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Lesson 1: The Study of the Gospel

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Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so ― reportedly said by prominent Swiss Theologian Karl Barth when asked at Princeton University if he could summarize the millions of words in his Systematic Theology entitled Church Dogmatics.1

Introduction

Christian apologist Josh McDowell once said: “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men and women, or it is the most fantastic fact of history.”2 Since the advent of Jesus Christ men and women have been willing to die for the gospel’s truth. It started with the 12 men who knew Jesus best, the disciples who saw the resurrected Lord and risked and gave their lives for the truth of this fact. The gospel has changed millions of lives of people who have responded to its message. It claims to be the exclusive and only way to God and has given offense to those in a pluralistic mindset. Jesus himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Peter echoed this in Acts 4:11-12, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, . . . And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.”3

What is the gospel? What must I do to be saved? Did God choose me or did I choose him? How does the gospel affect my current life? What does it mean for my future? Can I lose my salvation? These are some of the questions that this lesson is designed to answer.

The lesson can be broken down into four separate segments: 1) the definition of the gospel and the five basic points of the gospel message, 2) theological past aspects of the gospel, 3) theological present aspects of the gospel, and 4) theological future aspects of the gospel.

Why is this issue important? For those of you who have not heard or believed the message of the gospel your eternal future depends on it, heaven or hell, bliss or torment, with God or without him? Others of you might say I already know the gospel so why is this topic important for me? First, I would say we are forgetful people and need reminders and review (cf.
2 Pet 1:12). Second, I would ask those that know the gospel, do you know it well enough to be able to share it with others?

What is the Gospel?

The English word gospel is from the Greek word euanngelion. This word in essence means “good news” and in the New Testament it specifically refers to God’s good news to people about Jesus Christ. It can also refer to one of the four books written about the life of Jesus.4 Paul defines the gospel concisely this way: “Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, . . . 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 Cor. 15:1-3).

The gospel is much more than a ticket to heaven; it’s an invitation to new life, forgiveness of sins and an eternal relationship with a loving eternal God. The gospel message can be broken down into five points:

1) God loves you and has a plan and purpose for your life.

The first piece of good news is that God loves you and has a plan and purpose for your life. Jesus stated, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Someone once well said that people matter to God. People are valuable in his sight. But how valuable are they? As this verse states, they are valuable enough to give something valuable. God gave his one and only Son so that we might have eternal life. For parents, how valuable would something have to be for you to turn over the life of one of your children?

Jesus explained, “I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly”
(John 10:10). God’s plan for us is life, eternal and abundant. Rick Warren Pastor of Saddleback church and author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life well stated, “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.”5 This leads us to the second point.

2) People are sinners and separated from God by sin.

The bad news, however, is that people are sinners and separated from God by sin. Paul states, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) . . . “and the payoff of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Notice that this verse does not say that a few sinned, or some sinned or even most sinned but rather that all sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory, God’s standards. Also, the payoff or consequence of this sin is death. From the biblical perspective not only do people do bad things called sin but they are sinners by nature that is they are “depraved.” All the physical death we see in this world is a consequence of sin. As bad as this is, there is a greater consequence for sin, which is spiritual death. Spiritual death separates people from God eternally in a fiery place of punishment. The Bible refers to this as the second death or the lake of fire (Rev 20).

One cannot really relate to the good news until one understands the bad news. Let me illustrate: if a cure for terminal cancer was discovered it would be good news but if I have terminal cancer myself, it’s more than good it’s great; it’s fantastic; it’s life changing; it’s lifesaving. That’s how the gospel is for those who understand that they have the cancer of sin, a cancer that is terminal.

3) Good works cannot earn your way to heaven.

The third point is an extension of this bad news. No amount of good works can earn one’s way to heaven and establish a relationship with God. In Ephesians, Paul writes: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9). One of the major problems with religions in the world and even in the church is the belief that certain types of good works or enough of them will merit one’s way into heaven. Baptism will not save you; having Christian parents will not save you; going to church will not save you; giving to the poor will not save you; and the list can go on and on. Yet the Bible over and over again states that it is faith alone in Christ alone that saves and that faith must be personally held. No one else can hold it for you.

4) Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins.

The way that God chose to deal with our sin problem is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. Paul states in Romans, “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). The biblical concept of this point is referred to as the substitutionary atonement of Jesus’ death. His death paid the penalty that God required for our sins; it was him for us, or him instead of us. In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices for sins illustrated this concept. One example is in the Passover instructions that God gave to Israel in the Old Testament when they were enslaved in Egypt. God commanded them that a lamb without blemish was to be killed and the blood was to be spread on the door posts and lintel. For those houses that had made this sacrifice and applied the blood, the angel of death passed over the house but for those who did not the firstborn was struck with death. In this way God delivered Israel from the bondage of slavery in Egypt (Exod 12). In the New Testament, Christ is referred to as our Passover sacrifice (1 Cor 5:7). So when God sees the blood of Jesus applied to our life, death passes by and we are given life. Jesus stated, “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

5) You must receive Jesus by faith.

