What is the Gospel?

This is a longer post than normal. It comes from my passion for the gospel of grace. I wish to write more, but I’ll restrain myself. I hope this clarifies where I stand…

calvary3cross.jpgWhen one of my best friends received Jesus, he signaled that moment by jumping in the air and turn 360 degrees before landing. We were running, around a Chicago park, in chill, damp weather, at night. He had resisted, debated, denied, and argued against the gospel for months. But finally the time came when his heart was opened, and softened toward Christ. And he believed on Jesus as his only hope, and by believing, he received Jesus and all that he brings (John 1:12). He didn’t pray a prayer. He jumped and spun around. Physically. Spiritually too. He came down a new man with a new life. This goes to show you that it’s not a formula, and we do not teach it as such–everybody is different in their response of faith.

But the message stays the same.

The Gospel (literally “good message”) is the “power of God” (Rom 1:16). I’d like to describe this powerful message–but it would take a whole book to do it justice. Especially since I would have to defend, and expand, and explain every point (see the level of discussion on the blog “WWLD”).

Someday, I’ll write that book. But not today. This is a blog, so I’ll put forth my views in an abbreviated form. Pardon the economy of language and the unadorned writing style, okay? I want to get as much said in as little space as possible.

While the word gospel has many meanings in different contexts in the Bible, throughout this posting, I am using it in its most limited sense–the one Paul used in 1 Cor. 15:1. The Gospel is a subset of biblical truth. We do not expect a person to believe the WHOLE BIBLE in order to be saved. Nobody would ever make it if that were the case.

It is specifically the truths that a person must hear, understand, believe, and respond to in order to be saved (Rom 10:13-17). The gospel is the irreducible minimum of biblical truths necessary for salvation.

By salvation, I mean the whole package of benefits that comprise the new life and new status of a person who is embraced by Christ. You are: regenerated by the power of God (John 3), mystically and vitally placed into union with Christ (John 15), adopted in the family of God (Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5), transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col 1:13), making us citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20; 2 Tim 4:18). There’s more, but that will get you going.

If salvation is an exquisite mansion, then the gospel is its threshold. It is that line you step across to enter the mansion. The purpose of crossing a threshold is to get into the mansion and to enjoy it. You do not spend your whole life at the threshold. You move in and occupy the entire mansion.

At the risk of pushing my illustration too far…

The threshold/gospel illustrates JUSTIFICATION.

Life in the mansion illustrates SANCTIFICATION.

The two are different, but organically united. To step through one is to automatically enter the other. You cannot enter sanctification without passing through the doorway of justification. You cannot pass thru justification without entering the realm of sanctification. They are united, but they are different, and the differences are CRUCIAL.

JUSTIFICATION is the instantaneous imputation of divine righteousness to the account of the person who exercises faith… it is not an impartation or infusion of righteousness, it is a forensic imputation. This is based on linguistic studies of the word for impute/reckon, etc. This differs from a Catholic or orthodox position which prefers to say that righteousness is imparted or infused, not imputed.

“And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” Romans 4:22-25, NKJV.

The main point of the Reformation was that justification is by faith, not works. We believe in justification by faith. It is justification that is the moment of salvation for an individual.

SANCTIFICATION is the progressive work of God in conforming us to the life and character of Christ. While the word carries other meanings, this is the central one. It is subsequent to and consequent upon justification. You can’t have Sanctification without justification. Sanctification is righteousness infused or imparted: this is where Catholic/orthodox theology differs. They locate the infusion of righteousness in the justification experience, not sanctification experience.

Another term for Sanctification is the Christian Life. Or the post-salvation Christian life. It refers to a supernatural lifestyle of experiencing the life of Christ flowing through you… and…

Sanctification is IMPOSSIBLE for an unregenerate person (1 Cor 2:14). Not hard: IMPOSSIBLE. You must FIRST be born again before you can be SECOND, sanctified. This is why we grace-oriented teachers get upset when we hear the demands of the Christian life being placed upon unsaved/unregenerate people. Telling lost people to change their lives is telling them to do the impossible–it is giving them a hopeless message, a demanding, crushing message, not a good one. It is not the gospel. It is law/legalism. It erects a standard that cannot be achieved.

Now, as to the content of the gospel…

Its centerpiece is Christ Crucified. I have biblical warrant for saying this:

  • “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2, NKJV.
  • “but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,” 1 Corinthians 1:23, NKJV.

