The Gospel

I find myself increasingly frustrated with the “normal” gospel presentation. It goes something like this: You are a sinner (and I’ll prove it to you), headed to hell. God loves you and Jesus died for you. If you believe in Him, you’ll go to heaven when you die.

Those points are true of course. But they are so incredibly inadequate. There is no basis for living the Christlike life, for example. The result is that people are soon dragged into some sort of duty based moralism: You must obey God’s law to please Him. Get to it! They are often reminded that their hearts are desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9) so the Christlike life is something they won’t like. It’s so sad.

The real Gospel that makes the difference. Here’s how we put it in Vintage Church:

The gospel pattern of Acts 2, as well as of other Scriptures, breaks down into three aspects: (1) Revelation, or what God did; (2) Response, or what we do; and (3) Results, or what God gives. [This outline is from Steve Walker, Redeemer’s, Roseburg]

Revelation: What God Did

Peter begins by affirming that Jesus fulfills the promises of a divine Messiah, God come among us as accredited him by miracles, signs, and wonders (v. 22). Next, Peter declares that Jesus died on the cross according to God’s prophetic purpose (v. 23). Peter proceeds to emphasize the reality that God raised Jesus from death in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (vv. 24–32). Peter concludes with the final acts of God exalting Jesus to the right hand of the Father and pouring out the Spirit in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (vv. 33–35).

Response: What We Do

The first thing we are to do in response to God’s revelation is repent (vv. 36–37). Repentance is the Spirit-empowered acknowledgement of sin that results in a change of mind about who/what is God in my life, what is important, and what is good and bad. This is followed by a change of behavior flowing out of an internal change of values. The second response is to accept the revealed message about Jesus by Spirit-empowered faith (v. 41). Faith means taking God at his word and trusting my life and eternity to the truth of his revelation. All of this is seen in the act of baptism which is the visible expression of our connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus through repentance and faith (vv. 38, 41).

Results: What God Gives

Peter immediately announces the gift of forgiveness of our sins, which is the result of the propitiatory death of Jesus (v. 38). This gift flows into justification, or the imputed righteousness of Jesus. Peter goes on to the second gift, the Holy Spirit and the new heart and new life of Christ (v. 38). This is regeneration, or the imparted righteousness of Jesus, is for living a new life as a Christian with, like, for, to, and by the living Jesus. The third gift is membership in the body of Christ, the new community of the Spirit called the church. This community is a supernatural community where God’s power is seen from miracles and supernatural signs to the sharing of possessions among the community members and giving to all in need (vv. 41–47).

One happy outcome is that it includes resurrection and regeneration means a new heart and the indwelling Holy Spirit. So our deepest desire is to do the Jesus things. And following that desire leads to great happiness and joy.

I teach this version of the Gospel all the time. I was pleased when Tim, a good friend and pastor who just presented this lesson in China. He found great interest in the people there and one man responded by giving his life to Christ. What a happy result!

5 thoughts on “The Gospel

  1. Is any gospel presentation “adequate”? It amazes me that people are saved at all considering the beauty, depth, and complexity of the gospel.

    So many factors are involved besides what is presented. A preacher could have an awesome presentation, however, they presented it in the wrong context. Another preacher could have been lacking, but said just what one person needed to hear.

    Thankfully, God is at work using a multitude of people, experiences, and resources in a person’s life to bring them into the Kingdom–which far extends any single gospel presentation. Not to mention, every presentation of the gospel hinges on the fact that God must remove the veil.

    The greater concern, is not whether our presentation is adequate, but that we are indeed preaching the gospel as outlined in Scripture. Are we being faithful to the Word of God?

    “As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:9 NIV)

  2. Hi Gerry,

    I enjoy your blog, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Re how the Gospel is presented in the West, I share your sadness. Jim above speaks of reductionism, and that is really what it is, I’m afraid. I would build on that concept by adding the following thoughts:

    I see reductionism as the inevitable outworking of 2 forces:

    The 1st force at work against the true Gospel is a deeply ingrained cultural inclination in the US to elevate ‘the practical’ to the highest of altars/ priorities. While this is the great strength of the USA, allowing us to be efficient in business and otherwise, when it comes to the Gospel, I believe this can be spiritually counter productive. Simplicity and practicality were never the key to any of the apostles nor the early church fathers. We most certainly do not find anything even remotely close to the 30 second sinners prayer in the the writings of Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Ireneaus etc. Instead, we do find exhortations to live the obedient life empowered by Christ’s grace and Spirit. We find exhortations to be one of the bridesmaids with oil in our lamps and so on, to endure to the end. I don’t think the early church fathers would have an issue with the sinner’s prayer so to speak. But I think they would find the emphasis placed on it and the ‘decision for Christ’ tallying statistic mindset as rather strange… Their strong belief in the danger of apostasy and in the need to endure by faith to the end precluded such a ‘results driven’ mindset. But what do we find today? You are accused of being works salvation heretic if you dare suggest that a faith based endurance matters… 🙁

    The 2nd issue is an overbearing emphasis on penal substitution as the be and end all of the gospel. For 1,000 years in the eastern church PS was never taught as THE proper view of the atonement. And it still remains untaught in the Orthodox church whose teaching hasn’t deviated in 2000 years. It wasn’t until Anselm that proto penal substitution found its footing in the catholic church and not until Calvin was it fully formed. Shall we then rush with our brash western arrogance and suggest that all of the past and present Orthodox and like believers are just plain wrong and misguided and (hush hush) actually unsaved for having a different understanding of the atonement? I sure hope not.

