Greatness of the Gospel (2)

M. S. Staveley, Bradford on Avon

Part 2 of 4 of the series The Greatness of the Gospel

Category: Contemporary Issues

The Gospel of the Kingdom, Matt. 4. 23; 9. 35; 24. 14; kingdom of God, Mark. 1. 14; Luke 8. 1.

This was the gospel preached to Israel by our Lord in His ministry, and it is therefore understandable that the great majority of references (over 100) to the kingdom of heaven (only found in Matthew), and kingdom of God, occur in the three synoptic gospels, with only four more in John and seven in Acts. References in the epistles are few, and at least half of these have a future rather than a present bearing.

The comprehensive presentation of the gospel in the Roman epistle includes the truth of the kingdom and its intended effects for believers, notwithstanding that there is only one use of the term, in chapter 14, verse 1 7. This however contains the best description of the effects of this aspect of the gospel, as mentioned in the previous article. The Lordship of Christ, and thus divine rule, is greatly stressed in Romans 14, while the necessity for the obedience of faith is constantly pressed in the epistle, especially in chapter 6. Linked with the thought of divine rule and authority is divine power, so dramatically evidenced in the miracles performed by our Lord, and summed up by His statement to the Pharisees, 'But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons then indeed the kingdom of God is come upon you', Matt. 12. 28 (JND); it is also emphasized by Paul in saying to the Corinthians, 'the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power', 1 Cor. 4. 20. The effect of the exercise of divine power is deliverance, which is developed by Paul in its application to the believer in Romans 6, 7 and 8, covering deliverance from sin and the world, from the law and from the flesh. Deliverance from Satan's power is also a prime objective in the gospel, as is clear from the Lord's commission to Paul in Acts 26. 18, and from Colossians 1. 13, where believers are said to have been delivered by God the Father from the power (authority, JND) of darkness (i.e. Satan) and translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love, (AV margin and JND).

These are the positive blessings in view for believers in the gospel of the kingdom. As to other effects, involving our response, Paul's epistles to the Thessalonians present the thoughts of a walk (life) worthy of 'God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory', and of our being 'counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer', 1 Thess. 2. 12; 2 Thess. 1. 5. This clearly involves our being in the gain of deliverance, and being obedient to the will of God, particularly to the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ as in Romans 14; also our being prepared to suffer, if necessary, for His sake.

The Gospel of the Grace of God, Acts 20. 24
Although this title occurs in only one passage, Acts 20. 24, there are many references to the grace of God in the New Testament, and it is significant that the apostle Paul chose this title to describe his gospel ministry in speaking to the Ephesian elders.

Again, reference to Romans is helpful in elaborating the title, for that epistle has many references to the grace of God. Thus in 3. 24, we are 'justified freely by his grace'. In chapter 4, grace is contrasted with law as the regime under which God bestows upon man in the gospel the righteousness of faith, v. 13. Abraham is cited as an example of God's dealings in grace, on the basis of promise, many years before the law came in. Our blessing is 'on the principle of faith, that it might be according to grace'; v. 16. (JND). Romans 5 is a chapter which magnifies the grace of God. In verse 2, it is the grace, or favour, in which we stand as having been justified by faith in the word of God in the gospel. From verse 12, the apostle is dealing with the matter of sin, rather than sins, these having been considered up to the triumphant conclusion in verse 11, where we can boast in God, receiving the reconciliation (not atonement, as in AV.), Rom. 5. 11.

Consideration of sin inherited from Adam, on the one hand, and 'the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ', which has 'abounded unto many', leads to the statement that 'they who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ', Rom. 5. 15, 17. At the conclusion of the chapter the apostle proclaims that 'where sin abounded, grace did much more abound', with the triumphant objective that, over against sin's reign unto death (for man in his natural, fallen state), 'even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord'. This, of course, will be reflected in the lives of believers.

The gospel of the grace of God therefore extends well beyond the knowledge of forgiveness for past sins, and views the believer as reckoned righteous (justified) in Christ by faith. He is thus able to live here in righteousness to the glory of God and Christ our Lord and Saviour, and in the enjoyment of eternal life. This is a wonderful transformation; and while the believer has to go through the spiritual experience of Romans chapters 6, 7 and 8 before it can be realized practically, the gospel of the grace of God has no lesser objective in view, leading on to chapter 12, with the believer presenting his (or her) body to God as a living sacrifice. The truth in that and subsequent chapters holds for those who are spiritual and ensures the proper functioning of the assembly.

The Gospel of God, 1 Thess. 2. 2, 8, 9; 2 Cor. 11. 7; Rom. 15. 16; 1 Pet. 4. 17.
If the great principle of the gospel of the kingdom, as suggested, is rule, that of the gospel of God is authority; for there can be none higher than God Himself.

Before considering the scriptures which use this title of the gospel, it is appropriate to stress that belief in the gospel is belief in the testimony of that supreme authority, God Himself. This is seen nowhere more clearly than in the history of Abraham, 'the father of us (believers) all', Rom. 4. 16, as recorded by the Holy Spirit. Romans chapter 4, which presents Abraham as the model believer, sets this out very clearly. Verse 17 refers to him as being 'before him whom he believed'; verse 19 says that he 'considered not ' (his own natural limitation through old age); verse 20, that 'he hesitated (staggered, AV.) not' but 'found strength in faith'; verse 21, 'being fully persuaded that what God had promised He was able also to do'; and in verse 24, all are now called upon to 'believe on Him' who has raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

It is of course very important that the gospel should be seen as carrying the authority of God Himself, and Paul was clearly at pains to stress this. Instance his speaking to the men of Athens in Acts 17, when he said, 'God . . . now commands ail men everywhere to repent'. And this authority of God was evidently in his mind in writing both to the Thessalonians and the Corinthians. In chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, God is prominent in his thoughts throughout. Inverse 2, Paul indicates that his boldness in preaching the gospel to them derived from God Himself, in that it was H is gospel that was being presented; in verse 4, that in entrusting him and his brethren Silvanus and Timothy with His gospel message, God had shown His approval of them for this purpose. They therefore sought to please not men but God, who proves (tries) the heart. In verses 8 and 9, Paul expresses their delight in being able to bring God's gospel to the Thessalonians without making any charge upon them. The same point is also made in 2 Corinthians 11. 7.

