The Centrality of the Gospel (Part 2)

We have been reflecting on 1 Corinthians 15 and the priority of the gospel for the Christian’s faith and practice. In part 1 we looked at how the gospel was central to the mind of Christ. It was the pinnacle and priority of his earthly mission. It consumed his entire life. But this leads us to another question: did that emphasis upon the gospel end with Jesus’ ascension or does it continue on to become the pinnacle and priority of the Church? We might start by looking at how the apostles viewed of the gospel.

The emphasis of Christ upon the gospel was not lost upon his disciples. Indeed this emphasis upon the gospel as the pinnacle and priority of faith and life received further attention by the disciples after Christ ascended into heaven. From Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2:14-38 to Paul’s message to the intellectual elites in Athens in Acts 17 there is a continual focus on the gospel. Indeed, in all his letters Paul begins by focusing first and foremost on the gospel and then he begins to flesh this truth out into the lives of his readers. And when Paul begins his letter of introduction to the Christians in Rome he states that as an apostle he is “set apart” that is devoted “to the gospel of God.” What fills the mind and heart of Paul and the other apostles is the gospel of God. And how could it not? It is the good news that the penalty for the treason of our sin which brings separation from God has paid for by the God whom we offended. That God sent his Son who came and lived the righteous life we could not live so that he might bear in our stead the penalty for our treason against God on himself at the cross. And when we raise the empty hands of faith relying completely on the finished work of Christ who died and rose again we are given Christ’s righteousness! It is no wonder that Paul is determined to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and him crucified1

Perhaps though, just perhaps, this emphasis died out with the apostles. Some seem to think it did (or ought to). It is time, some might have said, to get past the gospel and on to real life and discipleship. But the early church didn’t think this way. Though far from perfect, like ourselves, they too realized the primary significance of what Christ accomplished on the cross.

When the early Christians were being persecuted and killed for their faith it was not always wise to declare one’s commitment to Christ publicly. So Christians began to adopt symbols that would communicate their faith so that other believers would recognize them as fellow Christians. These symbols were also used as evangelistic tools for unbelievers who inquired as to what they meant. Early Christians used a variety of symbols like the Fish, the peacock, a dove as well as depictions of biblical accounts to indicate their faith in Christ. But the symbol that early Christians were always drawn back to was that of the cross to symbolize what God did in Christ to redeem us from our sin. The gospel remained central.

But is the Gospel still central for us today? Or is it a mere stepping stone into something else? I once heard a pastor declare that the gospel is a hedge that protects the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible (complete with power-point pictures and all). Now I believe and joyfully affirm the inspiration of the Scriptures but that was theological (and just plain logical) hogwash. But it seems so many people, including pastors, have difficulty with understanding what place the gospel is to have in our churches and lives once we become believers. So let’s work through some passages of Scripture to see how the gospel is to be connected to our faith and practice.

The Gospel and the Church. In Romans 1 Paul begins writing to the Roman believers and tells them that he has been desiring to come to them but has been prevented. He explains to them that when he arrives he has two desires, two goals for his ministry among them. The first is that he wants to help establish them in the faith and see them encouraged and grow in their walk with God. But he also desires to see unbelievers in Rome come to faith in Christ. These are the twin peaks of discipleship and evangelism. But how is Paul going to accomplish this? Must he have a strategy for the christians and another for non-Christians? Does he need to develop one program bent on discipleship and another for evangelism? No. Paul simply says in verse 15 – “So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are at Rome also.” Paul understands that to evangelize the lost and disciple believers (immature and mature) he needs to preach the gospel. This means that Paul sees the Gospel as something more than merely a threshold of a door, that once you step over it you no longer worry about it. Rather he sees it as something that affects and connects with every aspect of our lives. The gospel is central to church ministry. How can the gospel accomplish this? Well in verse 16-17 Paul tells us that it is because the gospel alone is the power of God. The “highest density of God’s power” is not found in creation or miracles but in the gospel! The gospel is central to the church’s ministry.

Husbands – Marital relationships are also to be kept in connection with the gospel. In the case of husbands we are told to love our wives. That’s easy enough as long as we get to define what that love is. But we aren’t given the privilege of being the Websters of love. Instead we are commanded to love our wives like Christ loved the church by giving himself for it (Eph. 5:25)! Our love for our wives is vitally connected with the sacrificial love displayed in the gospel. The cross is central to marital relationships.

Fogiving others – All of us have been sinned against (whether it be parent, spouse, child, friend or coworker)? But because we are different people we tend to respond in different ways. But God gives us one response that ought to characterize all of us. We are told to forgive. I actually think forgiveness, true forgiveness, is one of the most difficult things we can do as humans because it costs us. We tend to use forgiveness as a weapon on those who have wronged us. We hold out on forgiving others until we are no longer angry anymore (which could take quite a while) while we beat the other person up with their failure until we deem that their sense of sorrow and remorse and self worth is low enough so that we can forgive them. But forgiveness isn’t something we are to use to inflict pain on those who have wronged us. It is to be given as freely (and as costly) as it was given to us in Christ at the cross (Eph. 4:32). That is gospel forgiveness.

Loving – Perhaps your struggle is deeper still. Do you find it difficult to show love for a brother or sister in Christ or for a family member? Listen to what John says 1 John 4:7-11: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Gospel love doesn’t wait for someone to get their act together for us to love them. It doesn’t wait for the unlovely to be lovely. When we love others without reference to their position, attractiveness, or ability to help us but only because we have been loved by God we display the love that has the cross at its center.

Humility – Many of us think far too highly of ourselves and as a result we continually view others as less intelligent, less gifted, less good-looking, less-whatever. But Paul says “let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus” and then he goes on to describe how Jesus, being God, “humbled himself and become obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” The cross is the standard by which our humility is to be measured. And consequently the cross is the means by which our pride is to be forgiven and overcome.

Legalism – When we liberate God’s commands from the gospel we then turn our faith into legalism. We act as if we don’t need God to follow God and as if we can please God without God. Yet Paul declares that it is only in our being united in Christ because of the gospel that we are able to obey God at all. And then when we fall, and we all will fall into sin, we act as if God cannot accept us unless we do something to get back into his good pleasure. So we either try to avoid all contact with church, the bible and prayer because we feel that God can’t accept us or we are so proud as to think that we can go to church enough, pray enough and read our bible enough to get back on God’s good side. But that is not how it works because the gospel is far more radical than this. It is the gospel that declares in Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”!!! So there is no reason to run from God and no reason to run the treadmill of legalism to stay in God’s good favor because if we are in Christ then even after we have committed the most heinous, soul blackening sin God still looks at us and only sees the righteousness of his Son Jesus.

Lawlessness – The gospel also frees us from lawlessness because we are told that we have been saved, not so that we can do whatever we want without impunity, but that we were redeemed for “good works.” And these good works follow out of a true (though not complete) and grateful understanding of what God has accomplished for us in Christ Jesus.

Viewing God when we don’t like something – The cross is also to be the lens through which we view the events of our lives and the commands of the Bible. Whether we are confronted with cancer, marital difficulty or just simply don’t like what God has to say about gender roles – then instead of rebelling against God we remember that this is the same God whose love caused him to freely send his own Son to redeem us from the curse of the law. And if he did that then he is surely going to give us all things and provide for us!

The Church – And what about Church? Did God save you so that you could now do things all alone? Not at all. When we believed the gospel we were united with the people of God and we are expected to join ourselves with the people of God in a local church. There are many biblical passages where we might turn to see this but Hebrews 10:19-25 is very helpful. Here the author looks at Christ’s sacrifice and draws from it three things that he asks his audience to do as a result of the gospel. It is the third item that we draw our attention to now: 19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, … let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. When we consider what Christ has done for us at the cross we are to commit ourselves to loving and sacrificing for and building up other believers. And we do this primarily by committing ourselves to a local church.

These are just a few of the examples of how the gospel connects to everything in the Christian life. As C. J. Mahaney has written: “The Gospel isn’t one class among many that you’ll attend during your life as a Christian – the gospel is the whole building that all the classes take place in! Rightly approached, all the topics you’ll study and focus on as a believer will be offered to you ‘within the wall’ of the glorious gospel.” We were not given the gospel only so that we could be converted but so that we could live out every day in the power of the gospel. This is why Paul commended the church in Philippi to live lives worthy of the gospel. “In the providence of God, we are led by the Holy Spirit, not beyond the gospel, but more and more deeply into it.”

So if the gospel is the pinnacle and priority of our faith, what is it? That is where we will turn our attention to next monday.

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