The Gospel (Part 1)
Why such an emphasis on the gospel?
As a church, why do we give such priority to the gospel message? Answers to that question revolve around the basis for our relationship with God, the nature of the local church, and the only hope for the nations.
Relationship with God
With respect to our relationship with God, Paul says the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom 1:16-17). Through the gospel, we see and experience God’s power working favorably toward sinners to give all who trust in him a right standing in his presence. Thus, to overlook the gospel in equipping others, whoever they may be and from whatever background they may come, would be to cut the very lifeline we have to God.
Nature of the Church
With respect to the nature of the church, the Scriptures indicate that the church is an assembly of people characterized by faithfulness to the gospel. For example, not only did God create and assemble his people through the gospel initially heard and embraced (Eph 1:13; Col 1:5; 1 Thess 1:5), but he also sustains the people’s life before him and with each other through the gospel continuously treasured and obeyed (Rom 10:16; 1 Cor 15:1-2; Col 1:23). Indeed, our only hope in life from beginning to end is bound up with the gospel, such that to shift from it would only be to our everlasting destruction (1 Cor 15:2; Col 1:23; 2 Thess 1:8). And according to Paul, the gospel also reveals the biblical framework by which we understand the church, who we are, where we came from, where we are going, and for what purpose we exist (Eph 3:1-14).
In that sense, one might say the church is a gospel community, and leaders would do well to continue strengthening the church with the very message that created the church and defines the church to begin with. We need not look far to see that Jesus intended it to be this way. For he established two ordinances in the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and both stand as tangible reminders to what the church is about until Jesus returns, namely, the gospel message by which God reveals his Son’s person and work most distinctly.
Even within the church’s leadership, faithfulness to the gospel is central to the oversight of souls. Paul instructs Timothy to teach sound doctrine that is in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which he had been entrusted (1 Tim 1:11). Likewise, when Paul shepherds the church in Colossae, he tells them not to shift from the hope of the gospel that they had heard originally from Epaphras (Col 1:23; cf. 1:5-7; 2:7). From beginning to end, the nature of the church demands attention to the gospel and its ongoing relevance for the people of God.
Hope for the Nations
Lastly, with respect to the only hope for the nations, the church exists to advance the gospel among all peoples through proclamation (Matt 24:14; 28:18-20; Rom 15:20; 1 Cor 1:18-25; Phil 1:5-14). The Lord did save us from the world through the gospel, but he left us in the world for the gospel. We are God’s ambassadors, who carry the gospel of peace into the chaotic world darkened by sin, that others might experience reconciliation with God and the hope of eternal life (2 Cor 5:20; Eph 6:15, 17).
So, the gospel is not a message that one should “set on a shelf” after receiving it upon first hearing, only to return to it every now and then. Rather, the gospel is a message upon which the church stands, by which the church is still being saved, and for which the church ultimately exists. Therefore, it would run contrary to the very nature of our relationship with God, our life together with the saints, and our mission to the world to ignore serious reflection on what the gospel is and what the gospel means for our worship, community, and mission. In The Gospel (Part 2), we will look at what the gospel is.