By Mark Dever
(Originally published as chapter 7 of What Is a Healthy Church?)
It is particularly important for our churches to have sound biblical theology in one special area—in our understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ, the gospel. The gospel is the heart of Christianity, and so it should be at the heart of our churches.
A healthy church is a church in which every member, young and old, mature and immature, unites around the wonderful good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Every text in the Bible points to it or some aspect of it. So the church gathers week after week to hear the gospel rehearsed once again. A biblical understanding of the good news should inform every sermon, every act of baptism and communion, every song, every prayer, every conversation. More than anything else in the church's life, the members of a healthy church pray and long to know this gospel more deeply.
Why? Because the hope of the gospel is the hope of knowing the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). It's the hope of seeing him clearly and knowing him fully, even as we are fully known (1 Cor. 13:12). It's the hope of becoming like him as we see him as he is (1 John 3:2).
The gospel is not the news that we're okay. It's not the news that God is love. It's not the news that Jesus wants to be our friend. It's not the news that he has a wonderful plan or purpose for our life. The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross as a sacrificial substitute for sinners and rose again, making a way for us to be reconciled to God. It's the news that the Judge will become the Father, if only we repent and believe.
Here are four points I try to remember whenever sharing the gospel, whether in private or in public—(1) God, (2) man, (3) Christ, and (4) response. In other words:
What is the gospel of Jesus Christ? You'd think that would be an easy question for Christians to answer. But if you ask fifty professing evangelical Christians that question, you're likely to get almost as many answers!
1. What are some ways you've heard evangelical Christians define the gospel?
The most detailed, systematic discussion of the gospel in the whole Bible is found in Paul's letter to the Romans, especially in the first four chapters.
After announcing that he is not ashamed of the gospel because the righteousness of God is revealed in it (Rom. 1:16-17), Paul begins his proclamation of the good news by delivering some sobering bad news in 1:18 through 3:20:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (1:18)
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (1:21-23)
1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. (2:1-2)
9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:
"None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one." (3:9-12)
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (3:19-20)
1. To whom are human beings accountable? What passage(s) do you see this in?
2. What does God require of people? (Hint: See Rom. 1:21-23.)
3. Has any human being done what God requires of us? (Hint: See Rom. 3:9-12, 19-20.)