Getting the Gospel Right

November 4, 2009


gospeldrivenlifeWhen it comes to the gospel, we should be careful about what we say.  Sometimes Christian speak (cliches or catch phrases) works its way into our thinking.  Before you realize, we’ve changed the meaning of the Word from what God intended.  In chapter four of Michael Horton’s new book The Gospel Driven Life, the importance of getting the Gospel right is discussed and three common ways that we get it wrong are demonstrated.  What follows is a little of what he has to say:

Like the Old Testament, the New Testament proclaims the mighty acts of God and then tells us what they mean in the grand scheme of things.  The Gospels tell us what Jesus did; the Epistles flesh out the meaning and significance of his ministry for our faith, worship, and practice.  Just as the disciples needed Jesus to reinterpret the unfolding drama of his mission, the churches addressed by the apostles needed to have their doctrinal misconceptions corrected.  And so do we.

[…] The Good News is that God has fulfilled his promise that He made to Israel and to the world by sending his Son for the forgiveness of sins and the inauguration of His new creation.  We have seen how Jesus interpreted the Old Testament with himself at the center and in his postresurrection instruction (especially in Luke 24), he developed this approach as he prepared his disciples to be his witnesses to all nations.  In their transition from disciples to apostles, Jesus’s students seem finally to have understood the Gospel, since all of the examples of apostolic preaching that Luke records in the book of Acts exhibit a promise-fullfillment pattern with Christ at the center.  Jesus Christ is the sin-bearing substitute for sinners promised in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms: crucified and raised on the third day

Here are a few examples of how the gospel is often defined in our circles today.

1. “A personal relationship with God”

Nowhere do we find the apostles proclaiming the gospel as an invitation to have a personal relationship with God.  After all, they presupposed that everyone has a personal relationship with God already.  In fact, our major problem is that we do have a relationship with God: the relationship of a guilty defendant before a just judge.

Offering the gospel as a personal relationship with God assumes that one is currently in a neutral situation, lacking the joy of knowing God.  Or perhaps, if not neutral, this condition is thought of in terms of separation, a breaking off of communication.  However, we have seen that all people know God, but suppress this truth in unrighteousness.  Our problem is not that we are not on speaking terms with God (or vice-versa), but that God is declaring his righteousness and we are shaking our fist in his face.  As Paul points out in Ephesians 2:1-9, the problem that the gospel addresses is the fact that we are born into the world “dead in trespasses and sins,” “children of wrath,” and enemies of God.

So the gospel does not offer the possibility of a personal relationship with God, but announces a different relationship with God based on Christ!  Instead of enemies, we have been reconciled through Christ’s sacrifice (Romans 5:8-11), “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

2. “Asking Jesus into your heart”

God has used the truth contained in such formulas, especially the confession of God’s holiness, our sin, and faith in Christ’s saving work.  However, to equate salvation with Jesus’s taking up residence in one’s heart is, at best, a half-truth.  The gospel is that Christ has borne our guilt and has been raised for our justification and life, interceding now at the Father’s right hand.  It is this objective work of Christ outside of us, even now defending us in heaven from every accusation of Satan, that makes the gospel truly Good News even for us as we struggle in the Christian life.  “Asking Jesus into your heart” simply does not answer the problem identified in the Scriptures.

My main crisis is not that Jesus in not in my heart, but that I am with the rest of humanity –“in Adam,” and the gospel is that through faith in the gospel I am–with my coheirs–now “in Christ.”  I am the one, rather than Jesus, who needs to be relocated! […]

[…] No one is called in the New Testament to pray “the sinner’s prayer,” asking Jesus to come into his or her heart.  Especially in Acts, this is the pattern: God’s judgment is announced on all people; the gospel is proclaimed as Christ’s fulfillment of the Scriptures, and many, convicted of their sins and the Good News of salvation in Christ, believe, are baptized, and are thereby added to the church.

3. “Making Jesus your personal Lord and Savior”

This is another expression that is not found in Scripture.  In fact, the Good News is so good precisely because it is simply an announcement of what is already in fact the case: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.  Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he poured out this which you now see and hear….Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32-33, 36, emphasis added).

We all want to be and to do something rather than to be made and to receive our identity from above.  It is a blow to our spiritual ego to be told that everything has already been done.  Yet that is the glory of the gospel!

These excerpts were taken from chapter four, Getting the Gospel Right.  I’m trying to give you a little taste of this important book with the hope that you would be compelled to read it.  Michael Horton’s arguments are saturated with Scripture, easy to hear and grasp, and important for the continued strengthening of the Body of Christ.  You’ll hear it over and over on this blog but we are strengthened through the gospel everyday, through our entire life.  What Jesus accomplished is fundamental to how we live, breathe and view God.  Horton goes on to expound on these three items and much more in greater detail.  This book reinforces what we already know and aims to sharpen and trim our understanding of this glorious Gospel of Christ.  Pastor Kevin Boling will be interviewing Michael Horton and you’ll have a chance to call in and ask questions.  Join the Knowing the Truth radio program on Thursday the fifth from 1:00 until 2:00 EST, or download and listen later in the day.  Just click on the link to the right of this post.



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