What is the Gospel? Part 8–Good Works

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.

What is the Gospel? Part 7–Dependability

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.

What is the Gospel? Part 6–Inspiration

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.

What is the Gospel? Part 5–Regeneration

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.

What is the Gospel? Part 4–God’s Great Exchange

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.

What is the Gospel? Part 3–Atonement

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).

What is the Gospel? Part 2–Forgiveness

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.

What is the Gospel? Part 1

The word “Gospel” is used often by many people. When asked what it means, people generally reply, “The good news!” When I ask students to tell me about that good news, the news is not so good. The news I hear is that people can be saved (potential) if they believe (condition) and have their sins forgiven, period.

This explanation is partially responsible for the almost universal assumption that all religions are basically the same.

The word translated as Gospel in English is “euangelion” = good message. The noun occurs 77 times in the Bible; the verb occurs 77 times as well. The message God has for us is good because it proclaims how God has already saved us and how He continues to work out that salvation in our lives. God has and continues to save us. This is real, actual, good news, literally. Over the next several weeks, this blog will explore the content and goodness of the Gospel.

Hebrews 7–A message not to miss

The following is a Bible passage that’s unlikely to be anyone’s favorite; it’s unlikely that anyone even slows down here to see what it’s saying. But let’s slow down in the conviction that God’s Word does not return void (Isaiah 55):

Hebrews 7:14-19: For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.  This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchiz’edek, who has become a priest, not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life.  For it is witnessed of him, “Thou art a priest forever, after the order of Melchiz’edek.”  On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

This text is comparing Jesus with the mysterious “Melchizedek” of Genesis and contrasting them with the Levitical priesthood of Exodus and following.  The Levitical priesthood, all according to the law, never helped anyone live; rather, as is the case with the law, it only reveals more powerfully why we die.

From a different tribe, not from Levi, came Jesus—not according to the law but according to God’s eternal promise to redeem us from the curse of the law. In Jesus the promises of God are all fulfilled: “Yes!” and “Amen!” Our Lord Jesus has become our Redeemer, Advocate, and Intercessor by the power of His indestructible life. He, Himself, always lives to bring us near to God, now by His Word and sacraments; sooner or later, by actually taking us to Himself in paradise.

Maybe slowing down to read texts that look too hard is just when we discover a Word of God to us that we would hardly want to miss?