The LIFE of Christ qualified his death to carry the freight it did. This is why WWJD is not the gospel. “Doing what Jesus did” is not only impossible for the unregenerate, it also bypasses the central element in the gospel: the death of Christ. When you tell a drug addicted, guilt-ridden, bankrupt, moral basket case to “follow Jesus” what does that sound like to him? It sounds like climbing an icy mountain without equipment with his hands tied behind his back and a 500 lb backpack slung over his shoulders.

You have to first remove the backpack and untie his hands.

Only the message of the Cross does that. Not the life, but the death of Christ, is salvific. This is why the Pauline definition of the gospel emphasizes Christ crucified. By this standard, which I believe is biblical, You are not preaching the gospel if you are not talking about the death of Christ and what it accomplished for us.

No surer test can be applied to a presentation of the gospel than this: What does it make of “Christ and him crucified”? Is he part of it, or is he all of it? Is he a planet orbiting a different core idea? Or is he the sun, the center of a celestial system, around which all else orbits?

When a seeker/groper for Jesus (Ac 17:27) is told to shed her bad habits, or to pack on some good habits, I believe that Christ has been displaced from his rightful center. He and his saving death must remain central. When a seeker/groper is told to give something to Jesus, isn’t that not only missing the point, but reversing it? Hasn’t Christ given his sacrificial life for us so that he can then give his resurrected life too us? Just who’s doing the giving here? And who’s doing the receiving?

Paul begins his delineation of the gospel by saying, “Christ died for our sins…” The grammatical structure here is all-important. (huper + the genitive of hamartia). Linguistic research explains that under this construction the word FOR really means AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR… This is the message we preach. Christ died a substitutionary death for our sins.

I believe in explaining this little tidbit to a Jesus-groper to the best of my ability. The sacrificial, substitutionary death of Christ on my behalf. Explain it. Teach it. Center on it. Focus on it.

Why?

Because it is the power of God. It excludes human power. It breaks down self-righteousness. It humbles a sinner. It uplifts and exalts Jesus Christ. It creates a righteous despair that leads to faith/repentance toward Christ.

To any Bible teacher, pastor, or minister–to anyone who speaks for Christ–who might be reading, test your message this way: on balance, do you speak more of what Christ has done for us, or of what we must do for Christ? In my humble opinion, the latter constitutes legalism.

The gospel centers on Jesus and his sacrificial death. But it doesn’t stop there. It moves on. Paul centers on Christ crucified, and moves on to Christ resurrected, ascended and alive.

Why?

Because when you step across the threshold, you step into a new life. So that the old you no longer exists: it’s no longer YOU PLUS ZERO. It is now and forevermore YOU PLUS CHRIST in a mystical and vital union. More on that in a moment.

Let me discuss HOW to step across the threshold. The most common biblical requirement is one word: FAITH. What is it?

I’ll stick with the reformation motto: FIDES EST FIDUCIA. Pardon my Latin. “Faith is trust.” This assertion was hotly debated. The Catholic church held that faith referred to the body of teaching of the Catholic Church. So that a person was justified by assenting to the body of teaching of the Catholic church. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Turretini, and others rightly maintained that a person was justified by trusting in Christ alone because FAITH MEANS TRUST. The Catholic church fired back in the Council of Trent saying, “Whoever says faith means trust, let him be damned.” (Sixth Session Canon).

In the Old Testament, the word for faith (a derivative of the word Amen) refers to accepting something as true. However, when that word is collocated (coupled with) the preposition IN (in Hebrew it’s one letter: b… make a buh sound)…. when you couple “believe plus in” you create the strongest Hebrew expression of TRUST IN or CONFIDENCE.

This is what we have in “And he [Abram] believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Genesis 15:6, NKJV. Abraham trusted God’s promise, and took him at his word, and was thereby justified…. fifteen years before he offered Isaac on the altar. Fifteen years before the crowning good work of his sanctification he experienced justification. (I know, James calls the latter “justification” in Jas 2:21, but don’t forget that his terminology is Hebraic–he is conceptually in the realm of sanctification… and his argument that faith without works is dead is all about getting his Jewish friends to put the “buh” back into their faith–to move from mental assent to volitional recumbency.)

