This is the second in a series of posts regarding talking about our faith. Each post will be a section from a booklet called "Gospel Conversations" that was printed in September at Northview Community Church. This second post is an adaptation of the booklet's first chapter. If you would like to download a free PDF of the entire booklet, you can do so here.
1) THE GOOD NEWS
There have been a plethora of books written in the last few years with the intention of defining the gospel. I’m not sure if there is a more feverishly discussed topic in Christianity today than defining the term gospel. It is important to engage in this discussion because how we understand the gospel has massive implications for how we understand Christianity as a whole. Therefore, it is helpful for us to first put some thought into how we understand the gospel before exploring how to best talk about it with others.
In the New Testament the term gospel refers to Christ's saving work through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave. However that event is the pinnacle or apex of a bigger story of Christianity which spans from a time before the creation of the world to eternity future. The New Testament authors also use the phrase gospel to refer to the bigger story of Christianity.
A helpful framework for understanding the big story of Christianity is “Creation - Rebellion - Reconciliation - Consummation.” The message of the cross can be understood using the framework “God - Man - Christ.” These two frameworks are not competing storylines vying for attention, but rather the same storyline told from both the cosmic and personal point of view - from both in the air and on the ground.
The Gospel - The Whole Good News of Christianity
(Creation - Rebellion - Reconciliation - Consummation)
According to the Christian worldview, all of human history can be understood under the framework of a progression from creation to rebellion; rebellion to reconciliation; and reconciliation to consummation. The framework of “Creation - Rebellion - Reconciliation - Consummation” provides the four main acts of the great story of human history.
Before anything else existed, God was. This ever-existing God created the entire cosmos as very good, and humanity as the pinnacle of all creation. Both male and female were made in God’s image. The man and wife had a perfect relationship with God, each other, and the rest of creation. They were given the task to rule over creation as God’s image-bearers.
In the sin of the first man and woman, humanity chose to rebel against God and pursue our own desires, and to make ourselves the arbiters of what is true, good, and beautiful. Prior to humanity’s rebellion against God, everything functioned perfectly according to its designed purpose. It is hard to grasp exactly what that type of wholeness would have looked like this side of the rebellion, but it would have been experienced primarily in the realm of perfectly functioning and healthy relationships (i.e. man with self, man with others, man with God, and man with the rest of creation). Humanity’s rebellion brought alienation between God and humanity, and disrupted the perfection that previously existed. The rebellion led to work becoming difficult, human relationships becoming strained, and the earth subjected to an imperfect state (e.g., tsunamis and earthquakes).
God, in his love and mercy, did not leave humanity without hope. He began the process of reconciliation by choosing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be the fathers of a nation that would be called God’s people - Israel. God made a covenant with Israel promising to be her God and relentlessly pursue her for his glory and the renewal of the world. In the fullness of time God inaugurated his Kingdom by coming to the earth to live and dwell with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died the death we deserved because of sin, rose from the dead to conquer death, and reigns with God the Father in Heaven. The Holy Spirit, who raised Christ from the dead, came to be present with all who turned away from their sin, follow Jesus as Lord and King over everything, and believe that because of Jesus’ righteousness they can stand before God as not only forgiven, but as perfect and blameless. Because of Christ’s work, anyone can have a relationship with God when they turn away from their sin and trust Christ as their Saviour.
Jesus will return in glory to judge the living and the dead regarding how they responded to the news of Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and will consummate the Kingdom of God by ushering in a time where God will eternally and full dwell with his people, for their good and his ultimate glory. Those who trust Christ will be given new, resurrected, physical bodies like Christ’s resurrected body, and will live in a renewed creation with God forever. All disciples of Jesus put their trust in him and await his return so they can enjoy God forever in a renewed creation.
There are a few examples of New Testament authors using the word gospel or good news to describe the whole good news of Christianity, the example we will examine is Luke 4:16-21:
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In this passage Jesus is reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth. Upon completion, Jesus sits down to provide his commentary on the passage, as would have been customary for teachers in the synagogues. The only explanation Jesus provides is his claim that the long-awaited prophecy from Isaiah has been fulfilled - in him.
Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert provide a helpful and concise comment on the importance of this passage in Jewish theology:
Isaiah 61 begins a beautiful, triumphant poem about God’s final victory and the establishment of his reign through his Servant. Jerusalem would be rebuilt as a precious crown in God’s hand (61:4; 62:3), God’s and Israel’s enemies would be destroyed by God’s mighty arm (63:1-7), and former troubles would be utterly forgotten (65:16). The poem culminates...in that amazing vision... where God creates new heavens and a new earth where the sound of weeping and distress is heard no more, where infants no longer die after living but a few days, where the wolf lies down with the lamb, and where no one, God says, will hurt or destroy anyone or anything in all his holy mountain.
Jesus is making a bold claim. It’s a claim that at first brings wonder and amazement from the crowd (Luke 4:22), but eventually resentment and anger (4:29). Here is Jesus of Nazareth claiming that he is the Servant Messiah sent by God to fulfill all of what God has promised. All of human history has led to this point (the arrival of the Israel’s Messiah who will bless all the nations of the world) and will flow from this point until all things in the created order are made new. The best thing about new creation is that God will finally and fully dwell with his people because of what the Messiah has done.
The gospel is the whole good news of Christianity - the biggest story in the entire cosmos. Every event in history has meaning in advancing the plot of this story from its beginning in creation to its destination in the consummation of Christ’s kingdom.
The Gospel - The Message of the Cross
(God - Man - Christ)
“God - Man - Christ” is a helpful framework for remembering, and speaking about, the gospel as the message of salvation through Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, and holy God who created all things for his glory. Humanity was created by God and for God, yet has chosen to rebel against God. They chose to worship created things rather than the Creator himself. The act of rebellion mocks, insults, and belittles God and is deserving of the full weight of the his anger against sin. Humanity is dead spiritually, cares only for their own glory, and are separated from God. However, God in his love and mercy came to the earth as Jesus of Nazareth to live perfectly, die sacrificially, and rise again victoriously. Whoever responds by trusting Jesus as their Saviour and submit to his reign over everything (including their very lives!) are reconciled to God.
The New Testament contains passages where the authors use the term gospel or good news to summarize the message of salvation through Christ’s substituting death on the cross, and grave conquering resurrection. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 the Apostle Paul says:
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
This passage shows the clear connection in the Apostle’s mind between the “word of the cross” and “the gospel.” It is through the work of Jesus on the cross that humanity is able to be reconciled to God. Surely there are many blessings that will be given to God’s people in eternity, but those blessings can only be received because of the substitutionary death and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. As the sinless, suffering servant, Jesus was uniquely qualified to take God's righteous wrath against sin on himself when he executed as a criminal. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The price for sin is paid in full, and there is no longer any outstanding penalty for those who belong to him. But he has done more than save us from punishment. Because of his perfect obedience to his Father, he has done what we could not and has earned the inheritance of all creation; an inheritance he shares with his people. Those who follow him, receive the commendation of God, "well done, good and faithful servant", and enter into the full blessing of restored creation because of Christ’s righteous obedience. The only way one can experience the eternal blessings of God is through the repentance of sin and belief that Jesus has accomplished what we could not - a reconciled relationship with God.
One Gospel, Not Two
Though the gospel can be viewed through different lenses, there is only one gospel. Just as someone can see an aerial view of Vancouver and call it “Vancouver,” someone can also stand on the corner of West Cordova and Granville and call it “Vancouver”. Both perspectives rightly call what they see “Vancouver.”
There is one gospel. It is good news. It is the best news. It is news that is so big that it involves the entire narrative of human history. It is news about a God who is loving, just, and holy. A God who makes his dwelling with humanity and relentlessly pursues them for their good and his glory. The gospel is news that requires a personal response from all who hear it.
Chandler, Matt, and Jared C. Wilson. The Explicit Gospel.