The last point is that you must receive Jesus by faith to receive the eternal life God has for you and start your new relationship with God. John writes, “But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children” (John 1:12). The gospel requires a faith response to its message, a personal trust response in which we receive the benefits of what Jesus did for us on the cross. I pray that all of us at some point in our lives say “yes” to God. Yes, I believe that I am a sinner and in need of salvation. Yes, I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. And yes I receive him as my personal Savior to fulfill his plan of goodness for my life.

So in review, the five basic points of the gospel are: 1) God loves you and has a plan and purpose for your life; 2) people are sinners and separated from God by sin; 3) no amount of good works can earn ones way to heaven; 4) Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins; and 5) you must receive Jesus by faith to receive the eternal life God has for you.

One could express faith in Jesus with this example prayer asking God for salvation: “Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am truly sorry, please forgive me. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ died for my sins, and was resurrected from the dead. I now ask you enter into my life and give me the gift of eternal life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.” For those who have not responded to God’s plan of salvation, I would just challenge you to do this. Get answers to questions that you may have from someone who has believed in Jesus Christ already.

Theological Past Aspects of Salvation

Past aspects of salvation refers to what God did in an individual’s life prior to that person placing his or her faith in Jesus Christ. Someone might say who cares about the past in this regard, so what? My response would be that we need to understand it was God’s plan that we be saved. He is the one who gets the credit. He is the one who gets the glory, not me. There is nothing more distasteful for someone taking credit for something they did not do. So let’s see why God gets the credit or glory by examining the following theological concepts: election, predestination, and the drawing of God; it’s all to the praise of the glory of his grace
(Eph 1:6, 11, 14).

Election or Predestination is “Gods pretemporal choice of who would be saved” (Greek ekloge).6 Paul states, “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love” (Eph 1:3-4). God chose us before we were even born and this is referred to as election or predestination. The question though that many theologians have asked is on what basis did God choose some individuals and not others? The response to this question has developed into two camps. One of which, the Arminian view, feels that God looked down the corridor of time and saw ahead of time those who would have faith and chose them on the basis of that. Another view, the Calvinist view, sees it as simply part of God’s sovereign choice without regard to anything an individual may or may not do, including faith. It seems that one must leave it in some senses to the mystery of God, trusting in his justice and goodness. The two passages that deal in part with this question indicate that God’s choice is not based on our works (Rom 9:16), but it is based on God’s foreknowledge of people (Rom 8:29; 1 Pet 1:2).

The Drawing of God is also something that God does to bring us to salvation. Jesus stated, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). In the drawing process one can include the idea of giving light to the truth (John 1:9) and conviction of sin
(John 16:8-9). The main point is that God not only choose us before the creation of the world, but he also took an active role in what we could call pre-conversion work by drawing us, giving us the light of truth, and convicting us of sin. This “drawing” put us into a position by which we would be receptive to the gospel. The God who shined physical light into the creation is the same God who shines the light of the glory of God into our hearts (2 Cor 4).

Theological Present Aspects of Salvation

Present aspects of salvation refers to what happens at the moment of salvation and the process of living out the Christian life. One can divide the theological present aspects of salvation into 1) the conditions for salvation/eternal life and 2) the results of salvation/eternal life. This is important since it addresses both the condition of salvation and the immediate impact in our life of receiving that salvation, a radically changed life in new relationship with Almighty God.

Conditions of Salvation

The conditions of salvation include both faith and repentance.

Faith (Greek pistis) can be defined as “belief or trust.” In regard to eternal salvation faith is trust or belief in what Jesus has done for us on the cross. It is the only means of how we receive the gift of eternal life. Faith or belief is mentioned in the New Testament “nearly 200 times” as the sole condition to eternal life.7 One example is found in Acts, “Then he [the Philippian jailer] brought them outside and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They [Paul and Silas] replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household”
(Acts 16:30-31).

Repentance concisely means “change of mind” (Greek metanoia). In regard to salvation, repentance is a genuine change of mind and heart about who Christ is and transferring one’s trust to him. On the Day of Pentecost Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Fruits or good works are normally expected as a result of genuine repentance (Luke 3:8).

What is the relationship between faith and repentance? In short in regard to salvation one could consider them synonymous with a little different emphasis. Faith in Jesus emphasizes our trust in him, while repentance emphasizes the change of heart we have had about Jesus in regard to who he is, what we are and what he has done for us. An illustration would be to see salvation as a coin with two sides to it. One side is repentance and the other is faith, one coin but two aspects (cf. Acts 20:21).

