My post on Tuesday about the necessity of words in communicating the gospel has stirred some conversation in that post. In case you missed it, it's probably worth a post in its own right.
One blogger made this comment:
I see you have an interesting take on the gospel which is that it is all about words. No words - no gospel. The word 'gospel' as you know means 'good news.' Here is Jesus' own testimony concerning the gospel or good news (emphasis mine).
"I must preach the GOOD NEWS of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because THAT IS WHY I WAS SENT" (Luke 4:43, NIV).
I think there is a general misconception throughout Christendom that the gospel is Jesus coming to die for our sins. That is only ONE part of the whole plan of redemption, and not the full gospel. We need to understand also that the plan of redemption and good news is not only about Jesus dying to pay the penalty for our sins, but that it also about the RESTORATION of man into a right relationship with God, and our adoption as sons and daughters into the family of God. As sons and daughters of God we are also citizens of the kingdom of God.
Therefore, we are called to walk "worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called" and not cause the name of God to be "blasphemed" among the heathen, for we are ambassadors of Christ, and are called by His name, therefore let us live in such a way so that when people see our good works, our Father in heaven is glorified.
Here's what I wrote in response to her:
I hope you aren't getting the wrong idea about my understanding of the gospel based on this one little quote. I think if you were to listen regularly to my preaching (you can, at joycf.org) or read this blog regularly you would see that I am in wholehearted agreement that the gospel includes the restoration of man's relationship with God, producing a changed life that brings honor and glory to our Redeemer. I absolutely agree with that. In fact, I would say the the gospel includes not only man's restoration to relationship with God, but also the entire creation being restored and renewed (Romans 8:19ff, Colossians 1:20).
That said, I still believe that the HEART of the gospel is Christ dying and rising to bear the penalty of our sins and reconcile us to God. This is the fountain from which all of the other wonderful benefits of the gospel flow out from.
The reason I believe the quote in the original post is important, and the reason I stress that the gospel is a message with words, is because there are many in Christendom who have denied this truth about Jesus dying as a substitute to redeem sinners, and have put the entire focus of the gospel on living good lives, caring for the poor, fixing environmental problems and unjust social structures, etc. Ie, "the social gospel".
Again, I agree that we should live lives worthy of the gospel and care for the poor and be good stewards of God's creation. Next Sunday I will preach a sermon on how Christians ought to be involved in one of the great injustices of our day: the tragedy of abortion. But to say that is gospel, while denying that which Paul said was the matter of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), is not to preach part of the gospel; it is to deny the gospel.
Whether or not you want to say that the gospel is all words, it seems that you agree that the whole gospel has not been communicated if the message of Christ's death as a substitute for sinners to be received by faith has not been communicated. For that I am grateful.
Whereas you say this is only a part of the gospel, I might say it is the gospel. But I would only say that with the addiional qualification that the inevitable consequence of that gospel being believed is that we will live changed lives, putting sin to death and performing good works that bring glory to our Father in heaven. I would not call that the gospel, I would call it ADORNING the gospel (Titus 2:10), and all true Christians will do that.
Paul says in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. No one will be saved by believing that I fed some impoverished people at soup kitchen. Therefore I do not call it gospel. However, in seeing us sacrificially serve and care for the weak and needy, they may be compelled to ask us why we do such things. That is adorning the gospel. In that way, my changed life might give me the opportunity to tell them about how Jesus lavished His riches on me in my spiritual poverty by dying on the cross to forgive me of my sins.
That is the message that need to be believed in order to be saved. And that is why I call it the gospel, or at least the heart of the gospel.