Perusal* – Autumn 2009, A Biblical Understanding of the Gospel

(* perusal; to examine or consider with attention and in detail)

1 Corintians 15:1-3; Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

For 2000 years the clarion call for Christianity has been the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is fundamental to understanding the life and death of the Savior. Jesus was relentless in telling the crowds that pressed about him, “the Son of Man is come to seek and to save those that are lost.” Self-righteous persons need not apply - only those that see themselves as desperate, lost sinners. So why is the understanding of the Good News from a biblical perspective important today?

The evangel, the good news of the Savior Jesus Christ becoming the incarnate Son of God to save his people from their sins, is of little significance in our enlightened and post-modern world. But the Gospel stresses the urgency to respond to the call of our Lord, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Is belief in the gospel a matter of simply giving cognitive assent to the propositional truth about God and Jesus? May someone legitimately become born again simply by walking an aisle or praying a prayer? The demands of Jesus Christ; forsaking all, seeking His glory above our own, grabbing the handles of the plow and not looking back, not to mention taking up a cross and following his lead – are any of these pertinent to this discussion? And why is any of this important?

The Bible is not just a lot of words on sheets of paper. It is dynamic; literally the phrase “Word of God” in the Gospels means “the word that comes from God.” This Word tells us that there is something drastically and fatally wrong with the world; it is not as it should be. We are not as we should be. In fact the reality of sin is visible every single day of our lives, not only our sin but the sins of others. We are in a dire predicament and need a solution. The word that comes from God describes man’s predicament and a remedy. The remedy is the Cross, an instrument of death on which the Savior of the world was crucified. Any departure from the Cross is another gospel.

The Scriptures do not take lightly another gospel. "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed (Gal 1:8-9)!"

Getting the Gospel right therefore is of seminal importance. It is not man’s self-esteem that is the issue. I have met few people, including myself, whose esteem is too low. We generally think too highly of ourselves and often consider self to be better than other persons. But the Bible claims that we are NOT to think of ourselves too highly.

Rom. 12:2-4; For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

Our problem is not low self-esteem – it is pride. Our hearts are far from God and deceitful.

  • The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it (Jer 17:9)? 
  • And you were dead in your trespasses and sins ... and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Eph 2:1, 3). 
  • There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (Rom 3:10-12). 

The gospel is NOT that we are all OK with God. Humanity's biggest problem is that our own sin has shut us up to spiritual death - eternal separation from the God whose fellowship we were created to enjoy, and slavery to the power and penalty of sin. “The will”, Augustine said, “is free, but not freed.” If we consistently or deliberately omit sin from our preaching or from our evangelism, we are preaching a different gospel, and need to repent of this sin and preach God's truth with bold, counter-cultural clarity.

The very fact of Calvary’s cross displays the wretchedness of our sin and the refusal in our pride to acknowledge that God is true and every man a liar. But what of God’s love? Indeed God loves us and Calvary is the evidence of His amazing love. When we portray that God’s love is some sentimental emotion that overwhelms His holiness and justice we have fostered a caricature of His true nature. Yes, God does love us and desires all come to repentance, but the Scriptures are clear that all will not come.

The gospel is not primarily about having a friend in Jesus, although He is our friend when we repent and believe. We were created to have fellowship with God forever, to enjoy His goodness and beauty, but lost this relationship through our sin. Thankfully, God bridged the insurmountable gap of our sin and His love in Jesus Christ. We now can have this relationship restored. The Gospel is primarily about bringing glory to God the Father through His Son.

The Gospel is also not about adhering to a prescribed set of “do’s and don’ts” as if morality was an acceptable substitute for the righteousness of Christ. It is not an additive to make our lives a little better by perhaps digging deeper or pulling ourselves up by the proverbial bootstraps.

The Gospel is a message about God, Man, Christ, and our Response to God’s call. God is both our sovereign Creator and righteous Judge. Because He created us in His image He has the right and authority to make certain demands upon our lives. As already stated we have sinned and have incurred His wrath. This truth is ignored today, but it is every bit as real as His love. Now God has recognized that men and women, boys and girls cannot please Him in our present sinful condition. The solution to our diabolical problem is the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ alone has satisfied His Father’s wrath as he became the propitiation for our sin, satisfying the Father and securing sinners’ redemption. We are called to respond to this good news in repentance and belief - turning away from our sin and self-sufficiency toward God, and trusting in the shed blood of Jesus Christ as the substitute penalty that we deserved for our sin.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is its own power - it is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18). Therefore, when the power of God's Word is watered down by impotence, or methods that pander to cultural preferences, it is as if the gospel isn't strong enough to conquer its most ardent enemies and convert its weakest believers! We must rely on the Word of God to perform it's own creating, convicting, converting, conforming work as we preach and teach the whole counsel of God in its plain, Christ-centered meaning.

Churches do not exist apart from the Gospel. At the heart of every Christ-centered church is the gospel – it is the red hot core of the life changing power of God and should be at the center of everything Flat Creek and other churches do to glorify our Savior.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Pastor Carey