The Gospel Really Is This Simple...Thursday, June 24, 2010
I'm a heady sort of guy. I tend to make things complicated. Part of this is a drive for simplicity, believe it or not. It's breaking down a large task into small achievable goals. If the goals are small and simple, they get done quicker, and the larger goal gets done completely.
When it comes to the gospel, this doesn't work. It's not really a large achievable goal like a building or management project. It's definitely large in terms of what's at stake, but not in terms of the pieces. Eternity is at stake, and it's broken down into small achievable decisions, each one consisting of the same stuff: faith.
The simplicity of the gospel is this: live like God makes and keeps promises. That's it. I don't know if it can be reduced to much less than that. However, even these words and phrases needed to be broken down for the sake of clarity and definition.
By "God" I mean the God of the Bible. It seems to go without saying, but it doesn't. Many Christians don't read their Bibles and so end up by default fashioning a God of their own making in their minds. They piece together what they think, believe, and experience from fragments of religion, Christianity, and the world. What they have actually becomes an idol rather than the true God of the Bible.
When I say that God "makes...promises" I mean that if we read our Bibles we will fashion an understanding of God that is biblical. And the Bible teaches from the very first story of Adam and Eve all the way to the end of the Bible in Revelation that God makes promises. And what do those promises consist of? In short, God loves to step into the background of sin and corruption and make promises about deliverance, rescue, and salvation from the judgment and misery sin and corruption bring. He loves to step into that background, and He loves to make promises like this...because He loves US.
When I say that God "...keeps promises" I mean that whatever promises God makes, He also keeps. He is God. God is not a liar. God always tells the truth. God never errs. God never sins. Therefore God always keeps His promises. Sometimes His keeping of those promises is not quite what we imagined. But because HE is God, and because HE made the promises, HE gets keep them in the way HE originally intended on promising. And that is crucial because it overturns any accusations against God as One who is not a promise-keeping God. He made them...He made them with an original intention in mind...and He'll keep them...in His own time...and in the way He originally intended.
The gospel is about the God of the Bible making and keeping promises. The very first proclamation of the gospel is in Genesis 3:15. It's often called the protoevangelium in theology. (Read a great short piece here from R. C. Sproul about this.) And there God promised Adam and Eve, "And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel" (NLT). God kept that promise when His Son, Jesus Christ, rose from the dead and became Christus Victor, Christ triumphing over Satan, his demons, his power, his control, and his consequences.
Believing in the gospel becomes simply this: living like God made and kept His promise of victory over your sin and corruption through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And everyday of your life from the point of conversion onward becomes studying His Word to see what this means, figuring out what it looks like in your life, and making decisions based upon it.
Perhaps the greatest example in the Bible of this, other than Jesus Christ, of course, is Abraham. Here's how Paul described his situation in Romans 4:13-24.
"Clearly, God's promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God's law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith. If God's promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless. For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!) So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham's. For Abraham is the father of all who believe. That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, "I have made you the father of many nations."* This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing. Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, "That's how many descendants you will have!" And Abraham's faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah's womb. Abraham never wavered in believing God's promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. And because of Abraham's faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn't just for Abraham's benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead."
The key verses are 21-24. They are the ones I've put in bold and/or italics above. And perhaps the simplest definition of the gospel, in my opinion, is found in verse 21: being fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises. This is what God counted as righteousness for Abraham. And it's what God counts as righteousness today for those who believe and live the same way.
In summary, the gospel is quite simple. It's a proclamation of good news. The good news is that God made and kept a promise. And if you want to follow Jesus, you'll believe that God made and kept earth-shattering, history-altering promises about Jesus Christ, from OT prophecies hundreds of years before His birth detailing some of the most minute occurrences...all the way to the resurrection from the grave which sealed your victory over sin and Satan...all the way to the end of the world when He will keep His promise to come back again and get us and take us to heaven with Himself.
But until then, you will show that you have believed the good news once and for all by living each day like God has made and will keep His promises. These are promises that were made throughout the Old Testament, many of them for you since you are a true Israelite in the faith of Abraham. These are promises made in the New Testament, all of them made for you since you are a saint of God in the church of Christ.
Study, read, pray over, memorize, and meditate on these promises. They should completely control and determine the decisions you make about pretty much everything. If you believe God has made promises about your future in heaven with Him, then you'll spend your money differently. If you believe the promises God has made about your children, then you'll raise them differently. If you believe the promises God has made about resurrection from the dead, then you'll choose to go and live in different places.
Every promise you read about, study, memorize and meditate upon is fulfilled in the work and ministry of Jesus Christ. Every promise flows into the cross and empty tomb, and back out of it. Every promise should lead you there, then out of it, then back into it, again and again. And this is because those two places were where God demonstrated His ability to make and keep the single greatest promise of all regarding the death and resurrection of His own Son! If He kept those promises to His own Son, won't He also keep any other promises He's made to you...who are also His sons and daughters?
Keep the gospel simple. Fix your focus on the promises of God. Do not waver in your belief about those promises no matter what life looks like. And every single day, always be convinced that God is able and willing to do exactly what He promised.