    But getting back to the main problem: the shallowness of the presentation of the Gospel in the West has greatly to do with the insistence on PS as the ‘must have’ interpretation of the atonement. And then we get angry at people who ask legitimate questions as, how could God be angry with the Son and pour out his wrath on Him and yet be worshipped as a God of Love? We shout out to these lost ‘liberals’, how dare you question the Justice of God! We say to them, don’t you see that Isaiah 53:10 says “It pleased him to crush his soul”.

    What then should we make of the fact that the LXX translation (the one that Jesus Himself used) not even remotely speaks of a God pleased to ‘crush’ His anointed one. Surprise: Instead we find this –

    Isaiah 53:10-11
    “The Lord also is pleased to purge him from his stroke. If ye can give an
    offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived seed: 11 the Lord also is
    pleased to take away from the travail of his soul, to shew him light, and to
    form him with understanding; to justify the just one who serves many well; and he shall bear their sins”

    Hmm, Pleased to what? To purge him from his stroke (plague in some translations). God actually was pleased to cleanse Christ from the sins/plague he bore for us! Not pleased to ‘crush’ him, as the masoretic incorrectly renders things. Then see v 11, “The Lord is also pleased to take away from the travail of his soul’. That is flatly incompatible with the idea that God was deliberately punishing Christ out of a desire to have His Honor restored.

    There is also much to suggest that while undeniably Christ died for our sins, there is room for debate as to what ‘for’ really means. The understanding of the early church and the Orthodox church has always been that Christ came to liberate us from the wages of sin, which is death. That is what the ‘for’ means. As per His own words, quoting Isaiah:

    Luke 4:18

    18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to preach good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to release the oppressed,
    19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

    Christ came to release the oppressed from the oppression of sin. To heal the soul of man not just his body. That is the Good News! Our sin had separated us from God. But God so loved us to send His only begotten Son to release us from the consequences of the debt immeasurable that we owed Him. He came not to judge us, but to save us (John 3:17)

    If we truly understood the significance of this reality, I believe our preaching and teaching in the West would be radically altered for God’s glory. But sadly, instead it is stuck in the medieval juridical mindset which shows God as deliberately desiring to punish Christ in our stead to first restore justice. I believe that God turned His face away from Christ at the crucifixtion, not out of anger but out of pain and suffering with the Son. Christ said “Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends”. That is precisely what He did for us. He laid down his life willingly, as a sacrifice that would put Death to death by His work and resurrection.

    When the world comes to see this amazing Grace poured out in the willing sacrifice of Christ to release the captives from an eternity in hell, it will be drawn to Christ by His powerful impelling. But our responsibility is to present the truth of the Gospel as it is, being the Good News of our release from the oppression of sin and death. And then people will find the power to obey, and moreso, to find JOY in that obedience. And only then will we see lives transformed and become partakers of the divine nature, so that we can be the light to the world.

    God did not save us so that we can add that fact as one more badge to our accomplishments our acquisitions (Got Saved moustache anyone?), but He saved us to partner with Him, in ushering in His Kingdom. If we truly understand that, then duty based moralism will vanish, and be replaced with the words of Paul who said in Gal 2:20, it is no longer I but Christ at work in my body! Then we will truly come to share in the joy that Paul had as he endured to the end and ran the race set out for him.


  3. Pingback: Defining the Gospel « Western Seminary

  4. Gerry,

    It is striking to me that Christians from all traditions–orthodox, catholic, reformed, baptist, wesleyan, lutheran , anglican– pretty much agree on “revelation”: what God has done in Christ, at least so far as the “events” described in the apostles creed.

    Our differences come more on the application of redemption: to some extent on how we describe or define the “results,” but perhaps especially on what we expect in terms of “response.”

    The error of much modern american evangelicalism, as you point out, is a reductionism of all three “r’s”, especially when compared to nearly every historic form of Christian faith, not to mention the new testament.

    My guess is that many american evangelicals find themselves uncomfortable with the place you give baptism in this schema, and some (perhaps fewer) with the place you give repentance. Have you had to field any accusations/suspicions that you have stone-campbell leanings, or the like? How would you respond (i think i know)?

    Also, how do you see the “result” of future resurrection life (aka “heaven”) and all it entails fitting in here? Is it part of your Acts 2 gospel outline as flowing out of (or implicit in) “regeneration”?

    Be blessed,

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