Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What is the gospel?

Since one blogger already asked the question, I will merely catalogue a few responses received to the question, “What is the gospel?”

  • "The gospel is the good news (not good advice) of the announced end of the age of decay accomplished in the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ and inaugurated in his resurrection into creation 2.0;"
  • "It meant the announcement of a new King and a new Kingdom;"
  • "The kingdom of God is among you;"
  • "God's grace can prevail over my depravity;"
  • "The good news. The kingdom is here. Is coming. Has arrived;"
  • "The Gospel is John 3:16 followed by carrying out the 2 greatest commandments- Love God, love your neighbor as yourself;"
  • "Son of God comes to earth, saves mankind, sparks religious unrest for next millennium;"
  • "The Gospel is the announcement that, in Jesus, God is setting in motion a revolution to begin to make things as they will one day be;"
  • "I don't know. I honestly don't know;"

Recognizing how every respondent to her blog does not represent every viewpoint on the gospel, I still can’t help but wonder why no contributor defined God as the gospel (John Piper has written an excellent work on the subject). Why did nobody mention Romans 1:16-17, which explains what that means, that “God is the gospel?” “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

Reflecting on Paul’s statement, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” I think of the UPS guy, the FEDEx gal, or the person who delivers packages and mail to the door. Picture the scenario: your office is in the rhythm of work, or you are busy at home, and the currier comes to the desk or to the door—right where you are—to drop off that which they have been entrusted to deliver (and perhaps collect a signature) then they turn and make their way to the next stop. Whatever you were doing has been completely interrupted with no embarrassment, no guilt, and no shame. Sure, you may not know what has just been handed to you; or perhaps this is something you’ve been expecting. Regardless, you now have the parcel in a responsible manner.

The implication behind Paul’s statement is the gospel is news that originates from God Himself, and Paul gets to deliver it! There is there is great honor being entrusted with the good news of Jesus Christ, for He is worth the glory received in its proclamation. We would not have believed it had not someone interrupted our lives to deliver it—now we get to hand it off to someone else! As Martin Luther succinctly stated, “I believe, therefore I speak.” But is it that simple?

The Apostle Paul was a Jew, a people of low regard in the world. Theologically, he was a Pharisee, one of the most religious groups of the day and he not only hated the message of the gospel, but killed those who were followers of Christ. Socially, he was also a Roman, a citizen of a corrupt and despised government. Threes strikes. Why should he be unashamed of the gospel? The message alone is nearly unbelievable: God breaks into time and space as a baby, born in an obscure village to people without nobility. As a Jewish man, he lived all but three years of His life very quietly, and then stirs up the countryside with His teachings and claims that He came to die for other men—and He does die! To top it off, women bear the first witness to his rising again! Are you serious, Paul? Yes, he is very serious because Paul came to know the gospel personally; or we should say, the gospel came to know him. More on this in a future post.

The gospel is the power of God. One of God’s attributes is His Omnipotence; that is, His power. God’s incredible power could easily have wiped everything out and started completely over again. Nobody would have known any different. In a way, this is exactly what God does—the only difference is that everyone gets to know about it. That’s what makes the good news the good news! Conspiracy theorists and Zeitgeitists object: “The religious myth is the most powerful device ever created, and serves as the psychological soil upon which other myths can flourish.” Kenneth Prior correctly observed that “mythology exists to show the wickedness of men through the depravity of their gods, whose deeds are so repulsive that men abandon them. The Bible records the depravity of men against a righteous God, who alone can save them.” (The Gospel in a Pagan Society. Hodder and Stoughton: London, 1975)

The gospel is the power of God to salvation. God’s power is not aimless, but is at work within us (Eph 3:20). Years earlier, Paul wrote, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1Cor 1:25) This is in reference to the gospel, “that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1Cor 2:5) God’s power providing salvation reminds us why we should not be ashamed—this is His doing, not ours. We could never dream of such a remedy for sin. The salvation He provides is so complete: consider how He desires we be saved from the penalty of sin (hell), the power of sin (victorious Christian living) and the presence of sin (enjoying Him forever in the place He has prepared for us in Heaven). If man has his way, he would just stop at the first. Test me in this: talk with people on the street and ask them what it means to be saved and rarely will you find one that will say more than “not going to hell.” Salvation is about being reconciled to God in Christ Jesus!

The gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes. First, we must recall this is the gospel of Christ; in other words, a connection exists between His death on the cross and the power of God to save, extending “to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Jesus’ death and resurrection powerfully accomplished what man cannot for him, that is, make the payment for sin. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro 6:23) Man broke God’s moral law and the justice of God demands payment. No person is exempt from understanding his lawlessness and God’s command to repent. Everyone should hear that God’s will is for everyone to be cleansed and forgiven by grace through faith. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)

The gospel is the revealer of the righteousness of God. God has acted intentionally in a way that secures our right standing before Him. The difficulty for man is that man rejects what God has provided. Man does not need righteousness to be man, but God must be righteous to be God. Man thinks he is good enough for God (Proverbs 20:6) but there is not a righteous person who seeks after God (Romans 3). Man is separated from God by sin, and man must be made righteous to be reconciled to God. This is accomplished only by faith in Christ Jesus. Right standing is given to man when he is credited with righteousness in believing; furthermore, because of the generosity of God in Christ, this is how He brings man to Himself—but man must repent and believe.

The beauty of this work of God magnifies considering how His righteousness is not a one-time dispensation, that is, at salvation; rather, it is perpetual and keeping. Note Paul’s words, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith”—from beginning to end. The life of the follower of Christ is the life of faith. We begin by faith, we continue by faith, we grow by faith, we please the Lord with faith. When God gives us grace in salvation and grace to help in time of need and grace that helps us deny ungodliness as we wait for His return, we appropriate Him by faith—God is the gospel.

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