Together for the Gospel

C J Mahaney answers the question, “What is the gospel?” on the Together for the Gospel blog. Quoting with approval another writer, he says:

The gospel is the good news of God’s saving activity in the person and work of Christ. This includes his incarnation in which he took to himself full (yet sinless) human nature; his sinless life which fulfilled the perfect law of God; his substitutionary death which paid the penalty for man’s sin and satisfied the righteous wrath of God; his resurrection demonstrating God’s satisfaction with his sacrifice; and his glorification and ascension to the right hand of the Father where he now reigns and intercedes for the church.

Such news is specific: there is a defined ‘thatness’ to the gospel which sets forth the content of both our saving faith and our proclamation. It is objective, and not to be confused with our response. It is sufficient: we can add nothing to what Christ has accomplished for us–it falls to us simply to believe this news, turning from our sins and receiving by faith all that God has done for us in Christ.”

I like this definition. It is a topped and tailed version of what normally passed for the gospel. What I mean is that two things are often added to this message.

  • The top: the nature of God and man’s sinfulness before him. This an essential message. It defines the reason for the need of the gospel. But it is not part of the gospel.
  • The tail: that through repentance and faith I receive all that God promises. This also is an essential message. But it is not the gospel. This is the call to respond to the gospel.

I think it is important to get this clear in our minds. It is possible to squeeze out the glory of the gospel message by spending time on the perilous situation man finds himself, terrible though it is, hammering away at it. It is possible to put all our efforts into calling and calling and calling. But all the time not having properly expounded the glory of the person and work of Christ.

The more I preach the more I think that this is the need of the day. From my own experience it is easy to spend time in a sermon on the predicament of man and on urging responses. To spend time on Christ and his work requires a certain kind of man in the pulpit, who has a deepening love for Christ and appreciation of the work he has done. This is a spiritual man, spending time on apparently unproductive activities such as prayer and meditation. This is a man who loves the gospel.

Together for the Gospel

4 thoughts on “Together for the Gospel

  1. John says:

    It’s not bad, on the whole. However, I take issue with one part:
    his substitutionary death which … satisfied the righteous wrath of God; his resurrection demonstrating God’s satisfaction with his sacrifice

    God in Christ died a substitutionary death to save us from the power of sin. That’s part of “the Gospel”. But the move then to analyse this (by saying that it “satisfied God’s wrath” and that God was “satisfied with his sacrifice”) is not part of the Gospel. This is how we understand the Gospel – a very different thing.

    I believe that any attempt at a theology of the atonement that makes God’s main attribute one of wrath will be profoundly flawed. This idea that God is wrathful about sin, that this anger must somehow be placated, is foreign to the NT, which talks about redemption from the power of this world (not from God’s wrath) or victory over the powers of sin and death (not over God’s wrath). God hates sin, yes, but that’s a very different thing. God is revolted by sin, even. But to see God’s actions in Christ as anger being placated is to misunderstand (I believe) the dynamic of that relationship.

    pax et bonum

  2. Dan B. says:

    I’m no pastor, but I would state that wrath actually is a component of the Gospel. In John 3:36, Jesus indicates that whoever believes in Him and obeys Him will be saved from God’s wrath–the one who does not do this will have God’s wrath remaining/abiding on him or her.

    Paul also uses it extensively. But Christ’s death didn’t just save us from the “power of sin”. Sins are something that in the end must be paid for, by the sinner or by Christ. God’s holiness and justice are upheld by the Cross. The grace that is displayed through the Gospel (in my opinion) is better illustrated by seeing the wrath that would abide on someone absent believing in Christ. Jesus does not just deliver us from the “power” of sin, but the consequences (the “wrath to come” mentioned in 1 Thes. 1:10) of that sin.

    But I could be misinterpreting what you said, and if I did, I apologize.

  3. John says:

    First, I don’t deny that God can be wrathful. That’s a clear part of the Biblical story. However, I don’t think that we should base our entire theology on this one idea.

    These ideas about exactly how Jesus’ death accomplished what it did (whether it’s the power or the consequences of sin) are not the Gospel – they are how we understand the Gospel. There’s very little in the NT that talks about Jesus saving us from God’s wrath. There’s far more about redeeming us from bondage to sin and death, or about winning the victory over sin and death (in neither of which is God the object to be placated). These are attempts to understand what the Incarnation meant. And it’s important to realise that there are several quite different pictures used in the NT, and even more in later church history. To try and reduce Christ to a single metaphor is dangerous because it limits our understanding of God.

    So, as you say, it’s not “just” one thing. Which is one reason why I think that describing the Gospel in terms of wrath is a Bad Idea. Not only is it limiting and unhelpful, it’s also untrue. Jesus talks very little about God’s wrath. His preferred image for the Father’s attitude towards sinners is the welcoming father, the persistent shepherd, the joyful woman (parables of the lost son, the lost sheep and the lost coin). We must include these aspects of God’s character in our thinking about the Incarnation and the Atonement or we’ll make mistakes and misrepresent God to others.

    pax et bonum

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