Martin Luther writes: “Then what? Is the Law useless for righteousness?luther.jpg Yes, certainly. But does faith alone, without works, justify? Yes, certainly. Otherwise you must repudiate Moses, who declares that Abraham is righteous prior to the Law and prior to the works of the Law, not because he sacrificed his son, who had not yet been born, and not because he did this or that work, but because he believed God who gave him a promise. In this passage no mention is made of any preparation for grace, of any faith formed by works, or of any preceding disposition. This, however, is mentioned: that at that time Abraham was in the midst of sins, doubts, and fears, and was exceedingly troubled in spirit. How, then, did he obtain righteousness? In this way: God speaks and Abraham believes what God is saying. [Luther’s Works 3:20-21]

The only explicitly evangelistic book in the Bible, the gospel of John, emphasizes faith in Jesus as the way through the doorway into salvation.

The gospel message centers on Christ Crucified. It demands a response: faith. That faith is faith IN Christ Crucified as one’s only hope for everything: forgiveness, adoption, everlasting life, heaven, a new life here and now, the whole package. Through faith.

“God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–” Romans 3:25, NIV.

Can we ever go wrong by directing people to Christ’s perfect sacrifice, and urging them to put their faith in him and his death? I don’t think so.

The problem comes when we try to add to what Christ has finished. This is legalism. This is why the Jesus nailed the Pharisees. You can’t add.

That’s why Paul told the Philippian jailer, “Believe ON the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your house” (Acts 16:31).

Faith is trust, and trust is non-meritorious. In other words, it is not a good work. It is not a price. It is not costly. The only cost that we pay is the cost of admitting our lostness, swallowing our pride, and acknowledging our need for a Savior. Faith is not a cost:

John Calvin wrote, “For, as regards justification, faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God’s favor but receiving from Christ what we lack.” [Institutes of the Christian Religion, Library of Christian Classics, vols. 20–21, III. xiii. 5.]

We get accused of “cheap grace.” But we are struck by the high price Jesus paid. For him it wasn’t cheap. And that’s why, for us, it is free. To add any costliness to the gospel is to say that somehow Christ’s sacrifice was deficient; it did not pay the price in full–and he didn’t mean it when he cried out “It is FINISHED!”

Some will ask, What about “counting the cost” and “taking up the cross”? We say, those things apply to post-gospel discipleship and sanctification, not justification.

Some will persist, Shouldn’t you be up front with those things? We say, “The natural man cannot receive the things of the spirit of God…” Meaning, we do not ignore the costs… we do not fail to point out sin as sin… but we do not demand or expect a spiritual dead person to even begin to see how she can overcome her sins and pay a price and count a cost without the indwelling Christ and the Holy Spirit. First things first, please. It is the power of God, not the cost paid by us, that saves. Faith is non-meritorious. The merit is in Christ, not in the one who believes or in the act of believing.  The gift is FREE, FREE, FREE, FREE. Or to use the latinized term: GRATUITOUS.

  • “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” Romans 3:24, NKJV.
  • “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” 1 Corinthians 2:12, NKJV.
  • “And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.” Revelation 21:6, NKJV.
  • “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Romans 8:32, NKJV.

We encourage people to transfer their faith FROM their religiosity, their religion, their good works, their-self effort, TO CHRIST ALONE. Quit trusting all that other stuff, and start trusting Jesus. That faith can be expressed in numerous ways. Prayer, saying yes, smiling, or even jumping up and spinning around. For some it comes quickly, like flicking on a light switch. For others it comes gradually, like the dawn. However it comes, the light is shining, and the faith is real.

Where does obedience come in?

I believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Again, linguistic research demonstrates that the term Lord is applied to Christ as an indication, primarily, of his DEITY. To say that Christ is Lord is to say that he is God. It is the New Testament equivalent of Yahweh, LORD, in the Old Testament. You cannot deny the deity of Christ and be saved (You can be ignorant, perhaps, and be saved, but you can’t deny it).

Christ is both Savior and Lord. You cannot split his person or his offices. No reputable teacher I have ever heard or read says that. That argument against the free grace position is a straw man argument. He is both Savior and Lord in his offices. But each office calls for a different response.

The proper response to his office as Savior is to believe and receive and to trust.

The proper response to his office as Lord is to respect, and honor, and obey.

But you can’t do the second without the first. You can’t obey Jesus without the supernatural power of God. You receive him as Savior first, and having done that, you immediately obtain the supernatural power of God so that you can now spend the rest of your life INCREASINGLY RESPONDING TO HIM AS LORD.

There’s an old saying: If he isn’t Lord of all, then he isn’t Lord at all. I ask you, maxgrace.com reader, is he Lord of all? Really? Is there not one corner of your your life that resists his Lordship? I argue that, IN PRACTICAL TERMS, Jesus can be Lord of one part of your life, but not of another. And SANCTIFICATION is the process of expanding his terrain within you. He is Lord even when he isn’t Lord of all. If he isn’t Lord of all, then you’re real, and normal, and living in Romans 7. And hopefully moving on to Romans 8.

