The Gospel Is…

September 17, 2012

Gospel means “good news.” The good news is: you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe yet you can be more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope at the same time because Jesus Christ lived and died in your place. As the apostle Paul said, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

That is the simple formulation of the gospel. More thoroughly we could say that the whole Bible is the gospel. It is a book about the God who rescues people from their moral and spiritual rebellion against him. The teaching of the Bible, the gospel, can be summarized under four heads: God, Man, Jesus Christ, and Our Response.

Firstly, the gospel teaches that God is our creator. Thus he has the right to rule and command us as he does in his law. God is also holy, that is, he is absolutely pure morally, and he hates and punishes rebellion on the part of his creatures. He is more holy than anyone would ever imagine.

Secondly, the gospel teaches us about human beings. We are creatures made by God and for God. We were originally created to live in relationship with God and we were morally pure. But because our first parents rebelled against God (just as we also all have done), human beings are now cut off from relationship with God and are subject to his condemnation. We are more sinful than we ever dared believe.

Thirdly, the gospel teaches us what Jesus Christ has done for sinners like us. He became a man and lived a life of perfect obedience to God’s law, and then died as a sacrifice in our place under the judgment of God. He was raised from the dead and now reigns in heaven. The condemnation that he suffered takes away the necessity that we suffer judgment for our own sins- “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” The righteous life he lived is credited to us, not because we are actually righteous, but because of God’s mercy and grace- “in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Fourthly, the gospel teaches us how to respond to the good news. We turn away from our rebellion and put our trust in Jesus Christ. Despairing of our own worthiness to stand before God, we believe the promise that those who trust in Jesus Christ will be forgiven and declared righteous. Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ are accepted as loved sons and daughters of God, and God sends his Spirit to live in them.

Counterfeit Gospels

Martin Luther said that a sinner trying to believe the gospel was like a drunk man trying to ride a horse; he will always be falling off on one side or the other. The two errors that the sides of the horse represent are 1) legalism or moralism and 2) pragmatism or relativism or antinomianism.

Moralism is the view that a person is made acceptable to God through his own attainments. Moralists are usually very religious, and often very conservative in their religion. Legalism tends to stress truth without grace. Moralists are usually very rules oriented, and depending on their success in keeping the rules they will be either arrogantly self-righteous or depressed and morose. If they go to Jesus for forgiveness, it is just to ask him to fill in the gaps they have left in their own religious performance. For the moralist, the cross is not the only basis for acceptance by God, but is an adjunct to our performance.

Pragmatists are often irreligious, or prefer more liberal religion. They tend to stress grace over truth, assuming everyone is accepted by God and that we each have to decide what we think is true for us. Often relativists will talk about God’s love, but since they do not see them selves as deeply sinful people, God’s love for them costs him nothing. For them the cross is not the necessary condition of our acceptance by God.

The gospel holds out to us a whole new system of approach to God. It rejects our attempts to justify ourselves before God, to be our own saviors and lords. It rejects both our pragmatic presumption and our religious attempts to earn our way into God’s favor. It destroys the perception that Christianity is just an invitation to become more religious. The gospel will not let us think Jesus is just a coach to help us get stronger where we are weak. To be a Christian is to turn from self-justification of all sorts and to rely exclusively on Jesus’ record for a relationship with God.

Christians and non-Christians both stumble over the two counterfeits of the gospel. Many Churches are deeply moralistic or deeply relativistic. Christians who understand the gospel very clearly still look like the drunk man on the horse, as the desire to justify ourselves and trust in our own performance continually reappears.

The gospel tells the pragmatist that he is more flawed and sinful than he ever dared believe. The gospel tells the moralist that he is more loved and accepted than he ever dared hope.

9 Responses to “The Gospel Is…”

  1. Dennis Griffith Says:

    I am not sure who the original author of this article was, but it was not me. I have a suspicion I know, but rather than give credit to the wrong person I thought I’d post it as anonymously written.

    If you are the author, my apologies. Feel free to post a comment making your claim.