Results of Salvation

The results of salvation include the theological concepts of regeneration, justification, redemption, reconciliation and sanctification.

Regeneration (Greek paliggensia) can be defined as “the work of God which gives new life to the one who believes.”8 Paul writes, “He [God] saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Like questions about election, theologians have debated the issue of the timing and nature of regeneration. Asking if it precedes faith (i.e., the Calvinistic view) or follows faith (i.e., Armenian View). We are not going to be able to solve this issue here. But one caution though in my view is not to put a gap of time between one event and the other. In other words in my view, the reception of the Holy Spirit is not “before faith” or “after faith” but rather “when faith.”9 Regeneration is more a logical consequence of faith than a temporal one. When we believe we will be sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13).

Justification means “to announce a favorable verdict, to declare righteous” (Greek verb dikiaoo).10 In the New Testament justification has the idea of being declared righteous based on the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ. Paul states, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). We are all familiar with the judge who at the end of a trial hits the gavel and says guilty or not guilty. In this case God hits the gavel and says, “Righteous” based on the penalty paid by Christ.

Redemption in essence means to purchase with a price (Greek apolutrosis). In the New Testament it is the price that Jesus paid by his blood to rescue us from the penalty of sin and make us as owned by God. Paul states, “In him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). In New Testament times it is estimated that approximately one third to one half of people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Potential owners would come to auctions of people looking to buy a slave. When they made the purchase the slave was legally owned by the master. In a similar way God purchased us. The price was the blood of Christ. And as a result we are owned by God. As Paul explains, we were slaves of sin but now we are slaves of God (Rom 6:22).

Reconciliation means the “change in relationship from hostility to harmony and peace between two parties” (God and man) (Greek katallage).11 Paul states, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?” (Rom 5:10). The two parties who were at war were God and us. We were at war with God by breaking his standards and sinning against him and his laws. He was at war with us bringing judgment and wrath, not a pretty picture. By the death of his Son, we have a peace treaty. No longer are we at war with God but at peace, no longer enemies but friends, reconciled in a right relationship with him.

Sanctification basically means to “set apart” (Greek hagiasmos). The believer is set apart in right standing before God (positional sanctification; 1 Cor 1:2) and also set apart for a life of holiness in this world (practical sanctification; Rom 6:19). Paul states in Romans, “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (Rom 6:19). Someone once well summarized sanctification by stating it this way,Be who you are.” You have been declared righteous now live righteously; you have been purchased by God submit to his lordship; you have been reconciled with God so pursue your relationship with him; you are sanctified now go and live holy lives and the list could go on and on.

Theological Future Aspects of Salvation

Future aspects of salvation refers to what happens for the believer after he or she dies. This topic is important because it can give us confidence about our future and security in our relationship with God.

Glorification (Greek verb doxazo) is the future state of salvation in which a believer has received an immortal body and been morally perfected. Paul states in Romans, “And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified (Rom 8:30). Notice in this verse there are no dropouts and, in fact, the last term “glorified” is in the past tense because it is so certain. All those who are predestined will also be glorified. When Jesus went up on to the Mount of Transfiguration the Bible says, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” Matt 17:2. Paul states that the glorified body will be immortal, incorruptible, powerful, glorious (1 Cor 15:42-55). This amazing condition is what awaits every believer.

Eternal Security is the objective fact that once a person is truly saved, his salvation cannot be lost. Sometimes this is stated, “Once saved always saved.” Some Christians (Arminian) believe that a person can lose his salvation based on certain passages of the Bible (e.g., Heb 6; 2 Pet 2:20-22) but there are other clearer passages that teach security. Romans 8:30 was one of these. Another one is from John 10 where Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). There is hardly a stronger way to say this, that the sheep will never perish from the hand of an all-powerful God. The Christian is kept for salvation by the power of God (1 Pet 1:5). How powerful is God? It’s not so much that we keep him but that he is keeping us.

What about people though apparently Christians who “fall away from the faith.” What about them? I once knew a man who went to church with me. We had Bible studies together and prayed together. Later I found out he fell into some sins of immorality and stopped going to church. What happened? For those who hold to the biblical teaching of eternal security generally two answers are given, either of which may be true. The first answer, is that the person was never saved to begin with. Perhaps they participated in the church or other types of Christian activities, but they never had a genuine conversion experience. This is possible in some of these cases. Someone like Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 disciples, extensively participated in Jesus’ ministry yet Jesus referred to him as the Son of perdition (John 17:12). The second possibility is that the person was truly a Christian but had fallen into serious and even prolonged sin and doubt. This does not mean that God has eternally abandoned this person but God will use discipline even to the point of physical death as a consequence. One biblical example could include Peter who denied Jesus three times, but was later restored. Also, there was the serious case of the Corinthian church who were abusing the Lord’s supper meeting and Paul stated that for this reason some are sick and sleep (= a euphemism for Christian death)(1 Cor 11:27-29). In both these cases though we have to remember that we have a limited and imperfect picture of what spiritually has happened and of what God is doing in people’s lives.

