The first definition of the gospel I taught my kids was: Jesus died for our sins. When looking at those five words with adult eyes, you realize that short statement begs more questions. So what is the gospel?

This is where historical theology (i.e. what Christians in different ages believed about the Bible) can be helpful. Throughout the history of the church, additional questions have been asked to try to gain a better understanding of what exactly the gospel is. Some of those questions have been:

1. Who made us, and to whom are we accountable?
2. What is our problem?
3. What is God’s solution to our problem?
4. How can I be included in his solution?

Throughout the centuries, the four answers given to these four questions have been:

1.  We are created by and accountable to God.
2.  Our problem is our sin against him.
3.  God’s solution is salvation through Jesus Christ.
4.  We come to be included in that salvation by repentance and faith. 

This is as concise and accurate a definition of the gospel as any I’ve seen. And this understanding of gospel doctrine affects our lives. If we live by gospel doctrine, it does change us. How so? 

1.  We have been created by and are accountable to God.

What are the implications for our lives of the fact that God created us and we are accountable to him? 

  • Contingency – I am a contingent being. I am a derivative being. We are not autonomous. Apart from God, I don’t exist. He made me and gives me each breath I breathe. I am a dependent creature.
  • Authority – I am under authority. Because God made the universe, he gets to decide the rules for how the universe operates; for how this life works. If I had the ability to create my own universe, I’d get to decide the rules for how that universe functions. God made this one. Therefore, he gets to call the shots. He defines good and evil.
  • Purpose – I exist for whatever his stated purposes are. Because God made me, he gets to decide what purpose I have in this world.

If I am a contingent being under the authority of God existing for his purposes alone, I should be supremely interested in what he thinks and wants. This aspect to gospel doctrine should cause us to hunger and thirst for God’s Word so that we can learn and discover what he thinks and wants. And we should want to see our lives lived in harmony with it; to think God’s thoughts after him. 

2.  Our problem is our sin against him.

Part of gospel doctrine is that we are sinners. We are deeply messed up people. We have rebelled against and disobeyed God. How does this aspect to gospel doctrine change us? 

  • Sorrow – I have defied the God who made me, loves me, and gives me each breath I breathe. My sin against him cosmic treason. My sin is me committing an act of injustice against God and my heart should be brought to sorrow over this. The imagery used most often in the Scriptures to help us understand sin against God is adultery. That’s the point of an entire book of the Bible: Hosea. Hosea is commanded by God to marry a prostitute and to stay faithful to her in spite of her daily occupation. God uses Hosea’s experience to convey to the people of Israel what their sin is like and what God’s love for them is like in spite of it. 
  • Humility – Given my dependent state and my cosmic treason, I don’t have too many rights I can rigorously cling to. Because I’m more sinful, flawed, and messed-up than I can possibly imagine, humility is in order. 
  • Longing – Sin makes a mess of our personal lives and the world. Every religion in the world agrees there’s something wrong with us. This creates a longing for something more, something much better. We long for a world without sickness and disease. We long for a world without injustice. We long for a world without deterioration. We long for homes without conflict. We long to escape death and live. I should long for freedom from sin and complete holiness. How does longing for something more change us? It creates in us a homesickness for heaven. Are you homesick for heaven? Do you live each day with a view to it?

3.  God’s solution is salvation through Jesus Christ.

Part of gospel doctrine is that God saves us on his initiative alone through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This changes our view of God and in so doing changes us. Consider these beautiful elements to this aspect of gospel doctrine:

  • Love – In the salvation secured for us in Jesus Christ, how much must God love us to do this?  Particularly given our cheating hearts.  
  • Mercy – I’m not getting what I deserve. I deserve the consequences for my sin – which is to be the recipient of God’s justice. Instead, God enacts his justice for my sin on Jesus. On the cross, Jesus got what I deserved. That’s mercy.
  • Grace – I’m getting what I don’t deserve. All the merits and privileges Jesus earned through the perfect life he lived, I am the recipient of when I repent and put my faith in him. This is grace: the unmerited favor of God.

4.  We come to be included in that salvation by faith and repentance.

Part of gospel doctrine is that we get credit for the life Jesus lived and the death he died simply by repenting of our sin and putting our trust in him alone for our salvation. How does this change us?

  • Acceptance – Through Christ, I am accepted by God. I am embraced in the arms of a holy God cherished as one of his children. Having the full and permanent acceptance of God breads tremendous security. If I have the smile of God, all other frowns are inconsequential. Having God’s full and unmerited acceptance causes me to rest. In life, we work our tails off trying to earn the acceptance of people. I can rest from that insane pursuit because I have the smile of God.
  • Gratitude – On a purely human level, I have been most grateful when I have been the recipient of generosity I didn’t feel I deserved. If being the recipient of undeserved generosity is what fuels gratitude, Christians should be the most grateful people on the planet. God saves sinners purely out of his love, mercy, and grace at an infinite cost to himself. That leads to a heart filled with gratitude.
  • Obedience – I want to please the heart of this God who created me, sent his Son to live and die for me, and now embraces me as one of his children. I have been fully and freely accepted by the infinite, holy God through the life Jesus lived and the death he died for me. Is there any more appropriate response to a God like this than to please him through the fruit of our obedience?

Part of the problem in Christianity today is that we have given up or just become lazy in attempting to portray the full glory of the gospel. We are settling for two dimensional snippets of it. Does the gospel take your breath away? Have you ever been overwhelmed by the enormity of it? 

There is one general way the gospel changes us and it’s this: awe. The desires of our hearts, the words of our mouths, the behaviors of our bodies, are driven by a longing for awe.

The most fundamental way our hearts become awe-filled is through the 3 dimensional glory of the gospel. Isn’t it awe-inspiring to consider that though we have rebelled against and defied the God who made us, he still out of his love, mercy, and grace sent his Son into the world to the life we should have lived and die the death we should have died so that we can be saved by his radical grace. That is the 3-dimensional glory of the gospel.  

​This is why ABC will be a church that gives people multiple exposures to the happy news of the gospel from one end of the Bible to the other. We will be a church that seeks to convey the gospel in all of its 3 dimensional glory in order that we may respond to the enormity of it with breath-taking awe.

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