  2. I assumed that it was you. Great article though. “”… the desire to justify ourselves and trust in our own performance continually reappears”. Oh how true this is.

  3. David Says:

    Not sure I agree with all the general comments about who is what & why.

    People are people with all their baggage, views, and perspectives.

    Issue is we all, everyone, needs Jesus and must respond to the Gospel and God’s Grace moment by moment.

    But the post is interresting. I find to many times it’s the leaders in the Church most caught in the issues of theology, knowledge, and dependance upon self. At least it seems that way at times.

    I know God loves all peoples everywhere. Even those who are drunk and can’t seem to know which way to get on a horse and stay there.

    • Dennis Griffith Says:

      David, I am not sure what post you read, but I do not see anything that would be rightly categorized as “general comments about who is what and why”. There is nothing judgmental here, simply explanations of common diagnoses.

      As for assigning greater hangups to church leaders… I have no idea what that has to do with anything in this post. If you are suggesting that having a strong doctrinal foundation somehow leads to less godliness, I think you would have to debate Paul and Peter, among many others. For instance, Paul clearly states that we ought to watch our “life AND doctrine”. (1 Timothy 4.16) He also insists on church leaders being sound in doctrine so they can “encourage” both those who lack understanding and those who oppose sound doctrine. (See Titus 1.9) It is difficult to imagine that Paul would insist on a quality in leaders that was actually detrimental to their spiritual well-being as well as to the well-being of those in the church, don’t you think. But Paul gives us reason for his insistence in 2 Timothy 4.3: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” While this would obviously include those who want no part of Christianity, I would suggest that it also includes those who want to be considered Christian but who have no interest in sound doctrine. While this would include accepting heresies, I suspect it also indicts those who are willing to accept pragmatic “how-to’s” as a substitute for sound doctrine.

      Do some struggle with doctrinal righteousness? Sure. Just as some struggle with missional righteousness. But that just goes along with the message of this post. Everyone is in need of the gospel, both for conversion and for spiritual growth. The question is how the gospel is to be applied to each of us – how it applies to our specific issue(s). If we cannot discern what our issue is then we will see little effect in our lives. Such people may be aware of issues in their lives, and even confess the need to change in those areas.

  4. David Says:

    Maybe we did read different articals…at least in perspective. I think the descriptions of the moralist, pragmatists, etc are so general that it distorts the ideas presented.

    I would question the entire idea of a sinner “trying” to be a Christian….and say if a man is calling out to God in ernest; God in no way would reject his attempts. Regardless of his perspective. God is Gracious beyond our understanding and in that light I think God would welcome a sinners attempts no matter if a bit miss-giuded. I believe God’s Spirit would work in his heart to not only be a new person in Jesus, making all things new, but give him undestanding that he didn’t deserve Gods Grace in Jesus and further couldn’t earn it, work for it, or be good enough for it.

    So, thats where I think the artical goes astray a bit. I think we need to embrace those who think differently regarding Gods Grace and minister to them in love and affection.

    One could understand that the perspectives presented are presented to put others down and there by setting up the author. It’s always easy to make some one else look poor spirtually if you think you have the right Theology and others don’t measure up to your standard.

    Glad Jesus has no such standard. Never read anywhere in the Bible where Jesus told someone to get their theology correct before he helped or enter into their lives. Well I take that back. The “religious leaders’ did take a verbal beating most times. Directed at their theology & the way in which they lived. Thinking they were the only ones who had it right. Guess most people think they are right.

    Me too. Glad Jesus really knows

    • Dennis Griffith Says:

      David, I still have no idea what you are reading into this article.

      It seems likely that you are taking exception to the quote by Martin Luther. But please notice that this quote, even in Luther’s illustration, does not say “Trying to be a Christian” but instead says “…trying to believe the gospel…” This very phrase intentionally shows the foolishness of Christianity by our own efforts. Even the faith to believe is a gift from God, not from our own effort or intellect. (See Ephesians 2.8) Thus one who “tries” to believe tends to fall to one side or the other – as do we all to some extent. And the descriptions are of what it looks like on one side or the other. They simply serve to help us discern where we are.

