Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Gospel

A friend asks you "Have you heard the good news?"  Your reply, of course, is "What good news?" because you know that all good news isn't the same. Yet few people ask this when reading in the Bible the phrase "the gospel" — which simply means "good news."  They have been taught that "the gospel is the gospel" and "there is only one gospel."  But this is simply not true in light of Scripture.

God has not proclaimed only one gospel, one item of good news, down through the ages, but many.  He has qualified the word "gospel" by distinctive titles, like the "gospel of the Kingdom" and the "gospel of the grace of God."  When we come upon the phrase "the gospel" without any qualifying title, we should immediately ask "Which gospel?" and the context will give us the answer. 

For example, Luke 9:6 simply says that the twelve disciples went about "preaching the gospel," but verse 2 of the same chapter explains how the Lord had sent them "to preach the kingdom of God" — not the cross, but the kingdom, since He, the King, was in their midst. These disciples could not have been preaching "the word of the cross" as Paul later did (1 Cor 1:17-18), because it wasn't until at least two years later that the Lord began to tell them how He must suffer and die (Matt 16:21) and Peter "began to rebuke Him" (Matt 16:22) and none of the twelve even knew what He was talking about (Lk 18:31-34).

So contrary to what many say, the "gospel of the kingdom" and the "gospel of the grace of God" are not the same thing. That the Messiah had come and the earthly (millennial) kingdom was "at hand" was the good news of the kingdom, whereas the "gospel of the grace of God" is that God is extending grace, totally apart from works, to anyone who simply believes.  The "gospel of the kingdom" was committed to the twelve while Christ was on earth (and don't forget people were still under the Law at that time).  "The preaching of the cross" (as good news) — "the gospel of the grace of God" — was later committed to the Apostle Paul and to us (1 Cor 1:18; Acts 20:24).

Making this distinction isn't really all that important, is it?  Yes it is, because if we fail to observe progressive revelation, we may wrongly try to evangelize by preaching the gospel according to Israel's earthly kingdom and not according to what was later revealed to us through Paul.

Many try to combine the two.  But not only are these messages of good news not the same, they contradict each other.  Ephesians 2:8-9 flatly contradicts the message of faith plus works as the expression of their faith** that we find in the gospel accounts (Matt 5:19-20; 6:14-15; 23:2-3; Lk 10:25-28; 18:18-20).

Still, many try to reconcile these two gospels by one of the following ways:

•Read the kingdom gospel into Paul's gospel
•Read Paul's gospel back into the kingdom gospel

The first choice is what some Bible teachers have done in an attempt to make sense of the good news of the earthly kingdom and the good news later revealed to us. An example of this is the teaching of Lordship Salvation.

The second choice is what many evangelicals do. They understand the gospel of salvation as revealed in Paul's epistles. They teach that salvation today is apart from works and totally by faith alone in the finished work of Christ, but then explain away, rationalize, or spiritualize the teachings of the gospels that clearly teach faith plus works.

But there is a third choice — observe the progression of Scripture. This choice is the only one that allows God's Word to say what it means and mean what it says. Understanding Paul's unique apostleship and message allows the Bible to teach what the literal sense of the words clearly indicate — a message of faith plus works to the Jews in keeping with their earthly prophetic program under the law, and a message of faith alone to everyone today in keeping with the heavenly program revealed to us through Paul.

**"Faith will most assuredly approach God in God’s way at any time, and to seek to gain acceptance with Him in any other way would, of course, be unbelief and self-will. Thus, while works never did or could save as such, they did once save as expressions of faith…..Does this mean that works will be efficacious in themselves? No! They will avail only as the expression and evidence of faith..." (Stam)

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