On three separate occasions the apostle Paul referred to ‘my gospel’, Rom. 2. 16; 16. 25; 2 Tim. 2. 8. This does not, of course, mean that what he preached was different from what was preached by the apostles of the Lamb on and after the day of Pentecost but that Paul, an apostle of the risen and exalted Christ, was at one with the gospel he preached in a remarkable way.
However, it should be remembered that just as he was, in a unique way, a minister of the church, so he also was a minister of the gospel, Col. 1. 23-25. In this connection it is not without significance that outside of the pastorals Paul associates himself with others in the writing of all his epistles, except Romans and Ephesians. In Romans, as a minister of the gospel, he explains the truth of the gospel; in Ephesians, as a minister of the church, he expounds the truth of the assembly which is His body, as no other epistles do. To Paul, first of all the apostles, had been revealed the truths of both the gospel and the church. Thus, he alone speaks of both ‘the mystery of the gospel’, Eph. 6. 19, and ‘the mystery of (the) Christ’, Eph. 3. 4.
The descriptions given to the gospel signify its content. It is seven times called ‘the gospel of God’, ten times ‘the gospel of Christ’ and once ‘the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’. It is described as ‘the gospel of his Son’, Rom. 1. 9; ‘the gospel of the grace of God’, Acts 20. 24; ‘the gospel of peace’, Rom. 10. 15; Eph. 6. 15; and ‘the gospel of your salvation’, Eph. 1. 13. The exclusive nature of this message is illustrated by the use of such expressions as ‘the testimony of God’, 1 Cor. 2. 1, and ‘the word of the truth of the gospel’, Col. 1. 5. It brooks no rival.
We live in an increasingly man-centred age. It is the product of increasingly atheistic and secular philosophies which govern the thinking of so many. Closely connected to this is humanism, where human needs and interests govern thinking and action. Sadly, there is a rising tendency to think that the gospel, too, is concerned primarily with human need. If we fail to recognize that it is, in fact, rather to do with God acting for His own glory, our apprehension of what the gospel is will be awry, with serious consequences for evangelism and the evangelistic method.
We do well, therefore, to remember at all times that it is God’s gospel, not only because it originates in Him but He is its object. His great delight is that His Son will be honoured by the redeemed of this age, being conformed to His image, Rom. 8. 29. Accordingly, God has a purpose which will be accomplished; every single person who is foreknown by Him shall be glorified. And, in the meantime, those who are saved by grace, through faith, have an acceptance before Him in all the acceptability of Christ Himself. Ephesians chapter 1 verse 6 speaks of our having been made ‘accepted in the beloved’, taken into favour in the beloved One. This is positional, but is more than merely judicial, for the very heart of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is involved. It is no wonder that the apostle speaks of the fact that what God has done in all of this is to ‘the praise of the glory of His grace’, Eph. 1. 6.
This is all the more remarkable when it is remembered where, in ‘the riches of his grace’, Eph. 1. 7, God found those who are now to the praise of the glory of His grace. Our view of the gospel will go seriously wrong if we have a view of man’s lostness that does not fully reflect what scripture says about him. Intellectually, emotionally and volitionally man is as badly off as it is possible for him to be. This is reflected in the statement and question, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ Jer. 17. 9. This mirrors fairly Pauline teaching regarding the state of the children of Adam’s fallen race. Without salvation people are dead in trespasses and sins, Eph. 2. 1. This is saying far more than some opine when they say that it means, merely, that man is separated from God. Surely, if ‘dead’ means ‘separated’ the remedy would be reconciliation, but it is, in fact, ‘quickening’. The thought is that the sinner has no principle of life toward God, so that it takes God to work if ever he is going to be saved. In that condition, he lives life according to the course of this world, that which works in the children of disobedience and is dominated by the prince of the power of the air. In this state the sinner behaves according to the lusts of the flesh, for he is ‘in the flesh’, Rom. 8. 8, and in that condition he cannot please God. And, as he fulfils the desire of the flesh and the mind, he spends his time as a child of wrath, along with all others in that condition.
The sinner is an enemy of God, 5. 10. This does not mean that God regards the sinner as His enemy but that there is enmity from the sinner towards God. And so sinners are ‘alienated and enemies’ in their minds by wicked works, Col. 1. 21, having free choice in the matter of that salvation which is offered to them but without the desire or will to receive it. This is imparted by the Spirit of God dealing with them: scripture speaks of the ‘sanctification of the Spirit’, 2 Thess. 2. 13; 1 Pet. 1. 2, without which no one will ever be saved. Could a person with no principle of life toward God have a desire after God in any other way?
The apostles urged on sinners the need for ‘repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’, Acts 20. 21. Do we preach repentance as we should? Repentance is a complete turn around, a forsaking of sin in acknowledgement that it is wrong; and a new disposition towards God, who is now acknowledged to be right. There is no true faith without repentance for ‘they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts’, Gal. 5. 24. Do we preach faith as it should be preached? Many euphemisms are used, such as ‘open your heart to Christ’, ‘give your life to Christ’, ‘invite Him in’ or ‘confess your sins and you will be saved’. This is dangerous language for it does not address the core issue of the necessity of heart faith in Christ, Rom. 10. 10, in which a person ventures their all on Him, placing simple, uncomplicated, childlike trust in Christ personally to save him.
In the gospel preached by the apostles we discover that every demand of God and every need of man has been met in the work of Christ. There has been nothing left outstanding. Accordingly, in Romans chapter 5 verses 9 and 10, three great statements are made. We are justified by His blood, reconciled by his death, and saved by His life.
The blood of Christ, which He shed on the cross (no act of man is involved), has met every demand of divine righteousness. The blood of sacrifice was always first for the eye of God, as is demonstrated on both the night of the passover and the day of atonement. It is the basis upon which the believing sinner is justified. A just God is in a position to justify the guilty person who believes in Jesus because the sacrifice He offered to God at Calvary has satisfied infinite justice. It is on this basis that we preach the gospel to all and sundry, for in the blood of Christ there is a sufficiency to meet the need of the whole world. Here, then, is the truth of propitiation.
There is, however, more to my need before God as a sinner than the fact that I am guilty. What I have done to occasion my guilt springs out of a nature which I have by birth, as connected to man in Adam. But in the death of Christ (His entering actually into death) there is a full and perfect answer for all that I am in Adam. Vital reconciliation is always connected to His death, and involves not only substitution but representation. The man that I was in Adam was brought to an end before God in the death of Christ, for He entered death as my representative. The force of Romans chapter 6 verse 8 is that when Christ died, I died. My Adam-standing was brought to an end in the death of Christ; the enemy of God was brought to an end in death, so that God was thus able to reconcile me to Himself.
But there is more. I am also saved by His life. This has no reference to His life lived on earth: it is without Biblical warrant – indeed, it is contrary to scripture – to say that Christ in His life kept the law on our behalf. Justification does not involve the imputation to us of His righteous law-keeping. Reformed teaching constantly speaks of the ‘righteousness of Christ’ but the Bible always speaks of the ‘righteousness of God’. The thought is, rather, that in my close union with Christ, the risen man at God’s right hand, my salvation is secure: as long as Christ lives I cannot perish. The Lord Jesus said, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’, John 14. 19. There is such triumph and assurance in the words of Romans chapter 8 verse 34. ‘Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us’.
One day soon His people shall all be there with Him, and like Him, evidence of the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards them. In the meanwhile, let us be reinvigorated in our efforts to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ and see others brought in salvation to our blessed Lord.
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