Simple and Profound
It’s been said that the gospel is simple enough for a child to understand yet profound enough for the greatest theologian to ponder for a lifetime. How, then, do we begin to get our minds around such a grand and glorious theme of the Bible? Let’s begin with what the gospel is not.
- The gospel is not good do’s (i.e., it’s not right living, though right living is important).
- The gospel is not good views (i.e., it’s not right doctrine, though right doctrine is important).
- The gospel is good news (i.e., it’s a joyful announcement that calls for celebration).
Simply put, the gospel is the good news announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross for our sins, rose again from the dead, and was completely vindicated by his Father and triumphant over his enemies. As a result, there is now no condemnation for those who repent and believe in him; instead, they have eternal life and everlasting joy in the great story of God’s restoration of all things. To those who receive Jesus Christ by faith—to those who believe in his name—God gives them “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Having been captivated by the grace of God in Christ, they now delight to follow in the ways of Christ, and thus the life-long journey of spiritual transformation begins.
Tim Keller has said, “The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”
So the simple gospel—the good news announcement of what God has done for us in Christ—is pride shattering yet life affirming. It reduces a person in order to raise that person. It wrecks an arrogant soul in order to re-fashion a grateful soul. It has nothing to do with good works, yet it always leads to good works. It’s not something we do, but something that’s been done. That’s why Jesus shouted from the cross, “It is finished.” Michael Horton offers a brief and important clarification of the gospel here.
Personal and Cosmic
In recent times there has been much debate about whether the gospel is primarily personal or primarily cosmic. In other words, is the good news ultimately about “Jesus and me,” or is it ultimately about “God and the world”? Is it all about my personal salvation, or is it all about the restoration of the whole created order? At Fleetwood Bible Church, we believe it’s both. In fact, we believe they’re eternally connected by divine design and cannot be separated.
Our friends at The Village Church make a helpful distinction between “the gospel on the ground” and “the gospel in the air.” This distinction helps illustrate how these complementary concepts can become distorted when isolated but are rich and beautiful when held together. Just as the Bible teaches that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, it also teaches that the gospel is fully personal and fully cosmic. Both are true, and neither truth undermines the other.
On the Ground and in the Air
Those who are more near-sighted have a gospel-on-the-ground perspective. They view the good news on a personal scale, especially in relation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for individual believers. This perspective is necessary and helpful as it properly centers us on the person and work of Christ “for us and for our salvation.”
However, if viewed in isolation, it neglects the cosmic context of the gospel to which the work of Christ is extended. Along with this neglect can come a subsequent disregard for the societal implications of the gospel, such as community, peace, justice, brotherhood, and human flourishing.
On the other hand, those who are more far-sighted have a gospel-in-the air perspective. They view the good news on a cosmic scale, highlighting the overarching biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. This perspective is necessary and helpful as it properly locates salvation in the global work of God to reconcile all things to himself, including nature itself.
However, if viewed alone, it neglects the centrality of the person and work of Jesus Christ for individual believers. Along with this neglect can come a subsequent disregard for the personal dimensions of the gospel, such as confession of sin, progressive sanctification, and evangelistic outreach.
Neither of these perspectives is entirely wrong. In fact, both are right. At times, the Bible gives us an overarching narrative of God’s redeeming work in Christ (cf. Acts 2:14-41, 7:2-53, 17:22-31). At other times, the Bible narrowly focuses on the specific content of Christ’s death and resurrection, and what it means for individual lives (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Though neither is incorrect, the danger comes in emphasizing one perspective to the exclusion of the other.
Glasses and Perspectives
The “gospel on the ground” perspective makes little sense or impact without appreciating the larger story of God’s redeeming work. We wind up missing the forest for the trees. On the other hand, the “gospel in the air” perspective makes little sense or impact without appreciating the means of God’s redeeming work—the substitutionary Savior who incarnated himself into the grand story as our Redeemer. We wind up missing the trees for the forest. Therefore, we must be careful to see both perspectives without neglecting one or the other.
Perhaps the analogy of 3-D glasses will be helpful: 3-D glasses have two lenses that capture and communicate two different views of the same image. The effect of combining these two perspectives is to provide a more crisp, clear, and lifelike expression of the story on the screen. In the same way, a fusion of near-sighted and far-sighted gospel perspectives leads to a richer and more robust expression of the gospel. It’s a fusion that prevents us from flattening out the good news into a lifeless set of bumper sticker cliches and abstract propositions. Instead, it lets the gospel pulsate with dynamic life and bear witness to all that God is doing in the world, both personally and cosmically. In combining these two perspectives into one comprehensive statement, we might say the following:
The gospel is the grand story of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and its fallen creatures from sin and its effects to the Father and each other through the life, death, resurrection, and return of his substitutionary Son, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit—all for God’s glory and the Church’s joy.
Faith and Repentance
In this explanation of the gospel, we speak of “fallen creatures” affected by “sin and its effects.” This condition is true of everyone. All humanity is sinful—afflicted with, and enslaved by, sin. As such, we are subject to its curses and consequences.
Of these consequences, death is the most vivid as it depicts our spiritual destruction and separation from the Creator, the fount of all life and joy. Sin has separated us from all that is good and beautiful in this world and has replaced it with a mirage. It promises pleasure but never truly satisfies. It is insatiable, yet it ultimately disappoints and destroys.
The good news is that there is a way out, and it is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the bridge between holy God and fallen humanity. Through him, God has provided reconciliation, redemption, and hope to the world, all of which are available to those who respond appropriately to the gospel.
The proper response to the gospel is two-fold—repentance and faith. These are not two distinct responses but two sides of the same response. Repentance is turning away from sin, while faith is turning toward God. When you turn to him and trust in his Son Jesus Christ, the “good news” becomes good news for you.
Responding and Receiving
If you sense a prompting to respond to this message, or simply have questions that you would like to discuss, we would love to talk to you. Here are some options:
- Come forward for prayer during the response time of any Sunday morning service.
- Talk to one of our Pastors, Elders, or Deacons about what it means to receive Jesus Christ by faith.
- Prayerfully consider announcing your acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the ordinance of baptism.