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What is the Gospel? Learning to avoid Reducing the Gospel (Part 4)

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In the following few posts I will be discussing the chief characteristics of the gospel in the life of the early apostolic church, taken from the following few texts. The first is that the gospel is irreducible, second the gospel is central and third, the gospel is Christ centered. Now let’s look at the first attribute of the gospel which is irreducible.

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Learning to avoid Reducing the Gospel

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…”


1 Corinthians 15: 1-11

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Rom 1: 1 – 4

1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

2 Timothy 2: 8 – 9

8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.

Rom 16: 25 – 27

25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

First of all, we need to recognize that the above text, 1 Cor 15: 1-10, is a summary statement about the Gospel. Here Paul is reminding (not instructing) what the Gospel is, which he heart-of-gospelspersonally taught the Corinthians while he was among them. The “I…Remind you” therefore signals that what Paul is going to say next should be taken as a summary of the Gospel, but not a full description of the gospel. As such therefore, we need to unpack each sentence to see, for ourselves, what Paul presupposes that the Corinthian already know.

What one needs to bear in mind, as all summaries do, is that every sentence (in 1 Cor 15: 1-10) is a condensed statement that brings to mind cluster of meanings and contexts that was commonly shared between Paul and the Corinthians.

For example, If I comment “9/11 changed America forever!” I simply presupposed the reader to be fairly acquainted with the 9/11 event and what those numbers represent. In other words, I assumed my reader would know several things about 9/11 before hand. So then I intended my summery statement to bring to the reader’s mind what we both share to be true namely: the horrific Tuesday morning that filled NYC with terror, the fall of the twin towers, the war on terror, the crash of the financial market, world wide instability, tightened security measures…the list goes on and on. That simple statement would bring to the reader’s mind all of those and more. Those are the things I wanted my reader to think about, when I said “9/11 changed America forever!” and that is what I meant to say. I haven’t explained what 9/11 stands for and said little about the negative weight of the summary statement. However few decades from now, this statement will mean very little and several years later this summary word may be subjected to several silly interpretations as far as the numbers are concerned.

When Paul wrote those words, his readers understood the significance and weight of his summery very well. Paul was not attempting to reduce the Gospel to simple words so that he could communicate the Gospel very clearly. The contrary is true, just as my above statement was never intended to reduce 9/11 to few words, so Paul never intended to reduce the Gospel to simple words, namely that “Christ died, buried and was raised again”. These simple words were intended to bring to mind all of Paul’s teaching concerning the Gospel. I would like to remind you that Paul spent 1 1/2 years in this Church, according to Acts 18: 5-11, by the instruction of the risen Jesus (stayed very long when compare with his average missionary stay- next to Ephesus (3 years))

Therefore we need to refrain from commenting that the Gospel is “ABC” to mean – simple so that more things should be added to make it complex for all of life[1]. In the words of one Author, the Gospel is rather “A-Z”. ABC leaves out D to Z while A to Z assumes all of the Alphabets. Therefore Paul was summarizing the Gospel in “A-Z ” manner. When he first came to this church:

when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimonyof God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. ….4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.  6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”

The statement: For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucifiedis again a summary statement. It’s equivalent of saying that he preached the whole of Matthew (or Mark or Luke or John), starting from the birth of, Jesus Christ, all the way through the atoning death of, him crucified. What Paul said here is consistent to what he’s been saying through out his epistles. When he first came to Corinth, he presented the Gospel in A-Z manner with out leaving anything out. However to the mature, he then fleshes out the Gospel in its fullness and implication to the believer in light of God’s eternal purposes. (see Mystery-Revelation section for fuller discussion).

We usually reduce the Gospel in the following two ways. First of all, to so many of us, the gospel is what grant us entry in to God’s kingdom, thus Gospel is equated with evangelism. Consequently, we explicitly think through the Gospel only whenever reach out to unbelievers. We preach the Gospel when unbelievers visit our churches, at funerals, wedding ceremonies, or at evangelistic out reaches. Otherwise, we would prefer to hear a more“in-depth” sermons.

For example, if you give me a movie ticket as a free gift, the ticket is valid as long as I got in to the theatre. Afterwards, I keep it in my pocket as a proof of purchase and I move on enjoying my film. The Gospel is extremely important to us but it is like the ticket, preliminary. The real deal/ life-changing process comes through our spiritual disciplines, discipleship, fasting, mentoring, small groups, accountability, confession of faith, laying hands, tithing (if present trend continues, the more one gives money the more holier one gets)… I believe in most of the above. However unless all of above explicitly flow out naturally from the understanding of the Gospel, you and me have begun to deny the Gospel and the power there of.

As in the words of Jesus: “Seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness and everything else will be added on to you” The Gospel is said to be the announcement of the Kingdom. We should find our selves each day continually thinking through the Gospel of Jesus Christ (the good news of Jesus the Messiah-King) because His Gospel is the power of God on to salvation. May the Spirit of Christ ignite our hearts and enlighten our understanding to grasp the glory of the Gospel:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor 4: 3-6 

4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,…This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Eph 3: 4, 6

the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. …We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.

Second, we reduce the Gospel by how we choose to understand it. The gospel is usually understood in its contracted sense of the word, that is to say “Christ died, buried and was raised to life so that by believing in his name one receives an eternal life”. This statement is absolutely true. But it is extremely narrow and leaves out several crucial elements of the Gospel.

Therefore we should all have this penetrating insight in to the truth of the Gospel, as those who have pass from death to life because of it. Let’s bury its mystery deep in our hearts so that everything that we say and do come right out of the context of the Gospel. This then takes me to the next thing that Paul says.

Next we will talk about the centrality of the gospel as presented in the above biblical texts. It’s going to be a little bit lengthy.

[1]The folly of what we preach to save those who believe “ 1 Cor 1: 18-31. One needs to note that the foolishness & the scandal (offence) of the gospel is not because it is received simply by faith. Jews had category for that: namely the obedience of Faith. The wall of Jericho fell empty-handed; Israel crossed the red sea unaided…etc. The Jews had no offence at the gospel being a result of a simple act of faith. What made the Gospel an offence is the word of the Cross. It was not the mention of the word ‘Cross’, but what it represented. Believing that the holy Messiah associated with an offence, the death of the cross was scandalous. Because we live in a society the word ‘cross’ is very domesticated to mean the religious (partly due to the context we live in), this offence has been removed for us. But you need to note that the word cross represent an offence in so far as when one is a “Criminal, molester, murderer” is an offence, and you would not associate your Lord with it. That is the offence, not that the gospel being an act of faith.

© 2013 – 2014, Samson Tilahun. All rights reserved.

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