The Gospel: who gets to define it?

March 28, 2016 admin

blue-cross-2-1197146…the gospel of God—the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son…appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:1-4).

In her annual Easter Message, the head of one of Canada’s leading liberal denominations talked of the social justice needed in the Central American nation she was visiting. She went on to say, “El Salvador is a land where Christ is crucified every day”.*

The connection to El Salvador immediately caught my eye.

Our daughter had just returned from that tiny nation after a brief mission with Samaritan’s Purse. And our other daughter worked for part of 2 summers at a Christian deaf school over a decade ago in the same country.

Here’s that quote one more time: “El Salvador is a land where Christ is crucified every day”.

When considering the cosmic impact of the events of that historic Easter weekend in Jerusalem 2 millennia ago, what could that possibly mean? How could the death of the Cosmic Christ in any way parallel civil events in the 21st century?

In its context advocating for political truth and reconciliation of partisan adversaries, the denominational moderator had defined the gospel as that which recognizes this: “Our stories are interconnected. Our realities are one.”

Really? Our realities are one? And that’s the gospel?

In fact, the impetus for this so-called gospel was not the Word of God or even the historic events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but surprisingly – jarringly – the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission examining harm done to Canadian indigenous peoples by the Canadian federal government!

How is this even tangentially related to the biblical declaration of the Easter message?

Here’s the contrast for me. Our daughter’s team was handing out Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, and with the delivery taking the opportunity to teach a very different gospel to children in the same country: the biblical gospel of salvation through Christ by faith alone.

Whatever it means, these disparate understandings of the “gospel” evidence something of the 21st century spectrum of definitions for understanding the term.

When writing to the church at Rome in the mid-50s of the first century, Paul called it the gospel of God (Romans 1:1). The apostle showed the continuity of the gospel message and its definition throughout the Bible by quoting from the Old Testament 57 times in this, his theological magnum opus.

There is no other way to understand it. Paul is saying the gospel is of God, it is at His initiative and by His execution – and it belongs solely to Him.

Therefore, the Triune God alone defines what is the gospel!

Here’s the 3-part definition we’ve been repeating at Bethel.

The gospel is:

  • the declaration of good news
  • of the Person and work of Christ
  • and the eternal benefit to me through repentance and faith in Him.

The gospel is good news, primarily because it answers the unequalled problem of bad news – that you and I stand as sinners before a holy God. And whereas we may not think that so bad with our contemporary relativistic view of morality, Paul in Romans spells out the obscenity of even one sin as being an assault on God’s holiness.

But the gospel is only good news, when we first understand the bad news.

At one time, every one of us has been guilty of:

  • suppressing the truth of Who God is by our own willful denial and wickedness (Romans 1:18); and
  • intuitively recognizing God’s eternal omnipotence, and divine nature, and yet refusing to acknowledge His supremacy (Romans 1:19,20); and
  • knowing of God’s transcendent Being – the One who alone sustains all life and provides every good gift – but declining to honour and thank Him (Romans 1:21).

Receiving Christ’s sacrifice by faith as the only way to achieve reconciliation with God is essential to the Gospel.

Takeaway: Any definition of the Gospel that excludes the death and resurrection of Christ is emphatically not the biblical gospel. Any understanding that excludes sin, repentance and faith misses the heart of the Gospel of God.

…God will credit righteousness— for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 4:24,25;5:1).

*excerpted from United Church of Canada Moderator Jordan Cantwell’s 2016 Easter message.

~image from Sarah van Delden,