We will be asked, What if you don’t move on?  We answer, either you weren’t saved in the first place, or you were saved and have “forgotten that you have been purged from your old sins” (2 Pe 1:9).  Both are possible… and in the latter case, you will experience the disciplene of the Lord (Heb 12:1-4).

The death of Christ subtracts our sins. The resurrection-life of Christ adds his power and holiness through his new indwelling.

A justified person becomes immediately the habitation of God. Christ suddenly lives within. And through his power, and his spirit, you increasingly obey Jesus, follow Jesus, commit to Jesus, submit to Jesus, respond to the Lordship of Jesus… you do all those things that the Lordship people try to overload onto the FRONT END of the gospel. I oppose this overload. I am for all these things, but only in their proper place. I oppose an ethical front-end load onto the gospel.

We do not tell people to get their lives straight and then recieve Jesus. We tell them “Just as I am without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bid’st me come to thee… O Lamb of God, I come.”

All these other things are the FRUIT. Salvation is the ROOT. To preach works/obedience as the requirement of salvation is to preach LAW, not GRACE.

Just as I am. Sins and all. Failures. Obstinacies. Bad habits. Reservations. Doubts. I bring my whole moral package to Jesus. And he saves. He justifies.

Then, he sanctifies.

He is Savior and Lord. You get him as both. He now indwells you, and lives through you. And 24/7 for the rest of his life, he will assert his Lordship FROM WITHIN. I’m an “exchanged life” guy. ““I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20, NKJV.

That assertion of Lordship is a constant inward pressure to follow Jesus, learn of him, and obey him. You can’t escape it. This is why Christians who routinely disobey Jesus go crazy: they are fighting Christ within. They are fighting an inward nature. They are fighting their true selves, and they crack up.

If two people habitually do the same sin, and one of them is doing fine, and the other is a basket case, I’m more inclined to believe that the basket-case is the Christian.

Many free-grace advocates are dispensational. I am not. I believe that grace was equally taught in both testaments. I’m more in tune with Kaiser’s “epangelical” theology, which is for another post.

But let me say this about the LAW. The Christian is not under the Law but that does NOT mean that we have dispensed with the Law. The Law is a law of love. It is the guiding force in the life of Christ, who perfectly fulfilled the law. He lived a “Ten Commandments” kind of life–when you think of it, the life we all really want.

When Christ came to live within me, he brought that Ten Commandments heart with him. The law is now FULFILLED IN US (Rom 8:4)… so that we can increasingly “love the law” like David (Ps 119:97), and find it to be a law of liberty and royalty, like James (Jas 1:25; 2:8), and a law of love, like Paul (Rom 13:10). It is the “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). It is a lamp to our feet. The law now longer functions for us as a set of obligations to be enforced from without, but rather as a set of opportunities to be expressed from within via the indwelling life and power of Christ.

This expression of Christ and the law of God occurs increasingly as we walk by faith (Gal 2:20). Faith is everything. Faith is the victory.

The charge of being antinomian, cannot therefore apply. The law has its proper role.

I want to say one more thing (I’ve been writing since 4 this morning and now it’s 6:30). I am genuinely wounded and grieved when I read all over the internet how one side calls the other side heretics and so on. Christ is preached, and we should rejoice in that. There are serious disagreements between the Lordship and Savior-only people.

But there are serious successes for the kingdom of God registered from both sides. I wish my Lordship friends would be clearer on the gospel, and quit muddying the waters of grace. They wish I would be less antinomian, and quit permitting sin. So be it. I see fruit in my ministry, and you see fruit in yours… God gives the increase, to him alone goes the glory.

Disagree and debate with all your passion. But don’t be a jerk about it. Let love cover a multitude of sins.

I reserve the right to abbreviate long comments…

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23 thoughts on “What is the Gospel?

  1. Only a couple of thoughts/questions:

    1) Why is it that I am heard as saying that our effort earns our salvation? I don’t say it, why is it that I am heard to say this? I have had this problem with several people on this blog, several people in your church, and even people who simply have been influenced by your sermons on tape. (I want to make sure that you know that I don’t accuse you of being antinomian. I don’t know you well enough to really know how you live, but the fact that Pastor Mike speaks highly of you is all that I need for me to think highly of you. One individual has definately used your words as an excuse to continue looking at pornography and to refrain from evangelism and service, but it was quite easy to discern that as an excuse that covered other, deeper, motivations.) I don’t have this problem with others who know me. Is there some way in which I communicate that is deficient? Or are your ears hearing what they want to hear? Or what? It seems like the major point of dispute hasn’t really been in dispute! I would love to avoid that in the future!

