Tim began by drawing a popular diagram. Man is on the left. God is on the right. Sin is the chasm between them. The cross of Christ is the bridge we use to cross over from death to eternal life. Then Tim shocked us by announcing, “That’s not the gospel!”
At best, that could be termed “the plan of salvation.” It’s not wrong, but it misses the big message. It misses the main parts. There was no mention of Jesus’ resurrection and how that changes everything. There was no mention of how God gave all authority to the risen Christ to rule heaven and earth. It was just about an individual getting their ticket to heaven, with nothing about the good news for the whole of creation being restored to what God designed in the beginning. It was a story about me and how I get saved, not the story of Jesus and how he became Lord. It’s not the gospel.
Why does it matter?
If you think of the gospel as just the bit about how you get saved, then once you’ve made your decision you don’t need the gospel any more. The church I grew up in had “gospel” services. That meant they would offer an invitation for people to make their decision for Christ. The gospel, you see, was for the unsaved. Once you had responded, you didn’t need the gospel any more.
The gospel was like the starter motor for your car. Without a starter motor you’re not going anywhere, but once you have activate the gospel and get your Christian life going, you don’t need the starter motor anymore. The gospel got you started, but was irrelevant to your Christian life. You could (and should) move on to other things.
This is crucial. A shrivelled gospel prevents you living a gospel life.
On the other hand, if the good news is that Jesus has faced the powers in the most crushing manner as they crucified him, but his conviction and execution were overturned by the highest authority who raised him out of death and elevated him as Lord of all creation which is now under his authority, it’s the best news humanity has ever heard. It not only rescues us; it redefines us. The good news that Jesus is now Lord underpins and reshapes everything we are and everything we do. Instead of being irrelevant to our Christian life, the gospel is our Christian life. Every day!
Where can I learn more?
For a storied approach to the gospel, read Tom Wright:
- The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (HarperOne, 2016)
- Simply Jesus – Who He Was, What He Did, Why it Matters (SPCK, 2011).
For a full-blown explanation of how the gospel (the “evangel”) is the foundation of everything Christians believe an practice, read Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Zondervan, 2013).