Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What is the Gospel?

[Note: I have a lot of links to in this post. I haven’t figured out how to do a link in a new page, so if you are using dialup, it will be a pain to follow the links. Sorry! If you’d like the passages I link but don’t reference, let me know].

The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has come to save sinners. It is a proclamation from God that He will justify the ungodly (or ‘wicked,’ Romans 4:5) because of the work of Christ. We receive this salvation as a gift from God through faith.

The Apostle Paul established the first things as, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

A small child can understand the teaching that God sent Jesus to take the punishment for the bad things that we do so that we don’t have to suffer the punishment ourselves. However, some points of clarification are in order as we share this good news, even in our churches. Why? Unbelievers in our culture are usually biblically illiterate; they need even the most basic concepts defined. Also, believers in churches often are not taught that the gospel is for Christians too.

Hearing the Gospel is how we believe in the first place, but unless we have a steady diet of the gospel, we are in danger falling into the ditch of works-righteousness on the Christian journey. The ditch on one side is self-righteousness, the idea that we are Christians because of our performance. This performance mentality takes many forms: sincerity, spirituality, good works, looking back to a particular prayer, etc. The ditch on the other side is despair. I have heard many times, “I can’t be a Christian because I can’t get control of my thought life,” or “I can’t tame my temper,” etc. When we look to our inward life or outward performance for our justification, we are foolish.

We must emphasize that the gospel is outside of us and comes to us, it is not something that we conjure up in our head or heart, it is something that is proclaimed and believed. Or not. Paul’s first things were historical realities. Likewise, John stressed the physical reality of Christ in History (under Pontius Pilate, as the creed says) as the basis for our salvation.

The greatest need of the human race is reconciliation with God. In Adam, all sinned. We add our own sins to that pile. Our Creator / Owner is holy, and sin is detestable to Him. God is angry with us. Furthermore, all the evil and dysfunction we see in the world has its root in our alienation from God because of sin. Man is God’s enemy, unless God does something about that. We can’t, we won’t. There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. (Romans 3:10-11 NKJV).

The Good News is that God has done something. He sent His Son to be the Saviour of the World. God initiates reconciliation with those He calls. He justifies those who trust Christ as Saviour and confess Him as Lord.

Before I wrap this up, I’d like to define one more word, Justification. Justification is God’s declaration, “Not guilty.” We have broken God’s law; we have actively rebelled against His holy rules. Christ took the judgment of that disobedience upon Himself on the cross – the wages of sin is death. That is why Christ died, to satisfy God’s justice in light of our sin, to suffer the consequences of our sin so that we will not be condemned.

The second aspect of justification is often overlooked in contemporary evangelicalism. If our sin is taken away, we still have a problem. God’s holiness demands not only that we be clean, but that we are actively righteous. If we simply have a clean slate, we are still in big trouble. God commands that the positive demands of the law be satisfied.

For instance, if you could imagine standing before God and hearing the question, “Have you loved me with all your heart, soul and mind and have you loved your neighbor as yourself?” How would you do? Jesus said that all the law hung on these commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). I know that I would be silent and ashamed were it not for the active righteousness of Christ. The Gospel announces that Christ is our righteousness. This is why Jesus didn’t just arrive on the earthly scene as an adult, ready to die on the cross. Throughout His life, he fulfilled all righteousness for His people.

The Gospel is about God: God’s holiness; God’s sovereignty over all that He made; God’s love for His people; God’s justice; God’s wisdom; God’s mercy and grace and God’s glory. This is so that no flesh should boast before Him (1 Corinthians 1:29).

The Gospel is big. Really big. It is Genesis to Revelation, it is Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15) to the New Creation. We who live on this side of the resurrection have a great honor to see how God has reconciled people to Himself through Jesus Christ. My little post does not do the gospel justice, of course, but I hope it is an encouragement for someone to reconsider the centrality of the gospel in the life of the church. May we never grow tired of hearing, reading, singing and speaking the old, old story.

P.S. Dan made a comment on my last post, reminding me of John Piper’s new book, God is the Gospel. I read the introduction online (available by clicking the title in this paragraph), and I was moved to worship our Sovereign, gracious Lord!

No comments: