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Definitions of Doctrine
by C. D. Cole
Volume II- SIN, SALVATION, SERVICE
PART 2-THE BIBLE DOCTRINE OF SALVATION
CHAPTER 2-The Gospel-What It is and What It is Does
Paul was called by the Lord to be a foreign missionary, and is known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. As he lay on the ground on the Damascus road, Christ said to him, Get up, for I am sending thee to the Gentiles: “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me,” (Acts 26:18). After his conversion, commission, and baptism, Paul preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus, proving Jesus to be the very Christ to the discomfiting of the Jews. Because of a plot to kill him, the Apostle goes to Arabia for a season, returning to Damascus, and three years later going to Jerusalem. For the second time, Paul is told that he is to go far hence to the Gentiles; that the people of Jerusalem will not receive his testimony. In obedience to this call, Paul blazes a trail deeper and deeper into heathen territory. He wants to preach the gospel where Christ was not named, so that he might not build upon another man’s foundation. In this spirit of a pioneer he wants to go to Rome and then to Spain. He wants converts at Rome as well as among the Gentiles. He is not ashamed to preach the Gospel anywhere, although he knew it would be met with scorn and contempt. However, he did not expect to preach in vain, and so he says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth;....,” (Rom 1:16).
To understand the audacity of these words we must listen to them with the ears of a Roman. Here was a little insignificant Jew with his head full of notions about another Jew whom the Roman governor had delivered to be crucified in order to satisfy other Jews and keep order in the province. This was what the natural Roman would think about Paul and his message. But Paul knew that he had good news which would bring salvation to everyone who would believe it.
WHAT IS THE GOSPEL
We are fortunate to have a direct Scriptural statement of what the gospel is, but for the sake of clarity, and by way of amplification, we shall treat the question both negatively and positively.
1. The Bible is not the gospel. This is entirely too vague and general as a definition of the gospel. The Bible does indeed contain the gospel, but it contains other truths also. All Bible truth is not gospel truth. In the Bible there is truth about law and sin and death and judgment and numerous other things that are not the gospel. One may preach the gospel. Many think the Old Testament is the law and the New Testament is the gospel. But the truth is that both law and gospel are found in both Testaments. Some of the finest gospel texts are in the Old Testament, while some of the strongest law texts are in the New Testament. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is full of the gospel; from this chapter Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch and he was saved. Paul and others had only the Old Testament from which to preach the gospel.
The law should be preached, just as all the Bible should be preached. The law, properly preached, will reveal to men that they are sinners and slay their self-righteousness. For this purpose Christ preached the law to the rich young man: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16); and to a certain lawyer “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). By the law is the knowledge of sin. Paul did not know that he was a lost sinner until he saw what the law required: “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died,” (Rom. 7:9). The law tells man what he ought to do; the gospel tells the sinner what Christ has done. The law condemns the best man; the gospel justifies the worst man. The law makes demands; the gospel bestows blessings. The law deals in justice: the gospel deals in mercy. The law belongs to the covenant of works; the gospel belongs to the covenant of grace.
2. Baptism is not the gospel. Paul clearly differentiated between baptism and the gospel when he said, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel,” (1 Cor. 11:17). He reminded the Corinthians of the few he had baptized, and then to the church as a whole he said, “I have begotten you through the gospel,” (1 Cor. 4:15).
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not saving sacraments, but preaching symbols. They do not procure salvation, but proclaim salvation through Christ. They are not saving acts, but contain a saving message in symbol or picture. Baptism does indeed wash away sin symbolically or figuratively, but the blood of Christ washes it away actually. Baptism has its place in the Christian life, but it must not become a substitute for the blood of Christ as an object of faith or trust.
3. The Church is not the gospel. Joining the church is not the same as believing the gospel. One should believe the gospel before joining the church.
4. The new birth is not the gospel. The new birth is an experience—a work wrought in us; the gospel is the good news of something done for us. The gospel is objective light (2 Cor. 4:4); the new birth gives subjective light so that the gospel can be savingly understood: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Cor. 4:6); “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” (John 3:3). The gospel is the story of what Christ did on the cross; the new birth is what the Holy Spirit does in us when He imparts life to us. Justification is the result of Christ’s death for us; “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;” (Rom. 4:24); regeneration is the effect of the Holy Spirits work in us. Justification is life imputed; regeneration is life imparted.
5. Repentance is not the gospel. Repentance is what the sinner must do to be saved; the gospel is what Christ has already done for our salvation. “Repent ye and believe the gospel.” Here repentance and the gospel are differentiated. No man is saved by faith in his repentance; he is saved by faith in the gospel.
6. Faith is not the gospel. The gospel is the object of faith. Saving faith is in the gospel. Faith does not save; it is faith in the gospel that saves. We do not have a perfect faith to be saved, but there must be a perfect gospel.
1. The gospel is good news. The acid test of a gospel message: is it good news to bad men? The gospel is for sinners; it is the revelation of the righteousness God has provided through Christ for the unrighteous: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith,” (Rom. 1:17).
2. The gospel is good news about a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. “For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12). Men are not saved by doing this and that, or going here and there; they are saved by coming to the Lord Jesus Christ, who has so graciously said, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” (John 6:37b). Salvation is not a matter of geography. There is not a safe spot from the wrath of God anywhere. Salvation is not in bodily flight; it is in heart trust in Him Who is our passover, sacrificed for us.
