|A249 : by Tony Garland |
The Importance of a Proper Understanding of the Gospel
When answering this question, there are several important points regarding the gospel (ευανγελιον [euangelion], literally "good news") which should be born in mind. First among these is the importance which scripture places upon an understanding and acceptance or the gospel.
For example, in Mark 8:35, Jesus underscores the serious call of the gospel upon one's life. Those who fail to dedicate their life in the service of Jesus and the gospel are said to "lose" their lives, whereas those who pursue the call of the gospel with abandonment are said to "gain" life. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it (Mark 8:35). If we take this teaching of Jesus seriously, then it indicates that whatever else might be true concerning the gospel, there is great importance in knowing what it is and dedicating one's life in its service. Thus, it would seem the gospel, in its essentials, cannot involve a vague, uncertain, or variable message.
Elsewhere, Paul indicates that a knowledge of Jesus necessary for salvation is dependent upon hearing the gospel. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom 10:14-15). Whatever the gospel is, it must be specific enough to serve God's salvific purposes and bring people to a saving knowledge of God's plan of redemption.
Jesus raises the stakes even higher when He gives the Great Commission to the Church: And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16). Eternal salvation or condemnation hinge upon the hearing of the gospel and a correct response. How much more important could "the gospel" be?
Peter also indicates that disobedience of the gospel will result in the judgment of God, For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God (1Pe. 4:17)? Clearly, there is immense importance attached to the gospel message and its understand and acceptance. Since we do not worship a prevaricating God, and God created language, in part, to communicate the gospel to His creatures, this infers the essentials of the gospel can be clearly known such that each individual bears responsibility for his or her response
Warnings Concerning a Different Gospel
Notice too that the Apostle Paul condemns false gospels—different gospels, which are not the true gospel.
He warns the Corinthian Church of the danger of turning away from the simple message of the gospel to follow after other gospels which are not the true gospel. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.; For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! (2Cor. 11:3-4).
In a similar manner, he warns the Church in Galatia of the dangers of a perverted gospel. He goes so far as to say that the source of the gospel is immaterial if the content of the message differs in its essentials from the simple message of salvation—and should therefore be rejected. I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6-9).
One way of Salvation
We also know that the uniform teaching of both Old and New Testaments is that there is a single way of salvation. The gospel message in every age, at its core, provides the essence of this way of salvation which depends upon on the work of Christ on the cross.
Are there two ways by which one may be saved? In reply to this question it may be stated that salvation of whatever specific character is always the work of God in behalf of man and never a work of man in behalf of God. This is to assert that God never saved any one person or group of persons on any other ground than that righteous freedom to do so which the Cross of Christ secured. There is, therefore, but one way to be saved and that is by the power of God made possible through the sacrifice of Christ.1
...there are not two ways of salvation. All salvation of God stems from the Savior, the Son of God, and His work on the cross. ... The two great essentials of salvation remain the same from the salvation of Adam to the last soul which God takes to Himself in the future. Faith is the condition and the death of Christ is the basis.2
I discuss this issue in some detail in my article, Does Dispensationalism Teach Two Ways of Salvation?a.
Progressive Revelation and the Gospel
If the essence of the gospel is neither vague nor varied and has been necessary for salvation down through the ages, how are we to understand the fact that the full revelation of the work of Christ on the cross only became known with time, as God progressively revealed His plan in Scripture?
When we examine scripture,
- we find that the basis of salvation has always been the crosswork of Christ, but
- the content of the salvation message—what was necessary for saints of a given age to trust in—grew progressively as history moved forward.
Paul indicates that the promise given to Abraham as far back as Genesis 12, included the gospel: And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed" (Gal. 3:8). The early form of the gospel message concerned the promised seed of Abraham through Whom all the families would be blessed. Abraham believed what God had revealed—even though the message was not as detailed as it would eventually come to be known—and God counted it to Abraham as saving faith (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3-11; Gal. 3:6; Jas. 2:23).4 Many would say that the essence of the gospel is found even further back in history, as early as Genesis 3:15, in the protevangelium6, when God revealed to Adam and Eve that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.
