20 September 2017

THE GOSPEL

ROM 1:16 “I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL.”

Good News! People might consider good news today as a medical report that reveals no malignancy, an unexpected windfall, passing an exam, getting a job, a proposal of marriage, the safe birth of a child or grandchild, success in sport for us or our team. Good news! But that is what Gospel means. How strange it is therefore that unbelievers try to paint the Gospel as a form of slavery which denies people their true freedom. Even in the Christian Church, some water it down to try to attract an increasingly disinterested society. They preach a sort of sugar-coated placebo to make people feel good, but it really is a con which doesn’t deal with the problem.

In the Church we should be sure of what the Gospel is, for if we are not, the church grows weaker, for we have little to give people except perhaps a warm fellowship. But then, pubs and clubs often do that better than us. It is also vitally important that we should all be sure about the Gospel, for our true happiness in this life and our well-being in the life to come depend on it.

Look at how it is described in the Bible.

THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST

Both Matthew and Mark at the beginning of their account of the life of Jesus speak of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Matthew says, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom.” That links with John the Baptist’s message. He told people to repent because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. But it is as though once that link with John is made, the phrase changes and becomes the Gospel of Christ the King. It is about Him and the Gospel is the Gospel of Christ. When we leave behind the four Gospels, the Gospel is about the King who rules in the Kingdom and through whom alone we may enter it. The Gospel becomes the Gospel of Christ. Particularly in Paul’s writings, it is clearly emphasized that the Gospel is about Jesus. Paul begins his great letter to the Romans telling them that, as an apostle, he has been set apart for the Gospel of God and then he homes in on the fact that it concerns His Son, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son.” Sometimes Paul writes about “the Gospel of His Son,” sometimes about “the Gospel of Christ.” Once he calls it “the gospel of the glory of Christ.” But it is always a Gospel, good news about Him.

How good that is! It tells us that Christianity is neither a philosophy nor a morality. Christian philosophers debate about Christianity using philosophical terms, and there is a need for such people and such expressions of Christianity. But Christianity is not a philosophy. Nor is Christianity a morality, though it has clear moral teaching which can benefit society and enrich the individual’s life. The philosopher’s wisdom is far above most of us, and the moralist’s demands may be just as far above many. But the Gospel of Christ is about One who became like us and who calls us into a relationship with Himself. Now, that is good news, for philosophy and morality may be above some, but relationship is something all of us understand.

Yet, in that relationship with Him there is enough truth to stretch the greatest minds, and there is love to satisfy the neediest heart, and there is strength to reinforce the weakest will. All that the world needs is to be found in Him. In Him many have found a peace that anchors in the storms of life. In Him there is a gladness that doesn’t disappear as the world’s excitable gladness so often does, causing people to seek endless recreation, another drink, another fix, another thrill. In Him there is light for darkened minds. In Him there is cleansing for guilty consciences. In Him there is a new beginning and a new life for those who have lost their way and messed  up. In Him the weak may be made strong, the lost may find the way home and the restless soul may find a lasting peace. And those who look to the long future with anxiety and apprehension may find a hope that is certain and sure.

BUT WHICH CHRIST?

Now, that phrase “the Gospel of Christ” could be interpreted in many different ways. It depends on how we see Christ. Some might see Him as a hero, or great teacher, or great human, or an example to follow, and might interpret the phrase “the Gospel of Christ” according to their view. But it is best to go to Paul who so often uses the phrase and let him throw light on how we are to explain and interpret it. In Romans 1 he writes that he is not ashamed of the Gospel for “It is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes.” So there we see the great object the Gospel is intended to accomplish. It is about salvation, about saving those who are lost. In 1 Corinthians 15:2 Paul tells the Corinthians, “By this Gospel you are saved,” again linking the Gospel with salvation. Then in verse 3 he tells them that this was the Gospel he had received, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Paul was handing down the Gospel preached from earliest days. He stresses three facts from the life of Christ – death, burial and resurrection – as the basic elements in the Gospel.

So, is Christianity simply a matter of believing these three facts of history? If I believe that Jesus died and was buried and rose from the dead, am I a Christian? I don’t think so. The bare facts have no power to save without their explanation and meaning which Paul gives in that passage. He says, “He died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” “He died for our sins.” His death was a death for sinners, and by it their sins are dealt with fully and finally. That other phrase “according to the scriptures” ties his death to the prophecies of the O.T. And surely in this we hear the timeless words of Isaiah –

“He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

And with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

We have turned every one to his own way;

And the Lord has laid on him The iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Those three facts about Christ without that explanation are no gospel and have no power to bless and save.

If we want to know the good news of the Gospel and the salvation it offers, we must take the meaning along with the fact in order to experience personally the salvation which lies in those words that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”

MY GOSPEL

There is one more phrase which brings this entire matter home to us. In a couple of places Paul speaks of “my Gospel.” That doesn’t mean that he has a particular slant from that of other believers; we have already seen in 1 Corinthians 15 that he handed on the Gospel he had received. No, it means that he has made the Gospel his own.

How do we do that? It is very simple. It becomes “my Gospel” when I put my whole trust and reliance on the Saviour who died for my sins. Then it becomes “my Gospel,” and we can say with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation.” You may be an unbeliever. You may be one who merely believes in a God. You may be a church person who loves everything connected with Church but has no grasp of personal salvation. Many within churches may be like that, even in the highest positions. One day in college we had a visit from the then Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Dr. Hamish Mackenzie. He told how in his ministry he had been a liberal minister, preaching another Christ, until he discovered he needed Christ the Saviour. That day he quoted Bonar’s lovely words –

“I lay my sins on Jesus

The spotless Lamb of God

He bears them all and frees us

From the accursed load.”

He told us how his life and ministry were changed when He discovered Christ as Saviour. I urge you to put your whole trust in the Saviour who died for your sins to bring you to God.

Take the familiar words –

“Just as I am without one plea;

But that Thy blood was shed for me;

And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,

O Lamb of God I come.

“Just as I am and waiting not,

To rid my soul of one dark blot;

To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot;

O Lamb of God I come.”

Do that and, like the Apostle Paul, you will be able to say “my Gospel” and “On this rock I live and die.”

Sidlow  McFarland