(This is the third of five posts on what is the Gospel of Jesus, the first two being “Merry Christmas. And…What Is the Gospel?” and “Pay Close Attention to What Matters Most”)
What do we think the Gospel is? And what difference does it make for us?
Some of us who think of ourselves as Christians have been taught to think of the Gospel this way: Jesus came and died for us so that if we put our faith in him our sins will be forgiven and when we die we’ll go to heaven.
But others of us have been taught something more like this: the Gospel is the story of God’s redemptive love expressed in the self-emptying sacrifice of Christ, which causes believers to become agents of reconciliation in this disordered realm, bringing the peace and righteousness of the Kingdom of God to earth.
Fairly different views. One with the emphasis on sin and sacrifice, forgiveness and eternal life in heaven. The other more focused on remaking this world according to God’s values for the immediate benefit of all. One that leans to the individual appropriation of the effects of Christ’s sacrifice, the other moving us towards corporate engagement.
But is either one a sufficient summary of the Gospel?
We began this exploration by considering how strenuously Paul contested with those who tried to alter the Gospel that Paul, Peter, James, John and the other early Church leaders preached.
In the texts we’ve looked at so far, we’ve identified the following elements of the Gospel:
• Christ—the Jewish Messiah, the promised deliverer, the prophet of whom Moses spoke—died
• His death was for the sins of those who believed 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
But there is more.
Let’s look again at the Letter to the Hebrews and there we will see more elements of the Gospel.
In Hebrews 2:14-15, the author (writing to encourage Jewish Christians who were under enormous pressure to renounce Jesus as their Messiah and return to Judaism) writes that Christ came to earth sharing in our same flesh and blood so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death; that is in his death he destroyed Satan, so that all who were in lifelong slavery to the fear of death might be delivered. Sharing in our “same flesh and blood” he is totally human. Being the Son of God he came with power from God. He used his power and his death to destroy the enemy of God. By destroying death and Satan, he also destroyed the fear each of us naturally have about facing our own death.
Again, in Hebrews 7:23-25, the writer says that Jesus is the ultimate and greatest high priest because death cannot prevent him from continuing in his office as high priest; so because he continues forever, is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him and he always lives to make intercession for them.
And in Hebrews 9:14, the writer says that Christ offered his blood through the eternal Spirit, so his blood is able to purify our consciences of dead works and therefore we can serve the living God.
Then, in Hebrews 9:27-28, the writer says that Christ came the first time as an offering to bear the sins of many—think of a scapegoat—and will come a second time, not to deal with sins but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
And, in Hebrews 2:11, the writer says that Jesus makes his followers holy, and since his followers are of the same origin as he, he is not ashamed to call them his brothers and his sisters.
Two more texts.
Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:21-25 that Christ was an example for us, so that we might follow in his steps. He modeled for us how to handle opposition and suffering, and how to trust the Father in heaven with our well being. He says that Christ bore our sins in his body so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. He says by the wounds of Christ we are healed. And he says all of us were straying, but by following Christ we have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.
Mark writes in his Gospel (1:14-15) that Jesus came “…proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”
Salvation gospel? Social gospel? We’re given to reductions—necessary, I know, because we forget, we get distracted. We dumb down so easily. Anything we have a chance of remembering has to be 140 characters—or less—and sing-songy, catchy, imaginative, impactful, memorable.
And then we still will probably forget, moving on to the next thing, the next impulse, the next distraction, to whatever next catches our attention.
But the Gospel, people, the Gospel is…life. It’s the one thing—The One Thing—that makes a difference, temporal and eternal, individual and collective, physically and spiritually, now and forever.
And like any fantastic, extraordinary jewel, we need to treasure it, keep coming back to it, admiring it, peering at it, altered by our very possession of it.