What Is The Gospel?
The gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God, that God is in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). It is the message of hope for eternal life: that although we are slaves to sin and rebels deserving only the wrath and indignation of the holy God who created us in His own image to bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness, God has Himself provided the means of salvation through which we may find forgiveness and deliverance from all our bondage to sin.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The good news of the gospel is that God has provided the means for us to be set free from the body of this death through His own Son Jesus Christ. “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). For all of us by both nature and choice are foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our lives in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But the kindness of God our Savior and His love for man has appeared in the person of Jesus Christ to save us from these things, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness (for all of our righteous deeds are like filthy rags in the sight of God, Isaiah 64:6), but according to His mercy (Titus 3:3-5). For it is entirely by God’s grace that we are saved, through simple faith in God’s provision of His Son; it is not of ourselves but a gift from God, and no works of our own could ever earn it so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Forgiveness of Sins Through Christ’s Death
It is most important to understand that the nature of the salvation promised in the gospel is twofold, corresponding to the death and resurrection of the Lord.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4
The first aspect of our salvation is that Jesus Christ died as a sacrificial atonement for our sins. For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and since all have sinned (Romans 3:23) all are under the judgment of death. But God’s law also allowed for another to die in place of the sinner, so long as that substitute was blameless so he would not have to die for his own sins. And yet no perfect sacrifice was available because all men were sinners themselves. For this reason in what is surely the most unfathomable mystery of the universe, God offered Himself as the sacrifice in the person of His Son Jesus Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born into our world by the virgin Mary. This Jesus Christ, the Son of God, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself to take the form of a bondservant and be made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6-8). And although being found in every appearance as a man, He lived a perfect life of devotion to God in all righteousness and holiness so that in all of history He was the one man who was blameless and did not have to die for His sins. But in perfect obedience to the heavenly Father’s plan to redeem mankind He humbled Himself yet further and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. The first aspect of the salvation proclaimed by the gospel is that Jesus Christ took our place on the cross and died the torturous death of a criminal to satisfy both the righteous judgment of God and His infinite love for mankind.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.
Isaiah 53:4-6 (c. 700 BC)
Deliverance From Sin Through Christ’s Resurrection
And yet this is only half the gospel, and half the gospel is in fact no gospel at all. For the gospel isn’t just that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, but that He was also raised from the dead in order that we might walk in the newness of life (cf. Romans 6:4-5, 7:4, 8:11). Indeed, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain…. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14,17). For while Christ’s death delivers us from the penalty of sin, it is His resurrection from the dead that delivers us from the power of sin. And if we are not delivered from the power of sin, we are in fact still slaves to sin and the result is the same as if we had not been delivered at all. For “do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). In this state we are no better than those who died prior to the giving of the law by Moses. “For until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law; nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses” (Romans 5:13-14). The wages of sin always has been and always will be death (Romans 6:23), so that salvation from the penalty of sin only is no salvation at all. Unless we are also saved from the power of sin we still find ourselves unable to do the good we wish while we continue to practice the evil we do not wish, so that still we cry out with the apostle, “O wretched man that I am!”
So then, the gospel is the good news of salvation from our sins which God the Father has freely provided in His Son Jesus Christ. This salvation delivers us from all the condemnation of our sin through the atonement of His blood by uniting us with Christ in the likeness of His death, and from all our slavery to sin by uniting us with Christ in the likeness of His resurrection.
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.
What Must I Do To Be Saved?
While salvation is a free gift from God available to all, like a gift it is not ours unless we receive it. For “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). We must “take hold of the eternal life” to which we are called in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 6:12) for “many are called but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). We take hold of the eternal life offered by the gospel by entering into a covenant with God that is not unlike the covenant of marriage a woman enters into with a man. For this reason the Bible refers to the redeemed as the Bride of Christ. As in the marriage relationship, by joining ourselves to Christ in covenant we become one with Him so as to find greater strength than we have in ourselves, strength even for victory over sin. Indeed, Scripture declares that we become partakers of the divine nature and His divine power provides for us everything pertaining to life and godliness through our true knowledge of Him (2 Peter 1:3-4).
As in the covenant of marriage, to enter into this covenant with God we must die to ourselves and live for another, for Him who died for us. In this way we unite ourselves with Christ in the likeness of His death in order that we may also be united with Him in the likeness of His life. For only when our old man of sin is put to death with Christ can we also be raised up with Him as a new man of righteousness. Thus to enter into this covenant with God that saves us from our sins we must take up our cross and follow Him outside of the gate bearing His reproach (Hebrews 13:13), to join Him there at the holy altar of Calvary in the sweetest of communions where we become like Him in His death so that we may also become like Him in His life. For unless we die, we cannot live. And unless our grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it cannot bear fruit (John 12:24). Thus Jesus admonishes those who would follow Him:
If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.