3. The gospel consists of certain historical facts with a certain and particular theory or explanation of those facts. The facts are given us in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4: “...Christ died for our sins....; was buried, and... rose again ..” Or as Paul puts it in Romans 4:25: “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
The least part of a fact is the visible part of it, and has no meaning without an explanation, and so Paul not only gives the facts but also explains them. The mere fact that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified is no more the gospel than that the two criminals were crucified beside Him. It is the explanation of the facts that makes His death the gospel rather than their deaths. His death was the death of Christ, the Son of God, and it was for our sins.
Christ, the Son of God, died for our sins. What does that mean? Some claim that it merely means that Christ died on our behalf, but not our Substitute. They insist that we should have no theory of the atonement, but with a little investigation we find that such people have a theory of the atonement. Let them tell us how Christ could die on our behalf—how His death could save us—unless He died as our Substitute to render satisfaction to Divine justice for our sins. For His death to save us, it must cancel our guilt before the law of God, and how could it cancel our guilt unless He suffered for the guilt that was ours? He suffered, the Just for the Unjust, and how could this be unless He suffered in our room and stead? Christ dying as a martyr for a good cause, or as a mere example of faithfulness unto death, or as a gesture of love to conquer the human heart, would in no sense redeem sinners from the curse of the law. Divine justice calls for Divine punishment, and the only way the sinner can escape judgment is for Christ to bear the punishment due the sinner. Those who deny blood atonement worship a god different to that of the Bible, and practice a religion different to that of the Bible.
WHAT THE GOSPEL DOES
In a word, it saves all who trust it. And the gospel to be trusted is what Christ, the Son of God, did in laying down His life for our sins and taking it up again for our justification. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek,” (Rom.1:16), is usually made to mean that the preaching of the gospel has power to convert sinners, that is, to make believers. But this is not what the verse says. It is the power of God to or for believers. It presupposes a believer. The gospel saves believers, but it has no power to make believers. The preaching of the gospel is the means of making believers, for faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. We repeat that the preaching of the gospel is the necessary means to faith, for “how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” If sinners are saved, the gospel must be preached to them as the means to faith and resultant salvation. However, there is a difference between means to faith and the power for faith. The power to make believers is in the effectual call of the Holy Spirit. Paul preached Christ crucified indiscriminately to the Jew and Greek. To the natural Jew such a gospel was a stumbling block, and to the natural Greek it was foolishness; but the called, both Jews and Greeks, saw the wisdom and power of God in the plan of salvation through a crucified Christ.
The apostle is not writing about the power of his preaching, but of the power of what he preached. What he preached, Christ crucified, had power to cancel the sin-debt. We sing “There is power in the blood,” by which we mean that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin. That which is shameful and foolish to the masses is the very thing God uses to save sinners. What Christ did in death and resurrection has power to cancel the sin-debt. The gospel was provided by God; it was not a human expedient. God put His Son to death; He laid on Christ our iniquity. We are not saved because men killed Jesus: that was murder. We are saved because He was striken, smitten of God, and afflicted. God sacrificed His own Son for our safety. Amazing and sensational? —yes! But we must remember that sin is terrible in its nature and effects, and nothing but a sensational remedy will avail.
Here is a man who has committed murder for which the penalty is death by hanging. The murderer was acting as the tool of another man who, himself, was under sentence of death, with no provision for pardon. But the law allows a substitute for the murderer. The substitute is found and is hanged in the murderer’s place out of love for the doomed man. Now the death of the substitute cancels the guilt of the murderer and sets him free. It is the power of the court and also power with the court. The court is satisfied with the death of the substitute and the guilty man goes free. To interpret this parable: man became a sinner against God as a dupe of the devil, who was already a sinner under sentence with no provision for pardon. The Divine law allowed a substitute for the human sinner. The Son of God gladly gave Himself as the sinner’s substitute, suffering, the Just for the unjust, that the sinner might not perish in his sins.
BENEFICIARIES OF THE GOSPEL
Paul says, “To every one that believeth.” The death of Christ does nobody any good who scorns it and refuses to trust it. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” (John 3:36).
A fuller discussion of saving faith must be reserved for a later article the Lord enabling. However, there is space for a few words here and now. There is so much that passes for faith that we must be on our guard lest we mistake what saving faith is. Saving faith is something more than the mere assent of the mind to a proposition, however true; it is heart trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Saving faith is not being satisfied with self; it is being satisfied with what Christ did on the cross for our salvation. One who is once satisfied with Christ will never be satisfied with anything else.
The value of faith depends upon the worth of its object. If I trust an object or a person that cannot or is not willing to save me, then my faith has no value—it is vain faith, however strong. Faith itself may be dangerous, as well as saving. It is safe to trust the Lord Jesus Christ, because He is both willing and able to save. He is able to save because He is alive. No dead person can be a real Saviour, and must not be an object of faith. It is the office of a priest to make sinners right with God. Old Testament Priests could not make sinners right with God because of two things; they could not continue as priests, and they did not have saving sacrifices to offer—the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin. But Christ continues forever, and hath an unchangeable priesthood: “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them,” (Heb. 7:25). Here is ground for saving faith, and a challenge to strong faith. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
“HALLELUJAH! Jesus saves me;
Oh, the sweet and precious story!
I will give Him all the Glory,
And adore His love to me.
“HALLELUJAH! Jesus hears me;
When in prayer His throne addressing,
While in faith I seek His blessing,
Then His smile revealed I see.
“HALLELUJAH! Jesus leads me;
I will doubt His promise never,
But believing, followed ever
Him who gave His life for me.
“HALLELUJAH! Jesus keeps me;
In the Rock He safely hides me,
Every comfort He provides me,
Never friend so dear as He.”
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