What is the Gospel? (part 1)
Here is the central question of the Christian faith: what is the gospel? It’s strange that the very question that should provide a solid bedrock for Christian unity has often divided groups otherwise thought to share a common profession of faith. While the “formal principle” of the Protestant Reformation was sola Scriptura (Scripture is the only infallible authority for the Christian), it was the “material principle” of sola fide (addressing the question of how a person is accepted by God) that divided Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church. So it’s a hot button issue. But it needs to be addressed because how we answer this question (“what is the gospel?”)-the answer we confess deep down in our hearts-will determine our final destiny. So let’s start quickly at creation followed by the bad news. Hopefully we’ll see that the gospel message is tied up with the whole story of Scripture.
Creation: Gen 1-2. The King of the universe, Yahweh, creates the universe out of nothing and declares it good (Gen. 1). Distinct from the rest of his creation, God creates humanity unique, in “the image of God” (Gen. 1:26). Among other things, this means that humanity is charged with the unique responsibility to mediate God’s rule on the Earth. All things are to be done to the glory of God, for the good of his people (the divine image bearers).
Fall: Gen 3. Though God placed the first man, Adam, in the perfect environment, nevertheless both he and his wife Eve chose the way of self-sovereignty over humble submission to their regal King and heavenly Father. How such cosmic treason could take place is truly a mystery of the faith. But, either way this was a major turning point in human history. When our first parents valued their own judgments over the Spring of all life, they began to die physically and decisively died spiritually at that very moment.
This rebellion, autonomy and moral pollution (what the Bible calls sin) now corrupts the very image of God (that is to say every aspect of their humanity was tainted by sin). According to Paul, the Apostle, Adam’s fall wasn’t his alone. All his descendants (that’s you and me) have inherited his guilt and spiritual state (Rom. 5). As a result we are all hostile toward each other and above all, God. This anti-God instinct is imbedded into the very fabric of our fallen human nature. It’s a terribly difficult pill to swallow for sure; offensive in fact.
But it doesn’t end there. It gets worse.
Being that Adam was created as the “co-king” of all creation his treason brought with it a curse to his kingdom. Now the Earth will no longer produce crops easily; it would hand over thorns and thistles instead (Gen. 3:18). Famine, earthquakes, tsunami’s and mudslides are all a result of the curse (Rom. 8). When the image of God is in rebellion, the cosmos is in rebellion. Sin is social as well. Because we are hostile toward God we are likewise hostile toward those made in His image. War, injustice, racism, sexism, slavery, manipulation, theft, and sex-trafficking are all expressions of the sinful anti-God impulse.
But it gets worse still.
The fallout of sin isn’t merely impersonal strife. The Bible is clear that the chiefly offended party is Yahweh Himself. All sin is a person attack against His character; a slap in His face despite His kindness and mercy toward us in giving us life, breathe, and every good thing (Acts 17:5, James 1:17). Above all, God cherishes the glory of His name (Is. 48:11). So He is not pleased. He is supremely good, and opposes everything vile, wicked, corrupt, and morally unclean. This is precisely why Paul informs us that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who supress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18) We all fall under condemnation by this passage. The chief problem we have as a result of sin isn’t low self-esteem, loneliness, or guilt feelings. No, it is real guilt; it is the wrath of a supremely holy God who will stop at nothing to vindicate His character and put His kingdom back to rights. So the gospel isn’t ultimately about our deliverance from sin or even Satan. As Hebrews makes clear, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” We’re saved from God. We’re saved by God, from God, to God.