Understanding the Bible
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WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL?
The Christian Gospel or 'Good News' is that God has provided - by the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ - a way for human kind, all of whom by nature have rebelled against Him by refusing to acknowledge His right to rule us, to be restored individually into a forgiven relationship with Him through personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Further explanation follows ...
The Christian Faith teaches that all mankind - both individually and corporately - is in a state of rebellion against Almighty God who is 'holy' (morally perfect). He made the universe and each of us, thus entitling Him to be our rightful ruler. We are therefore subject to His perfect judgement and moral condemnation. This state of rebellion - which the Bible calls 'sin' - reveals itself in the self-centredness of every human being and results in acts of sin. These 'sins' range from minor acts of self-assertiveness against others to major acts of wickedness, and everything in between, all of which transgress the moral law of God. Every facet of the human character is tainted by this rebellion so that human beings are capable of great acts of love and kindness but also of terrible wickedness and retaliation when our selfishness is threatened.
But the Christian Faith further asserts that God has provided a way of escape from His unchangeable justice and condemnation, through His Son Jesus Christ. By Christ's life, death and resurrection on our behalf, he is the only way, through faith in him, whereby any individual person may be reconciled to God and enter into a personal relationship with God. This new relationship removes God's condemnation.
So the GOSPEL is the 'Good News' of Jesus Christ.
It is the 'Good News' that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and was sent by God to live a morally perfect life, which we cannot live. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us, our sin is forgiven and God credits to us instead, as a gift, the perfect life that Christ lived just as of we had lived it. God is then able to accept us.
Further the 'Good News' is that Jesus Christ died on the Cross as our substitute carrying the penalty and bearing the punishment for the sin of all men, women and children who put their trust in him for their deliverance from the anger of God. By this means the individual who believes is regarded as 'not guilty' by God .
Still further the 'Good News' is that by Jesus Christ's rising again from death to life, every believer in him receives eternal life, by which is meant
(a) a new spiritual dimension in this life by which the believer - still struggling with sin and suffering the corruption of the physical world - lives under the care and guidance of God and at peace with God,
(b) an eternal future in the fullness of life with God beyond death.
Finally the 'Good News' is that one day Jesus Christ will return to bring to an end human history with its conflict, misery, evil and suffering. But on that occasion he will come not as a Saviour but as the Judge of all the human race. Human life is not a continual cycle of birth, life and death, but is moving inexorably towards the time when God brings it to an end and judges everyone by the One he has appointed - His Son Jesus Christ.
True Christian Faith is not commitment to a system of rules and observances, but a personal relationship of each individual with God through Jesus Christ.
Dear Reader, it is our great desire that you should welcome this 'Good News', come to faith in Jesus Christ yourself and begin to live your life for God instead of yourself. If you want this, then pray to God to forgive you and accept you through trusting in the death of Christ for you as your personal Saviour, and accept him as your Lord. Jesus Christ told us that his Father will hear us when we pray like this and will welcome us into His family. He said ...
'Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks will find; and to him that knocks, the door will be opened.' Matthew 7:7,8.
'Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me' Revelation 3:20
' .. whoever comes to me I will never drive away.' John 6:37
The Apostle Paul expresses the Gospel in 1 Cor.15:3-5 'For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve.'
Have you heard about Jesus?
Do you know who He is?
He's the very son of God
He's the King of kings
Have you heard of the gospel?
Do you know what it it is?
It tells us Jesus died for us
To save us from our sins
This is the best news
That we could ever hear
More than amazing,
It drives out every fear
By trusting in Jesus Christ
In his saving sacrifice
We can be made new
We can be made new
Have you heard of the promise
God has made to us all?
That if we turn from our sinful ways
And put our faith in His Son
He will freely forgive us
He will wash us clean
And when we stand before His throne
He will call 'Welcome in!'
There follows now a finely-drawn and careful analysis of the Bible's teaching about the Gospel. This analysis is recommended for consideration by committed Christians so that they clearly understand what the Gospel is and can faithfully pass it on to others.
(1) The Gospel is God's perfect and complete work FOR US.
It is vitally important that we understand what the Gospel is. In particular we must not confuse the Gospel with the results of the Gospel in our lives. Why? Because the Gospel is perfect, but the results in us are always imperfect and disappointing. We must be very careful about recommending the Gospel by the resulting experiences we attribute to it in our lives.
