God and the Gospel
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
The word 'gospel' was well known throughout the Roman Empire before the Christian message first began to be preached. By way of example, an extract from an inscription in Asia dated 9 BC, which commemorates the birth of Emperor Augustus, includes the statement, 'The birthday of the god (Augustus) was for the world the beginning of the good news (gospel) which have gone forth because of him'. We note in passing that Mark (in all probability writing for a Roman audience) commences his life of Christ with the very same expression, 'The beginning of the gospel'.
The Lord Jesus and the early church took up the familiar and widely-used term to describe far greater 'good news' than that connected with any Roman emperor. It is used throughout the New Testament to describe the 'good news' which has come (i) from God, (ii) to and for man, which (Mi) concerns the Lord Jesus Christ, and which (iv) should be preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This edition of the magazine is largely devoted to the study of the gospel; individual articles will cover some of the points enumerated above. This particular article is concerned with the relation of the gospel to God.
Although the actual expression 'the gospel of God' occurs only nine times in the New Testament (eight of which are found in the letters of Paul), the subject itself occupies a considerable part of it. The gospel can be said to be 'of God' for at least five reasons.
1. It owes its origin to God
God is the source of the gospel, both in terms of (a) its contents (the facts and events which comprise the gospel), and (b) its knowledge by men (the way in which the message first became known to the apostles).
(a) The initiative in meeting the need of sinful man lay altogether with God Himself. We trace the streams of salvation back to the spring of His eternal counsels and purpose. The gospel tells of 'God, who has saved us and has called us with a holy calling ... according to his own purpose and grace, given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal', 2 Tim. 1. 9, lit. Similarly, we read of the 'hope of eternal life which God, who does not lie (cf. Heb. 6. 18), promised before times eternal', Tit. 1. 2, lit. Again, we learn that we have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unblemished and unspotted, foreknown 'before the foundation of the world', 1 Pet. 1. 18-20. Indeed, in Christ we have been chosen 'before the foundation of the world', Eph. 1. 4. All is of God's doing. God Himself provided the Lamb, Gen. 22. 8, and with Him all that is necessary for our salvation.
(b) The message itself originated by direct revelation from God, not as the result of human invention, insight or discovery. God revealed His (previously hidden) wisdom in the gospel to the apostles through His Spirit, 1 Cor. 2. 7-10. The apostle Paul insisted that, 'the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man; for I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but through revelation', Gal. 1. 11-12, lit.
2. It is invested with the authority of God
The gospel rests on nothing less than the authority of God. The gospel is 'the word of the Lord', 1 Pet. 1. 25, and has therefore to be received 'not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God', 1 Thess. 2. 13. Although the gospel contains many gracious promises and invitations, ultimately it comes with all the force of a divine command; God 'now commandeth all men everywhere to repent', Acts 17. 31. For this reason, it is made known to all nations 'for the obedience of faith', Rom. 16. 26.
The gospel is not a new doctrine which lays claim simply to the intellect; it is a message from God which demands faith. Men are therefore held accountable to 'obey' the gospel. Of unbelieving Israel, Paul said, 'they have not all obeyed the gospel', Rom. 10. 16. Peter poses the solemn question, 'what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?', 1 Pet. 4. 17.
When Paul 'preached', it was not only as one who 'made known good news'. Gal. 1. 8, Greek, but as one who 'proclaimed as a herald', 1 Thess.
2. 9 Greek. This latter word indicated that Paul regarded himself as the agent of Someone higher, as a herald who simply published the message which had been entrusted to him. It was God's own authority which lay behind Paul's 'proclamation' of Christ crucified, 1 Cor. 1. 23, Greek. The preacher was nothing; his divinely-authorised message was everything.
3. It reveals the character of God
God is also the subject of the gospel; it is about Him. It is 'the gospel of the glory of the blessed God', 1 Tim. 1. 11, and, as such, displays His majesty and the radiance of His divine attributes.
Here we see God's righteousness revealed. First, in the making known of His righteous judgement and wrath which are directed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, Rom. 1. 18; 2. 5, 16; 2 Thess. 1. 5-6. His own righteousness necessarily involves 'judgement to come' for the sinner, Acts 24. 25.
