of God’s law. It is meaningless to expound on grace to someone who does not know the divine demand for righteousness. Those who do not even sense their own guilt cannot possibly comprehend God’s mercy. You cannot preach a gospel of grace to someone who has not heard that God requires obedience and punishes disobedience.” (p. 96). This young ruler is the perfect example of this principle. He stood firm in the proclamation of his own righteousness (see Mt. 19:18-20), yet when Christ pressed further into this young man’s heart by plucking the string of his deepest idol (namely greed and covetousness), he was unable to bear the weight of such demands. Thus, ‘he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.’ (v. 22). The Gospel of grace had no place in this man’s life, as he was not even willing to admit his desperate need for such grace. His self-righteousness spirit had left no room for the need of repentance and forgiveness and indeed left him with an even greater burden after his encounter with Christ.
  3. While discussing the words of Christ in Matthew, chapter seven, MacArthur notes that “Pursuing the standard of perfection does not mean we can never fail. It means that when we fail we deal with it. Those with true faith will fail- and in some cases, fail pathetically and frequently- but a genuine believer will, as a pattern of life, be confessing sin and coming to the Father for forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Perfection is the standard; direction is the test. If your life does not reveal growth in grace and righteousness and holiness, you need to examine the reality of your faith- even if you believe you have done great things in the name of Christ.” (p. 215). In context, he has been speaking about the ‘many’ who will be turned away from the kingdom on the day of judgment. This includes those who would have considered themselves ‘church folks’ and lived, for the most part, moral and dignified lives. Here MacArthur offers hope for those who struggle under the weight of their own sin. Certainly, we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:48), yet the Lord knows the great weakness of our flesh. As quoted, ‘perfection is the standard, direction is the test.’ There are going to be times of failure (even great failure) in the Christian life but Christ offers to carry us through it all. This is not license to sin, for as the Apostle said, ‘Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?’ (Rom. 6:1). The answer is an astounding no. May it never be! The child of God will be one who mourns over such sin that remains in his life and this, in itself, is evidence of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Difficult Concepts and Areas of Increased Personal Understanding

As already noted, in Christ’s parable of the wheat and the tares, it is often concluded that this is a call to allow carnal church members to grow alongside the faithful within the confines of the Church. Yet, as pastor MacArthur contends, there is no such warrant for this claim. In 1 Corinthians, Paul provides us with clear teaching that we are to avoid those who name the name of Christ and yet live in blatant, unrepentant sin.[6] This is a divine mandate to the Church, which keeps sin from leavening the congregation. Thus, it cannot be that Christ would encourage such a forbearing of sin when Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, strictly commanded against it. This, although not an entirely new concept for me, was one that I had not fully developed in my study of Scripture. I always thought that the popular interpretation of this text was a bit off, but had never had the true teaching so thoroughly explained. Christ’s words here were not it any way contradicting Paul’s, but rather confirming their validity. In 1 Corinthians chapter five, when Paul instructs the Church to have no fellowship with sexually immoral people, he clarifies this by saying ‘not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world… since then you would need to go out of the world.’ (1 Cor. 5:10). It is implied that we will have frequent contact with those of the world who are living in unrepentant sin. These are the tares of Christ’s parable. These are those to whom our ministry is directed. What Christ is saying is that we are not to seek riddance of these tares through ‘political or military crusade… [but rather we are] to be ambassadors for Christ, [and] emissaries of His mercy and grace. ’[7] This also places a major damper on the post-millennial worldview, which has as its aim the church militant taking hold of the world, Christianizing it, and thus ushering in the return of Christ. As the text says, ‘Let both grow together until the harvest (judgment).’ (Mt. 13:30).

Personal Application

Overall, I have found ‘The Gospel According to Jesus’ to be a priceless tool in both personal examinations and further equipping in evangelistic efforts. Concerning the former, I have heard Pastor MacArthur preach on many of the subjects in this book, but never have I carefully examined and interacted with the material in this way. I found the chapters dealing with the parables especially helpful being that Pastor MacArthur provided generous historical details which made them come alive in a new way. On top of this, I found myself in constant examination of my own heart while interacting with the material. The message of Christ is extremely weighty, and no part is to be taken in a flippant manner. I found myself convicted at many points and drawn to prayer as I saw certain forms of rebellion and unbelief in my own heart.

In reference to evangelism, I have already found myself implementing certain of these teachings into the counseling ministry I partake in. Certain themes have made their way into my sessions with individual men, and I have found great joy in not only further solidifying these teachings in my own heart but also sharing them with others who are in need of the hope that this material provides. I look forward to increased understanding as I read the Scriptures through the lenses that Pastor MacArthur has prescribed in this great work!

[1] John MacArthur. The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).

[2] Ibid. 52.

[3] Ibid. 127

[4] MacArthur concludes that, with the introduction of the parables, Christ “obscured the truth from those who had rejected it already. Those who hungered to understand- the genuine believers- found Him eager to explain every detail (cf. Mark 4:34). Those who hated the truth didn’t bother to ask.” (Ibid. 127).

[5] Ibid. 175.

[6] See 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

[7] Ibid. 141.