When Paul wrote his letter to the churches in Galatia, it was in response to one stark reality: the Gospel was in danger. Church leaders need to take a cue from Paul. He was frustrated and furious with anyone who would try to add to or take away from the Gospel of free grace. This Gospel is in danger again in our day. For most people in America, Christianity has become a form of “moralistic therapeutic Deism”. It’s “moralistic”, in that Christianity provides an avenue for moral living. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not the Gospel. It’s “therapeutic”, in that it feels good to live a moral life, in adherence to biblical principles. Again, this is not a bad thing, it’s just not the Gospel. And it’s clearly a form of “Deism”, in that God is certainly in the mix, though not the central focus much of the time. More often, the focus is on our works for God, not His work for us, and on our preferences as oppose to His. The Gospel that Paul defended is in danger and Christ (His heart, His mission, His Person) has been lost in a religion that bears His name.
We must join Paul and confront any altering of the Gospel in any way. He distinguishes between the Law and the Gospel. The Law tells us what God expects from us, the Gospel tells us what God has done for us. The Law is about what we do, the Gospel is about what Christ has done. The Law provides the diagnosis, the Gospel provides the cure. In order to defend the Gospel, we must be clear about what the Gospel is. Herein lies our problem. So, what is the Gospel?
The Absolute Gospel:
1. Christ lived the perfect life, fulfilling the requirements of the law. Just as central to our salvation is Christ’s death on the cross is the fact that He lived the perfect life. This is significant for two reasons: First, He could not have provided the perfect, “once and for all” sacrifice if He had not lived a sinless life. Secondly, He has done for us what we could not do ourselves. We cannot and now- need not- live the perfect life. The Gospel is one-way, descending love. We bring nothing to the Gospel expect our sin that makes it necessary. James reminds us how desperate we are. “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). Jesus did not come to “abolish” the Law but to fulfill the righteous demands of the Law and in so doing, we are set free from the demands of the Law placed on us.
2. He died for us on the cross, paying the price for our sins. We are justified before our Holy God because Christ, who lived the perfect life for us, took our sin upon the cross. The due penalty of our unrighteousness was placed upon Him and we have been set free from the judgment that comes upon sin. Through the Law God makes the demands for holiness and in Christ He fulfills them. Then miraculously, Christ takes on our sin and completely forgives us, “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). His perfect life was imputed to us and therefore, God’s wrath was taken away from us. Only God acting on our part brings salvation.
3. He rose again, conquering death and hell. By overcoming death, Christ leads all of creation into a triumphant procession into eternity. And all people who receive His amazing grace through faith, join Him in this victorious life. This life begins in the here and now and continues in eternity.
4. He is coming again, to restore all things. The work of Christ and the purposes of God are bigger than our salvation. God does not make mistakes and nothing surprises Him. His purposes do not fail; He always wins. Though all of creation has been effected by the sin of mankind, all things will be restored to God’s original intent. God’s restorative agenda is in effect and will be completed as He comes again to make all things right. Ultimately, He will “make all things new” and a redeemed people will worship God on a redeemed “New Earth” for eternity.
It’s important to remember that the Gospel of the early church, of Paul, of the evangelists, was this: All of the promises of the Jewish Scriptures has come true in the Resurrection of Jesus. And this is the Gospel that we preach, teach, defend, and live out in our day. This is the Gospel.