Second, God's righteousness is declared in the death of the Lord Jesus. In the gospel, God has 'set forth' Christ Jesus as a propitiation by His blood (the saving benefits of which are received by faith), to show out His righteousness in respect of His passing by (in His forbearance) the sins of believers in Old Testament days, Rom. 3. 25. Saints of the Old Testament period (such as Abraham and David) were saved, so to speak, 'on credit'. No number of animal sacrifices could take away their sins. God 'passed by' their sins in the knowledge that, at the appointed time, the account would be settled in full by the Saviour.
The sacrifice of Christ shows therefore that God was 'just' in putting aside the sins of believers who lived before the cross. It also shows His righteousness in justifying (declaring to be just) those who have lived since and who have believed, v. 26. God's righteous requirements are such that nothing short of the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus could suffice. But because the Lord Jesus has suffered all of the judgement which we deserved, the gospel vindicates God's righteousness in forgiving us.
Here we see God's love manifested. The wonder is, that the same God whose wrath was aroused by our sin, commends His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, Rom. 5. 8. As John put it, Tn this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him', 1 John 4. 9. We are the objects of God's 'great love', Eph. 2. 4.
The gospel exposes the lie of the serpent at the beginning when he insinuated that God was selfish and was determined to withhold from man and woman what was for their good, Gen. 3. 4-5. On the contrary, God has lavished His love on us, 1 John 3. 1. He that withheld no suffering from His own Son will withhold no blessing from us!, Rom. 8. 32.
4. It is preached in the power of God
In gospel preaching, as in all else, the principle holds true, 'Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it', Psa. 127. 1.
From its very birth, the church was aware of the need of 'power' for effective witness, Acts 1. 8. Some of those who were scattered from Jerusalem as a result of the persecution that arose over Stephen spoke to the Greeks at Antioch, Acts 11. 20. Luke reports that they were 'preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord', v. 21.
Paul knew that, as a preacher, he was wholly dependent upon God and His power for spiritual and eternal results.
His opponents at Corinth appear to have prided themselves on their self-sufficiency as preachers. Paul was made of different stuff. Awed by the daunting task and responsibility of proclaiming a gospel which, by its effects, settles the eternal destiny of the hearers (whether death or life), Paul posed the question, 'And who is sufficient (adequate, competent) for these things?', 2 Cor. 2. 15-16. He knew the only answer to a question like that; 'our sufficiency is of God', 3. 5.
Consider for a moment what it means when somebody becomes a Christian. They cross the frontier from death to life, John 5. 24. Their eyes are opened and they turn from darkness to light, from the authority of Satan to God, Acts 26. 18. They are delivered from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God's beloved Son, Col. 1. 13. What a staggering transformation! There is no possible way in which this can be achieved by human oratory or clever sermon construction. Only the power of God can work the mighty miracle.
Paul knew this. 'My speech and my proclamation', he assured the Corinthians, 'were not in the persuasive words of (human philosophical) wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith may be ... in the power of God', 1 Cor. 2. 4-5, lit. God deliberately placed the 'treasure' of His glorious gospel in earthenware vessels, that the superabundance of the power may be God's and not that of the preacher, 2 Cor. 4. 7.
Paul recognized that the success of the gospel was God's work and not his; 'our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance', 1 Thess. 1. 5. Happy indeed is the preacher who can commend himself as God's minister 'by the power of God', 2 Cor. 6. 7.
5. It brings glory to God
Paul spoke to the elders at Ephesus concerning 'the gospel of the grace of God', Acts 20. 24. When writing to the church at Ephesus, he reminded them of the fact that they were saved altogether by that grace (free unmerited favour), 2. 5-8. Such wealth of grace leaves no room for human merit or boasting, v. 9; cf. Rom. 3. 27. The glory is all God's.
Three times in the opening section of the letter, 1. 3-14, Paul used the same expression; 'the praise of the glory', vv. 6, 12, 14, lit. Every facet of the gospel - the will of the Father, vv. 3-6, the work of the Son, vv. 7-12, and the witness of the Spirit, w. 13-14- results in the praise of God's glory and that of His grace.