    2) You want discipleship to Jesus to be a later addition to a person who had commited to believe in the gospel. (At least this is how I understood you.) Doesn’t this seem to you to be the exact opposite of the method our Master employed? I see Him attracting people by way of relationship out of which the Message flows, not vice-versa…

    3) Your definition of faith as trust seems to me to contradict the very things you were saying to me on this very blog months back? It was exactly this point I was trying to make to you then (faith is simply trust) and you seemed to be arguing then that faith/trust is the goal, but that trusting in God is not required for salvation, only believing (mental assent) that the gospel is factually accurate is required…

    …could you elaborate? (And a simple statement that we misunderstood each other, if that is the case, will suffice!)

  2. PS I butchered the link in my comment to your other post, so it looks like a paragraph I wrote; it is actually a quote from NT Wright.

    As Sean has defended me, I will defend him…

    I know him well enough to know that he doesn’t intend to offend. He fully expects (to use a soccer metaphor) for you to playfully shove him in the back too! 😉

    It’s all good natured! He and I are alike in this way. Don’t forget I was a college wrestler and Sean a triathelete. We like a little of our blood in our teeth, and just assume everyone else likes it too…

    PPS My wife just told me that my first question in my last comment could be seen as accusatory. That is not the intended tone, sorry! I just want to know if there are ways I can clear up my communication, or if the problem lies elsewhere. (Thank God for my wife!)

  3. Ditto above comments!! It’s been a VERY long blog with comments to FINALLY answer my “What’s up doc?” Thank you so very much for getting up at 4:30 a.m. and finishing at 6 to put some meat on this discussion!! It was well worth the wait and your efforts to clarify. I don’t have too many questions now about how some people can claim to be “Christians” and then act like the devil!! Thank you, thank you!
    This long blog experience has educated me more on the differences in some of the doctrines out there. I have never put “names” on them. Thanks for that clarification too!
    I totally agree, too, that even with some of these “disagreements,” we should remember that God is the only One Who does indeed give the increase and to Him alone should go the glory!! Amen!!

  4. Well, I was a little late in “sending” my comments and want to clarify further. Sorry, Steve, but you weren’t there when I was writing. My “Amens” were to Cheir’s comments.
    I will “Amen” Steve to his last comment on his thankfulness for his wife, except I add “my husband!”
    I learned some time ago that our words are indeed subject to the receiver’s interpretation which can lead to misunderstandings and emotional reactions. For that very reason, we all should be extremely careful in how we express ourselves in writing.

  5. Steve…

    On #3, that was a misunderstanding. Faith (except in James) does not mean “mental assent.” It means trust. That’s always been my position.

    I don’t know why you’re heard as saying that works merit salvation. Probably for the same reason that I’m heard saying that we shouldn’t do good works, or that there is a justification for doing porn.

    As to discipleship being a later addition, I have never had that problem in my life and ministry. People who hear the gospel hear it in the context of a relationship, and they know that the life they see lived out is the ramification of the gospel. The LIFESTYLE of discipleship comes after the LIFE of regeneration. Logically and in reality. But it still comes after. The threshold/mansion metaphor applies. The purpose of crossing the threshold is to enjoy the mansion.

    Bill

  6. Pingback: What is the gospel? « Cornelius Jemison’s Blog

  7. Oops…

    Here is another thought (I was distracted by the other train of thought!).

    I do not so much disagree with what your post asserts, but rather wonder why it (and I would agree that it certainly has behind it the weight of popular interpretation!) differs so greatly from the words Jesus uses to define the gospel? Is this intentional? Would you agree with me that the way Jesus speaks of the gospel is indeed different?

    I admit that my thoughts on this are not popular (in the sense that they are not widespread), and that there is not as much scholarship on the topic (the Kingdom of God).

    I would love to hear what you make of the phrase “K of G” and how it fits into your understanding of Jesus, His message, your own ministry, etc.

  8. Jesus said: “I must go to the other cities also and preach about the Kingdom of God, for this is the reason I was sent.” (Luke 4:43). It seems that any “gospel” presentation neglecting the theme of the Kingdom of God perhaps is not a gospel presentation at all.

    Also,

    Mark 1:14-15 – Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, (N)preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

    When Jesus preached “the gospel of God” it included the call to repent because the Kingdom of God was coming. This was also the message of Paul and the other apostles, yet it is neglected today.

    Here are some more thoughts on the centrality of the Kingdom: http://highergroundonline.wordpress.com/2007/06/12/jesus-message/

    Bless GOD,
    -Victor

  9. First off I need to apologize. If I offended anyone to the point of wounding them, then I am sorry.

    I will read this at work tomorrow & respond soon.

    Bill, please read my email.

  10. Beautiful, Bill! It’s good to see it all together. Or maybe that’s almost all, since Sean has pointed out the phrase “gospel of the kingdom.” I suppose that’s closer to “the whole Bible” than to the irreducible minimum one must believe.

  11. To Victor and Steve:
    I’ve been thinking about your comments about the kingdom.
    I agree that the kingdom teaching is a central one in the synoptic (first three) gospels.
    I have a (respectful, friendly) question mark on the following statement from Victor:

    “It seems that any “gospel” presentation neglecting the theme of the Kingdom of God perhaps is not a gospel presentation at all.”

    The reason for my problem is that when Paul presents the gospel in 1 Cor 15, and in Galatians, the kingdom concept does not even appear in the context. It seems to me that Paul was able to present the gospel without mentioning the theme of the kingdom, at least not explicitly…. thus seeming to contradict Victor’s assertion.

    Which brings me to my initial thoughts (unformed, and very easy to poke holes in at this time)…
    The “kingdom” is a metaphor. The gospels use other metaphors (that appear in my post on the gospel: e.g., the new birth, regeneration, and salvation are all straight from the lips of Jesus). I speculate (cautiously, tentatively) that the kingdom metaphor worked especially well for a Hebrew mindset (the central focus of Jesus). Perhaps contextually, without relinquishing the kingdom metaphor, Paul and the other apostles felt that other metaphors worked better for Gentiles: the legal metaphor (justification) being chief among them.

    I would also suggest that the kingdom metaphor was undermined in evangelicalism and fundamentalism by the dispensational position that the kingdom was of and for the Jews only (I am not a dispensationalist).

    A quick concordance search shows 19 occurrences of “Kingdom” in the 21 epistles (Romans thru Jude). Since it is generally conceded that the epistles are our best commentary on the gospels, we must conclude that the apostles viewed the theme of the kingdom as a set of concepts that could equally be conveyed in other terms. In other words, they did not feel locked in to kingdom terminology, yet they felt they were transmitting the words and teachings and emphases of Jesus accurately. A quick glance seems to indicate that the primary emphasis of the term in the gospels is of a spiritual and heavenly kingdom: the rule and reign of God in the hearts and souls of mankind through Jesus Christ.

    For further consideration (a non-scientific study based on English, not Greek):
    Here are statistical data on the frequency of the word kingdom:
    Matthew: 119
    Mark: 19
    Luke: 43
    John: 3 (the only explicitly evangelistic gospel!)
    Acts (written by Luke): 8
    All 21 epistles (Rom thru Jude) combined: 19.

    I know that frequency and distribution do not tell the whole story. But answering the question of emphasis, it’s all I’ve got to work with right now without hours of study, so bear with me.]

    The frequency and distribution (based on NKJV Bible) would seem to imply (to me at least) that the kingdom theme was important, and central (especially in Matthew & Luke’s writings and milieu), but NOT rigidly required in a gospel presentation. Indeed, I lean toward the notion that we have huge latitude in HOW we verbalize the principles and truths of the gospel.

    I keep thinking of more stuff to write, but gotta run.

    Thanks for asking questions that make me think.
    Bill

  12. Bill, thanks for taking the time to write. I’d be happy to discuss this more here and/or on my blog in the post you already commented on.

    A few quick things:

    I think that Paul is continuing this Kingdom idea when he says what he did in I Corinthians 15. I think that it is significant that Paul uses the language that he does. Verse 3 says that he delivered to them “as of first importance…” This does not mean that Paul simply went around talking to people that Jesus died for their sins and that that was the gospel in full. I think the key lies in the rest of the verse – “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”

    Notice that Paul does not say that “Jesus” died for their sins, although obviously Jesus did – Paul told people that the Messiah died for their sins. This was a big deal. The King of the coming Kingdom of God was the one who died in stead of you and I! This indeed is good news.

