This is the fifth of five blog posts exploring the question “what is the Gospel?” Not meant to be an exhaustive study, just a relevant one, we’ve looked at a number of New Testament passages.
It might be useful, in thinking about the Gospel, to ask what is it for, or what it is the Gospel is meant to achieve amidst humanity. Is the purpose of the Gospel to save people from judgment and separation from their Creator? Or is the function of the Gospel to affect people as they live, changing them into the beings they were originally designed to be? While both are true, the Gospel entails much more than these two pillars.
In the first post of this series, we looked at a passage St. Paul wrote to the churches of Asia Minor (Galatians) in which he recounted a discussion he’d had with the Jerusalem leaders of the church over the very nature of the Gospel. As he argued with the Galatian followers about the absolute sufficiency of the Gospel, and of the dangers of diluting or distorting it, the crescendo of his Gospel theology climbed until he reached this ringing climax of ultimate personal identification with the Gospel of Jesus:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
In discovering Christ, in coming to spiritual life in Christ, Paul has discovered this eternal truth: none of us is truly alive until we are in Christ. It is in Christ, the eternal Word, the physical embodiment of the Breath of God, it is in this Christ that for us life itself exists.
Some of us might look at this take on the Gospel as quite exclusive (unless one is in Christ, they’re not really able to have the life their Creator intended them to have). Others, like myself, see it as highly invitational (given the cruel limitations of our human tendencies towards ignorance and stubbornness, God has not left us to our own devices; rather God in his mercy seeks to free each of us from a sentence of half-living in the shadows, for a far better life of abundantly rich living in the light).
However we see it, there are several common errors many of us make in how we treat the Gospel. The first two we’ve touched on before.
Some of us are glad to find the rich spiritual truths of the Gospel of Jesus, but see it primarily as a mission of opening our spiritual eyes to the truth of who God is and forgiving our sins.
Others of us find a Gospel that addresses the injustices of this fallen world, so we focus on the social aspects of the Gospel, such as feeding the poor and alleviating the burdens of those who suffer injustice and other deprivations. Thankfully, these are elements of the Gospel, but still insufficient to a fair treatment of it.
Many more of us, though, make a third and really significant error in our approach to the Gospel. We think of it as exclusively Christ’s mission and not ours. We are grateful recipients rather than fully engaged participants. But the reality is that the Gospel makes no distinction between believers and disciples. We’ve stumbled into a false dichotomy, one of “accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior” and then deciding—if we ever decide—how serious we want to be about becoming an earnest disciple.
In the NT understanding of the Gospel, believing in Jesus, embracing the Gospel, incrementally growing as a disciple, experiencing life-change, being sanctified (made more and more like Jesus) are all one continuum. Disciples are students who learn the teachings and lifestyle of their teacher. They are mastered by their master.
We’ve tolerated an egregious compartmentalization of the Gospel of Jesus in American Christianity. We’ve put a separation between belief and behavior where the spirit of the Gospel never intended one.
So what is the Gospel for? Think about what St. Paul said in Galatians 2:20. It’s to bring us into full life, that life begins now and continues on and on and on. Consider two things Jesus said, that we must be born again—life starts in a new way (John 3:3), and that he came to bring us life, abundant life (John 10:10).
The purpose of the Gospel is to re-connect us with our Creator, with our fellow creatures and with the creation in which we find ourselves. The definition of religion is to connect torn ligatures, to “re-ligature.” The Gospel re-establishes our relationship with God and with others.
Jesus teaches that because of his Gospel we may now live in an ongoing, conscious relationship with him and his Father. “Abide in me, and I in you.” (John 15:4) James speaks to our reconnection with others as a part of our faith. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 2:27)
We began this exploration of what is the Gospel with the Apostle Paul’s word to the Corinthian Christians that they should examine themselves to see if they were in the faith. We looked at the strong stand he took in the first Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) during which St. Paul fought for the truth of the Gospel, that it might be preserved.
To Timothy, one of his own disciples and colleagues in ministry, Paul wrote, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14)
So each of us needs to ask ourselves if we are continuing to pay close attention to the “sound words” of the Gospel, living in the faith and love of Jesus, and with the help of his Spirit, keeping conscious appreciation of the “good deposit”—that is the treasure of the Gospel.
Not exhaustively, but thoughtfully, we’ve identified these as some of the elements of the Gospel of Jesus:
- Christ—the Jewish Messiah, the promised deliverer, the prophet of whom Moses spoke—died
- His death was for the sins of those who believe in him
- His death was according to what had been prophesied
- He was buried
- He was raised on the third day
- He appeared to his chosen followers
- The effect of his death for those who believe in him is that they are justified in the eyes of God
- This justification is a gift
- He accomplishes this justification by purchasing our freedom-redeeming those who believe in him
- He reconciles us to God-removing the enmity that exists between sinful humans and the Holy God
- The Gospel gives us power to have spiritual sight instead of being spiritually blind
- The Gospel empowers us to turn from darkness to light
- The Gospel gives us the ability to turn from the power of Satan to God
- The Gospel gives us a place among those who belong to God
- The Gospel changes us-sanctifies us, makes us “other” than we have been, makes us holy
- Christ shares our flesh and blood, so that through his death he destroys the one who has the power of death, Satan
- We are delivered from the fear of death
- As he lives forever, Christ is able to save fully those who come to God through him
- In the mystery of how the Trinity functions within Itself, Jesus’ ministry as our high priest means he continually makes intercession for those who are his
- Christ offered his sacrifice of blood through the Holy Spirit
- His sacrifice purifies us of a conscience of guilt and uselessness so that we can serve the true God
- Jesus will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to save those eagerly waiting for him
- As Jesus shares our human nature, he is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters
- Jesus modeled for us how to handle opposition and suffering, and how to trust the Father in heaven with our well-being
- Christ has healed us with his own wounds, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness
- The Gospel is good news for all who are poor, that is, economically depressed, broken-hearted, spiritually distressed, empty, deprived
- The effect of the Gospel in this disordered realm is to bring real freedom to all who are captive to the will of others, so that they may be free to live as their Creator desires they live
- The Gospel sometimes brings miraculous effects, healings such as recovery of sight to blind people, to demonstrate the power and intent of God to restore all of his children with the power to see things as they truly are and make wise life choices accordingly
- The Gospel causes those who are downcast, inwardly bruised and imposed with burdens in this life to find healing and freedom
- The Gospel of Jesus is the beginning fulfillment of God’s promise to establish an age of favor, deliverance and blessing for all his children
It’s a remarkable list, thirty elements, and it’s not complete. The Gospel is a multi-faceted jewel.
And, again, why is it so important that we know the Gospel, continually review it, come back to it, think about it, apply it and marvel over its multiple facets? Because the Gospel offers us life—full, unparalleled life.
Again: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
And what is “living by faith in the Son of God” look like? It means repeatedly, tirelessly bringing our thoughts and our minds, our hearts and our wills, our lives as we live them each bit at a time, into the spiritual presence of the risen Christ so that he can patiently help us re-form them, transform them. Living by faith in the Son of God means incrementally learning how to think and act as he would if he were us. It is the process of spiritual transformation.
How well do we know the Gospel?
How does the Gospel affect the way we live, the choices we make?
Finally, how would our life, our outlook, our reality be different if there were no Gospel?
Inflame our hearts with love for You, O Christ our God, that loving You with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength, and our neighbors as ourselves, we may obey Your commandments and glorify You, the Giver of all good things. Amen.