One of the most foundational, fundamental questions of the Christian life. But I would imagine if I polled the audience this morning, I would get more than one answer. But this question is so important! The Gospel is the heart of our faith. And though we may disagree on many things, we must understand the answer to this question. What is the Gospel? About 2,000 years ago, the apostle Paul sat down to write a letter to the Christians who were living in Corinth. And just before he set down his pen, he wrote these words.
Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed. (I Corinthians 15:1–11 CEB)What is the Gospel? Paul’s main emphasis in his letter to the Corinthians was unity.
I’m the preacher at Glenwood, and I hear things. I’ve heard that a few people were taking bets, trying to determine how long it would take me each week to bring up the subject of division. Some folks have wondered, “Why all the talk about division and unity?” I can honestly say: there is nothing happening behind the scenes that you do not know about. The reason for all the talk about division and unity: that subject dominates Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The church is made up of people—human, flawed, fallen people. And people, no matter how hard we may try to do otherwise, are prone to divide. We are prone to want our own way! And we are prone to do just about anything to get our own way. We are like that! And the Corinthians were like that.
So, they divided. And Paul wrote an entire letter to address the issues that were dividing them. And there was a long list! Some were dividing around certain Christian teachers. Others were dividing over issues surrounding marriage and singleness. Some were dividing over issues of worship! So, Paul addresses all of their concerns, all of the issues that divide people. But then, and this is one of my favorite parts of the Bible, after Paul addresses all of their stuff, he brings them back to what is most important.
“You may disagree on all of those things…”
“Some of those things are more important than others…”
“But let me remind you what is MOST important…"
“Let me remind you about the thing that saves you…”
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. (I Corinthians 15:1–11 NIV)But what is the Gospel? I grew up thinking the Gospel was a five-step process we are called to obey. I remember the conversations in my home. “Wes, when are you going to obey the gospel?” Most of you know the five-step process to which I am referring: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized. Do you know where that came from? No, it is not listed anywhere in the Bible like that. In fact, this list did not surface until the 19th century. Walter Scott was a frontier preacher. He invented an easy-to-remember process of conversion: “The Five-Finger-Exercise.” It did have six steps, but five was easier to remember, so he shortened it. The sixth step was: Live under the power of the Holy Spirit. Kind of an important omission, don’t you think?! Look, there is nothing wrong with this list. It is a bit simplistic. There is certainly more involved than the five things Scott listed. But that process is not the Gospel! The so-called “Five Steps to Salvation” is a conversion process, not the Gospel. When the Gospel is defined in the New Testament, this process is never mentioned. Here is how the Gospel is defined in the New Testament:
Jesus became nothing (a human being).
And Jesus rose again.
That is the Gospel and that is what saves us—nothing more and nothing less.
The Gospel is not something we can “obey;” rather, the Gospel is the story of Jesus that we are called to live out again and again and again. We are called to die to ourselves, to set aside our agendas, to move beyond our comfort zones, to love. Even when it is inconvenient, even when it doesn’t make any sense, even when it is dangerous to do so. The fact that Jesus did that for us is the greatest news that has ever come to this world. The fact that Jesus did that for us, that is what saves us! And now, God calls us to spread that good news, that gospel, to the rest of the world. Yes, that does involve telling a story, but even more than that, it calls us to live a certain way. To live like Jesus lived. And when we do that, God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.
If the Corinthians were to live out the Gospel story they would have no more divisions. If we were to live out the Gospel story there would be no more divisions here either. No more denominations, no more worship wars, no more defending our territory. Can you imagine a church like that? If the church lived out the Gospel, what a light we would be to the rest of the world! The world would indeed know us by our love!
But what happens to the Gospel when we leave this building?
Paul uses the letter to talk about church life. As a preacher, I sometimes can get worked up about church life. It’s what I do. It’s what Paul did. But sometimes, if we are not careful, we can begin to believe that the Gospel has implications only in this room. If we live out the Gospel here, our divisions will go away. If we live out the Gospel here, we will become the family God always wanted us to become. Those things are true. But the implications of the Gospel reach far beyond the walls of this room.
I wonder… What are the implications of the Gospel for David and Becky Roach this morning. David and Becky’s oldest daughter, Lauren, married a young man and moved to New Mexico last year. They were on their way home to Lubbock for Thanksgiving this week and they had a car wreck. Lauren’s husband ran a stop sign at a highway intersection. Lauren was killed instantly and her husband is still in ICU in a Lubbock hospital. As you might expect, there has been an outpouring of love from family and friends for David and Becky and Lindsey (their other daughter). The day after the wreck, and in response to many of their friends, Becky posted this note on Facebook:
We are completely unable to put into words what our hearts and souls have felt over the past two days. Our hearts are broken—broken over the loss of our precious daughter, broken for Lindsey's loss of the sister she loves so dearly, and broken over what Trent will wake up to when he regains consciousness. Yet in the midst of our brokenness we cry out to our God, for He is sovereign and He will sustain and support us through this journey. Lauren lived her life in glory to God in all that she did. She constantly clung to her faith, even in the most difficult of times. And so now, all we are able to do is cling to Him ourselves. In all of this journey of heartache and sadness we want to praise and glorify Him.What does the Gospel do for a couple who has lost a child? The Gospel has implications beyond this room, you know. The Gospel reminds David and Becky and many of you, that you will see your children again. Because God gave up His life, there is hope in this world.
I wonder… What are the implications of the Gospel for Syrian refugees? More than four million Syrians have been displaced because of the civil war in their country. And the world is now discussing (Is that the right word?) what to do with them. Now, remind me again of the story of the Gospel. Jesus became nothing for us, Jesus walked into danger for us, Jesus set aside His safety for us, Jesus, in fact, died for us. I’ll be honest: I find it absolutely appalling to read the comments of many Christians about this issue over the last few weeks. I find it alarming that the American states that are supposedly dominated by the most Christians are the same states that are closing their borders to refugees. That position is 100% indefensible from a Christian worldview. The Gospel is a story about compassion even in the face of danger. The Gospel is a story about compassion even in the face of death! God loved us so much that He took us in even when we were dangerous and rebellious. That is the Gospel. And we are called to live out the Gospel with courage. We are not called to build walls around ourselves out of fear. I’ll just say it: We must quit allowing CNN or Fox News to set the agenda of the church! This is not a political issue; it is about compassion and love and welcoming those who have no place to lay their heads. Let me ask you: Do you think Jesus would keep the refugees from coming into His Kingdom? Well, in case you missed it, He didn’t!
I wonder... What are the implications of the Gospel for our marriages? I’ve never seen a marriage fail in which both parties were living out the Gospel. The Gospel, as it relates to marriage, is defined in Ephesians 5: Husband, live your life for your wife! Wife, live your life for your husband! And what metaphor did Paul use to help us understand the marriage relationship? Just as Christ loved the church… The Gospel. Marriage is not about getting your way. Marriage is not about making your spouse into the person you want them to be. A Christian marriage should model itself after the Gospel. Give away your rights for the sake of your husband. Give away your rights for the sake of your wife. Give away your rights for the sake of your children. And when you both give up your rights, when you both serve each other, when your mission in life is to love your spouse even when it is difficult, that marriage will conform into the image of the Gospel. And you will begin to see the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven.
I wonder… What are the implications of the Gospel in our world? That is what Paul wanted us to consider when he wrote Philippians 2.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Wow, what would a world look like that was filled with people who lived like that? It would look a lot like heaven on earth.Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5–11 NIV)