The writer of Hebrews indicates that the message of the gospel, in simple form, was made known to Israel in the wilderness. Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it (Heb. 3:17-4:2) At that time, Israel lacked the details concerning the gospel which would eventually be revealed, but belief in the promises of God—including the promises which underlie the Abrahamic covenant—served as the content of saving faith, although many in Israel failed to believe.
Paul indicates that the gospel was also made known through the messages of the various prophets of the Old Testament. Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:1-4). Paul mentions several aspects concerning Christ which are revealed in the Old Testament, such as those involving the promises to David of an eternal house and throne (e.g., 2S. 7), and that the Messiah would rise from the dead (e.g., Ps. 16:11; Isa. 53:8-12).
In the 53rd chapter of the prophet Isaiah8 we find what is perhaps the most complete description of the crosswork of Christ to be found in the Old Testament. No wonder Isaiah 53 is considered by many to the the Holy of Holies of the Old Testament and remains a stumbling block for unbelieving Jews even today!
As God's revelation progressed, the content of saving faith varied based upon what God had revealed, but the basis of salvation—the essence of the gospel—always remained the same.
The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ; the requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various dispensations. It is this last point, of course, that distinguishes dispensationalism from covenant theology, but it is not a point to which the charge of teaching two ways of salvation can be attached. It simply recognizes the obvious fact of progressive revelation. When Adam looked upon the coats of skins with which God had clothed him and his wife, he did not see what the believer today sees looking back on the cross of Calvary.9
The understanding of the average Israelite concerning Messiah at the time Jesus walked the earth was very feeble (John 1:21; 7:40), and even the prophets lacked comprehension (1 Peter 1:10-11). These passages make it impossible to say that Old Testament saints under the law exercised personal faith in Jesus Christ.10
It makes no difference which period of time or what condition one refers to; the salvation of a sinner has always been, and will always be, by God’s grace through faith. The basis upon which God forgives sin has always been the substitutionary death of Christ. Men have not always known what we know about the person and work of Christ, simply because all that has been revealed in the New Testament was not made known to the men of God who wrote the Old Testament. Therefore, while God has always required personal faith as the condition of salvation, the content of that faith has not always been explicit. Those who lived before Calvary knew very little of the atoning blood of Christ. Many of the sacrifices and offerings were types of the Savior and the final and complete work he would do, but it is doubtful that the Old Testament Pharisaic types understood all of that. Certainly the believing remnant did not trust in the blood of bulls and goats. Yet God accounted their faith to them for righteousness. He accepted the work of his Son as already finished.11
Salvation was and always is by grace through faith. While the content of faith has changed from age to age, depending on progressive revelation, the means of salvation never changes. The law was not given to serve as a means of salvation (Rom. 3:20,28; Gal. 2:16; 3:11,21).12
Attributes and Emphasis of the Gospel Message
So how are we to understand the different ways the gospel is described within various passages of Scripture? Although the basis of saving faith always remains the crosswork of Christ, different aspects of the gospel message are emphasized in different passages and historical contexts.
The majority of passages associate the gospel with "God," "His Son," or "Christ" (Mark 1:1; Rom. 1:1,9; 1:16; 15:16,19,29; 1Cor. 9:12,18; 2Cor. 2:12; 9:13; 10:14; 11:7; Gal. 1:7; Php. 1:2; 1Ti. 1:11; 1Pe. 4:17; 1Th. 2:2,8-9; 3:2; 2Th. 1:8). This association of the gospel with God or Christ indicates God as either the source of the gospel (subjective genitive) or the object of the gospel (objective genitive)—as determined by examining the context within which each phrase appears. Both are true: the gospel came from God and was made possible by the work of Christ, yet, in the Church Age, the gospel also requires an understanding of the work of Christ—it is fundamentally about Christ.13
As has already been mentioned, Paul refers to false gospels as "different" or "other" gospels (2Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6; Gal. 1:9). These differ from the true gospel to such a degree that they are condemned and have historically been considered as heretical.
