The latest buzzword in Christian publishing is “the gospel”. From J. D. Greear’s straightforward title, The Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, to Timothy Keller’s Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Overall, this is a positive direction as we seek to rediscover the core of the gospel message for the church. But what exactly is “the gospel”?
The gospel literally means “good news”. And I think we can divide this “good news” into two forms. First is the gospel for unbelievers. It is a gospel message we are very familiar with. When Jesus came to earth, He initiated a new arrangement between God and man. His message of release from the penalty of our sin was totally founded upon His death, as a substitute for each of us, on a cross. Under God’s old arrangement, the default arrangement for the whole human race, we stand guilty of breaking His moral code. But that all goes by the wayside when we agree to God’s new arrangement by acknowledging our guilt, accepting the free gift of Christ’s death in our place, and embracing what Jesus says as true. If you wish to say “I’m in” with this new arrangement, tell God in prayer about your decision. Then, talk to someone about it. This is the gospel for unbelievers.
But what happens next? Once we place our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, how do we move forward in living the life of a Christ-follower? This leads us to the second form of the gospel; the gospel for believers. And this contains just as much “good news” as the gospel for unbelievers. However, as a church, I believe we are much less familiar with this gospel message. It is indeed “very good news” for believers.
The “good news” for believers is that as part of God’s new arrangement, His New Covenant with you and I, we are not only set free from sin’s penalty; but in an incredible supernatural experience, we are set free from sin’s power as well. Prior to your initial salvation, sin was your capacity and propensity. Now, as a child of God indwelt by His very presence in the form of the Holy Spirit, your propensity is righteousness, not sin. Oh yes, we still have a sin capacity, but it is no longer our default mode. It is no longer our inclination. If this concept is new to you, let me recommend our series of posts titled, Walking in the New Nature, as a starting point to understanding this overarching message of the New Testament.
And why might believers not be familiar with this gospel? It might be because it is largely missing in our new gospel literature. Look at this quote from Dr. Keller that has become a popular re-post on the web.
“The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.”
I think this “dynamic for personal growth” is missing a critical ingredient. His description of believers as “still sinful and sinning…more wicked than we ever dared believe…able to admit the true dimensions and character of your sin” does not agree with the Scriptural description of us as “holy and beloved saints” (Col 3:12) or having a new nature “which in the very likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).
In Romans chapter 6, the apostle Paul anticipated the greater sin – greater grace question and Paul’s answer is this. “Should we continue in sin so that grace may increase? No, No, No!” As we have explored in this blog many times, Paul’s basis for telling us not to continue in sin is because that is not who we are. We now have “become infused with the righteousness of Christ” (II Cor 5:21) having been “raised with Christ, in the likeness of His resurrection, to walk in a brand new life” (Rom 6:4-5).
I believe Dr. Keller and many others would answer Paul’s question, “Should we continue in sin so that grace may increase?” with “No we shouldn’t, but we will. And when we do, we will realize how great God’s grace is.” Where is the hope for victory over sin in that? Where is the power of victory over sin in that? This is not what the New Testament teaches. Propensity for sin is what you were before Christ; not what you are now.
What is the gospel message for believers? What is the “good news” we should be preaching to the saints in our churches? Based on God’s promise, based on God’s indwelling, based on the new creation you are; you have been set free from sin’s power. This is incredibly “good news” and needs to be broadcast throughout our churches as widely as possible. This is the gospel for believers.