Harry Reeder tells a hilarious story about getting his first car. It was a pink ’57 Ford. In short, he was none too thrilled to have a pink car…until his dad popped the hood open to reveal the engine. I’ll let him tell you about it:
underneath (the hood) was a 390 engine with two four-barrel carburetors. The car had been a South Carolina State Interceptor (a highway patrol car). Nothing had more power under the hood. Space and conviction prevents me from detailing the surprises that Corvettes and Roadsters would get after they looked laughingly at my pink ’57 Ford while sitting side by side at stoplights. It didn’t look like much, but there was power under the hood.
Reeder goes on to make the point that the Gospel may appear simple, basic, or unimportant after we get use to the face that Jesus died to save sinners, but in reality, if we truly understood all of the Gospel, it would beat anything on the road, blow away any competition…in short, we have to look under the hood of the Gospel to understand all it’s glorious and breathtaking power and to see that power at work in our lives, families, ministries, etc!
That’s what I want this series of posts to be about – looking at all the beauty of the Gospel. I thought a good place to start would be discerning the various aspects of the Gospel and what they mean objectively in God’s work in history as well as subjectively as they are played out in our lives. This might be a little too simplistic, though I hope not dishonoring to our God, but I’m currently at a place where I think we need to parse out 3 different ideas when we talk about The Gospel.
#1 The Gospel of First Importance – It’s been said in several nearly identical ways that the Gospel is simple enough for a child to wade in, and yet deep enough to drown the most learned philosophers. Some might call this the “simple gospel,” but I don’t like that name, so I’ll go with Paul’s phrase from 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…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. I like to think of this Gospel of First Importance as the roots of a tree. Everything starts here. All nourishment comes from these short, succinct objective truths that communicate the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, or in theo-speak, Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sinners. When told to repent and believe, this is the object of that belief, of our faith. It is the entryway into the Kingdom to as many as will believe and because of it, all that I say in the next 2 paragraphs is true. This is the foundation.
#2 The Triumphs of the Gospel – From the roots of the Gospel of First Importance spring the trunk and branches of what I call “The Triumphs of the Gospel.” These are things that are now true because of Christ’s death for us. For instance, our adoption as sons and daughters of God, reconciliation with God, confidence before God in prayer, sanctification, incorporation in the People of God, rescued from Satan, sin, and death, new hearts, being sealed by the Spirit, and forgiveness of sins just to name a few. Put another way, God made a lot of promises about what He would do for His people once the Messiah came, once the New Covenant was ratified. And, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 1:20: For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. Wow! All of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ, through the Gospel, through the shed blood and broken body of the New Covenant! Often if theologians start to drift from penal substitution towards some other “theory” of the atonement, it’s because they become enraptured by one of these promises fulfilled. Now it is right to be amazed by each and every one of them…but they all depend on the Gospel of First Importance.
#3 The Life of the Gospel – So, how do these things impact our lives in the now? In this present evil age? Or asked another way…why does Paul want to preach the Gospel to believers in Rome? What importance is the Gospel for someone who is already saved? It is of every importance!!! Remember, all of God’s promises, including our present sanctification and growth, are fulfilled in the Gospel of Christ, and in no other way. So, it is to the Gospel that we must run to continue to appropriate those promises. I believe that the way to do that is to Master the Gospel. Yes, I know that in one sense, it is a message that masters us, but in another, very real sense, we must master it. We need to know it inside and out…not as cold information wasting away in our grey matter, but as wood that is set as kindling, bursting into flame after just a moment of rumination. We need to know the Gospel of First Importance AND we need to intimately understand all of the Triumphs of the Gospel. Only then can we bring the promises of God to bear in our lives. Only then, by feasting on what is supplied by the roots and branches, will leaves and fruit begin to adorn our lives. I truly believe that Gospel-Centered foliage depends upon connecting our lives to these objective truths. How? By meditating on them, chewing on them, rephrasing them, singing them, writing poetry of them, talking about them, praying them back to God, and so on.