Consider this: a Christian lady called on a neighbour whom she knew to have been in some sort of distress. The neighbour opened the door and from the look on her face was clearly feeling much better. 'How are you?' the Christian asked. 'Oh I feel so at peace and full of joy' was the reply. 'Wonderful' said the Christian 'you must have become a Christian!' 'Oh no' said the neighbour ' I've been to see the guru'. What does the Christian say now? Is there no difference between Christianity and any other religion that promises peace and joy?
There is no doubt that being a Christian can result in experiencing a peace that 'transcends all understanding' (Phil.4:7) but the measure of peace that we feel cannot be the authentication of the truth and efficacy of the Gospel. It would be no good at all for the Christian in our little story above to get into the game of saying that her Christian peace was superior, deeper or more long-lasting, than the peace from the guru. The neighbour need only say that she knows how wonderful her present peace is, for the discussion to go nowhere.
The results of the Gospel in us will always be disappointing, whether it is measured by the peace and joy we experience, or the level of holiness we achieve, or the depth of meaning it gives to our lives. For one thing our low experience of these may be entirely our fault. Are we going to burden the Gospel or even God himself with the blame for it? And for another thing each of those things may be very subject to how we feel ie to our state of health. So are we to conclude that the Gospel is less affective when we are not well? We must not include within the Gospel any claims of what it will result-in in our lives.
We must detach from the definition of the Gospel all vestige or our performance or experience. Otherwise we shall just spoil it or distort it!
Here is a precise definition of the Gospel:
'The Gospel is the miraculous birth, perfect life, sacrificial atoning death, bodily resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God, of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, on behalf of all those who put their faith in Him, so that they can be forgiven for their rebellion against God and reconciled to Him.'
(Although this is a precise definition of the Gospel, obviously a great deal more emerges once anyone begins to ask questions about the gospel eg simply 'why do we need Jesus to do this for us?' See below for further comment on the content and implications of the Gospel by Dr J. Packer.)
Notice that this definition has nothing of our experience or performance in it to spoil it! It is ALL of God. THIS is the Gospel we are to proclaim. Our hearers can argue against it, ridicule it, and finally disbelieve it, but our poor or indifferent performance as Christians is not part of it.
By the way, it is not fair to condemn the Christian Faith because some of its believers are not very good! The game of football is played very well by some teams but very badly by others, but no one dreams of saying that football itself is a bad game because some aren't good at it!
Of course, the definition of the Gospel above needs to be further explicated or unpacked in order for anyone to understand it fully. But it is a precise statement against which to check what else we say about it. For example, we may use the shorthand 'Jesus Christ died for our sins so that we can go to heaven' or 'Jesus died on the cross for our sins.' But sooner or later we are going to have to explain the rest of the definition to clarify what the Gospel is. Let's go on now to examine the Gospel in Scripture, constantly bearing in mind the definition of it above.
(2) How Scripture describes* the Gospel
* Note: 'describes' not 'defines'; they are different.
1. It is the gospel of:
the Grace of God (Acts 20:24), Promise (Rom.1:1,2), the Glory of Christ (2 Cor.4:4), the Word of Truth (Col.1:5), Salvation (Eph.1:13), Peace [with God](Eph.6:15), the Kingdom of God (Acts 8:12).
2. But it is not popular: 1 Cor.1:18,23 it is foolishness and a stumbling block; Why 2 Cor.4;3,4?
3. Whose Gospel is it?
The three persons of the Trinity work together in union (Titus 3:4-7 are prime verses) but Scripture puts the emphasis on God the Son (Mark 1:1, 2 Cor.4:4, 1 Tim1:15, 2 Tim 1:9, 1 Jo.2:1, Rom.5:1, Rom.6:23,8:39, Jo1;17, Acts 5:42, Rom.3:24. (See the previous article on this web page for more on the Trinity.)
*The Father sent the Son to achieve the Gospel (Gal.4:4,5)
*The Father gave the Spirit to the Son (Acts 2:33a)
*The Son gave the Spirit to the church (Acts 2:33b).
Some erroneously teach a Gospel of God the Father - the incarnation more important than Calvary
Some erroneously teach a Gospel of the Spirit - emphasis on the work of the Spirit in us; man-centred, experience-centred. The here and now overshadows Calvary.
