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The Gospel: An “It” or a “He”?

This guest post was written by Dr. Marcus Johnson, assistant professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (excerpt).

Can “the Gospel” Do All that We Say it Can?

The gospel saves. The gospel transforms. The gospel heals. The gospel renews. The gospel liberates.   Such are the familiar refrains that issue forth from our faithful preachers and teachers. But are they right? Can the gospel do all this?

The answer is, of course . . . no, it cannot. Only Jesus himself can.

Wait a Second…

But, it seems right to ask, isn’t the gospel “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes …” (Romans 1:16)? Yes, of course it is.  But surely it makes all the difference what we mean when we so echo the Apostle Paul, especially given that his own experience of salvation was an encounter with the crucified, resurrected Lord himself (Acts 9).  So, which would be more accurate to say: that Paul was saved by the gospel (it), or by Jesus Christ (he)?

If it is the former – that Paul was indeed saved by his experience of the risen Lord – then how shall we think of his assertion that the gospel is the “power of God” for salvation?  Are we to think of the gospel as intrinsically able to save us, that is, apart from the presence of the Savior himself?

Although questions such as these might strike some as mere theological semantics, I submit that the way we conceive of the relationship between Jesus Christ himself, and the good news regarding him, is crucial for how we understand salvation.  In our faithful insistence that the gospel (it) is the power of God for salvation we must be careful never to lose sight of the One who alone can save us (he).

In other words, there may be a danger in how we speak which suggests that something rather than someone is the proper subject of our salvation.

The Gospel and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ

The danger for many Christians – who no longer think of salvation as constituted by a union with the crucified, resurrected, incarnate Son of God – is that the living presence of the Savior becomes unnecessary to the good news about him. In such a case, the gospel about Jesus Christ may begin to assume a role in our language and thought that only Christ can and should bear.  As our evangelical forefathers knew well, we must be able to distinguish between the gospel, which bears witness to Christ, and Christ who is the living reality of that gospel.  “To preach the gospel,” Martin Luther once wrote, “is nothing else than Christ’s coming to us or bringing us to him.”  Similarly, John Calvin noted that God ordained the preaching of his Word “as the instrument by which Jesus Christ, and all his benefits, is dispensed to us.”  Thus, while the preaching of the gospel is never less than revelation about Christ and his saving work, it always involved much more. 

That much more was the self-giving of Christ in and through his gospel; his real presence mediated through the proclamation of the good news. The Reformers knew that unless Christ was truly present through the gospel, preaching would be but an exercise in spiritual reflection or religious instruction, as opposed to the medium of his saving presence. Given our present cultural milieu, in which knowledge is essentially reducible to information—suffering as we do from the hangover of post-enlightenment rationalism—the distinction between knowledge about Christ in his gospel (mental appropriation or assent) and knowing Christ himself through the gospel (experiential intimacy) seems well worth marking.

In the Bible, “knowledge” is characterized by personal and life-giving union, not informational data (though it certainly includes the latter).  Think here of Adam’s knowledge of his wife, Eve; or, more importantly, the Son’s knowledge of his Father. So too, to have saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is to experience intimate union with him, not merely to know about him. Thus, knowledge about the gospel, imperative as it is, can no more save us than can its preacher, unless Jesus Christ is himself present to be experienced as the living reality of that very good news.

The Confusion of Means and Ends

The failure to emphasize the real presence of Christ in his gospel is often characterized by a resultant confusion of means and ends. The gospel is a divinely-ordained means for which Jesus Christ, and union with him, is the end (or goal).  Thus, the gospel can only be called “saving” because it functions as a means through which the Savior is present to bring us into his existence as the crucified, resurrected Lord (e.g., Colossians 1:24-29; Galatians 2:20).

To make the gospel an end rather than a means would be to lose the significance (literally, “the signifying purpose”) of that gospel: to bring us to partake of the One whose gospel it is.  As the Apostle Paul proclaimed it, the gospel ushers us into mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), the mystery of Christ’s union with his Bride (Ephesians 5:32).

The gospel is the gloriously good news about what Jesus Christ has accomplished in his life, death, resurrection and ascension to reconcile us to God and recreate the world.  The offer of the gospel, however, is not enlightened data about what he has done.  The offer of the gospel is none other than Jesus Christ himself, who (through faith and by the Spirit) brings us into his very life as the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended Savior.  To say or suggest otherwise leaves the sinner (and the church!) without her only comfort.

By all means, then, let us proclaim the saving significance of the gospel, but may we never forget that “it” is not very good news at all unless “he” is truly present to save.


Marcus Peter Johnson (PhD, University of Toronto) is assistant professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute. Along with writing his doctoral dissertation on union with Christ in the theology of John Calvin, he is also the author of One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation. He and his wife, Stacie, live in Chicago with their son, Peter, and are members of Grace Lutheran Church.

