Archive for May, 2009

Again, What is the Gospel?

The implications of the gospel message are eternal, for Scripture teaches us that Heaven and Hell are real.  If we were to subtract the gospel from Christianity, then we would have removed the point of Christianity.  However, people are often unclear as to what the gospel is.  In light of the eternal implications of the gospel, we must not be satisfied with confusion over what the gospel is. The gospel is not just a feel good message with a sprinkling of Christian vocabulary.  Scripture is clear that the gospel is a particular message with a particular content. Therefore, we ask the question, “What is the gospel?” 

 

In 1 Corinthians, Paul seeks to make clear to his readers what the gospel is.  He writes, “Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15.1-4, ESV). The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ by which people are saved from sin and death.  The gospel is the message that God sent His Son, Jesus, to Earth as of a man to atone for the sins of His people by dying for their sins.  After he died, Jesus victoriously rose again from the dead and ascended to heaven from where He reigns as King and from where he will come again as judge.  “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21, ESV).

 What are the implications of such a message? Paul states that the gospel “…is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1.16, ESV).  First, Paul says the gospel is effective.  By defining the gospel in terms of “the power of God,” Paul is saying that the gospel is as powerful in its purpose as God is in his.  Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet writes, “Ah, Lord GOD!  It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm!  Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32.17, ESV).  Just as God will bring about his eternal purpose, so the Word of God will have its intended effect.  The prophet Isaiah writes, “[the word of the Lord] shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it”  (Isaiah 55.11, ESV).  The gospel is effective on its own; we need not seek to improve on it with our witty words or crafty techniques.  The gospel “…is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…”

 Second, the gospel has a specific purpose, to bring about salvation.  It is the by gospel that we are being saved.  “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1.18, ESV).   No other message under heaven is capable of bringing about salvation, for by no other name than Jesus will man be saved.  If we do not get the gospel right, we have a false hope ourselves and offer a false hope to others. The gospel “…is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…”

 Third, the gospel is broadly offered and narrowly effective.  That is to say, not everyone who hears the gospel will be saved, but al types of people will be saved who hear the gospel and believe.  John writes of Jesus, “…you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Revelation 5.9, ESV).  God has a global vision for redeeming a people for himself.  We are in sin when we undermine the grace of God by putting any stipulation beyond faith on salvation.  Likewise, we are in sin when we undermine the grace of God by denying the necessity of faith for salvation.  Yes, God has his gospel known in all the world, but only those who respond in faith, those who believe, will be saved. The gospel “…is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…”

 Just as the implications of the gospel are eternal, so the implications of a false gospel are equally eternal.  We must get the gospel correct.  Paul writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1.6-8, ESV).  Not one person will be saved by a false gospel.  Do you believe the gospel, as Scripture presents it, or are you resting on some clever bit of “Christian” philosophy and law?

 

1 comment | Permalink
Hurt

In 1994, Nine Inch Nails released The Downward Spiral, a dehumanizing album that chronicled the darkest moments and thoughts of a suicidal man’s life.  While many objected to the desperately vulgar lyrics of songs like “Closer,” The Downward Spiral was a fair and honest glimpse into the sinful morose of a depraved heart. 

Not being a fan of Nine Inch Nails, I only knew of this album in passing.  It was not until Johnny Cash released his 2002 album, American IV:  When the Man Comes Around, that I wondered what The Downward Spiral was all about. On his album, Cash covered “Hurt,” the final track on The Downward Spiral.  Cash modified the lyrics slightly to force the issue of our need for redemption.  His version is as follows.

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real 

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything 

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt 

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair 

Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

 If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way*

These sorrowful lyrics seem to peer into the depths of the pain, self-pity, and pride that paradoxically define our flesh.  When we hear songs such as “Hurt” and albums such as The Downward Spiral, we often reject them out of hand as dangerous, nihilistic, and/or demonic.  While there is good reason to avoid the vulgarity that often characterizes such albums, we should not overlook the truth that they often convey.  Re-read the chorus. 

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

These poignant words, accidentally but not therefore less truthfully, make Paul’s words in Romans 3.10-18 intensely personal.  Paul writes,

None is righteous, no, not one;
     no one understands;
     no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;  
     no one does good,
     not even one.
Their throat is an open grave;  
     they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips.
     Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
     in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.
     There is no fear of God before their eyes.

When we recognize the depth of our own sin, as it is presented in Scripture, we would do good to acknowledge the depth of our own depravity and ask, “What have I become?”

“Hurt” ends with a stanza that rings all too true for us.

 If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

Too often, this is our attitude when confronted with our own sin.  Too often, we respond to the pain that we cause by asking for a do-over and failing to hear that familiar refrain, “I will let you down, I will make you hurt.”  The reality is, when we recognize our sin, we have only “become” what we actually are, slaves to sin and death.  Even if we “start again” we start as we did the first time, dead in sin.  To borrow from a friend’s album title, we are “Stillborn Breathing.” 

On the other hand, Paul’s convicting words do not end with us starting again on our own.  Paul goes on to spell out the redemption that Jesus Christ bought for his people.  He writes,

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3.19-26).

Our sin, our pain, our frustration, the hurt we inflict on ourselves and others, does not have to end in despair, for there is a great and sure hope of redemption for all who are in Jesus Christ by faith.

 


* Johnny Cash, American IV: When the Man Comes Around, “Hurt”, (2002).

 

 

 

 

 

| Permalink
The Theology of LOST

Bring the Books, one of the blogs I follow, has a great post on the ever-so-popular T.V. show, Lost.  I must admit that I never got into the show, but I found this post interesting.  Here is an excerpt.  

For the thinking person who is watching Lost but has reservations about believing in Biblical predestination on the basis that predestination would make our actions meaningless, they should consider that though the actions of the characters in the show who have traveled back in time are already decided and certain, the acts themselves are still nevertheless meaningful and important.

If you would like to read the rest of the post you can do so here.

| Permalink