A Vision for the Future Supplement for Session 2: What is the Gospel?

Posted: September 11, 2008 by limabean03 in A Vision for the Future, Christianity, Men's Bible Study, Rob's Thoughts, Trinity Tidings
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Preached April 6, 2008 by Rob Sturdy

Our sermon series on the mission statement of the Church continues with “What is the Gospel?”  It is of obvious importance, as the mission statement is “To inspire all people, through the Power of the Gospel, to become living members of the body of Christ.”  We seek to inspire people through something quite specific, that is the “power of the Gospel,” but what is the Gospel? 

Sometime between 51 and 52 A.D.,  a situation arose in the Christian church at Corinth, that forced Paul, the founder of the church in Corinth to write a letter.  The letter deals with numerous situations unbecoming of the Christian church, such as sexual immorality, the abuse of money and power, a serious misunderstanding of the gifts of the Spirit, among others, however the letter itself is bookended by appeals to the Corinthian church to remember the Gospel.  After some introductory remarks, Paul reminds the church that when he first arrived he “did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2.1-2).  And in our reading today from ch 15, the last “meaty” chapter of the letter, Paul again reminds them with these words ““Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you- unless you believed in vain. “ (1 Cor 15.1-2)

We can gather a few things from this fact. 

1)       The Gospel is of central importance to the life of the Christian church.  Paul begins and ends the letter by explaining the Gospel. 

2)      The Gospel is the common ground of the church.  What Paul preached and they believed (i.e. the Gospel)  is the common ground for the whole church, and the foundation from which all conflict in the church, whether it be sexual immorality, abuse of money or the Spirit must be resolved.

3)      You can be wrong about the Gospel.  If you couldn’t be wrong about it, Paul would not have had to correct them.

4)      Being wrong about the Gospel can cause the entirety of your Christian life to “be in vain.” 

Because you can be wrong about the Gospel, and the consequences for such is quite high, let me highlight a few common misconceptions about the Gospel that are current:

Misconception # 1:  The Gospel is Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  These are called Gospels but they are not the Gospel that Paul is here referring to.  More on what he was referring to later.

Misconception # 2:  The Gospel is “love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22.34-40).  These are central to the teaching of Jesus, but they are most certainly not the Gospel. 

Misconception # 3:  The Gospel is the ethical teachings of Jesus, politicized for the purposes of civil rights, feminism, environmentally friendly ethics, the list goes on and on.  Much can be said positively about each of these things, but they once again are not the Gospel.  I would argue that they are by-products of the Gospel, that is, when hearts are captivated by the Gospel, they care each of these things.

Misconception # 4:  The Gospel is Jesus as cosmic Mr. Fix-it.  I’m having problems with my marriage, or my drug addiction, or my job, or my finances, or my infertility, or my cancer etc.  There is a Gospel out there that says there are pieces of me that are broken and Jesus is willing to fix them by making my marriage work, or fixing my drug addiction, or finding me a great job, or making me wealthy, or curing my cancer.  But these are things that (a) he does not promise and (b) are not the Gospel. 

So what then is the Gospel? 

1)       The Gospel is a free gift (planned before time, executed in history)

2)      In Jesus

3)      From God

4)      For Sinners

The Gospel is a Free Gift

“Heard a story; I think it came from the North Country: A minister called upon a poor woman, intending to give her help; for he knew that she was very poor. With his money in his hand, he knocked at the door; but she did not answer. He concluded she was not at home, and went his way. A little after he met her at the church, and told her that he had remembered her need: “I called at your house, and knocked several times, and I suppose you were not at home, for I had no answer.” “At what hour did you call, sir?” “It was about noon.” “Oh, dear,” she said, “I heard you, sir, and I am so sorry I did not answer; but I thought it was the man calling for the rent.” Many a poor woman knows what this meant. Now, it is my desire to be heard, and therefore I want to say that I am not calling for the rent; indeed, it is not the object of this book to ask anything of you, but to tell you that salvation is all of grace, which means, free, gratis, for nothing.”[1]

Free, gratis, for nothing:  “For I delivered to you, what I also received” (15.3)  or “I gave to you what was given to me” for free (Romans 5.15). 

The Gospel is a free Gift in Christ

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received (there’s the free gift):  that Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15.3).  The free gift is inextricably linked with Christ.  It is linked with him, because he is the gift.  In our reading today from Luke, ch. 24 vs. 44, Jesus says “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets must be fulfilled.”  In saying this, the risen Jesus is essentially stating that the entire thrust of the Old Testament points towards Jesus and the free gift.  Let me use two readings from the Old Testament to illustrate this point.

In Genesis ch 22, “God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said ‘Here I am.’  He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”  When Abraham and his son arrive at the location designated, we read in vs. 6 “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son.  And he took in his hand the fire and the knife.  So they went both of them together.  And Isaac said to his father Abraham…’Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’  Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering my son.” 

