Wednesday, March 7, 2007

What is the gospel?

Lately my roommate Ryan and I have been thinking and trying to figure out, "What is the gospel?" As a result, I hope to put some of my/our scriptural "conclusions" (as if I could ever achieve some sort of closed, final understanding of the matter!) online here. Right or wrong, messy or neat, I hope we see that the gospel is more than we often think it is (see here also).

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God [concerning his Son] and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15; Rom. 1:1-6).

Former Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) pastor Rolf Preus contends that the center from which all church fellowship develops is “the gospel of justification by faith alone.” Yes, that would certainly be a fitting definition of the gospel by Lutheran standards, and justification by faith alone is certainly good news, amazing news for us condemned sinners. But is the gospel itself justification by faith alone? We know that all who believe the gospel are justified by faith alone. But does that mean a person becomes justified by faith by believing in justification by faith? In other words, was Jesus preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in justification by faith”?

Or are we justified—that is, declared forgiven of all our sins, “in the right” with God, and included in God’s promised kingdom blessings—by faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord and all that this encompasses? This message naturally begins with the news that God reigns (Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:15) and that God, incarnate and active in Jesus of Nazareth, has inaugurated his reign, the basileia tou theou, “the kingship of God.” (Psalms 2 and 110 provide this as the framework for the teachings of both Jesus and the apostles, and they are the most-quoted OT texts in the NT. Likewise Psalm 72, recognized by Jews and Christians alike as messianic, directly attaches to the Davidic king the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.) The gospel of Jesus as Lord means not that Jesus is some indomitable force we must all bow before (though that’s quite true enough), but that he has triumphed over all his enemies—Sin, Death, and the Devil—and, through our receptive trust in this, brings us into all that this victory entails and provides.

Naturally, the news that God reigns means that against all opposition (both human and demonic), he is the one who has made good on his promises to Adam and Abraham, David and Israel. When all the fulfilling, saving work comes from God and not from us—for we only get in the way, screw things up, and even try to vehemently defy him—this of course means that we don’t have anything to add to it, can’t take credit for any of it. We simply enter into it this salvation and receive—inherit—the kingdom by faith alone. Sola fide.

Of course, God cannot have fellowship with sin and the wicked whose hearts desire self-reign rather than God-reign. (That’s every one of us humans.) Human autonomy is the very thing contradictory to the kingdom of God itself. But in Christ Crucified God has already removed from us both the guilt of our sins (Isa. 53; Jer. 31:34; 1 Cor. 15:1-3) and the very power of sin itself, putting our old selves to death in Christ and raising us to live in the newness and re-creation of Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 6:1-11; 1 Cor. 15). We are now fueled and freed by the Holy Spirit to love God (and others) instead of trying to please him and bring his promises into fulfillment by our own puny, self-righteous moral strivings (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:24-28; Rom. 6:13ff; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Gal. 2:20-21).

Quoting Psalm 110:1, Paul speaks also of Christ’s lordship over Death in 1 Corinthians 15:25-27a: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’”

Ultimately, the gospel is God himself, that we get to live in fellowship with him as God-with-us and God-for-us every day, no matter what our stumblings and difficulties may be. We now get to experience but the “firstfruits” of his presence through the Spirit and are able to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8). But one day, in the new heavens and new earth, where death, sin, and the devil will be no more, we will stand in our glorified resurrection-bodies and see him “face to face” and “know fully, even as [we] have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12; cf. Jer. 31:34; Rev. 7:13-17). And we shall cry, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just. . . . Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory” (Rev. 19:1-2, 6-7).

1 comment:

GalatianFool said...

I am writing a paper nowadays which has a subtitle called "what is the gospel"
Your exegesis is quite good, however I believe incomplete. It seems to me that when we talk about the gospel we tend to focus on the Messianic aspect of the Old Testament, the arrival of the promised Messiah and our salvation ( by faith ). And once we are saved we automatically move to the "eschaton". W
Meanwhile, what does the Gospel mean here on earth ? How do we show that we already live in the eschaton ? How do we live out the Gospel ( Kingdom, if you will ) TODAY while we still remember our story and look forward to the future ? ...and I am NOT talking about "sharing" the Gospel.
What do you think ?