Paul called his message “my/our gospel” in distinction from a message “peddled” (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17) by other preachers in the early communities. Sometimes the variant message had only a change of emphasis; Paul regretted this but did not oppose it since “Christ is being proclaimed; and in that I rejoice” (Phil. 1:12-18 . . .). More seriously, there were in Galatia (Gal. 1:1-11) and at Corinth (2 Cor. 11:4)—and probably elsewhere (Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus [1 Tim. 4; 2 Tim. 2:17f ])—those whom Paul labeled “false apostles” (2 Cor. 11:13) and Satan’s servants (2Cor. 11:15). They preached “another Jesus” and “a different [héteros] gospel from the one you accepted.” [Martin, R. P.]14
Elsewhere, Paul describes the gospel as being "glorious" (1Ti. 1:11), bringing peace (reconciliation) between God and man (Rom. 10:15; Eph. 6:15) resulting in salvation for those who respond (Eph. 1:13). Since the gospel is priceless in value, yet freely available by faith, it is also said to demonstrate God's grace (Acts 20:24). The gracious function of the gospel extends beyond individual redemption and reveals the glory of Christ Himself (2Cor. 4:4).
On several occasions, Jesus refers to "this gospel" (Mat. 24:14; Mat. 26:13; Mark 14:9 [MT15]). In two of the settings, "this gospel" is associated with Christ's prophesied death (Mat. 26:13; Mark 14:9 [MT]). He also indicates that this will be the same gospel that will be preached during the global evangelistic effort which began with the Great Commission. In another passage (Mat. 24:14), "this gospel" is associated with the proclamation of the kingdom (discussed below).
The Everlasting Gospel
In the revelation given John concerning the time of turmoil preceding the return of Christ, the "everlasting gospel" is said to be proclaimed globally by an angel flying in the midst of heaven (Rev. 14:6-7).
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people— saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”16
This characteristic of the gospel probably has in view the New Covenant which is referred to as an eternal covenant (Isa. 51:6; Tit. 1:1-3; Heb. 13:20). Unlike the Old (Mosaic) Covenant, broken by Israel (Jer. 31:31-32), the gospel stands upon upon Christ's ratification of the New Covenant at His death on the cross (Mat. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1Cor. 11:25; Heb. 12:24). The New Covenant also has everlasting results in that it provides for eternal life.
In the Revelation passage, the global message of the angel is described as follows, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” Some interpret this as the sole content of the gospel message preached by the angel. But it seems unlikely that the words that John heard the angel say constitute the entire gospel message delivered to the earth dwellers. Rather, it summarizes what their response should be. The specifics of the gospel message itself are not recorded. The response to the gospel message called for by the angel relates to the Tribulation and recognizes the series of judgments God is pouring forth as well as His sovereignty over creation.
The Gospel of the Kingdom
Probably the most noticeable difference in emphasis concerning the gospel message is found in passages in Matthew which refer to preaching "the gospel of the kingdom" (Mat. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). These proclamations occur in historical contexts which are associated with either the first or second coming of Christ—when the offer of the Davidic kingdom to Israel is in view (Mat. 10:5-6; 15:24; Mark 7:27; John 1:11; Acts 10:36). This offer of the kingdom was rejected at Christ's first coming, only to be made again and accepted prior to His second (Mat. 23:37-39). In Jesus' eschatological teaching in the Olivet Discourse, He refers to "this gospel (τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον [touto to euangelion], 'this, the gospel') of the kingdom—implying at the time of the end there will be a similar emphasis on the kingdom as the message given by John the Baptist and Jesus during the first coming (e.g., Mat. 3:2; 10:7; Mark 1:15). Although the essentials of the gospel message will not change, in these historical settings there is more of an emphasis on God's mediatorial kingdom coming fully to earth (Acts 1:6-7). As at Christ's first coming, His second coming emphasizes covenantal aspects of the gospel message which find fulfillment only at the establishment of God's kingdom on earth (Jer. 31:33-34; Mat. 5:5; 6:10; Luke 21:31).