So what is to be taken from this story?  That God demanded a sacrifice that was costly, perhaps too costly to bear.  But we also read that Abraham had faith that God would provide, as a free gift, a sacrifice.  We further understand the free gift to be a lamb to sacrifice. 

And again, in Isaiah 53 we read that God will provide the free gift of a sacrifice.  In 53 vs 7 that sacrifice is compared to a lamb, in vs 10 we read it is an offering provided by the Lord for sin, and in vs 12 we read that this free gift will bear the sin of many.  For over hundreds of years Israel waited for this free gift, the sacrifice provided by God, that would take away their sins forever.  Then on the night of the Passover, 13 men gathered together and heard these words, “Drink this all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  At the last supper, Jesus is essentially saying “I am the free gift, I’m the sacrifice that Abraham spoke of that God would provide, I am the lamb that bears the sins of many that Isaiah spoke of.”  And Christ, the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, in the words of Spurgeon is “free, gratis, for nothing.” 

The Gospel is a Free Gift in Christ From God

Though this is not mentioned in our text from 1 Corinthians, it is worth mentioning that “God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only Son” (John 3: 16), “God himself will provide the sacrifice” (Gen 22), and “It was the will of the Lord…” (Isa 53.10). 

The Gospel is a Free Gift in Christ From God for Sinners

Self-help industry is a six billion dollar a year industry that is expected to grow by 12.9 percent next year.  What does this have to say about America?  There is a deep dissatisfaction with who we are as human beings.  I recently met a young man who was concerned over the direction his life was headed and shared this deep dissatisfaction with himself that the figures from the self-help industry attest to.  He told me that he was drinking frequently and oftentimes, when he drank, he became disrespectful to his girlfriend, violent and merciless towards his friends, irresponsible, and selfish.  I shared with him a harsh, but nevertheless (I believe) honest assessment.  It is generally accepted that when a person drinks, their inhibitions (controls and restraints put on emotions and behaviors) are progressively lowered the more they drink.  This means that the emotions and behavior are there before a person starts drinking, however they are able to control it because of their inhibitions.  When inhibitions are lowered, we get to see the real person, when all the self-discipline and controls are removed.  I suggested to this young man that when he drank, we got to see the real person, disrespectful, angry, graceless, violent, and irresponsible.  In the span of a short conversation, we went from discussing his dissatisfaction with his life on a very shallow level (unhappy with his job, wished he didn’t drink so much, didn’t like being angry occasionally) to a deep crisis that threatened his understanding of who he was as an individual.

Most Christians view themselves as folks with a few defects that Christ just needs to straighten out then they can be on their way.  A parishioner wrote to me very recently expressing what I took to be that very sentiment, “Christ died for my shortcomings.”  Note how this person couldn’t bring herself to say that he died for her sins, she just had a few “shortcomings.”  The young man I met in Georgetown entered the conversation with a few shortcomings, but about midway through the conversation he began to understand that his shortcomings actually revealed a totally depraved and sinful life.  In brief, he understood himself to be sinner, ungodly, unholy, evil, and utterly damnable. 

Now it is to those who take honest stock of their lives, and place those lives before a holy, all-seeing, all powerful, and just judge to whom I speak right now.  I am speaking to those who take honest stock of their lives…and tremble.  Because I have good news, good news that inspires, good news which Paul says is of “first importance.”  “Christ died for our sins.”  In other words, the free gift is not for those who delude themselves with their “shortcomings” but it is for the ungodly, the unholy, the evil and utterly damnable, because Christ died for those who have sins to die for, to take them away, to reconcile us to God, giving us eternal life, and relationship with him, enjoying his glory forever.  As I told him this he began to weep, because it is good news for the sinner, good news that inspires. 

So what must I do to attain this free gift in Christ, from God, for sinners?  Let me close with a brief story.  An artist was commissioned to paint scenes from a historic downtown area for the cities bicentennial fair.  In order to make the paintings meaningful and relevant to the city, he painted several figures that were regularly present at the locations that the artist was painting.  One such individual was a street sweep.  He wore old dirty clothes, was poor, walked with a stooped back and looked generally haggard.  The artist told the street sweep that he would pay him well if he would come into the studio so that the artist could record him for the scene.  The street sweep showed up the next day, but because he wanted to present himself well, he cleaned himself, combed his hair, stood up straight, and wore new clothes.  But this was not the street sweep that people would recognize in the painting, so the artist sent him away.  The moral of the story is come as you are or don’t come at all.  Christ accepts the ungodly, the sinful, the merciless, just as they are, or not at all.  But what about after?  The same Christ who accepts the ungodly, sanctifies the ungodly.  The same Christ who receives the sinful, is able to make them stop sinning.  And this too is the Gospel, the new creation, that makes them living members of the Body of Christ. 


[1] Spurgeon, C.  “An Earnest Word With Those Who are Seeking Salvation Through Jesus Christ”

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