Revisiting the gospel
Revisiting the Gospel
“How much more . . . shall we be saved through His life.” Romans 5:10
In Galatians 3:1–3 (NIV84) we read this: “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”
Paul doesn’t pull any punches, does he? And here he is asking a question that I think we need to regularly ask ourselves. Am I believing or am I bewitched? In other words, am I still believing the gospel as I first received it, or have I allowed myself to be bewitched - deceived, or side-tracked? Paul here was asking the question: “Having accepted the gospel by faith, and begun to walk in the new life of the Spirit, are you now trying to live your Christian life under your own steam, and by your own efforts?
Today, when the fruits of human ingenuity have so transformed life and where confidence in human potential has probably never been greater, there is a real danger that our default position as Christians has become identical to the default position of the world at large – which is, in the words of an old Beatles song, “we can work it out”. Give me some time; let me work on this for a while; let me make a bit more of an effort at it; let me get some expert advice; let me Google it; and I will sort it out for myself. Gone is submission to God and faith in His Word and His way - subtly replaced by unshakable self-confidence and independence, and with it has gone a sizeable chunk of the gospel.
Paul was a real stickler over the gospel – not just giving the good news to people who had never heard it, and he did a lot of that, but also reminding Christians about it whenever he got the chance. He wrote to the Corinthians saying “. . . I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you” (1 Corinthians 15:1 (NIV84)) “, and to the Christians in Rome: I have written to you quite boldly on some points, . . .to remind you of them again, . . . Romans 15:15 (NIV84).
He even tells his young protégé Timothy to do the same thing, urging him to: “Keep reminding them of these things.” (2 Timothy 2:14 (NIV84) Peter also emphasized the importance of being reminded of the gospel. In his second letter he wrote: So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.
(2 Peter 1:12 (NIV84) While James emphasizes the blessings that follow from continually reminding ourselves of the truths of the gospel saying: “. . . the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, (that’s the gospel), and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25 (NIV84)
So, if great men of God understood the critical importance of reminding ourselves of the gospel, then surely we should make sure we do too. And that’s my excuse for today’s message. But before you silently groan at the thought of a repeat of a standard gospel presentation and slip off into day dreams of your own, I want us to focus this morning on what I think is the key area of the gospel where 21st Century Christians are most easily bewitched and deceived. It is what I think of as the “much more” of the gospel that Paul described in his letter to the Romans when he said: 10For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Romans 5:10 (NIV84). How much more . . . shall we be saved through His life. That is a verse that tells us that the gospel is not just about salvation through the forgiveness of our sins, but also about receiving and living the abundant, meaningful and God glorifying life that Jesus promised when he said :”I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV84)
Whether the gospel comes through fiery preaching or by relationship-based sharing, we can sometimes think of it as simply the message of receiving forgiveness for our sins through Christ’s sacrificial death. And this is the transaction that secures our eternal future in heaven and if received by faith, sees our names written indelibly in what the book of Revelation calls the “Lambs Book of Life”. (Revelation 21:27 (NIV84))
Certainly it is true that the gospel DOES provide for the forgiveness of our sins. Paul writes to the Corinthians: 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3 (NIV84). Similarly he says to the Colossians: 13 “. . . He forgave us all our sins, (Colossians 2:13 (NIV84); and to the Ephesians he writes: 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, (Ephesians 1:7 (NIV84)
Forgiveness through Christ’s sacrificial death is the core of the gospel. But it is not the whole gospel – as Paul said, there is much, much more. Indeed, if the gospel were just about the forgiveness of our sins then we’d have to say that it plainly does not help us at all with the HOW of the Christian life. How do we actually live out the Christian life that begins once our sins are forgiven?
Let me illustrate this whole problem for you.
Just beneath Abraham Darby’s famous “Ironbridge” over the River Severn in Shropshire, I once, now many years ago, visited a coracle maker’s hut. Coracles, as you probably know, are small oval shaped boats – a bit like a giant water-proof wicker basket and they were traditionally used by river fishermen in Wales.
