26 February, 2015 Richard Coekin
People are born again and nourished to maturity within a church by God through the teaching of the Gospel of the Bible.
Churches need to know what the saving Gospel is, and they need to know how to teach it from the Bible. Although the teaching of the Gospel from the Bible is not the whole of church ministry, it certainly is the life-giving heart of church ministry. So let us consider what the Gospel is. In two further posts, we will then consider how to teach it from the Bible, and we will briefly consider how that might influence the shape of our Sunday gatherings.
THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMS THAT JESUS IS LORD AND SAVIOUR
Many Christians assume that “the Gospel” is everything good about being Christian, but that’s not what the Bible says! Since “the Gospel is the power for salvation” we need to know what the Gospel really is so that we can be saved and then proclaim it to our families, friends and colleagues. The word “Gospel” just means “good news”. It was used in the Roman Empire of NT times for momentous public announcements like the birth of an Emperor or a victory in battle. The “Gospel of God” is His sensational announcement to His world, progressively revealed in the Bible (Rom.1:1–17).
In the OT God’s Gospel promised a Kingdom and a King
The Gospel was first announced in God’s promise to Abraham of a land, a nation and blessing, a kingdom bringing blessing to all nations. The history of Israel then provides an earthly picture of the heavenly Kingdom through which such global blessing will eventually come (Gen.12:1–3).
God announced His “Gospel” again in Isaiah’s repeated promises of a King for His Kingdom. The Lord Himself would come to liberate His people from their exile far from God and gather them into His Kingdom. Amazingly, this deliverer would be the LORD’s suffering servant, dying under the penalty for our sin and then rising to life for our “justification” meaning ‘acceptance by God’ (Is.40, 52, 61, 53).
God provided many judges, prophets, priests, kings and governors as examples of His King and sent many prophets to describe Him. But then there was silence for centuries. Until the explosive moment when a tradesman’s son called “Jesus” emerged onto the public stage,“proclaiming the Gospel of God, “The time has come” He said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1).
In the NT God’s Gospel announces that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour
The mystery of the Gospel becomes crystal clear in the NT as Jesus is unveiled as the long-awaited King saving us into His Kingdom. There are many versions of God’s Gospel because it’s about a person, not a formula. But two glorious themes emerge in them all: Jesus is our Lord (i.e. who He is) and Jesus is our Saviour (i.e. what He’s done). Both are stunningly good news for us in London today.
Jesus is our Lord!
In Romans, Paul explains the Gospel of God to show why all nations need to hear it. He says it’s “regarding His Son”. If we’re not talking about Jesus, we’re not talking about the Gospel. When we talk about our experience, our church, our sin, or even God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, we are speaking of great Biblical truths but not about the Gospel that saves people. Paul often summarises God’s Gospel regarding His Son with the phrase, “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom.1:4; Acts; Col.2:6; 2 Cor.4:5). Obviously, this isn’t His first name, middle name and surname:
“Jesus” means the crucified Galilean of history; “Christ” means the promised saviour king of the OT; “Lord” means the divine and risen ruler of all.
God’s Gospel tells us how amazing Jesus is: Jesus is Christ our Lord. It then tells us what He’s done:
Jesus is our Saviour!
God’s Gospel celebrates Christ’s four primary achievements as our Saviour:
• He came as our King (Mark 1:14–15) — Mark’s Gospel is entitled, “the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God (meaning divine King)” and then announces, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God...The kingdom of God is near!” Jesus is the long-awaited King rescuing people into His heavenly Kingdom. He demonstrated the fabulous benefits of life under His rule with His merciful forgiveness, wise teaching and compassionate miracles. The Gospels and Epistles concentrate on Christ’s death and resurrection, and we should remember that this is how our King brings us into His Kingdom.
• He died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1–4) — Paul reminds the Corinthians of God’s saving Gospel, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures”. Christ’s death was incredibly special because He died (voluntarily and not as a victim) for our sins (as our loving self-sacrificial substitute) according to the scriptures to satisfy the justice of God (as our “Passover sacrifice”, “Atonement sacrifice” and “Suffering Servant sacrifice” (Exodus 14; Leviticus 16; Isaiah 53). Paul reminds us that this death is undeniable because He was buried!
• Christ rose to rule (1 Corinthians 15:4–7) — Paul continues, “...He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures”. The NT triumphantly proclaims that, as promised by the OT and Jesus, He was raised to life and enthroned in heaven as King over us all because He completely paid for all our sins. Now we are completely qualified for heaven in Him. Paul reminds us that His resurrection is undeniable because “He appeared” to many people on many occasions.
• He will return to judge (Romans 2:16) — Many Christians are unaware that Scripture explicitly says that judgment is part of the Gospel e.g. “the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ as my Gospel declares”
(Rom. 2:16 cf. Revelation 14:6) Christ’s judgement will begin the punishment of unrepentant sinners in hell and the extravagant blessing of His forgiven people in His marvellous, resurrected creation.
The spectacular benefits of God’s Gospel are life in His heavenly Kingdom
God’s Gospel is also described as the Gospel of peace, hope, life, righteousness and grace. These are the wonderful benefits of the Gospel in all who believe it. When we turn to Jesus we begin to daily experience the reassuring comfort of peace with God even amidst tragedy and pain, the uplifting encouragement of the hope of being with Him, the deep satisfaction of life in personal relationship with Him and the joy of Christ’s righteousness counted as ours and growing within us, and the incredible generosity of God’s grace. And one day, when Jesus returns, we’ll know these joys perfectly in heaven. These blessings of the Gospel are actually life in the Kingdom of God, the blessing originally promised to Abraham.
Conclusion — the Gospel is the joyful message of God’s Grace
The Gospel declares joyful news: Jesus is Christ our Lord who came as our King, died for our sins, rose to rule and will return to judge i.e. Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. Mind you, I discovered rather painfully that we can think we’re proclaiming the Gospel of grace when the way we do it drains all the goodness out of it. I know, because some years ago, I was doing it! A Scottish minister friend confronted me saying, “There’s not enough grace in your preaching” he said. “It’s all too much challenge!” I was mortified. But he was right! When I kept demanding of the congregation, “we should realise how marvellous the grace of God is”, my challenge was actually undermining the sheer wonder of the Gospel. I needed to feel and to find language that simply marvels at the wonder of the Gospel of God’s grace. For there’s nothing for us to be or to do for our salvation, but to enjoy who Christ is and what He has done for us.
Paul declared that his life was utterly surrendered to “testifying to the Gospel of God’s grace” and “the Word of His grace which can build you up” (Acts 20: 24, 32). The teaching ministry that God will use to save people and grow churches will be focussed upon the Gospel of God’s grace – His absolutely amazing and undeserved kindness towards us in Christ. If a local church is the body of Christ, then “the Gospel of God’s grace” is its heart, pumping life-giving blood through the arteries of the various teaching ministries into all the organs and limbs of the church. It’s the blood of Christ’s loving self-sacrifice for our sins on the cross that saves people and grows churches, in 1st century Ephesus and 21st century London. And the saving power at the heart of all our Co-Mission churches is “the Gospel of God’s grace”, pumping the sacrificial blood of Christ along the arteries of all our teaching ministries into the people of every age and stage of faith. The “Gospel of God’s grace” that Paul proclaimed is not instruction for our ministry but proclamation of his ministry, not good advice to follow but good news to celebrate! This is the Gospel our churches proclaim.
God alone might be glorified.
This is an extract from On This Rock, a future publication from Richard Coekin.