Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Part 1

What exactly is the gospel of Jesus Christ? Many quote Acts 16:31 stating “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household,” but that isn’t the gospel. In context Paul and Silas are speaking with a repentant and fearful jailor who asks what he must do to be saved; Paul replies that faith in Jesus Christ saves. Then he and Silas go on, after being brought into said jailor’s house, to speak to his family “the word of the Lord,” verse 32. What is this word of the Lord referred to? Clearly it was the message in which the jailor and his household believed, for after receiving it with joy (verse 34) all of his household were baptized (verse 33) which is the first commandment Jesus gave to new disciples, Matthew 28:19. It is this message that we are most concerned with.

In 1st Corinthians 15 we find an abridged gospel, the gospel of God’s grace that saves those who hear it and believe the message. “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain,” 1st Corinthians 15:1-2. This order of occurrences mirrors how the apostle describes the reception of salvation in Romans: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10:13-14. Paul preached the message of the gospel (1st Corinthians 2:2) which the Corinthians received (aka heard and believed). The result was that those who heard and believed this message were saved. Paul could not make it any clearer in Romans and Corinthians that it is the hearing of faith that saves us, and that faith must be placed in the person of Jesus Christ.

But again, what is this message that we call the gospel? Well, Paul summarizes this message in what I call the “nutshell gospel.” We read: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received,” 1st Corinthians 15:3. Here Paul plainly admits that this same message that he later shared with the Corinthians he first received by faith, and through it was saved by Jesus Christ. Paul was present when Stephen was martyred, Acts 7:58; 8:1. He also was present when arresting a good many Christians, bringing them to prison, Acts 8:3. His confrontation on the Damascus road with the risen and glorified Son of Man converted Paul, and shortly thereafter by the laying on of Ananias’ hands Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit, Acts 9:17. Note that the text does not say he received the Holy Spirit, but was filled with Him; something that only a saved man could receive, as was the case with other Christians, Acts 2:4; 4:8; 7:55; 13:9, etc. Having his sight restored and filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul fulfilled Christ’s first commandment to all disciples by being baptized in water straight way, Acts 9:18.

The reception of this amazing, life transforming message changed Saul of Tarsus into Paul the chief apostle and the primary vessel through which the Holy Spirit wrote most of the New Testament. Paul was now relating this message which was nothing more than bearing witness to the historicity of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. It cannot be stated clearly enough that the gospel we are about to listen to was not an abstract belief in God; it was a blunt and bold witness that God invaded space/time in the person of Jesus Christ, and that His death, burial and resurrection were historical realities witnessed by hundreds of people, 1st Corinthians 15:5-8. The gospel carries the unsettling weight of reality; that God indeed revealed His person and purpose in Christ.

The gospel states: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (aka the Old Testament), and that He was buried (proof of His actual death), and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (demonstrating God’s acceptance of Christ’s payment for our sins),” 1st Corinthians 15:3-4. It cannot simply be said that Christ died, but that He died for a specific reason: He died for our sins. Our sins separated mankind from God and until the penalty for that crime was paid man could not enter the presence of God, Hebrews 9:8; 11:39-40. The Old Testament promised in its symbolism and prophecy what the New Testament fulfilled in historical reality: reconciliation with God. The essence of the gospel is reconciliation with God. The object of the gospel is Jesus Christ. Let us listen again to it: CHRIST died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that HE (Christ) was buried, and that HE (Christ) rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. The subject of the gospel is an answer from God as to what He intends to do about man and his sinful rebellion. How shall men ever come to God? The object of the gospel is through whom and by whom all of this is accomplished. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.

2 comments:

  1. Great post, Ian, and a great distinction between the what the gospel is and the action it calls for.

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  2. I wrote above, "Note that the text does not say he received the Holy Spirit, but was filled with Him; something that only a saved man could receive, as was the case with other Christians." I clarify a little by adding that "receving" the Holy Spirit is a one time act which is confirmation that you have believed the gospel and been given eternal life, Ephesians 1:13-14.
    The disciples received the Holy Spirit in the upper room after Jesus' resurrection, John 20:22. They were subsequently filled with Him on numerous occassions thereafter, beginning with the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:4. Being filled with the Holy Spirit denotes being made ready for a particular service or ministry by God; He supplies the power one needs to accomplish His goals. That is why, after Jesus gave the disciples the Holy Spirit that He commanded them to wait until they had had received power (literally authority) from on high, Luke 24:48. This is what happened when the Holy Spirit came upon them on the day of Pentecost. Just as Jesus did not begin His public ministry until the Holy Spirit had come upon him (Luke 3:21-22; 4:1), neither did He want His disciples ministrering in their own strength. I hope this clears things up for anyone who was confused.

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