Put simply, the coracle does two things for a river fisherman. First it saves him from getting wet in the river and secondly it enables him to do what he is in the river for – move around in the river to catch fish.
Just for a moment imagine yourself sitting on the flat-wooden seat that runs across the middle of the coracle with the single bladed paddle in your hands as you push out from the bank into the flow of the river. Instantly, you are experiencing the first function of a coracle working beautifully. You are out in the river and still bone dry! How then do you think you will make this boat go in the chosen direction and so achieve your second purpose of catching yourself some fish?
Well, if you rely on your common sense you might put the blade of the single paddle into the water to one side of the coracle and push it back hard. But if you do, you will quickly realise that there is a definite knack to propelling a coracle in a chosen direction and that this isn’t it (!) – because the boat will simply spin in a circle. The harder you “row” like this the faster you will spin round. So, after recovering from a dose of vertigo, you will need to try a different strategy. Your common sense might now tell you to try dipping the paddle into each side of the craft alternately and pulling back. That will stop the spin if you’re quick enough, but sadly it also produces a very unhelpful pitching and rolling motion which would probably try the stomach of even a seasoned sea-farer. Worse, if persisted with, that accentuated pitch and roll tends to lead to more river coming into the coracle than you would really like, and “at the last”, as they say, to an urgent need to abandon ship!
In fact, the secret to making a coracle move in the right direction and avoid sinking, is not common sense. It is enlightenment. You need to know something! For some reason, known to science no-doubt, but certainly not to me, you need to lean gently forward on your seat, put the single paddle into the water in front of the boat just left or right of centre and describe a figure of eight. The result of drawing continuous figures of eight in the water with the paddle is that boat will move quite happily in the right direction.
Now the object lesson from all this is that just as we need to apply the right principles to see a coracle properly deliver its potential to keep us dry and get us from A to B, so we need to apply the right principles to see the gospel deliver its potential to produce an effective Christian life. Any other approach, common sense or not, simply won’t cut the mustard!
Along with other things, the gospel actually answers TWO key questions:
1.“How can I be forgiven for my sins and be reconciled to God?” and,
2.“How am I to live the Christian life?”
The problem with thinking that the gospel is only about the forgiveness of sins is that we have no answer to that second question “How am I to live the Christian life?” and, in the absence of further enlightenment, as in the case of the coracle, our common sense kicks in. Typically, in this case, that involves applying our own efforts to develop a range of “approved” and “desirable” Christian behaviours – so we read our Bible, pray daily, join a church and attend regularly, we get involved in doing good works, the most earnest may even go to the church Quiz Night! We do these things with the best intentions of course, and they are good things to do, but our common sense has led us into a crucial error.
And here’s the error: If our own efforts and righteousness were of no value whatsoever in securing forgiveness of our sins, why do we now think that our own efforts will suddenly enable us to live a righteous, fruitful, and God pleasing Christian life? “You foolish Galatians!”, I hear Paul shout! We have been bewitched into thinking that whilst the gospel provides us with forgiveness for our sins by faith, it then leaves us entirely to our own devices to crack day-to-day Christian living.
While accepting the forgiveness of our sins through Christ’s work on the cross is essential, it is not the FULL gospel. The full gospel is that forgiveness and then submission to Jesus opens the door to Him to live His life in and through us.
Listen to this really amazing scripture: “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.” (1 John 4:15, NIV84) In our Christian living many of us are simply not hearing that message – yet it is here in the Word as plain as pikestaff. “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.” We may have acknowledged that Jesus is the Son of God; we may have accepted Him as our Saviour who has forgiven our sins; but perhaps we have not fully realised, or we are not yet fully living in the reality, that once we acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, our Saviour, GOD HAS COME TO LIVE IN US AND WE ARE NOW LIVING IN GOD. This must have been the problem with some of the Christians in Corinth because Paul was prompted to ask them very plainly: in 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV84) “— Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you—?”
The result of not walking moment by moment in this part of the gospel is that we are not fully enjoying the good of what God has provided for us through Christ. In effect we have accepted the FORGIVENESS of the gospel but remain deaf, dumb and blind to the LIFE of the gospel. Isn’t this part of what Jesus was talking about when He said: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” in (John 14:6, NIV84).