The biblical Gospel is the work of God the Son.
(3) What is not the Gospel?
Being born again is not the Gospel, because this is something that happens within us.
Our experience is not the Gospel.
Having faith is not the Gospel. Faith takes place within us, it looks to the Gospel. Faith is not a vague mystical thing. It cannot exist without an object. Faith is believing, thinking and living on the basis that the Gospel is true.
If we entertain the idea that anything in us is included in the Gospel then we are back in the realms of natural religion, not in the revealed religion of the Scriptures.
(4) The Gospel is the power for salvation (Rom.1:16)
Rom.1:16 says 'salvation' not 'conversion'! We must always look outward to Christ not inwards to ourselves. Christ is at the right hand of God Col.3:1, not in our hearts. Col. 1:27 "Christ is in you" is a Trinity-union verse. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to indwell us. 2 Cor.4:18 and 5:7 we walk [live] by faith (in Christ at the right hand of God) not by sight (of our own experience). It is Christ's 'full-surrender' and Christ's 'victorious living' that matter. If we keep looking at ourselves we shall always be disappointed, but if we keep looking at Him we shall have assurance as we stand on the Rock. This is true Christian liberty Jo.8:36, Gal.5:1.
(5) The Content of the Gospel - Outline by Dr J.Packer
(recently taught at the 2002 Annual Conference of 'Reform'. This is a direct quotation from a handout Dr Packer provided.)
"Just as one's God can be too small, so one's gospel can be too small.
In the Bible the Gospel is the entire saving plan of God, all revolving round the person, place and power of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the incarnate, crucified, risen, reigning, returning Lord.
Preaching or teaching the gospel requires us to show how Jesus Christ relates to every part of God's plan, and how every part of it relates to us who are savingly related to the living Christ through faith. Evangelism involves explaining life in Christ as well as inviting sinners to him. Preaching pastors and itinerant evangelists will have different emphases, but we all must preach the gospel in this same broad and inclusive way.
This means dealing with six main topics, as follows:
1. The truth about God.
The one God who made and rules everything is revealed as three persons through his plan of salvation. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit love us and work together to save us from sin and make us holy. Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate, is Lord over all the powers of evil, as of all other powers. Any other view is idolatry.
2. The truth about ourselves.
We were made for God, to bear his image and be like him in moral character, but sin controls and has spoiled us, so that we need to be brought back to God to be forgiven and re-made. Jesus Christ, who brings us back, is himself to the model of true godliness. Any other view is deception.
3. The story of God's kingdom.
Step by step, as Scripture tells, God has been working to establish his kingdom in this fallen world. Jesus is the king, and our lives are to be his kingdom. King Jesus is also Judge, and those who have not bowed to his kingship here will not share his joy hereafter. Trusting, loving, and honouring Jesus, and serving others for his sake, is true godliness at its heart. Any other view is error.
4. The way of salvation.
Jesus Christ, our sin-bearer on the cross, now from his throne, reaches out to rescue us who are lost in the guilt and shame of sin. He calls for faith (trust in him as Saviour) and repentance (turning to him as master). He sends his Holy Spirit to change us inwardly so that we hear his call as addressed to us personally and respond whole-heartedly to it; whereupon we are forgiven and accepted (justified), received as God's children (adopted), made to rejoice at our peace with him (assurance), and made to realise that we are living a new life in Christ (regeneration). Any other view is deficient
5. The life of fellowship.
Christians belong in the church, the family of God, sharing its worship, work, witness and welfare, and enjoying its worldwide brotherhood in Christ. Any other view of the Christian calling is sectarian.
6. Walking home to heaven.
Helped by the ministry in the church of word and sacrament, prayer and pastoral care, spiritual gifts and loving support, Christians live in our constantly hostile world as travellers, heading for a glorious destination. Led and inspired by their Saviour through the Holy Spirit, they seek to do all the good they can as they go, and to battle all forms of evil that they meet. Any other view of the Christian life is worldly.
All this is permanently and universally true, transcending all differences of colour, race, culture, age, gender, health, economic standing, social position and political background. As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit sustain us all, so the gospel levels us all, teaching us to know ourselves as great sinners saved by God's greater grace, and to see all non-Christians as needing that same grace themselves.
This then is what we have to tell."
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