I recently visited Scotland for the first time. My wife’s family is from there and I have always wanted my sons to soak in and enjoy the history and heritage that belongs to them. At every site we visited, I stopped to marvel at the beauty of the land and the beauty of it’s history. One of the sites we visited was an ancient Christian site along the west coast of Scotland. It was filled with beautiful Celtic Christian artwork. This particular Celtic site was established before the year 1000. As we spent time there, I found myself searching for the gospel in the artwork and presentation of this site.
What exactly is the gospel? Unfortunately, many different answers have been given to this question throughout Christian history. But we know from Scripture there is only one answer, and that answer is important.
Imagine if Noah built an umbrella instead of an ark? Imagine if Moses didn't fashion the bronze snake on the pole and told the Isralites to just be really nice and kind to each other as they died from the venom? What if the Israelites decided that it was cruel and refused to paint the blood of a lamb over their door as the Angel of Death visited their house in Egypt? Each of these give us an illustration of God’s saving work. And if the message they presented was or is ever confused, we are in danger of not correctly relaying the correct gospel laid out through God’s narrative.
This is why the writers of the New Testament continue to encourage us to not let false teachers preach another gospel. To confuse the gospel would mean to exchange “the good news” for “bad news.”
The gospel, the good news, is an announcement that God has acted to save you. I am not talking about any potential positive change in you morally or socially as the result of the gospel hitting your ears and exploding faith in Christ in you.
The gospel is how God rescues sinners from sin, death, hell, devil and the grave. It is not what it should or could do to you morally or socially. I am only interested here in placarding what the “Good News” is. The gospel is of vital importance and the gospel assumed is the gospel denied. And while it can be communicated in various ways, every place we find it in Scripture points us to the same truth:
- 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 - “For 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”
- John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
- Romans 4:5 - “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
- Ephesians 2:8-9 - “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
The Gospel is an announcement of an actual event in time and space where Christ was crucified and cursed in your place and raised from the dead so that you would be raised from the dead. It was an event that happened outside of you, and that was done for you. It is good news as an announcement of what was done for you and what is actually being given to you in the hearing of this announcement. It is the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.
It is my conviction, which is bound by Scripture, that prevents me from identifying the gospel as anything outside of God’s action for sinners. Specifically, God’s action for you. Even more specifically, God’s action through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that is for you.
So, when we see the gospel made out to be national patriotism, social justice, how to be a better person, how to have a better life, how to have better health, how to be more successful, how to be more prosperous, or how to be thriving and amazingly blessed according to this world, where is the gospel? Where is Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins? It is nowhere to be found. It is assumed at best and at worst it is presented as a means of how your felt needs can be met through this fake gospel. It is our generation’s own offering of indulgences. It is a transaction of tithes and membership in exchange for the neverending “seven step series’” on how to achieve what you want in this life.
I need to hear the gospel every day because when life gets hard, when trials come, when death is near, when death hits home, my default is to grasp at the law and to ask “What have I done? Have I done right? Have I done enough?” And law that is written on our hearts says “No, you have not done enough and will never do enough.”
We need to hear the gospel because it is good news that is not from you, or about you, or because of you. It is good news that is from God, about God, because of God, for you.
You can’t take a gift. You receive a gift.
Never forget the “for you” part of the gospel. The for you part transfers the historical event of the Gospel to an event of the gospel in real time that is being given to you and done to you. Not speaking about the gospel but giving the gospel. Not speaking bout Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins, but about Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins given to you right now!
The gospel is not a transaction where you decide to take the offer of the gospel. It is not as if God places forgiveness of sins on account of Christ on a table in front of you, waiting for you to pick it up for it to now then belong to you and be for you. That is not how the Gospel works. It doesn't become “yours” or “true for you” when you decide to take the Gospel. The Gospel is a gift, and you can’t take a gift. You receive a gift. The gospel is therefore not activated nor initiated by you to be true for you. God chose to give it to you and sent someone to announce this good news to you.
I looked for the Gospel in these ancient sites in Scotland. I saw crosses. Ornate crosses. I looked for “Christ crucified for my sins.” At the Celtic site in Scotland, a church still meets. Inside, they had a poster listing seven points of their beliefs all of which revolved around their first point, that the gospel commands them to see peace founded on justice and that costly reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian faith. While I saw the gospel in this ancient site displayed in the crosses which proclaimed “Christ crucified for my sins,” this message of a gospel which commands rather than promises is unfortunately not the gospel of Christ.
The gospel is not a command to do something for God for him to save you. It is an announcement that God has done something for you to save you. For Christ’s sake this is most certainly true.