I realize that the idea that the gospel is not about you (and us humans) may shock some sensibilities. Christians have for so many years now described and presented the (a?) gospel that has humanity at its center. Sure there are some tidbits about God and Jesus (though not all the time) but mostly it is about raising a hand, walking down an aisle, kneeling at the “altar”, saying a prayer, filling out a card, and on and on the list can go. In some circles they even ask for a financial gift. While someone may do all of these things (and many have) and be a true Christian, they are not a true Christian because they did any of these things. Indeed they are probably a more healthy Christian because they never have.
I say that they may be a more healthy Christian if they have never done any of these things because then they are more likely to have seen and rejoiced in the actions of Another who finished the work of salvation completely so that they could enjoy it freely without all the frills and finishes that do more to conceal the true gospel than to reveal it.
So far in this series on the “The Centrality of the Gospel” we have examined how the gospel is the priority and pinnacle of our faith. In part 1, we saw that the gospel dominated the mind of Christ. We then traced this gospel emphasis in part 2 from Christ to the apostles and on through to the early church and then made some biblical connections as to how the gospel relates to our modern lives as the pinnacle and priority of our faith and practice.
But we have yet to think about what the gospel is. And if we are going to make the gospel central we should at least begin to understand what it is all about. Or more rightly: Who the gospel is all about.
Put simply, the gospel is all about Jesus. It hinges on who he is and what he has done. This Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-4 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. Here we see that Jesus is the center upon which the gospel pivots and moves. And the first thing that Paul says about the gospel is that Jesus “died for our sins.”
This phrase reminds me of some of the water-balloon fights that I have been in. Not the fights really but the water-balloons themselves. (I have to admit that I am kind of juvenile at this point about water-balloon fights. Something about being encouraged to throw something at someone else brings out the worst in me.) Whenever people make water-balloons for these events there are always a couple of balloons that are filled a little too full. Squeeze them too tight and they explode in your hands. This phrase feels like that. It is packed with deep theological truth.
But before you retreat into your bunker of “theology is a waste of time” and shoot your machine gun of “we need more evangelism not more doctrine” let your mind wrap itself around these quotes:
“Burning hearts are not nourished by empty heads.”
“We must develop our minds if we are to sustain our passion for the Savior…”
You can find them (and watch the video for a really great looking conference) here. The basic gist is that deep thoughts about God and his work create and sustain the kind of passion that we need to live the Christian life.
So with that said here are a few things that this phrase points to:
- Jesus’ death on the cross was penal. Christ, being sinless, took the just punishment of God against our sin (for those who trust in Jesus) on himself. Jesus being perfect bore the curse of God upon my sin on his shoulders that I might stand before God forgiven. This is highlighted by the word “sins.” John Stott rightly identifies that what we see at the cross is this: “Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice.”
- Jesus’ death on the cross was subsitutionary. That simply means that Jesus died in my stead. He died in the place of all who put their faith in him. All the wrath of God against me was felt by him. He stood in my place that I might stand with Him forever.
- Jesus’ death on the cross is effective. This is true because the former two truths are true. But what I want to draw attention to with this point is that Christ’s death completely accomplished all that God set out to accomplish with it. That Christ “died” (note the past tense) means that what he did then finished and completed the work. It cannot be added to by us. It needs not be amended by God. It was effective for all whom God intended it to save.
The implications of this are staggering and immensely practical for everyday life. But instead of drawing out the implications of these truths I will instead end with this excerpt from the Valley of Vision:
Enlarge my heart, warm my affections, open my lips, supply words that proclaim ‘Love lustres at Calvary.’
There grace removes my burdens and heaps them on thy Son, made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for me;
There the sword of thy justice smote the man, thy fellow;
There thy infinite attributes were magnified, and infinite atonement was made;
There infinite punishment was due, and infinite punishment was endured.
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
cast off that I might be brought in,
trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,
surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best,
stripped that I might be clothed,
wounded that I might be healed,
athirst that I might drink,
tormented that I might be comforted,
made a shame that I might inherit glory,
entered darkness that I might have eternal light.
My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,
groaned that I might have endless song,
endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
bore a thorny crown that I might have a glory-diadem,
bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness,
expired that I might for ever live.
O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou mightest spare me,
All this transfer thy love designed and accomplished;
Help me to adore thee by lips and life.
O that my every breath might be ecstatic praise,
my every step buoyant with delight,
as I see my enemies crushed,
Satan baffled, defeated, destroyed,
sin buried in the ocean of reconciling blood,
hell’s gates closed, heaven’s portal open.
Go forth, O conquering God, and show me the cross,
mighty to subdue, comfort and save.”
– The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett,