Friday, July 4, 2014

Defining the Gospel

1 Corinthians 15:1-5 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

What constitutes the core of the Gospel?
In the above text we see presented the fundamental truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Three areas are presented that provide starting points for knowing the God of the Bible:

1. Salvation by grace through Faith Alone

2. Jesus Christ

3. The Scriptures. 

Below we will unpack these three-core truths of the Gospel in order to identify how one can tell when they are being faithful to it.

1. Salvation is received by Grace through Faith Alone. 15:1-2
The Gospel is received only one way - by faith alone. John 1:12 states - "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name."  It is God's grace which delivers the divine gifting of faith, whereby the sinner is positioned to make a decision of trust in Jesus Christ.  As a matter of fact, the next verse, John 1:13, affirms the necessity of God's grace for saving faith - "who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." .

All belief systems claiming to provide salvation must affirm not only the necessity of faith, but the sufficiency of it.  Faith by itself is enough to receive the gift of eternal life.  Faith alone is the exclusive means ordained by God whereby a sinner is reconciled and credited by God with Christ's righteousness. Once declared righteous (what the Bible calls "justified"), God also declares in Romans 8:14-16 that I am  a son by adoption, reconciled and loved. From the starting point of saving faith, I walk in progressive obedience and desire for God, or what we call sanctification. (Romans 6:12-13)  We are saved by grace through faith alone, and true conversion results in a working faith that is never alone. (James 2:14-26)  So saving faith is the first fundamental truth or starting point for understanding the Gospel, but now lets consider the second....

2. Salvation is in Christ alone. 15:3-5
The Gospel centers around one Person as both the source and object of saving faith - Jesus Christ.  It is vital that we get Jesus right, and that we have the right Jesus. A Jehovah Witness Christ cannot save, since their version of Jesus presents him as just a creature. The Mormon Jesus cannot save either, since He is some type of hybrid creature that is neither fully God nor fully man. A Muslim version of Jesus cannot save, since in their book, the Quran, Jesus never died on the cross.

So which Jesus are we referring to when we say: Jesus Christ alone can save sinners from the wrath of God to come? Only the Jesus presented in the Bible can save. Christ's death, burial, resurrection and appearances are the focus of 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.  More could be brought in from other scriptures: namely His human life before His crucifixion, His Eternal Deity prior to His taking on humanity, and then His ascension into Heaven. 

Furthermore, Christ is returning again in a literally, bodily return. The truth of Jesus' second advent or coming is spoken of in over 200 places in scripture. 

Jesus Christ is not only fully man is but also fully God. 

Along with the belief of there being One God, Christians assert the full Deity of Jesus Christ.  He perfectly and visibly reveals the Father, with whom He shares the same, undivided nature.  Additionally, along with God the Son, Christians assert the full Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit.  He functions as the third Person of the Trinity who enjoys equal fellowship in sharing the One, undivided nature with the Father and the Son. (Matthew 28:18-20; John 14:9-23; Acts 5:4-5; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 2:18; Revelation 4)  Jesus Christ is our gateway to the Divine Reality of the Trinity. (Ephesians 2:18)

Why mention all of these details? Because if we get the wrong Jesus, we will end up with no salvation. The two fundamental truths of the Gospel we have looked at thus far are that people are reconciled to God by grace through: a). Faith alone in b). Christ alone. All that we just mentioned above is contained in the most basic confession of saving faith: Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. But now lets consider one more fundamental starting point in understanding the Gospel.....

3. Salvation is understood from the scripture alone. 15:3-5
Paul's description of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 is saturated with references to the Bible.  We see the Bible referenced as "the Gospel that was preached", "the word" and twice we see the Bible called "the scriptures".  Salvation cannot take place without the presence, preaching or explanation of the scriptures to the hearer. (Romans 10:8-16)  In fact faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. (Romans 10:17)  After all, Psalm 119:105 states: "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path."

Just as we noted on having the right Jesus as the Object of saving faith, we need to be sure we have the right book when defining the good news of Jesus Christ. No other religious book in the world can be considered the "Word of God" save the Bible. Out of all the characteristics we could cite for proving the uniqueness of the scriptures, the chief trait of Divine inspiration is evidence of fulfilled prophecy. No other book in the world claiming to be God's words has a shred of fulfilled prophecy, except the Bible. Furthermore, no other book in the world can convert the human heart to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ except the Bible. 

Only when we are right on all three can we say we are being faithful to the Gospel
In order to get the Gospel right, you have to be certain about the roles of faith, Christ and the scriptures. God's grace alone saves through faith alone in (the right) Jesus alone Who is presented in One Book - the Bible.  Any deviation, addition or deletion from any one of these areas will fail the test of what doctrinally defines the core of the Gospel.

Closing thoughts
When a person is brought to saving faith, they may not fully comprehend these truths in all their detail - yet there will be a fundamental understanding as provided by the Holy Spirit.  True saving faith acknowledges that God is addressing them through the Bible, that Christ alone can save and that by faith alone can they receive the  gift of salvation.  Once converted, the Christian builds the remainder of their Christian life from those three starting points, which comprise the core of the Christian faith.  The circumference of the Christian life, though ever growing and expanding in understanding and obedience, operates from this core.  May you and I today make it our business to know these three areas as much as we can: namely the roles of saving faith, Christ and the scriptures.

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