One with Christ is currently on sale for 40% at Crossway.org.

 

November 22, 2013 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Books,Guest Post,Jesus Christ,Life & Doctrine,The Gospel,The Gospel,Theology,Theology | Author: Crossway Author @ 8:00 am | 0 Comments »

Good News to the Poor (Book Excerpt)

Help them or tell them? Be like Jesus or talk about Jesus? Social action or gospel proclamation?

We can find ourselves gravitating toward one of these modes over the other—maybe even pitting word against deed, as if the two were mutually exclusive. Yet Good News to the Poor shows us how both are integrated in the biblical vision of mission that we would be both loving evangelists and loving activists.

Learn more about Good News to the Poor: Social Involvement and the Gospel by Tim Chester (July 2013). .

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Download a PDF of the excerpt

Praise for Good News to the Poor

Good News to the Poor is good news for readers thinking through the relationship of evangelism to social action. Tim Chester rightly emphasizes the centrality of the gospel as he compares dependency-creating welfare with dignity-embracing development.”
—Marvin Olasky, Editor-in-chief, World News Group

“The Christian church has at its best been known for its exemplary love and sacrificial service to ‘the least of these’: the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. Tim Chester shows that gospel proclamation and tangible acts of love, service, and mercy toward our neighbors should not be pitted against each other—God’s grace motivates action, and words and deeds go together.”
—Justin S. Holcomb, Executive Director of the Resurgence; Adjunct Professor of Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

“Tim Chester provides a timely reminder that Christianity at its best is actually a well-balanced combination of social action and gospel proclamation. This book does an excellent job removing the perceived wall between these two camps. Chester challenges the Christian church to work for justice and peace in the process of calling individuals to conversion and the new birth. This book is a much-needed call for a renewed understanding of the Christian calling.”
—Ben Peays, Executive Director, The Gospel Coalition

“What’s the relationship between the gospel and social action for the believer? I’ve been asked that question many times over the years, and it is one we must answer well. If we do not get the relationship between the gospel and social action right, we will likely end up undermining both of them. This is why Tim Chester’s Good News to the Poor is an essential book for Christians. He argues persuasively and winsomely that gospel proclamation and social action are inseparable.”

—Dan Cruver, Director, Together for Adoption; author, Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living Through the Rediscovery of Abba Father

“A vital challenge to gospel people to follow in the footsteps of William Carey. Consistent, mission-minded evangelicals have always refused to choose between a commitment to gospel proclamation and an active concern for the poor. Tim Chester digs deep into the Bible to show us why both are vital and what it means to be Christ’s people in a world of need.”
—Keith Walker, Director, SIM-UK/N. Europe

“This important, well-written book is a must-read for those looking for a way to integrate word and deed to advance God’s purposes in our needy world.”
—Tom Sine, author, Living on Purpose: Finding God’s Best For Your Life

Learn more | Buy now

Weekly Ebook Specials: Defining, Defending, and Living out the Gospel

Galatians exists for grace.

So says pastor Todd Wilson, author of the newest Preaching the Word volume—Galatians: Gospel-rooted Living. As evidenced by the subtitle, Wilson’s commentary unpacks how the Christian life is entirely rooted in the gospel of grace.

For this week’s ebook specials, we thought it fitting to feature several Crossway books that help us define, defend, and live out this great gospel of grace.

To learn more about each title, click on the covers below to find them at Crossway.org. You’ll also find the ebooks at their reduced prices on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshout, Christianbook.com, eChristian, ibooks (apple), Vyrso, or your participating independent bookstore’s site. Discounted prices available through 7/22/2013.*

Featured New Release:

Galatians: Gospel-rooted Living

Galatians: Gospel-rooted Living

 By Todd A. Wilson, Series edited by R. Kent Hughes

Paul’s letter to the Galatians provides key insights into salvation and the nature of grace. Drawing on years of pastoral ministry, Wilson leads readers through the book’s major themes with exegetical clarity and theological care. A Preaching the Word commentary.

Learn more | Preview an excerpt | Buy now

This Week’s Ebook Specials:

Gospel Wakefulness

Gospel Wakefulness

By Jared C. Wilson, Foreword by Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.

$12.99 $2.99

Wilson’s book will stir churches to live out the power of the gospel with a fervent, genuine zeal. Pastors, church leaders, and all in ministry, especially those who are tired or discouraged, will be uplifted, emboldened, and empowered by this book.

No Other Gospel: 31 Reasons from Galatians Why Justification by Faith Alone Is the Only Gospel

No Other Gospel: 31 Reasons from Galatians Why Justification by Faith Alone Is the Only Gospel

By Josh Moody

$13.99 $2.99

Stemming from a series of sermons delivered to his church, pastor Josh Moody presents the gospel of justification by faith alone, as proclaimed in Galatians. He examines thirty-one reasons Paul gives for this gospel.

What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?