Related to the doctrine of eternal security is the topic of Assurance. Assurance can be defined as the subjective conviction that a believer personally possesses eternal life. This distinction is important because of the possibility of false assurance (= a person who falsely believes they are going to heaven but are not) and the possibility that a true Christian can have doubts about his or her salvation due to personal sin or misinterpretations of the Bible. The apostle John states that it is possible for a believer to have assurance of salvation. He writes: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).”12 In short, God wants Christians to know for certain they are saved.

Summary

The gospel is the great news of God providing salvation for man though Jesus Christ. We were lost but now are found. We were guilty but now we are not guilty. We were unforgiven but now we are forgiven. We were an enemy of God but now we are at peace with him. We had eternal death but now have eternal life. God has justified us saving us from the penalty of sin. He is sanctifying us, saving us from the power of sin. Finally, he will glorify us saving us from the presence of sin. John Calvin stated, “Man’s only righteousness is the mercy of God in Christ, when it is offered by the Gospel and received by faith.”13

Discussion Questions

  1. What wrong ideas do people believe that they think will get them to heaven?
  2. If God loves us why does the Bible say that some people go to hell?
  3. In John 14:6 Jesus said that no one is going to come to the Father except through Him. How does our society react to such an exclusivist claim?
  4. How old does a child need to be before he or she can believe the gospel?
  5. Is baptism required for salvation? Why do some people think so?
  6. On what basis does God elect/choose some people and not others?
  7. How much evidence or fruit must there be in a person’s life to evidence genuine salvation?
  8. Can and do genuine Christians fall into serious and perhaps prolonged sins? If so, how does God deal with such a person?
  9. Based on the concept of God redeeming (= purchasing us). Paul in Romans states we are “slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:18). Do most Christians view themselves this way?
  10. Why do some true Christians have doubts about their salvation and what can be done to correct this?
  11. How should the future certainty of glorification affect our daily life right now?

1 http://www.gci.org/history/barth (Date accessed March 5, 2013).

2 Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1979), 179.

3 Scripture passages are generally taken from the NET Bible unless otherwise noted.

4 A standard Greek dictionary to the New Testament defines it in three ways: “1. God’s good news to humans, good news as proclamation . . . . 2. details relating to the life and ministry of Jesus, good news of Jesus . . . . 3. a book dealing with the life and teaching of Jesus, a gospel account.” Baur, Danker, Arnt and Gingrich, Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd edition; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 403.

5 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2265235-the-purpose-driven-life) (Accessed October 30, 2012).  In the book Pastor Warren gives five basic purposes of life which are: “We were planned for God’s pleasure, so your first purpose is to offer real worship. We were formed for God’s family, so your second purpose is to enjoy real fellowship. We were created to become like Christ, so your third purpose is to learn real discipleship. We were shaped for serving God, so your fourth purpose is to practice real ministry. We were made for a mission, so your fifth purpose is to live out real evangelism.” (http://www.purposedrivenlife.com/about/aboutthebook/)(Accessed October 30, 2012)

6 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986), 535.

7 Charles Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible, 1950.

8 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 537.

9 As Peter stated in the verse we mentioned earlier, “Repent,  . . . and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Thus while I would say there is no temporal sequence the Bible may indicate a logical relationship since reception of the Holy Spirit = regeneration is conditioned on repentance.  This would be similar to saying something like when I opened the door I saw my family inside = when I believed I received the Holy Spirit.  In any case though, preconversion work by God needs to be done prior to faith or repentance for faith or repentance to occur.

10 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 536.

11 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 292.

12 It can be noted that for those who believe in eternal security there is a division concerning the basis of assurance of salvation.  In other words on what basis can a Christian be assured he or she is going to heaven. Grudem summarizes a Calvinistic position that emphasizes and defines the “perseverance of the saints”  that assurance is based on 1)  “present trust” in Christ that continues throughout life 2) evidence of the regenerating work of the Spirit such as good works, and 3) long term patterns of Christian growth.  Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 803-806.  Radamacher with a different perspective takes the position that assurance of salvation “is based solely on belief in Christ.” And while believers are commanded to do good works, eternal salvation is not dependent on them.  Earl Radamacher, “How can a Believer Have Assurance of Salvation?” in Understanding Christian Theology (eds; Charles Swindoll and Roy Zuck; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 926.

13 John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, Calvin’s Commentaries; ed. Torrance, 5.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Soteriology (Salvation)