      I am curious, however, about your assertion that God would accept any earnest attempts to cry out to him. Not wanting to assign error to you, I will quote your phrase: “[I would] …say if a man is calling out to God in ernest; God in no way would reject his attempts. Regardless of his perspective.” Really? If someone earnestly cries out to God saying: “Lord, look at all the good things I have done…” God is going to say “OK. Fine.”? If this sounds far fetched, this is the very scenario Jesus spoke about in Matthew 7.22-23. If this is really your view, I am afraid that in your attempt to refute this article, or Martin Luther, you are endorsing Salvation by Works, and not by Grace Alone. (I am confident that this is not what you believe, but that is the effect of your statement.)

  5. David Says:

    Not talking about works at all. Talking about an ernest person crying out for God Grace only. You have miss read and miss understood my thought process and you know me better that that.

    We all have our perspectives, but I was talking about a sinner who crys out to know a Holy God. Isa 59:1 comes to mind.

    But…even if a man is seeking God in ernest by works, and trying with his whole heart I think God may draw this person to himself through His Spirit one day. Now I know you think this is in error of Scripture and thats because of your deep understanding of Systematic Theology etc and thats ok with me. I think I understand your perspective there.

    Not up to us to determine who will be save & who will not and how, or by what actions they take. By simple prayer, reading the Word, or hearing the Word Preached, understanding God as Creator or by nature doing the things of God and being aware of Him. It is only up to us to love others and present the Gospel in who and what we are.

  6. Dennis Griffith Says:

    David,

    Again, I am not sure exactly what you are referring to. I stated that I was confident that your actual belief was different from what you expressed, and from the reasonable effect of what you said. However, as far as misreading… I can only go by what is written, and in the context of the original post. It seems as if you misread, or took exception to, a portion of the post, and then launched into a whole new topic – including some ad hominem shots at those who value Biblical theology.

    For the record, I do not think there is such a thing as an “error of Scripture”, only our errors in understanding and/or applying Scripture. And systematic theology is simply one aspect of understanding Scripture.

    It seems as if in these comments you are asking that I interpret your words by what you meant to say, and not by what is actually said; and at the same time you want to evaluate the post by how you interpret it, and not by what is actually said.

    Since I do not know where your point is rooted, or rather how your thoughts are related to what is actually written in this post, and because it seems from your response that you may be taking offense from this discussion, I will not comment further about it.

  7. David Says:

    Wow Dennis, You really have me stumped on this one. In context, I hold to Salvation by Grace alone. Now, In Luthers comments he suggested that a sinner trying to believe the Gospel was like a drunk man…………..then he went into a stream of telling us what he was like and what that represented in terms of how he may behave depending on the sinners (persons) perspective.

    (Oh that there were more people who were trying to believe the Gospel by any means be works or whatever. I would love to talk to them, wouldn’t you ?)

    All I’m saying is that a sinner (in ernest now) “Trying” to understand the Gospel in who he is as a sinner and how that may translate in his quest to know God, be it by his works, understanding of creation, or just plane awarness of God, That God would surely not hid his face from a sinner. But that the Holy Spirit would surely continue a work in his heart.

    I think ( forgive me here, and I know I will invite people to say how silly I am) Luther is completely wrong in his address. Of course sinners are sinners…..and when they have a heart for the struggle to know God; (and that my friend, I believe is put there by the Holy Ghost) Be that by works, or otherwise, God in his Grace may in fact have Mercy and Grace for their Salvation just like he has with you and I.

    A sinner does not clean himself up and understand the Gospel completely in order for Salvation. Luthers example of drunk men trying to be right in God’s eyes and how they menifast that is a very poor example is what I’m trying to say.

    And you know better that my statement “error of Scripture” was ment to say “error in Scripture” meaning a wrong understanding.

    Good conversation, I think, maybe….. I certanily could have miss understood what Luther was trying to say. Sure. Just as you have miss understood what I have been trying to say brother.


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