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Steven R. Houck is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches in Modesto, California.

Every true believer is eager to present the truth of the gospel to those who are around about him. He believes and loves God’s truth. In that truth He sees the glory and majesty of God. He sees the greatness of wonders and the beauty of God’s sovereign grace. Therefore, he wants to tell others of the wondrous truth of the gospel. He wants to see His God glorified through the declaration of God’s truth.

With this desire, however, there comes a problem. We do not know exactly how to present the truth to others. We want to testify of the truth, but we know that most people do not want to hear the truth. Most people are greatly offended by it. The truth is “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence,” (I Peter 2:8). The apostle says, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness,” (I Cor. 1:23). Although the believer loves the truth, most people hate it. The truth is not pleasing to the flesh. The gospel contains many “hard sayings” which are very repulsive to people. The truth exalts God, but it humiliates man and shows him his utter worthlessness. This is not pleasing to man.

Moreover, when we present the truth, we not only have to contend with the offense of the gospel; we must also contend with the false ideas which people have. We do not present the truth in a vacuum. We declare the truth of the gospel to people who believe things which are contrary to the truth. This world is filled with the lie. It is filled with false gospels, false prophets, and false Christs. People by the millions have been deceived into believing the lie of the devil. The apostle described the situation perfectly when he said, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables,” (II Tim. 4:3-4).

All of this makes us hesitant to present clearly the truth of the gospel in all of its fullness. We do not like to offend people. We do not like people to be against us. We do not like to tell people that they are wrong. Besides that, we think that if we offend people with the truth, we will never gain anyone to the truth. We only chase them away. How can we ever advance the cause of the truth if we are always chasing people away? There is a great temptation, therefore, to make the gospel as inoffensive as we can. Some will avoid completely the most offensive parts of the gospel. If they do talk bout them, they try to soften those “hard sayings” so that they are acceptable. Their presentation of the truth is not clear and sharp. In some cases the truth is presented in such a way that one can seemingly believe the truth and the lie at the same time. This is the plague which afflicts the Reformed community today. No one wants to be distinctively Reformed. It is much less offensive to be broadly Evangelical.

We dare not fall into this kind of thinking. It is wrong to present the truth in such a way that we try to take away the offense of the gospel. We must not avoid or soften the “hard sayings” of the truth. Jesus never did that. He was not afraid to be offensive. He taught the “hard sayings” of the truth even though He knew that it would offend people. His discourse on the Bread of Life was very offensive. We read of the reaction inJohn 6:60-61: “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can near it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?” Many of those who followed Christ did not like what he had said. The truth offended them. But that did not stop Christ. He preached the offensive truth anyway. On another occasion He said to His disciples, “But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth . . .” (John 16:6-7). Jesus told them something that made them sorrowful. They did not want to hear what He said. But Jesus told them the truth anyway. This is the principle which we must follow. We must present the truth even though the truth offends.

There is a good reason for boldly presenting the truth in the clearest possible way. Jesus says, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” (John 8:32). The knowledge of the truth makes us free. By nature man is held in bondage to sin and the lie. Man’s mind is dark with all the falsehoods and lies of the devil. But the truth frees us from that. The truth itself leads man out of the lie into the truth. It is only through the truth itself that a man can come to believe the truth. When we avoid or soften the “hard sayings” of the truth, we actually hinder a man from coming to the truth. We are keeping from him the only thing which can lead him to the truth. Yes, the truth is offensive. But that offensive truth is “the power of God” (I Cor. 1:24) which sets men free. This is why we must present the truth in the clearest possible way. The more a man understands the truth, the more that truth can free him from the lie.

We must, therefore, take care that we clearly present the whole truth, including all those doctrines which are the most offensive. We must unashamedly proclaim the truth of God’s sovereign grace. Boldly we must speak of the predestinating God Who both elects and reprobates. We must tell of the sovereign God Who not only created the world, but Who so upholds and rules this world that His eternal will is always done. The Christ of which we speak must be the Christ of the Bible Who powerfully and effectually saves His people from their sins. We must not be afraid to speak of the wretchedness of sinful man and his inability to do good. Oh yes, these doctrines are offensive, but they are the heart of that wonderful truth which alone can set a man free.

In presenting these doctrines, we follow the example of Christ and the apostles. Christ spoke of sovereign grace. He said, “Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him . . .” (John 6:43-44). The people were murmuring over His “hard sayings,” but He preached effectual, sovereign grace to them. He was not afraid to preach election. He said, “For many are called, but few are chosen,” (Matt. 22:14). Nor was he afraid to preach reprobation. He told the unbelieving Jews, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep . . .” (John 10:26). Notice that He did not tell them about reprobation, but He told them that they were reprobate. They were not His sheep. That is a very strong statement. He could say that because He is Himself the predestinating God. One of the strongest statements on the providence of God was made by the apostle Paul. He said of God, “. . . he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things . . . For in him we live, and move, and have our being . . .” (Acts 17:25, 28). When the apostle said this he was not leading a Bible study class for Reformed people. He was preaching to the heathen of Athens. He preached to unbelievers the offensive truth of God’s sovereign rule over man.

There is something more which is implied in the words, “the truth shall make you free.” We must not only positively present the whole truth, but we must negatively refute the lie. In order that we might make that truth absolutely clear, we must present the truth as it stands over against the lie. Just as light appears brighter when it shines in the darkness, so the truth is made clearer when it is presented in opposition to the lie. We must not be afraid of pointing our error. We must strongly condemn Arminianism and freewillism which are so contrary to the truth. Common grace, a universal love of God, and the “free offer of the gospel” must all be shown to be false. Whatever error we find as we present the truth to our neighbors must be refuted. We must not be afraid of being negative. We ought not to be totally negative. We must present the positive truth. But in this world of lies, the negative must accompany the positive.

In this, too, we follow the example of Christ. He condemned the, errors of His day in no uncertain terms. He told His disciples: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees,” (Matt. 16:6). Over and over again Jesus warned of falsehoods, with the words: “Ye have heard that it was said . . . But I say unto you . . .” (Matt. 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43). In that way He directly refuted error. He not only warned of the lie, but also of those who taught the lie. He warned of false prophets and false Christs. He said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” (Matt. 7:17). He said, “Take heed that. no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many,” (Matt. 24:4-5).

But we can go one step further. Christ was not content merely to point out and warn of error. He also personally warned and rebuked the very people who held to and taught the errors. We read in Matt. 22:29: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” Christ said this to the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection. He personally told them that they erred. His words to the Pharisees are even stronger. He said to them, “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in,” (Matt. 23:13). These are certainly strong words, and they are by no means uncommon. The gospel accounts are filled with such language.

Thus we learn that we too must not be afraid of warning those who hold to and teach error. We are not Christ. We do not know who are elect and who are reprobate. We can not judge the heart. But we are able to compare the beliefs, teachings, and lives of people with the truth. On that basis, in Christian love, we can and must warn them of their error. We can and we must point them to the truth of the gospel. For it is only when a man forsakes the lies and falsehoods of the devil that he can embrace the truth of Word. If man is to be free, truly free, he must hear and believe the truth. Let us, therefore, take care boldly and clearly to present the offensive gospel in all of its fullness. This is the calling of all those who love the truth.