As you’ve might have guessed from yesterday’s post, I’ve been thinking, reading, studying and praying a lot lately about what we mean by the phrase “the Gospel.” I love that the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done is so big that there can be different emphases that, together weave a beautiful tapestry ultimately resulting the recreation of all things.
And yet, as I mused yesterday, in the circles I tend to find myself in, there is actually some contention about a question as fundamental as “what is the gospel?”. Many of the most vocal participants in the discussion contend that if “salvation by grace alone through faith alone/substitutionary atonement/propitiation” is not your primary definition of “the Gospel,” then somehow you’re no longer orthodox. Yet, as Joel Green and Mark Baker have urged us to consider, there are other lenses through which we may behold the beauty (and scandal) of the Cross.
I guess what frustrates me most about this issue is that so many prominent authors (exhibit 1 and exhibit 2) seem to be talking past one another rather than to one another. There seems to be competing strands of emphases when it comes to considering the Gospel. Matt Chandler, in his book Explicit Gospel, does an excellent job of describing these two strands as: “the gospel from the ground” and “The gospel from the air: “One gospel, two vantage points.” Chandler does an excellent job at showing that, these two “vantage points” are not at odds with one another, and in fact, when put together, help us see things all the more clearly:
Most of the time, each of us views the same glorious truth from a particular vantage point. It might help to think about how someone walking down a New York City block sees the city versus how someone #ying 30,000 feet overhead sees it. Both would say, “This is New York,” and both would be right. What a silly argument the two would have if they tried to deny the other the right to talk about and proclaim the greatness of the city.
My own church family adopts the same idea that Chandler presents, but instead of “ground” and “air” language, we use the language of the “power” and the “purpose” of the Gospel. Here’s the way we explain it on our website:
The Gospel is the “good news” that “God Himself has come to rescue and restore creation in and through the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
Why does Creation (including you and me) need rescuing? Because of sin. According to Augustine, sin is “disordered love.” It is when we love anything (including ourselves) more than God. We obey and pursue that which we love. We are all sinners by nature and by choice.
Adam and Eve, as the first people, acted as our representatives. At The Fall, when they chose to believe lies and disobey God (Genesis 3), they subjected all of creation (Romans 8:18-25) and everyone to follow them (Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:23) into slavery to sin (Romans 6). We don’t teach our children to disobey because it is part of our human nature after The Fall. But we are not only sinners by nature, we are sinners by choice. As soon as we are able to, we choose to live for ourselves, which is the very essence of sin. God says that He will not share His glory with anyone else (Isaiah 42:8) and that our rebellion deserves death (Romans 6:23). But sin is not just a “people” problem. Because of sin, we trip through thorns and thistles as the earth fights against us (Genesis 3) and longs to be freed from corruption (Romans 8:18-25).
But there is hope. God has not left us on our own or to our own resources. While many people people believe that we can earn favor with God by obeying more and trying to become better people, the good news is that God has acted decisively for His own glory and for His people. We call this the Gospel, which we can understand in two primary ways (for helpful treatments of the Gospel from two perspectives, see The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chander with Jared Wilson andSoma Communities’ idea of the Gospel “across the grain” and “with the grain”).
The Gospel Power
When most people hear about “The Gospel,” they think in terms of “salvation,” of Jesus paying the penalty for our sins and breaking sin’s power over us, bringing us redemption, the forgiveness of sins. This is the beautiful truth that, when we respond to Jesus isn faith and repentance, we who were once God’s enemies are now made His children. An easy way to understand the power of the Gospel is through the four big ideas (for more on the Gospel from this perspective, see Greg Gilbert’s helpful book What Is The Gospel):
- God: God alone is eternal, all-powerful and the creator of everything.
- Man/Sin: We have chosen self-rule over submission and deserve death as a result of our rebellion.
- Christ: God came in the flesh to die as a substitute for the penalty of humanity’s sins.
- Response: By faith, we turn from our sin to God (repentance) and can be saved from our sins.
From this perspective, the “good news” is that God Himself deals with our sin problem in and through the person and work of Jesus. He not only accepts us but changes us by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus, we are saved from the penalty of sin (justification), we are being saved from the power of sin (sanctification) and we will one day fully be saved from the presence of sin (glorification). The same power that saves us from the penalty of sin also helps us obey God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 1:27-29; 2:6-7). The Gospel is not only about salvation but life-transformation, brining us to the understanding that:
I am more broken and sinful than I ever dared believe, and at the same time, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope because of Jesus.
But there is also another way to understand the Gospel:
The Gospel Purpose
We can look at the Gospel through the lens of a story to understand that we are saved for a purpose that is much bigger than us:
Creation ➞ Fall ➞ Redemption ➞ Restoration
From this perspective, we see that the good news is that God sent His Son to redeem not just people but the world from the effects of sin. Eventually, all of creation will be renewed and restored to the way God intended it. Rebellion, death, decay, injustice, and suffering will all be removed. When everything is restored, God will be seen by all for who he truly is—he will be glorified. (Ephesians 2:10,14-22; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21; Revelation 21).
Jesus helped clarify how we accomplish the purpose of the gospel by giving us his mission: “Go and make disciples”. (Matthew 28:19). As the arts, industry, politics, families—all areas of culture—are being filled with Jesus’ disciples bringing about his gospel restoration, the earth is being filled with his glory! That is the point of the restoration of all things—that God would be glorified!
The gospel is not just about my individual happiness or God’s plan for my life. It is about God’s plan for the world.
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”
The people of God (the Church) then become an alternative city within a city to display, as a foretaste, what the eternal city will be like. (Jeremiah 29; Matthew 5:3-16; Luke 6:20-36; 1 Peter 2:9-12)
God, in Jesus Christ, has given us both the MESSAGE of reconciliation (gospel power) and the MINISTRY of reconciliation (gospel purpose). When we turn from ourselves and our sin to God through Jesus, we are not only made right with Him but we are swept up into His mission of reconciling all things to Himself through Jesus. If you have questions about that that means for your life, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Though there are certainly dangers of over-emphasizing one “vantage point” to the exclusion of the other (which we’ll consider soon), we must understand that the “power” and “purpose” of the Gospel are not at odds with one another and in fact, go together like hand in glove. When we hear someone emphasizing one “vantage point,” we should not immediately assume that they belong to a different camp than us or that they understand the Gospel differently than us. Instead, we must remember that the Gospel is holistic and it is nearly always more than we think.