What is the Gospel?

by | Feb 12, 2013 | Best of!

The following is from Donald “D. A.” Carson’s sermon, What is the Gospel?

English: Resurrection of Christ

The fragmentation of the church in the west has led to a fragmented understanding of  the gospel.

Common Misunderstandings of the Gospel

  • The gospel is reduced to a narrow set of teachings about the death and resurrection of Christ, which rightly believed, tip people into the kingdom.  After that, the real training and transformation, discipleship and maturity take place. This view is much narrower than the biblical view, in which the gospel is the embracing category which holds much of the bible together, encompassing lostness and condemnation, through reconciliation and conversion, through to the consummation and the resurrection.
  • The gospel is understood to be the first and second commandments: love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus himself insists that all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments, but these commandments are not the gospel.
  • The gospel is understood to be the ethical teaching of Jesus found in the canonical gospels, separated from his passion and resurrection. However, accounts of Jesus teaching cannot be rightly understood without seeing how they point forward to his death and resurrection. This view reduces the glorious good news to mere religion and duty.
  • The gospel is assumed, and creative energy and passion is devoted to other issues like bioethics, politics, evangelism, the poor, etc. The problem with this view is that it overlooks the truth that our listeners are drawn to what we are most passionate about. Our hearers will learn to downplay the gospel and emphasize things on the periphery.

The Right Understanding of the Gospel
At this point, Carson reads 1 Corinthians 15:1-19, and then gives a general outline of what he will say about the gospel. He will focus on eight summarizing words, five clarifying sentences, and one evocative summary.

Eight Summarizing Words

    1. The gospel is christological. It is not bland theism or panthiesm, but Christ-centered.  John Stott: “The gospel is not preached if Christ is not preached.” This gospel is not focused exclusively on Christ’s person, but also on Christ’s death and resurrection: Christ died for our sins.
    1. The gospel is theological.  First, God sent the son, the Son did the Father’s will, God raised the Son. Second, the cross is a historical event with theological weight. From the beginning, sin is an offense to God, and the one most offended by our sin is always God. God is full of wrath against sin, and sinners stand under God’s judgment. Christ’s death propitiates that wrath so we can have peace with God: Christ died for our sins.
    1. The gospel is biblical. Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures; He was buried and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. What scripture Paul has in mind is not told to us. Carson lists several possibilities for what scripture might be in Paul’s mind.  Whatever it is, Paul tells us that this gospel is biblical: it is found in the Old Testament.
    1. The gospel is apostolic. As Paul lists them, there were more than 500 witnesses to the resurrected Christ, but Paul repeatedly draws attention to the apostles: Peter, the twelve, James, all the apostles, and last, Paul himself. This resurrection gospel is what the apostles preach and what the Corinthians believed. The witness and teaching of the apostles is the gospel that all Christians throughout the ages believe.
    1. The gospel is historical.
      • First, we have Jesus’ burial and resurrection. Jesus’ death is attested by his burial, and his resurrection is attested by his appearances. The death and resurrection are tied together in history.
      • Second, the way we have access to Jesus’ death and resurrection is the way we have access to any historical event: through  the record of those who witnessed the events.
      • Third, we must see that unlike other religions, Christian claims are irreduceably historical. The Son entered history and there are historical events in Jesus’ life that are essential to Christianity. Part of the validation of faith is the truthfulness of faith’s object. Paul says, “if Jesus has not risen, your faith is futile (v 17).”
      • Fourth, we must face the fact that in contemporary discussion that the word historical may have different meanings. Some use historical only for events brought about my ordinary causes, and by definition this excludes miraculous event.
    2. The gospel is personal. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ sets out the way of individual salvation. This is the gospel, “which you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved….”
    1. The gospel is universal. Christ is the new Adam (v. 22, 47-50), and this alludes to a comprehensive vision: people of all nations, tribes, etc.
  1. The gospel is eschatological.
    • First, some of the blessing believers receive today are blessings from the last day brought back to our time. Already, for instance, God declares us justified. This final declarative judgment is applied to us today
    • Second, the gospel includes our final transformation. It is not enough to focus on what Christians receive in this present age.

Five Clarifying Sentences

    1. This gospel is normally disseminated in proclamation. (“I preached to you.”) Wherever there is mention of the gospel’s dissemination, it is through preaching.
    1. This gospel is fruitfully received in authentic, persevering faith. (“This is what you believed”, and “if you hold fast…”)
    1. This gospel is properly disclosed in personal, self-humiliation. When the gospel is received, there is no pride, but a sense of one’s own worthlessness. (“By the grace of God, I am what I am…”) Humility, gratitude, dependence are the attitudes of the truly converted.
    1. This gospel is rightly asserted to be the central confession of the whole church. This is what Paul preaches everywhere. Always be suspicious of churches that flaunt how different they are from what has gone before.
  1. The gospel is boldly advancing under the contested reign and inevitable victory of Jesus the King. This side of Jesus death and resurrection, all of God’s sovereignty is mediated exclusively through King Jesus. Christ must reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet (verse 25). That presupposes that the reign is still contested. But one day the final enemy, death itself, will die, and Jesus’ mediatorial kingship will end, and God will be all in all. In is light of this gospel that Paul writes to stand firm…because you know that your labour is not in vain. Victory is inevitable.

One of the results of this summary is that it shows how cognitive the gospel is. It is propositional. It is to be understood, taught, explained.

Yet the gospel is not exclusively cognitive. Where the gospel triumphs, lives are transformed. The gospel works itself out in every aspect of a believer’s life. This is done not by attempting to abstract social principles from the gospel, nor by imposing new levels of rules, nor by focusing on the periphery in the vain effort to sound prophetic; but by preaching and teaching and living out the glorious gospel of our blessed Redeemer.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain (verse 58).