What is the Gospel? (part 2)

The Gospel of the kingdom. One thing that has perplexed evangelicals for at least the last hundred years is that Jesus seems to speak in different terms that the apostle Paul (with whom evangelicals tend to be more comfortable). Paul speaks of the gospel (ex: Rom. 1:1, 16) Jesus, on the other hand, speaks mostly of the Kingdom of God. But this is only a matter of emphasis. The truth is that underneath the difference of terminology is a common vision:

The rule of God demonstrated in both salvation and judgment.

This mesage was preached by both Paul and Jesus as “the gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, 24:14, Acts 28:30) As we’ll see, the gospel of the Kingdom is truly holistic and avoids the errors of the sacred/secular split.

Creation regained. The Kingdom proclamation is summarized in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Your God reigns” (52:7) Listen to the  words of the prophet:

How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of him who brings good news,

who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,

who publishes salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

This gospel is the proclaimation of good news, the news that the Lord Almighty, the King, Creator, and Sovereign Emperor of the universe has bad enough of sin, suffering, and Satan and has decided to get his hands dirty. He is reclaiming his sin-diseased creation. All that was corrupted by the fall: the divine-human relationship, the human-land relatiosnhip, and the plight of human conflict will all be addressed by God’s radical (i.e root addressing) gospel.

The social. But the good news of the kingdom of God isn’t merely about the divine/human drama. Since Adam turned on God, we have turned against each other in all manners of social strife. The gospel is the means through which the Spirit of God forms a new community. This gospel-shaped people are a foretaste of what relationships are to be in the New Creation, where all love is self-sacrificial, and all wounds are mended. This was God’s plan, mentioned in seed form back in Gen. 3:15, and more explicit in the call of Abraham in Gen. 12. To take these texts together (as I beleive we should) is to recognize that the serpent-crushing seed of the woman, the one who will bring rest from the curse of the ground (cf. Gen.5:29) is to be a blessing to all nations, for Jews and non-Jews alike. But in order for this to happen something both glorious and horrible must happen.

The cross. It’s not uncommon these days to hear people say that the gospel of personal reconciliation with God is too individualistic and misses out on the grand sweep of God’s cosmic redemption. While I sympathize with this criticism of much of hyper-sentimentalized evangelicalism when pushed too far it misses one crucial truth:

Without the salvation, reconciliation, justification, and redemption of individual people (the lost and fallen images of God) that can be no cosmic redemption.

The former is the condition of the latter.  All of the benefits of Christ and his kingdom are ours because of the cross-work of King Jesus. In order to reclaim his creation, God must address his rebellious, covenant-breaking image-bearers. If creation is to be regained, God’s designated vice-regent is to be redeemed. According to Paul creation was “subjected to futility” because Adam’s sin. When God’s vice regent, the climax of His creation, is enslaved to sin, so is the rest of the cosmos. Listen carefully to Paul’s words:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:18-23 ESV)

If God’s rescue mission is as comprehensive as I’ve argued God must address the root of the problem: human rebellion and sin. Notice the ordering of Paul’s words, because too often in our zeal to proclaim the gospel of “cosmic redemption” we read Paul backwards. We’re tempted to think that humans are saved as a part of the greater redemption of the cosmos. But this isn’t what Paul says. He says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now[…] wait[ing] eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Creation itself is, according to Paul’s imagery, sitting on pins and needles, waiting for the redemption of the bride of Christ, the church. That’s Paul’s way of looking at this.

This is why as Paul sets up the “problem” the gospel addresses in Romans 1 he doesn’t start with the breakdown of the family, or racial strife. Paul highlights a particular sin, idolatry, or as D.A. Carson calls it, the “de-godding” of God. In idolary fallen image bearers exchange the true God for a false one created in it’s image. The gospel of the cross tells us that Christ Jesus takes the punishment for our cosmic rebellion on himself. Again, listen to the apostle Paul:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

And that’s the message in a nutshell: Jesus lives the life of a perfect covenant-keeper, wholly devoted to the glory of his Heaven Father. And he dying the penalty for covenant-breaking…and he does all of this in the place of those who will be united and joined to him in humble faith. And why is faith God’s chosen instrucment to unite us to the benefits won for us by Jesus? Because faith is like an empty hand that acknowledges that the ground, the basis, and the foundation of our restored relationship with the king of the universe isn’t our own goodness, worthiness, or merit. True faith, the kind that demonstrates a changed heart by the gospel, looks to Jesus and the infinite value of his life, death, and resurrection as the basis of our acceptance with God.

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