What is the Gospel? Please, Remind Me Again!

As 2012 comes to an end and 2013 looms, I reflect once again on the nature of the gospel. Our work in training pastors is to help them understand the gospel, practice it in their lives, and proclaim it to others, all with a view to helping the nations worship God when they have understood him through the gospel. In thinking through how God has used TLI and many other ministers of the gospel, I cannot help but think again on the nature of the gospel of which we are all ambassadors. Following are some observations on what the gospel is. These are not new, but simply reminders of what we already believe and hold onto. We must be reminded of these things lest we became lazy and presume to know them when we don’t.

Definition

Simply, the gospel is the good news about God (and Christ). It is a message of salvation addressed to a lost world, that tells what God has done to save sinners and how those saved ought to live before God. The high point of the gospel is not what we must do to be saved but what God has done in Christ to save us.

The Nature of the Gospel Message

As we proclaim the gospel message, there are certain elements that we must be conscious of and take seriously. Only then will we proclaim it well and expect it to do its work. We note the following elements of the gospel:

The Gospel is Power

The gospel is God’s power that accomplishes salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1:16). God works through the gospel message to bring people to himself. Through the gospel, those who believe are reconciled to God, redeemed, delivered, and justified (see Rom 3:23, 24; 8:1; 1 Cor. 15:1, 2; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; 1 Tim. 1:15; cf. Acts 3:13; 4:27).

Source of the Gospel

The source of the gospel or the author of the gospel is God and Christ. We read that it is “the gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:9), or “the gospel of Christ” (1 Thess. 3:2). God and Christ as the source of the gospel mean that both are the author of salvation. As such, it is not from man (Gal. 1:11, 12; 2:16) since man cannot produce the means for his own salvation. He is unable to do so and so depends only on God (Eph. 2:1, 5, 9). Therefore, from beginning to end, it is God alone who works in Christ to save man.

Emphasis of the Gospel

In the gospel message, the emphasis is not on man but on God. The emphasis is placed on God’s sovereign work to save, and his unmerited grace. Thus, it is the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24; see also Rom. 3:23-24; Eph. 2:6-10; Titus 3:4-7).

The Message of the Gospel

What does the gospel communicate? Again, we look to Scripture for an answer. We find that the message of the gospel centers on the person of Jesus Christ. It reports the historical events surround the life of Christ (Luke 1:1; 24:14, 18) and centers on his death and resurrection, all in fulfillment of Scripture (1 Cor. 15:1-5; Acts 2:23; cf. Gal. 2:20). His death was a saving event, in that he died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 1:4). His resurrection was for the vindication of Jesus (Acts 2:23, 24; 3:13-15; 5:30, 31), vindication of God (Rom. 3:25-26), and for our justification (Rom. 4:25)

Witnesses of the Gospel

By witnesses, we are referring to the evidence that supports the gospel message. The apostles appealed to evidence to support their gospel, and that evidence is Scripture itself (1 Cor. 15:3, 4; Rom. 3:21; Acts 26:22, 23). All of the Old Testament bears witness to Jesus, who is the center of the gospel (see Luke 24:24ff). The apostles themselves were witnesses of the gospel message, so what they proclaimed was true (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:48; Mark 3:14; John 15:26; Acts 2:32). The witness of the Old Testament and the apostles is primary in giving support to the truthfulness of the gospel message. 

Demands of the Gospel

The gospel demands repentance, faith, and baptism. The gospel clearly calls sinners to accept the gospel and repent from sin (Acts 3:19; 17:30; 2 Cor. 7:10; 2 Tim. 2:25), and turn to Christ in faith.  The gospel is not something to be ashamed of, since it is the power of God and through it God saves sinners (Rom. 1:16, 17; Gal. 3:11; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 2:12, 13). The gospel then appeals very strongly that we be reconciled with God (2 Cor. 5:20) and this is more so because there is no other means of salvation except the means provided by God.

Messengers of the Gospel

Knowing the implications of the gospel, how are sinners to hear it in order to be saved by it? God does not only send the gospel, he sets aside people to proclaim its message (Rom. 1:1). Those set apart for the gospel feel an obligation to proclaim it (Rom. 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:16). We can say that all believers are indeed ambassadors (messengers) of the gospel of God’s grace (2 Cor. 5:20).

Gospel Affirmation

Those who believe the gospel must affirm Jesus; that Jesus is Lord and Christ (Rom. 10:9; 14:9; Phil. 2:9-11; Acts 2:36; 5:31); that God has exalted him at his right hand and therefore he rules over all (Acts 2:32-33; 10:36).

Promises of the Gospel

The gospel comes with promises, but not material promises. Rather, the gospel promises the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who believe (Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19; 10:43; 13:38).

 


 

Being reminded over and over about the essential elements of the gospel helps us to keep these things in focus and communicate the gospel message to the nations in a way that is true to Scripture.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matt. 24:14).

When Dying is Gain and Life is Christ: A Theology of Life and Ministry

It is natural for human beings to fear death and cling to life. Death is dark and brings sorrow. If given a choice between life and death, we choose life. Our view of life and death impacts how we handle death, life, and ministry as a whole. In Philippians 1:18b-21, Paul addresses these two important topics of life and death. In so doing, he helps me begin to develop a theology of life and ministry.

