45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45–6).
In this parable about the kingdom of heaven, or Gospel, we can learn many things. One truth, affirmed by many other passages of Scripture, is that the Gospel is simple but not simplistic. The Gospel, that Jesus came and died for sinners so our sins might be forgiven, and rose victorious from the grave so we might have life eternal—this message— is fit for the simplest peasant and the wisest king. Like Mary pondering Jesus’s birth, it is a sufficient but also an inexhaustible treasure. It is simple (that is straightforward) so that anyone can believe, yet it is also grand and mysterious enough that the humblest theological enquirer will never exhaust or mine completely all of its treasurers. There is enough to drink and be saved, but a deep well that will never run dry as our faith grows and we come to learn more of Jesus, His Gospel and His word.
It is basic yet robust, uncomplicated yet deeply meaningful, etc, etc. It is simple but not simplistic. This is a phrase I use to combat people who err on the extreme either to the left or to the right, and those who want to remain immature in the faith.
There are those who, in seeking a lowest common denominator Christianity, take away from the Gospel, reducing it and by so doing rob it of its inherent glory. These are those who say Jesus died for all (universalism) or that the Gospel is merely that God is love, or that Jesus came simply to teach humans to be good. These are not the Gospel.
Then there are those who correctly believe the Gospel (part 1 or 3) but then go on to add to it denying their correct view, not seeing it is sufficient or wonderful enough. They say ‘yes, but’ and add works to faith, thus nullifying faith. They add to the Gospel and so mar its image.
Whether you take away from it or add to it you distort it so its glory cannot shine and people cannot be saved.
Then even more subtly, but not as destructively, are those who childishly refuse Gospel maturity and cry, ‘just give me the plain and simple Gospel.’ This appears wise, the Gospel is central, it is paramount, it is the core of Biblical Christianity, what could be wrong with such a sentiment? It is this. Such people decry sound teaching and doctrine, they cling to the elementary teachings not wanting to go on to maturity, and are ignorant and void of a desire for the deep things of God (even if easily conveyed). It is a simplistic ignorance that confuses simple and simplistic.
Peter challenges such immature Christians by saying: Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up into salvation. (1 Peter 2:2)
Paul likewise told the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:1–3a): But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it, And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.
And the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 4:12–16): 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[a] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The writer to the Hebrew’s similarly challenged his listeners (Hebrews 5:12–14): For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Our call as Gospel people is to mature in the Gospel, to put down deep roots in Christ (Eph 3:17), to be built up in the holy faith (Jude 20). This is not a call to go beyond the Gospel or forget our great need of it but to mature in it, to learn more of the truth of God in a Gospel-centric way so we stand in even greater wonder of the glorious Gospel! It is to hunger after a deeper knowledge of God’s character, for more of His word, more knowledge of sound doctrine, more of what it means to love and serve Him, all of which can be done in a Gospel-centric way that is simple but not simplistic.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,