Lately, evangelicals have been telling us that social justice is a “Gospel issue.” A recent comment on one of my blog posts suggested that the Gospel teaches us to have unity despite theological differences (a point worthy of its own article). These sentiments, as well as similar sentiments I’ve heard throughout the years, prompt me to think that we need periodic reminders of what the Gospel actually is.
Most of you may decide not to read this article. Why waste time reading about something so basic? Do I have new insights into the Gospel? Perhaps a fresh take on it? Can I present it in a creative manner that makes it more interesting? More relevant?
No, I can’t. As a matter of fact, adding to the Gospel would lead me to damnation (Galatians 1:8). I have no interest in dressing it up for the purpose of making it more appealing and/or entertaining.
But I’m extremely interested in keeping the Gospel in constant view so that none of us (myself included) loses sight of it.
Let’s focus on Ephesians 2:1-10 for starters:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)
In this passage, Paul presents the problem of human depravity and God’s mercy to grant us new life through the grace of Jesus Christ. Any good works we perform come as a result of His grace, not as a condition for receiving — or even maintaining — His grace. So, while the Gospel inevitability allows us to walk in the good works that God has prepared for us, the Gospel emphasizes His grace in taking us out of His wrath and raising us to new life in Him. Jesus, not good works, is the focal point of the Gospel.
I started with Ephesians 2:1-10 because the Good News of the Gospel is only good news if we first understand the bad news that we are by nature children of wrath. Romans 3:23 bluntly states that all have sinned. We also must realize that we’re helpless to do anything to atone for our sin. The Holy Spirit says in Isaiah 64:6 that even our righteous deeds are like menstrual rags. We need a Savior to transform us!
So how does Jesus transform wretched children of wrath into men and women capable of doing good works? I can think of several Scriptures that answer this question, but I believe Colossians 2:13-15 gives a direct answer:
13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (ESV)
The Lord makes us able to share in His resurrection because of Christ’s death on the cross. On the cross, Jesus took the wrath of God that rightfully belonged to us (the word propitiation in 1 John 2:2 means that He became a sin offering to appease God’s wrath).
Wondrously, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, signifying that He Father accepted His sacrifice (Romans 1:1-4). Christ’s resurrection ensures our acceptance into God’s kingdom.
We appropriate His death and resurrection by placing our faith in His finished work (Romans 10:9 and John 3:16). Faith in Him will naturally result in repentance from sin and a desire to honor and glorify our wonderful Lord and Savior.
Non-Christians and nominal Christians desperately need to hear the Gospel. They need to know that Jesus alone can save them from the wrath of God. But those of us who are Christians also need to constantly return to the basic Gospel message. Although we won’t find anything new in it, just hearing it again renews our love and adoration of our Savior by reminding us that the Gospel is about Him.