First Step: Believe In The Lord Jesus Christ
Of course, “taking up our cross” and “putting to death the old man of sin” are spiritual terms. More practically, we can understand uniting ourselves with Christ in His death by three steps that are often cited in Scripture as requirements for salvation and which also have parallels when entering the marriage covenant. The first step is to “believe in the Lord Jesus”, even as a young woman comes to believe in a man—that he will protect her and provide for her and make for her a new home—to the end that she forsakes her home in this world to become his wife. With the same faith exemplified by the patriarch Abraham, who forsook his home in this world to follow God into the land of promise, we too must come to believe in the Lord Jesus to such an extent that we are willing to forsake all of our love for the world and the things of the world to follow Him into His kingdom of righteousness.
Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever.
1 John 2:15-17
Second Step: Repent!
The second step towards entering into the covenant with God that saves us from both the condemnation and power of sin is actually inseparably related to the first—repentance. For as in the covenant of marriage, this covenant is founded upon that sincere love in which each party considers the other as more important than himself, even to the laying down of his life for the other. “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ laid down His holy life for us. In like manner, we demonstrate our covenant love for God by dying to those things which are displeasing to Him; we lay down our sinful lives for Him. In repentance we turn away from all our unrighteous deeds, sinful thoughts, and impure motives to walk in that love which flows from a sincere faith, a pure heart and a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:5).
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.”
Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
Now when they (the Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost) heard this (the proclamation of the gospel), they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Third Step: Be Baptized
The third and final step has to do with the legal aspects involved with entering into the covenant relationship. In the marriage relationship described in the Bible there was a period of betrothal similar to what we think of as being engaged. During this time the groom would prepare a place for his bride while the bride prepared herself for the groom. However, unlike an engagement, the betrothal was much more binding with the couple already considered to be man and wife, although the marriage had not yet been consummated. This consummation took place at a wedding feast following the period of betrothal. So too is it in our relationship to Christ. The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, “I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Of interest to us here is how we enter into that betrothal. As in our culture an engagement ring is often given as a sign and symbol of the engagement, and the couple exchanges vows in the presence of witnesses to make their relationship legally binding, so is the ordinance of baptism given as a sign and symbol of our betrothal to Christ, which also makes our relationship to Him legally binding. Listen as the apostle Paul explains the significance of baptism to the salvation promised by the gospel:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (free from the control of sin).
The Gift of the Holy Spirit
As we enter into this covenant relationship, again as at the entering of the marriage covenant, we are given a gift useful for the establishing of our new life in Christ, in this case the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:37-38 above). Jesus promised the Holy Spirit as a helper to lead us into all truth and teach us all things necessary for our attaining to life and godliness (see John 14:26, 16:13). The Holy Spirit leads those who are in covenant with God to put to death the deeds of the flesh and live in holiness (Romans 8:13). Indeed, it is precisely this gift of the Spirit that enables us to live in holiness in a way we never could in the flesh. For as we are baptized in/with water physically to identify with Christ’s death and resurrection, so are we baptized in/with the Holy Spirit spiritually (1 Corinthians 12:13). And as the physical water cleanses our physical body, so does the Holy Spirit cleanse our soul through the washing of the water of the word of God (Ephesians 5:26).
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.
We have seen that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of salvation from both the condemnation and power of sin in our lives through the death and resurrection of our Lord. It is provided as a free gift of God’s grace to all who will receive it by entering into covenant with Him. To enter into this covenant we must take up our cross and follow after Jesus in the laying down of our lives, becoming like Him in His death so we may also become like Him in His life. We accomplish this as we bring ourselves to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent of our sins, and be baptized into His name, at which time we receive the Holy Spirit of promise who enables us to devote ourselves to God as the Bride of Christ in all righteousness and holiness.
What Must I Do After I Am Saved?
We have just seen that at our baptism we become legally joined in covenant to God as the Bride of Christ. And yet this is only the very beginning of the eternal relationship to which God calls us in His Son Jesus. At this stage, our salvation is no more complete than is a marriage at the time of betrothal. For we have just barely been introduced to our Savior and have yet to enter into the fulness of our covenant relationship with Him. Like a pure virgin betrothed to Christ we must prepare ourselves as a bride for her groom and come to the wedding feast of God’s Son to consummate our covenant relationship to Him.
Put on the Garments of Salvation
In the marriage relationship described in the Bible, a bride would prepare herself for the consummation of her marriage at the wedding feast by beautifully adorning herself in a manner similar to what brides still do today. In this same way, we must prepare ourselves for the consummation of our salvation in Christ by adorning ourselves with the wedding clothes provided to us by the Father as a free gift of His grace. In faith, having laid aside our old garments stained with sin we must through the power of the Holy Spirit put on the fine linen of righteousness; that is, having laid aside the old man we must put on the new. In still other words, having been united with Christ in the likeness of His death, we must also be united with Him in the likeness of His life.
