In the last post, we considered the gospel on Judgment Day. Only people who succeed in contradicting, renouncing, and despising the gospel will experience a resurrection to judgment. Such people not only opposed God in time but also in eternity, body and soul. Consider the rich man who wouldn’t even give the beggar scraps from the floor under his table (Luke 16:23-31).
The law of God (natural and moral) is only an obstacle when we oppose God and His design for our life. As living souls, regenerated in the image of Christ, the law is our floor, not a ceiling. The law is our tutor, to continually bring us to Christ. Christ IS the gospel in all its fullness. The gospel inspires us to live for the love of others because Christ lives to love us, fully and inexhaustibly. Given the nature of the gospel, we ask different questions now. Rather than wonder how a person can be saved, we wonder how a person can NOT be saved, since God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself? Maybe a person could if he succeeded in contradicting, renouncing, and despising the gospel to the end . . . but why would anyone want to?
This concludes the “What is the Gospel?” series. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them. Please send me any additional thoughts that you have.
Sneak peek to what’s coming with the next post: Jesus once asked, “Why can’t you understand what I am saying? Because My Word has no place in you.” What place is there for truth and grace in a post-Darwinian/Freudian world? What world does the Bible speak about and how can that be communicated in our time?
But what happens to us on Judgment Day? Even if all the blessings of the gospel considered so far were true, what if we are still condemned at the end of the world? According to Jesus, such a shocking reversal of the gospel is not possible. For everyone generated by and living in His Word, the last day is a resurrection of life (John 5:29). Here we will find a perfect body restored to us in a re-created heaven and earth.
Watch Dr. Eschelbach leading a Bible class on predestination:
Watch Dr. Eschelbach lead the worship service, including the children’s and adults’ sermons, at Christ Lutheran Rancho Palos Verde:
All of God’s good news for us and good work for us moves through us as goodness toward others, in word and deed. In Matthew 7, Jesus explained that “a good tree bears good fruit . . . it cannot bear bad fruit.” Fruit can’t make the tree that bears it. Neither can our good works make us good. God’s good work in us is evidence of His good work in us and evidence of His good will toward others; He is the Father and Redeemer of us all.
While our soul is regenerated by God’s inspired Word and, therefore, fully convinced of truth and grace, the corruption in our human nature always contradicts that. Doubt is an inescapable and relentless characteristic of the corruption in us that opposes God. Therefore, God gives confirmation (physical evidence) of His grace toward us through the sacraments. In each of the three sacraments, God joins a physical element to His Word:
- Once in our lifetime a pastor (in public) or another Christian applies water with God’s promises and a baptism has taken place.
- Every Sunday (or more often), bread and wine are consecrated by God’s Word and are then given to provide physical, objective, and repeated evidence that God’s promises are upon us and within us.
- Any time doubts bother us, we may confess these doubts and any other kind of failure that upsets us to another Christian who is ready, on behalf of God, to remind us, with words spoken or written, that our sins have been and remain forgiven.
“Confirmation,” in the biblical use of the Word, is always God’s work. God’s work and dependability is another aspect of the goodness of the good news.
Now we know of four aspects of the gospel: three of them taking care of the contrary nature of our body (forgiveness, atonement, imputation of righteousness) and one that re-creates our soul in the image of Christ. Next, consider how God feeds, energizes, and animates that regenerate soul with His inspired Word. Just as God’s breath (Spirit) brought Adam to life, ever since then God’s Spirit, conveyed to us in His Word, restores and energizes our new life. The energy God gives our soul is “smart” energy—the Word that conveys the Spirit and power of God actually knows what to do in our lives. As articulation adds meaning to our breath when we speak, so also the Son of God adds knowledge, understanding, meaning, and guidance to His Breath as it comes to us in His Word.
The gospel, as we have considered so far, includes three elements: forgiveness, atonement, and imputed perfection. Next, consider that God actually regenerates our soul. He makes it new, recreating our essence in the image of His own Son, Jesus. Consider the following Bible passages: “Unless a person is generated from above, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven … unless a person is generated of water and the Spirit (the Word of God) he cannot see the kingdom of heaven” (John 3). “Whoever is generated of God does not sin; indeed, he cannot because he has been generated of God” (1 John 3:9).
In this way we live our lives. The essence of our being—a new regenerate soul—is always about doing, thinking, and saying what is right. But this nature is overlaid with a contrary human nature. Like Paul, we know there is good at work in us but that is always resisted and twisted by our human nature; thus, Paul’s complaint in Romans 7.
So far, we’ve gone over how the gospel includes a universe of forgiveness in which we live AND the atonement of Jesus under which we exist. Next, the Bible explains that the perfect life that Jesus lived is imputed, or applied, to our account as a gift of God’s love and grace. God makes an exchange: all that is wrong with us is charged against Jesus and all that is right about Him is charged to us.
Jesus Himself explained how the Counselor—the Holy Spirit—would come and glorify Jesus by taking what belongs to Him and declaring it to us (John 16). The Old Testament prophet Hosea also explained that God would give us “double” for our wrong doing. “Double” does NOT mean that God will do twice as much harm to us as we have done. RATHER, God will take away what is wrong with us, on the one hand, and give to us all that is right, on the other.
The gospel or “good news” of Jesus Christ confirms that all has been forgiven for Jesus’ sake, as last week’s post discussed. The gospel also teaches us about ATONEMENT. Atonement is a covering that brings satisfaction. In the Old Testament, the cover for the Ark of the Covenant was called the “mercy seat” (“hilastarion” Exodus 25:17ff). In the ark, beneath the cover was the Ten Commandments, the law which we are guilty of breaking, continually. Above that witness to our guilt is the mercy seat, where the blood (life) of an innocent lamb was sprinkled. Thus, when God looked down from heaven, He no longer saw guilt and broken commandments but innocent life.
That mercy seat was indicating what the Son of God has always been for us: ATONEMENT, a cover for our lives so that God sees us innocent rather than guilty. Jesus is the “Lamb that was slain from before the foundation of the world.” Therefore, the good news is not only that our sins have been and remain forgiven, but our life that is in constant need of forgiveness is lived beneath the covering of Christ’s perfect life. That is why God does not need to deal with us according to our iniquities but can always do what His love directs (Psalm 103:10; Hebrews 12:9-10).
Gospel means “good message” but just how good is this good message? In my experience, the language we use to describe it does not fully encompass what the Bible teaches. We hear a lot of talk of the idea of gospel being confined to God forgiving sins (sometimes including a reason = “because Jesus died on the cross”). Forgiveness is good news, but leaves a lot undone. Are we forgiven if we don’t confess our sins? What happens between confessions? What if we don’t repent or aren’t repentant enough? Does being forgiven depend on what we do or fail to do? If our failures need forgiveness, don’t our failures prevent us from doing what forgiveness depends on? And what about succeeding at what the law requires of us? So far, we have only considered breaking the law. What about keeping the law?
The Bible teaches at least two critical truths about God’s forgiveness:
- References to God’s forgiveness occur in the perfect passive form of the verb = sins have been and remain forgiven by God, and
- God’s loving and eternal nature mean that we have been and remain forgiven from before the foundation of the world, thus God is not required to deal with us according to our failure in regard to the law, but according to His mercy (Psalm 103:10).
As stated above, this is good news indeed but there is much, much more, coming in the weeks ahead.