Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Gospel

To this point, we have looked at attributes to emulate or principles that will be directly applicable to the circumstances of life.  Now, we take a step back to survey the scene and to ask ourselves an important question, "Why?"  Why do we want to live Christian in an unchristian world?  Certainly, in some respects we ought to have discussed this idea first instead of buried the middle of the second tier.  Addressing the task methodically often places important issues in odd places for building the structure of our minds often does not proceed from that which ought matter most to us, but from that which logically precedes.  We have built the structure from the model of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  We began with Scripture.  From Scripture, we developed the picture of God revealed therein.  We next developed the picture of man and his fall.  Now, we turn our attention to the redemption of man by God, the message we commonly call the gospel.

The gospel's importance will not appear in stark connections, but in its underlying the entirety of the Christianity.  You cannot live Christian at all without understanding the gospel.  But more than this, the gospel is the ultimate motivation to obey God.  Where every man before God ought to conform his life to the law, the unregenerate man cannot, for he does not want to.  Even those who seem to have a form of obedience do so not out of devotion to God, but from selfish fear or a selfish pursuit of favor.

The gospel also colors our understanding of all the doctrines of Christianity.  Without the gospel light shining through them, theology grows cold and horrid.  Take, for instance, the role of women in the church.  The Bible clearly indicates that the church requires male leadership.  Some have objected that this does not fit with our modern concepts of equality between the genders.  In an effort to circumvent the plain text, they invent a unique cultural context that allows them to suggest that the writers did not intend their teaching to be universal or applied outside the narrow context of the specific situation  they address.  Does this make the gospel shine?  No.  The church did poorly by emphasizing the necessity of male headship without demonstrating the gospel light in the doctrine.  For the message of the gospel is the glorious truth that God in Christ elected to save all kinds of people.  Even those who the world considers low and unimportant, God raises to be the trophies of His grace.  (I Corinthians 1:26-29)

So, does the gospel suppress the gifts of women?  Certainly not.  Rather, the gospel tells the beloved housewife and mother, that in the day of judgment, her reward may eclipse the greatest man.  For her worth is not measured by the world.  Her ministry is not gauged by office, but in her faithfulness to her calling.  We are all too often convinced that our ambitions God blesses. That what we want to do is what God calls us to do.  Yet God never calls us to what His word forbids.  It is in faithful obedience regardless of the estimation of the world that determines the acceptance of our service to God.

We have yet to discuss the substance of the gospel.  We have discussed the importance of the gospel, but not what it is.  Yet we know it too well, and not well enough.  The gospel begins before the world.  "God,... out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life." (WSC20) (Eph.1:3-5)  The doctrine of election also suffers from the church failing to present it in gospel light.  For we forget the truth we learned in the last lesson.  The fall plunged all mankind into death, spiritual death, and incapability to do any good toward our own salvation. (Eph. 2:1-7)  We could not save ourselves or move anywhere close to it.  We have not faith to believe.  Without God choosing to save, all mankind would be lost.

But how could God save sinful humans?  What mechanism could He conceive that would allow Him to retain His justice and yet in love forgive sin?  Theologians use the phrase, "consequent necessary atonement."  By this, they mean that God was not required to save any, but having chosen to do so, the redemptive plan revealed in scripture is the only mechanism which God's character would allow to save sinful man.  He purposed to send the second person of the trinity, the Son, incarnate, in human flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, to the cross, as a sacrifice for sin.  This role the Son willingly undertook, for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God who loves His chosen people.

In that work of redemption, something amazing happens.  For it is not a clean slate that God requires to have fellowship with Him.  He requires perfect obedience, holiness like His own.  This is no arbitrary demand, but a necessary qualification for the environment.  If one would live underwater, one must grow gills.  If one would live before holiness, one must put on holiness.  Since we have no holiness, no righteousness of our own, we need to get it from somewhere.  Rather, we have sin, and that must be taken from us.  Theologians use the phrase "double imputation" to describe the atonement.  The gospel teaches us on the cross, God imputed, accounted our sin to Jesus and judged them there.  Jesus fully satisfied divine justice on the cross for the sins of God's people.  But in our justification, God imputes, accounts the perfect obedience, the righteousness, the holiness of Jesus to us.  Thus, we are cleansed of our sin and wear the righteousness of Christ that enables us to fellowship with God.

The Bible uses the term justification to make a very significant point.  The work of Jesus is applied in a very precise way.  Humanity faces the judgment of God due to us for sin.  One day, every human must stand before God.  The fall makes this trial necessary as would any crime.  At some point, the criminal must face the judge.  On the last day, the world will be judged by God who will by no means clear the guilty.  Justification indicates that a part of that final trial has already occurred.  It means that God has already been conducted the trial of His people.  We never see it with human eyes, but it occurs nonetheless.  It happened in absentia.  The evidence of our guilt was presented.  The penalty exacted.  Our righteousness approved, and the verdict signed, "Not guilty."  On the last day, God's people will not be retried, but "openly acknowledged and acquitted." (WSC 38)  The verdict confirmed and read before the world.