In Romans 6, Paul tells us that our salvation through the gospel involves not just dealing with our sins through Christ’s crucifixion, but also receiving a whole new life in Christ through His resurrection. Listen: “4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (Romans 6:4–5 NIV84) According to Paul then, if one half of the gospel is that we have eternal forgiveness of our sins, the other half is that we now have a whole new, Christ empowered life, because Jesus is risen from the dead!
Whether we are walking in the truth of it or not, the gospel tells us that at salvation Jesus Christ came into us and we became one with Him. He now lives in and through us. But don’t take my word for it, Paul’s letters continually reference that Christ is in us when we become born again Christians. Here are just a very few of the more obvious ones:
1.(Colossians 1:27, NIV) “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
2.(1 Corinthians 3:16, NIV84) Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”
3.(Galatians 2:20, NIV) “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
4. (Galatians 4:6, NIV84) “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. . .,”
Remember too that Jesus Himself was just as clear as Paul about the fact that He is in us as believers for he said: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. (John 15:4, NIV)
The amazing truth of the gospel then is not just that our sins are forgiven and our eternal future in Heaven is secured. The gospel also makes it clear that we actually become a container for Christ’s life here on earth and that this happens not by our own striving and effort, not because we have earned it by our dedicated determination, but that like our forgiveness, living in His life, moment by moment, comes by faith - by trusting and believing.
Living the Christian life is not dependent on our PERFORMANCE, on being good enough, or determined and disciplined enough, but solely by our faith in Christ. Seeking to live the Christian life under our own steam and ignoring the truth of what Paul calls “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) is like buying a sports car with an impressive and powerful engine but then spending your life just pushing it along! It’s no wonder Paul calls that kind of behaviour “foolish”. The Christian life is not a matter of method, technique, effort or common sense; it is a matter of enlightenment to a whole new principle of life, the principle that Paul declared to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20 (NIV84) This is a crucial component of the full message of the gospel that we must continually remind ourselves of.
So what, in practice, does the life of God living in us look like? Well, the simplest answer to that question is that it looks like Jesus. “Jesus is our example”. In Matthew 11:29a Jesus tells us: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” . When He said “learn from me” I think he meant that we should use Him as our example. So, how did Jesus live while He was here on earth in His human body? What, if you like, was the yoke that Jesus told us to take on ourselves? The answer, I think, is that His yoke was to submit to doing the will of the Father but to do it not out of His own strength, but out of the Father’s strength. Jesus though co-equal in the Trinity, didn’t use His own divine power at all while here on earth. Instead, He allowed the Father to live through Him so that the Father’s life could bring about the Father’s will through His Son’s body.
•In John 5:19 we read that Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself;
•In John 5:30 we read again that Jesus said: “By myself I can do nothing;. . . ”
•In John 14:24 we read that Jesus said “. . . These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”
•In John 10:32 we read: “but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. “
•Finally, in John 10:38 we read that Jesus said: “. . . even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.””
Jesus did not try to live His life on earth, His Christian life, out of His own divine resources. He let the Father live His life through Him. Jesus lived out of the resources of the Father. In the same way, we are called to take Christ’s yoke and let Him live His life through us.
Why was Paul so angry with the Galatians because they were not living in this truth? Why is this so important for us? It is vitally important because if we don’t live out of Christ in us:
•We become deceived into the Galatian’s foolish error of thinking that we can achieve God’s goal for our lives by our own efforts;
•We instantly are cut off from the only means by which living the Christian life is possible;
•We continually frustrate God’s purposes because our lives are not available for God to use as He chooses; and,
•We fail to bring glory to God which ultimately is why you and I are here on earth right now.
Living this life is NOT about making a supreme EFFORT to live as He wants us to, - rather it is the experience of ALLOWING Jesus to live His life THROUGH us. The gospel is NOT just about salvation through the forgiveness of our sins. It is also about a moment by moment walk in submission to Christ who is now IN us.