    But at the same time, for Jesus to be the Christ (Messiah) speaks more than simply a common title of Jesus or his last name (Jesus of Mary and Joseph Christ). Sadly this has become what most think of when they read the word “Christ.” The Christ/Messiah was the anointed ruler over the people of God, the descendant of David who would rule forever. For people of the time to be well acquainted with this understanding, for Paul to preach that the Messiah died for their sins would have been a very big deal.

    But my reason in bringing this up is the kingdom understanding is directly tied to this word Christ/Messiah and thus is apart of what is being communicated when Paul/Peter/Phillip, etc “preached Christ.”

    Paul tells us elsewhere that “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).” Some would finish reading here and declare that Paul was the preacher of the gospel of grace. This is what he preached about. However, in the very next breath, Paul continues and says:

    “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:25).”

    The book of Acts closes with the following description of what Paul did:

    “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered (Acts 28:30-31).”

    I think it would be odd for Paul to preach different things to different people, when there is only one gospel message that saves, we hear about this truth so often from Paul himself! Rather than looking at these texts with a modern evangelical understanding and comparing it to what we hear preached today, I’ve had to consider the original intention of the preachers themselves and change my perspective.

    Much of this has occur ed when I have looked at the Scriptures with a fresh desire to understand what is written (I have seen the problems that dispensationalism and other Bible-filters can cause.. I am not a dispensationalist either.)

    I don’t think that the Kingdom of God is simply a metaphor or another way to talk about the church. I think it is the hope of the Christian and will begin when Jesus returns to fix all that is wrong with the world.

    I Corinthians 15:24 – “then comes the end, when He hands over (AK)the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished (AM)all rule and all authority and power.”

    May that day come quickly, when God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And may we challenge men to repent in light of the soon coming Kingdom judgement and turn to the Messiah, who died so that we could be forgiven and enter into this time of life in the age to come.

    Look forward to talking more about this soon.

  13. Victor,
    Very though-provoking stuff. 2 Questions:
    1: How would you define/explain “the Gospel?” (please be brief, as my ADD is fired-up today : – )
    2: You said, “…I think it would be odd for Paul to preach different things to different people,…” Please help me understand then, why Paul did not mention the Kingdom, or Christ, in Acts 17:16-34 (The Unknown God Sermon).
    Thanks,
    Bob

  14. Back to Victor, Bob, Steve, etc…
    I would not say (in fact I respectully disagree with the premise) that “Paul preached different things to different people.”
    He preached ONE THING using different illustrations, metaphors, styles, starting points, logic, and modes of expression. He was consistent in his message of Jesus alone thru faith alone by grace alone.
    He tailored his mode of communication to his audience without changing his message. Same with every other person who spoke the gospel in the Bible, including Jesus.
    Bill

  15. (I just attempted to reply and I guess it didn’t go through, I’ll try this again ;-).)

    Good points Bill.

    Bob, in light of your questions, here are my thoughts.

    First off, I think that Paul is preaching the same thing as Jesus did in Mark 1:14-15 when he preached the “gospel of God”:

    Mark 1:14-15 – Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

    Jesus was challenging men to repent in light of the coming Kingdom. I think that he told them to repent because if they did not this Kingdom would not be a good thing.

    Compare this to what Paul says on Mars Hill:

    Acts 17:30-31 – “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

    Paul challenges his audience to repent in light of the coming judgment of the world. This is the same event that Jesus called “the Kingdom of God.” The agent by which the world will be judged is the resurrected Messiah, Jesus. Now while Paul does not say “Jesus,” “Christ,” or “the Kingdom of God,” the elements are all there. Paul did not quote one Scripture during his time at Mars Hill, it wouldn’t have made sense for him to considering his audience was a bunch of Greek Philosophers. They wouldn’t have understood. But everything he did say could be backed up with Scripture if asked (I actually think this is a good strategy today).

    As to your other question, I believe that “the gospel” is the initial, basic information that must be presented to someone. The hearing of the gospel will lead to conviction and certain responses (see the Parable of the Sower, Acts 2:37, etc). I do not think that “the gospel” is the same thing as the Bible, or Matthew-John or even the commands of Jesus. I look at the gospel kind of like the invitation the Kingdom of God (with news about escaping destruction that is coming), conversion/repentance is your RSVP, and the commands of Jesus are the directions to follow to arrive. And of course there is no way I could have even gotten the invite if it were not because of Jesus at the cross. That analogy has flaws I’m sure, but it illustrates well the function of the gospel.