This is the gospel.  We who are sinners, are made righteous.  We who deserve death, have been given life.  We who were headed to hell, now travel to heaven.  God loved us so much that He would sacrifice His own Son to save us so "that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." (Ro.3:26)

Allow me to give two glorious consequences that we ought to take from the gospel.  First, we ought learn to speak of doctrine in gospel terms.  The defection from doctrine has weakened the church and opened the door to many heresies.  The blame for the defection must be shared by those proponents of doctrine who failed to communicate it with gospel light.  I'm afraid that would include this author as well.  We often forget in our presentation of doctrine to shine the light of the gospel on what would otherwise be dead letters.

Allow me to present an example.  This series is written from the reformed perspective.  Although it is hoped that broader Christianity will benefit from it, the author's foundation must be admitted.  I hold to the reformed tradition because I judge it to be generally the most accurate system of doctrine reveals in the pages of the holy scriptures.  In this system, we often reflect on the so-called "five points of Calvinism."  I say "so-called" for although John Calvin would perhaps never quibbled about them, they were actually developed many years after his death.  Many Christians object to these five assertions because they see them as cold, robotic, and unloving.  If true, these accusations would be fatal.  Unfortunately, Calvin's detractors have cause for making these allegations for the proponents of the "five points" often present them with calculating exactness, pressing, not the gospel within, but cold exegesis.  While we may counter that people should bow to the text of the Bible, calculating exegesis fails to convince in the light of the Biblical theme of love.

Can we then see these "five points" in gospel light?  Certainly so.  We begin with total depravity, the complete inability of man to save himself of even to believe.  Little of gospel light is showing yet.  Man's death by sin reveals the ugly necessity of redemption.  Man is not sick with sin but death.  Man need not a mere physician, but a God who has life in himself. (John 5:26)  We have no control of our salvation, and that scares us.  We live our lives convinced that we can fix ourselves, and the Bible tells us, "No, you cannot."  How else will God's power shine?  If He does something to help?  No.  He does what we could never do.

Unconditional election results from God's unconditional love.  How awful the fatal argument that God looks down the corridor of time and chooses those who He knows will choose Him.  Is that love?  It certainly is not unconditional love.  No, God loved us when we were totally depraved.  He loved us when we were at our most unlovable.  Why did God' love us?  Because it pleased Him to do so.  Why did God choose to love me?  That is a question that eternity cannot answer for it has no answer.  If it did, God's love would not be unconditional.  We did nothing to deserve God's love and we can do nothing to lose it.  He chose to love us, and we can only quake in awe.

Limited atonement proves the love of God in the sacrifice of His Son for us.  If we believe that Jesus died in the place of sinful humanity, we are put to one of three options.  Either all humanity is saved, Jesus took the penalty of only the elect, or God has perpetrated some kind of injustice.  Limited atonement asserts the second for the first is plainly denied in scripture and the last is inconsistent with the revealed character of God.  If Jesus took the penalty for all people's sin and some people go to hell, then either God judges that person twice in hell, or Jesus suffered needlessly.  The gospel shows the love and justice of God in the atonement of God's chosen people.

Irresistible grace tells us that when we could not make ourselves believe, God gave us faith.  If depravity demands that God must sovereignly accomplish redemption, He must also sovereignly apply salvation to us.  How great is the gospel that we need not look at our faith for the assurance of our salvation, but at the work of Jesus?  We need not fear that we "did it wrong" in our salvation, for we did nothing.  God applied salvation to us.

He did it and we can never lose it.  The perseverance of the saint tells us that those who God saves, He does not lose.  the gospel reminds us that we didn't earn God's love and so can never lose His love.  We did not accomplish our salvation and so can never fail in it.  We did not apply salvation to ourselves and so can never unapply it.  The Spirit who applied redemption to our soul will never stop conforming us to the image of Christ.  That is what the loved of God want, to look more like Christ and even when we fail, we know that the Sprit will continue that work inexorably.

Every doctrine must shine with gospel light.  Every truth must be communicated with the zeal of gospel love.  Truth without love brings drudgery, weariness, and frustration.  Truth in love motivates us with a fire unquenchable fueled by the Holy Spirit.

This leads us to the final consequence and most apt for this study.  The gospel is the motivation extreme.  As we see the love of God manifested in the gospel, we cannot but be compelled to live in the riches that He provides.  Paul wrote, "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." (II Corinthians 5:14-15)

We will only want to live Christian in an unchristian world if we remember the gospel.  The love of God revealed in redemption fuels our devotion and desire to honor Him in our lives.  If we would accomplish what we have set out to do in this study, we must, we must understand its importance not in a cold and abstract manner, but flooded with the love revealed in the gospel.  This is who we are, who Christ has made us, and we will live it, no matter how the world may stand against us.

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