I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His wife has made herself ready”. And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’”
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
You…have been taught…that in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old man, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Therefore (since we have been united with Christ in His death) consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old man with its evil practices, and have put on the new man who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him….And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Keep Oneself Chaste
It is very important for those who would come to the wedding feast to be dressed in the garments of salvation provided to them by the Father. For just as in the marriage relationship, those who would join themselves in covenant with God must keep themselves pure and chaste, undefiled by sin. So important was marital faithfulness that unfaithfulness was the one and only exception Jesus allowed in His prohibition against divorce (Matthew 5:32, 19:9, confer Matthew 1:18-19). Such is a serious warning for us to not commit spiritual adultery with the world against God but to truly lay aside the old man of sin, keeping him crucified with Christ, and adorn ourselves with the wedding clothes of righteousness.
Then the king said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready….Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.” And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness, in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
For the married woman is bound by law to her husband (the old man of sin) while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then if, while her husband (the old man of sin) is living, she is joined to another man (to Christ), she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband (the old man of sin) dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man (to Christ). Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.
Be Filled With The Spirit
It is also very important for those who would come to the wedding feast to be filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit, lest the lamp of His word (Psalm 119:105) go out and give us no light by which to see and come to the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness. For let us recall that the Holy Spirit is given as a gift to teach us all things and lead those who would make covenant with God into holiness. Thus as a final preparation, a wise virgin would also take along plenty of oil for her lamp when she went out to meet the bridegroom, lest he tarry and her lamp go out before He come to receive her.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight (a time of great darkness) there was a shout, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the prudent, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the prudent answered, saying, “No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. And later the other virgins also came, saying, “Lord, lord, open up for us.” But he answered and said, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you (as a man knows his wife at the consummation of their marriage, cf. Genesis 4:1, KJV).”
Come To The Lord’s Supper
In like manner to the custom still practiced at wedding receptions today in which the bride and groom symbolize their becoming one flesh by eating each other’s cake and drinking each other’s wine, so do we come to the wedding feast of God’s Son to eat of the true food of His flesh and drink of the true drink of His blood (John 6:53-56) and so consummate our covenant relationship to Him. God has prepared this feast from His word for all who will come (cf. Isaiah 55:1-2), and it is by sharing in its communion that we are joined to Him in indissoluble union to become bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh, even partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), the very Bride of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:31-32). And just as the ordinance of baptism was given as a sign and symbol of our betrothal to Christ, so is the ordinance of the Lord’s supper given as a sign and symbol of our coming to the wedding supper to eat of the covenant meal and consummate our relationship to Him.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh….Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
And while they were eating, He (Jesus) took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it; and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup, and given thanks, he gave it to them; and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”
Conceive of His Life Through the Seed of His Word
Only here at the marriage supper of the Lamb will we enter into the fullness of our relationship to Christ. For here as we eat with Him and He with us (cf. Revelation 3:20) the imperishable seed of His word will find a place in our hearts to take root and grow. Indeed, according to the original purpose for our creation to be fruitful and multiply and fill the whole earth (Genesis 1:28), we come to the wedding feast and consummate our relationship to Him in order that we may conceive of His life through the seed of His word and His life may be formed in us. Listen again to Paul’s words to the Romans:
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.
Bear the Fruit of Christ
Finally, having conceived of His life we must like the fertile soil of an expectant mother nurture and care for that new life within us by eating the healthy food of God’s truth while abstaining from the strong drink of falsehood and all pollutions of the flesh. For the imperishable seed of God’s word can only grow up to bear fruit in a good and honest heart (cf. Luke 8:15). And that tiny seed of Christ’s life must be brought to maturity in our lives. We must attain to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13)—first the blade, then the ear, then the mature grain in the ear (Mark 4:28)—that in the fullness of time we may bear the fruit of His seed, both as spiritual nourishment for His people and as a source of His imperishable seed that may be sown in the hearts of still others. For we give birth to the life of Christ in the great miracle of eternal life as that life is formed in others and they too are born again into the household of God.
My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…
For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
We have seen that the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to enter into a covenant relationship with God that delivers us from all the condemnation and bondage of our sins. To enter into that relationship we must take up our cross and follow after Jesus, forsaking our home in this world and laying aside our old garments of sin. To consummate that relationship we must come to the wedding feast God has prepared for us from His word, taking care to be filled with the oil of His Holy Spirit and adorned with the garments of salvation. For only as we prepare ourselves as a bride for her groom in holiness and righteousness of the truth will we enter into the fulness of our salvation to bear the fruit of the seed of His word in our lives.
His divine power (through the gift of the Holy Spirit) has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature (i.e., joined to God in covenant), having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
2 Peter 1:3-11
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