In verse 21, Paul writes,

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Two things are clear : life for Paul is Christ and death is gain. Yet, what does Paul intend to communicate in this statement? A superficial reading of this verse leads one to think that Paul would have welcomed the opportunity to die since doing so would have been gain. Yet, what does he mean by “gain” and is he saying that remaining alive is “loss?”

Paul’s words in context help us see the theology that guided his view of life and death.

To live is Christ. What does this mean?

It means that Christ is honored in his body (his whole person), whether by life or by death (v. 21b). Having explained that he rejoices at the preaching of Christ (1:12-18a), Paul again says, “Yes, and I will rejoice” (v. 18b). He gives the reason for this rejoicing in verses 19-20, where he writes,

19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

In Paul’s theology, whether his imprisonment ends in life (his release from prison) or in his death, he will rejoice. The reason for this mindset is that in either case, Christ is honored. So, to live for Paul is to glory in Christ and to die is to glory in Christ.

To live is Christ in that living means bringing glory to Christ through the faith of the Philippians. We read in verses 22-26:

22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Continuing in life for Paul means fruitful labor (v. 22a). Yet, if it were a matter of his choice between living and dying, Paul found it hard (vv. 22b).  Yet, continuing in life is necessary for the sake of the Philippians (v. 24). Knowing this, Paul is resolved to remain in the flesh. The reason for his resolving to remain in the flesh is for the progress of the Philippians and their joy in the faith. Thus, Paul’s resolve to go on living is for the sake of the Philippians. His living means that others will make progress and find joy in their faith. This all boils down to the glory of Christ in his living and ministry. He concludes in v. 26 by giving the purpose for his decision to continue in the flesh: to bring progress and joy among the Philippians for the glory of Christ. He says,

So that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Consequently, life for Paul, though hard, is necessary because it means fruitful labor in the form of the progress and joy of those he is called to serve. The ultimate goal of this ministry is that they will bring glory to Jesus Christ. Thus, to live is Christ.

To die is gain. Why?

We note that Paul does not dwell much on this statement. He makes it but focuses on the fact that he is going to continue living. Still, he make a few comments about dying being gain. For example, to die was Paul’s personal desire, for in dying he will be with the Lord immediately (v. 23) and be at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). We can conclude (from the broader context of Paul’s writings) that death is gain in the sense that he will know Christ better, serve/worship him unhindered by sin, have more joy, and be found fully in the image of Christ. He will see Christ face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). In all of these, Christ will be glorified in Paul in ways far better than possible during life. Thus, to die is gain in that it brings full glory to Christ.

Conclusion

A healthy theology of life and death in ministry is one in which the minister finds joy in Christ, and being confident that in life or death, Christ will be glorified. It is a theology that knows its purpose for existence, the progress and joy in the faith of those we are called to serve. It is a theology that knows the result of ministry in this life, fruitful labor seen in progress and joy in faith. Finally, it is a theology that glories in Christ and pursues the glory of Christ in the lives of others.

What is the practical day-to-day outworking of the statement, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain?” We will look at this in the next posts.

What Would You Do in this Situation?

As a missionary, you find yourself in prison because you preach Christ. Yet, you realize that the situation is actually serving to advance the gospel. Everyone, including unbelievers around you, know why you are in prison: you preach Christ. Most of the believers in the city, knowing that you are in prison for the sake of Christ, are much more bold to preach the gospel without fear. What do you do? Rejoice?

As it turns out, some of those preaching Christ boldly because of your example are indeed doing so to harm you. They are preaching Christ out of envy and rivalry, not sincerely, but because they want to afflict you in your imprisonment. Yet others are preaching out of good will because they love you and know that you have been a strong defender of the gospel.

What do you do? Rejoice? Will you consider those who are preaching to afflict you (not sincerely) as believers? What will be your focus as you look at these two groups of individuals?

This was Paul’s experience when he wrote Philippians 1:12-18.

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

How did Paul deal with the situation?

  1. He made it known that his situation was indeed serving to advance the gospel (v. 12). He was gospel-focused. How did Paul know that his imprisonment was serving to advance the gospel? He explains in vv. 13-14.
  2. He was realistic about the motives of those preaching the gospel having been emboldened by his imprisonment. Here we have two groups: Those preaching to afflict Paul. They were not sincere in their preaching (v. 15a, 17). The other group preached out of love, showing understanding for why Paul was in prison (v. 15b, 16). Thus, Paul was fully aware of the motives of those preaching the gospel.
  3. Paul did not doubt the faith of those preaching to afflict him. He calls them “brothers.” He said in v. 14 that “most of the brothers” were preaching with boldness. In v. 15 he says “some” going back to the brothers. Consequently, even those preaching out of envy and rivalry are considered by Paul as “brothers.” That is a term Paul usually uses for believers in his letters.
  4. Paul could rejoice both in the preaching of those seeking to hurt him and those preaching out of love for him. The reason he could rejoice is the content of their preaching: Christ. Looking at the situation before him, Paul could say, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice . . .” Paul resolved to rejoice because his focus was on the content of the message and not on the motives of those preaching.

The right focus in ministry determines how we respond to situations we face, especially those we see that are intended to do us harm. There is much to be learned from Paul’s example in this passage.