 By Greg Gilbert, Foreword by D. A. Carson

$9.99 $1.99

This contribution to the IXMarks series presents a straightforward statement of the gospel. Author Greg Gilbert guides both Christians and non-Christians to the Bible as we gain a clear understanding of the central message of God’s Word.

The Gospel and Scripture

The Gospel and Scripture: How to Read the Bible

 By Mike Bullmore, Series edited by D. A. Carson, Timothy Keller

$2.99 $0.99

A pastor outlines the relationship between the gospel and all of Scripture and suggests helpful strategies for reading and interpreting the Bible correctly. A Gospel Coalition Booklet.

The Plan

The Plan

By Mike Bullmore, Series edited by D. A. Carson, Timothy Keller

$2.99 $0.99

God has a perfect plan for the world, found in the Bible and centering around his promise to bring sinners to eternal life. Colin Smith traces God’s plan through the making and fulfillment of the promise. A Gospel Coalition Booklet.

 


Coming Up Next Week: Resources for Pastors

*Note: Some discounts may be unavailable outside the United States due to international rights agreements.

July 16, 2013 | Posted in: Church and Ministry,Digital,Discipleship,Preaching and Teaching,The Gospel,Weekly Ebook Specials | Author: Ted Cockle @ 11:26 am | 0 Comments »

Glimpses of Grace – Launch Week Special Offer

This week marks the official release of Gloria Furman’s first book, Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home. Furman reminds women of the gospel’s extraordinary power in ordinary life, helping homemakers see and savor Glimpses of Grace Cover the miraculous in the mundane.

Lauren Chandler shares the following in her foreword:

Glimpses of Grace is not a how-to. It is a true friend’s invitation to see and know the Lord’s steadfast love displayed in every wave, big and small. Gloria offers encouragement rooted in her personal experience and wisdom from saints who have weathered the storms decades and even centuries before us. May you catch glimpses of his steadfast love and find an anchor for your soul.

Launch Week Special

In honor of the book’s release, we’re excited to offer something special. Purchase a copy of Glimpses of Grace from your favorite local or online retailer from June 3-7 and receive a free Glimpses of Grace ebook as well as one of Gloria’s favorite resources—the ESV Study Bible Online (available on ESVBible.org)!

To redeem your free extras, simply scan and email your receipt to glimpses@crossway.org before 11:59am on Friday, June 7.*

Learn more | Preview an excerpt | Watch the video | Buy Now

Watch the Book Trailer

*Note: Any receipts that are not legible, not included, or believed to be fraudulent will be disqualified. Limited to one promotion per person.
June 3, 2013 | Posted in: Books,Children,Family,Giveaways,Joy,Marriage,Parenting,The Gospel,Women, Wives, Mothers | Author: Ted Cockle @ 9:27 am | 0 Comments »

Discounted Ebooks You’ll Actually Read

Last month we featured the existing Book You’ll Actually Read series alongside the release of the newest volume—On the Grace of God.

Given the helpful nature of the series, we wanted to make it available to as many people as possible in its entirety. That’s why we’re pleased to offer the complete series digitally (including Justin Holcomb’s newest volume) for $1.99 each.

To learn more about each book, click on the covers below to find them at Crossway.org. You will also find the ebooks at their reduced prices on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshout, Christianbook.com, eChristian, iTunes/iBooksVyrso, or your participating independent bookstore’s site. Discounted prices available through 5/27/2013.*

Ebooks You’ll Actually Read:

On the Grace of God


On the Grace of God by Justin S. Holcomb

$7.99 $1.99

This small book, which can be read in about an hour, shows how God’s grace is the foundational theme and primary message of all of Scripture.

On Church Leadership

On Church Leadership by Mark Driscoll

$7.99 $1.99

In this concise book, Driscoll puts forth a model of church leadership that is both biblically sound and practically effective.

On Who is God?

On Who Is God? by Mark Driscoll

$7.99 $1.99

It’s one of mankind’s oldest questions, over which countless religions and philosophies have collided: Who is God? This quick read provides clear, biblical answers to who God is and how he relates to us.

On the Old Testament

On the Old Testament by Mark Driscoll

$7.99 $1.99

This quick read gives a solid and simple introduction to the Old Testament. Driscoll answers nine common questions about the Old Testament and gives an overview of the various kinds of OT literature.

On the New Testament

On the New Testament by Mark Driscoll

$7.99 $1.99

This brief book gives a solid and simple introduction to the New Testament. Spend just one hour with this book and you’ll find answers to many common questions about the New Testament, such as, Who wrote it? and Does it contain any errors?

Happy reading!

*Note: Some discounts may be unavailable outside the United States due to international rights agreements.

May 21, 2013 | Posted in: Books,Digital,Discipleship,Ministries,Publishing,The Gospel,The Grace of God,Theology | Author: Ted Cockle @ 8:53 am | (2) Comments »