  16. Just to back up my buddy Victor here:

    “the kingdom of God implies the whole of the preaching of Jesus Christ and His apostles. If the whole of the NT message is ‘evangellion,” this is the evangellion of the kingdom of God.

    (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament vol 1 p583 on ‘Basileia’)

    Just to show that top scholars and dictionaries back up the fact that the kingdom is a center role in the NT preaching of the gospel message. Almost the entirety of Christianity has ignored this, which is why most ignore the fact that Jesus promised his followers inheritance of the earth (Matt. 5:5)

    Dustin [Martyr]

  17. Dustin [Martyr],

    Granting that the kingdom is “a center role in the NT preaching” of the gospel, it is still not the only center. You say that “almost the entirety of Christianity has ignored this…” which puts the position that you and Victor espouse in a minority. I do not believe, nor am I saying, that in matters of theology, majority rules.

    I am saying that in matters of traditional, Evangelical Christianity of the last couple of generations, I’m more in sync. And for good reason. The whole tenor of Scripture (not just the gospels) supports a traditional, Evangelical interpretation. This is a blog. Not a systematic theology or biblical theology. It’s beyond my scope (and my skills) to reconstruct the whole of theology and the gospel.

    I simply do not see the apostles being locked into kingdom terminology or concepts, especially given the infrequency of the word kingdom in the epistles.

    Bill

  18. The Kingdom of heaven is a Seed….

    Bill, I learned so much from a sermon you preached on this about 9 years or so ago…I’ve never forgotten it and it changed my life.

    As this Seed grows deeper and deeper you change from the inside out (find yourself less offended, critical, self righteous) and more loving and grace-filled.

    This change is gradual and may even be unnoticed…but the Seed is there!

    thanks for that!!!!!!

    I think the sermon was a first in the grace-line up of the Soul series.

  19. I am not a Doctor in Theology, I am not a Pastor, I barely went to college. I am pretty much a simple person. All this blogging makes my head spin. So here is my take and question…..
    Bill has blogged about his terrible horrible no good day flying. I have those days often because I am a flight attendant. So after a long 14 hour day and lots of delays and many unhappy passengers I get to go home. On my way I stop at Cold Stones and get my favorite Ice Cream Sundae. When I get home there is my most comfortable recliner.
    I plop myself down and enjoy this delicious sundae.
    I did not come home and stare at my chair and wonder if it was going to hold me up. Wonder about the physics ponder and worry. I sat down. And boy, is the ice cream good!
    Faith is not wondering if the chair will hold me or you. Just sit down. Taste the sundae and then you will know it is GOOD.
    It is a FREE gift……. when someone gives you a gift do you give them money for it???
    No, you just take it. Our gift is the Holy Spirit that indwells in us an eternal security of heaven. It is not Faith plus works. Works is a result of our faith, our works are meant to glorify God.
    It is so simple and it frustrates me when people make it so difficult.
    I pray that we can be the Army of God that goes and shares the Good News. Lets not muddy the waters. It is meant to be easy not difficult. Let’s just go and share with others this free gift of Eternal Life with Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not that DIFFICULT! It’s FREE!

  20. Wow what a indepth discussion what it simply means to know and understand what a believer of Christ is I ditto Sherri.. What a blessing to know Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. Only through the saving “Grace” of Jesus Christ can we enter in to the loving arms of God. God gave us such a simple and direct route to his love but man steps in a makes it so complicated. Like Bill said, the Gospel of John makes it so clear how to come to the saving knowledge of of God. God acknowledges of failures but still gives us “Grace” that is free. Amen

  21. Thanks for the clear article on Christ’s true “free” grace (1Peter 5.12). My wife & I were awakened to God’s “true grace” after spending years under “lordship/discipleship” salvation teaching.
    Such teaching seemed right, but only left us with a “probationary” understanding of deliverance from our sins. We were never sure we could persevere and practically realized daily that we were not.
    When we understood, by God’s grace, and believed (trusted) the literal truth of Scriptures such as “…to him that worketh not but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly”; “by grace are you saved through faith, not as a result of works”; “…the free gift of God is Eternal Life”; and “…these things I have written unto you that believe (trust) in the Name of the Son of God (Yeshua= Jehovah, who saves, preserves, & defends) that you may know that you have Eternal Life”! We did a little “jump & spin of our own” and He has kept us spinning in His grace every since!
    Yours in His grace & grip,
    bruce & linda abercrombie
    http://www.abercrombie.cc

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