Then in 1 Thessalonians 2. 12 he recalls his exhortation that they should walk worthy of God, the One who by His gospel had called them to have partin His own kingdom and glory. Finally, Paul emphasizes that the message the Thessalonians had received was not man's word, but truly God's word, with all the authority and seriousness that that implies. The Thessalonians themselves were living evidence that God's word was powerful enough to change lives.

This emphasis on God in these epistles can be easily understood if it is remembered that, in common with many others in the Greek-speaking world, they were previously sunk in gross idolatry, worshipping false gods. While identical conditions may not seem to apply today in the Western world, it is no less important now for people to understand that the gospel is God's word, with all the authority of the One who is omnipotent. Their response to it will determine their eternal destiny; either blessing if they believe, or unsparing judgment if they remain in disbelief and disobedience. The words of Peter in this respect are very solemn. After alluding to judgment, he says, 'what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?', 1 Pet. 4. 17.

However, the gospel of God has in view the positive blessing of all who obey it. The apostle Paul preached the gospel of God as a sacrificial service 'that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable (i.e. to God), being sanctified by the Holy Ghost', Rom. 15. 16.

The Gospel of the Glory of the Blessed God, 1 Tim. 1. 11.
This literal rendering of the description of the gospel used in 1 Timothy 1. 11 conveys precious thoughts which are lost if glory is connected with the gospel, and not with God. The title as used here by Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is linked with the expression 'sound doctrine', v. 10. This is over against the characteristics of sinners condemned by law - whether specifically the Mosaic law, or any reasonable system of law such as Rome's in the time of Paul. This commendation of law by the apostle may be thought strange in view of his dismissal of the law as a basis for divine blessing in other epistles, notably Romans and Galatians. But it is in the context of his scathing reference to those persons 'desiring to be law-teachers', v. 7 JND; and his acknowledgement of the law as being 'good if a man uses it lawfully'. Some form of law is essential in any community if the worst excesses are to be controlled for the general good.

In using this description of the gospel, Paul could hardly have drawn a greater contrast than that between the depravity which masks man and the glory of a God who is invisible to mortal man, 'dwelling in light unapproachable' etc., see 6. 16. He is 'of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity', Hab. 1. 13. But this is entirely in keeping with the wonder of the gospel. It would be appropriate to link this reference to the glory of God with another of Paul's statements; 'all have sinned, and come ('fall', present tense) short of the glory of God', Rom. 3. 23. That is, it is nothing less than the glory of God Himself by which man is to be, and will be, judged. There is only one blessed Man, 'Jesus Christ the Righteous', 1 John 2. 1, who has never come short of that glory. Much more than this, of course, is conveyed by the statement in Hebrews 1. 3, that He (the Son) is the effulgence, or outshining, of God's glory and the expression of His substance, or essential Being; (see JND footnote). If only people could realise what the glory of God is, and compare their own lives with it as exemplified in Jesus Christ, they would surely realise their need to be saved entirely by God's grace. Paul goes on to speak of the mercy and grace that had reached out to him, and dramatically changed his life, 1 Tim. 1. 13-16.

It is interesting, and significant, that Paul writes of the gospel of the blessed God, the Greek word for 'blessed', makarios, being sometimes used to convey the thought of happiness or deep satisfaction, and translated as 'happy' in John 13. 17; Acts 26. 2; 1 Cor. 7. 40; 1 Pet. 3. 14; 4. 14. In all other references to God as 'blessed', the word used is eulogeetos, derived from the word eulogio meaning 'speaking well of (as in English 'eulogy'). While we should be careful as to the terms we apply in speaking of God, the inference is that divine pleasure and satisfaction are intimately involved in God's gospel. Indeed, it would not be too much to say that this is the great end in view, the blessing of sinful mankind being, in a sense, incidental to that end. If this is realized, it not only elevates the preaching of the gospel to the highest level, but it will ensure that the gospel is presented in a way, and in terms, that are worthy of God, having His own objective in view and not simply man's relief. Would that this could be said of the presentation of the gospel today!

Then there are other scriptures which connect the glory of God with the gospel. The previous article referred to Abraham as a prototype of the Christian believer, as shown by Romans 4. It is therefore significant that Stephen began his powerful address to the Jewish council with the words 'The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia', Acts 7. 2. It is no less significant that when he had ended, the Spirit of God, through Luke tells us that 'he . . . looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God', 7. 55. Abraham's transformation from an idolator in Ur of the Chaldees to a great man of faith, 'the Friend of God', Jas. 2. 23, was a wonderful demonstration of the God of glory operating to bring a man into relationship with Himself, consistently with His own glory. This is precisely what God does by means of the Christian gospel. The result of this, as stated by Paul in Romans 5. 1, 2, is that being justified by faith, we have peace with God, and access by the same faith into His abiding favour. Then are we able to rejoice in hope of the glory of God. This means that, instead of that glory of which all come short condemning us, we are able to rejoice in anticipation of its public display in the ages to come, when God will display 'the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through ('in'JND) Christ Jesus', Eph. 2. 7.