Though this [Mat. 24:14] will be a terrible time of persecution, the Lord will have servants who will witness and spread the good news concerning Christ and His soon-coming kingdom. This message will be similar to that preached by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, but this message will clearly identify Jesus in His true character as the coming Messiah. This is not exactly the same message the church is proclaiming today. The message preached today in the Church Age and the message proclaimed in the Tribulation period calls for turning to the Savior for salvation. However, in the Tribulation the message will stress the coming kingdom, and those who then turn to the Savior for salvation will be allowed entrance into the kingdom. Apparently many will respond to that message (cf. Rev. 7:9-10). [L. A. Barbieri, Jr.]17
Many Bible teachers make a distinction in the following: (1) The Gospel of the Kingdom. The good news that God’s purpose is to establish an earthly mediatorial kingdom in fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:16). Two proclamations of the gospel of the kingdom are mentioned, one already past, beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist, carried on by our Lord and His disciples, and ending with the Jewish rejection of the Messiah. The other preaching is yet future (Matt. 24:14), during the Great Tribulation, and heralding the second advent of the King. Closely connected, although perhaps not identical in its emphasis with the gospel of the kingdom, is the everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6) preached to those on earth during the latter part of the Tribulation. (2) The Gospel of God’s Grace . . . Paul calls this gospel of the grace of God “my gospel” (Rom. 2:16) because the full doctrinal content based upon the gospel of the grace of God embraces the revelation of the result in the outcalling of the church, her relationship, position, privileges, and responsibility. This distinctive Pauline truth, honeycombing Ephesians and Colossians, is interwoven in all of the Pauline writings. [R. K. Harrison]18
Although the kingdom aspect of the gospel received greater emphasis at Christ's first coming and will do so again at the time of the end, the gospel emphasis of the Church in this age is clearly set forth in Paul's letter to the church at Corinth (1Cor. 15:1-4):
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures . . .19
In conclusion: there has only ever been one gospel requiring a response, by faith, to the promises God had revealed concerning His plan of redemption by the time the listener occupied in history. The basis of salvation, whether before or after the death of Christ, has always been the work of Christ on the cross. Variations in the way the gospel is described reflect progressive revelation and differences in emphasis concerning secondary aspects of the salvation message.
|1.||BIBSAC, Lewis S. Chafer, “Editorial, Vol. 102, No. 405 (1945), p. 1|
|2.||BIGSAC, John Walvoord, “Series in Christology-Part 4: The Preincarnate Son of God,” Vol. 104, No. 416, (1947), p. 422|
|3.||Ref-0370, s.v. "Gospel"|
|4.||“the word used here to denote an advance proclamation of the gospel to Abraham is not euangelizomai but proeuangelizomai.”3|
|5.||Ref-0146, p. 188|
|6.||“Most Christian commentators interpret Gen. 3:15 as the first revelation and prediction of the work of Messiah; for this reason, it is referred to by theologians as the protevangelium (‘the first proclamation of the gospel’).”5|
|7.||Ref-0089, p. 952|
|8.||Isaiah was written sometime between “739-686 B.C.”7|
|9.||Ref-0056, p 115|
|10.||Ref-0056, p 120|
|11.||Ref-1239, p 202|
|12.||Ref-0799, pp. 590-591, emphasis added|
|13.||A similar question arises in understanding the phrase "the apocalypse of Jesus Christ" which introduces the book of revelationb.|
|14.||Ref-0008, s.v. "Gospel"|
|15.||MT = Majority Greek Text|
|16.||NKJV, Rev. 14:6-7|
|18.||Ref-0185, s.v. "Gospel"|
|19.||NKJV, 1Cor. 15:1-4|
|NKJV||Unless indicated otherwise, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.|
|Ref-0008||Geoffrey Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1979).|
|Ref-0038||John Walvoord and Roy. B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1983).|
|Ref-0056||Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995).|
|Ref-0089||John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997).|
|Ref-0146||Randall Price, The Coming Last Days Temple (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1999).|
|Ref-0185||Merrill F. Unger, R. K. Harrison and Howard Frederic Vos, New Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1988).|
|Ref-0370||Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.|
|Ref-0799||Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994). ISBN:0914863053c.|
|Ref-1239||Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1995). ISBN:0-8254-3145-Xd.|