The Gospel 3. The Gospel’s simplicity
Key Text: Romans 10:5-13
We are in week three of the Gospel. A series where we tackle the core reality of our faith. We have seen so far that the Gospel has two equal and eternal enemies; legalism and moralism; people who say I can earn my salvation in what I do for God or I am good enough because of who I am. Both fundamentally miss the core reality of life and undermine the truth of the gospel which is; only in Jesus will I find my worth and righteousness.
We have also seen that the gospel is fundamentally a proclamation of what God has done in Christ Jesus. We saw last week that it is indeed good news because of the fact that it is a proclamation of the finished work of Christ!
Tonight we start to look at the details of this proclamation. In this we will see that effective there are two approaches to declaring this gospel. We generally fall into “doing” the gospel in only one approach and therefore unintentionally lessen the impact of the gospel in the lives of people. I say this because I have discovered this in my own life.
So what are these two approached?
The Two Approaches
a.) Systematic Theological Method - What must I do to be saved?
This method takes an individualistic approach to the story of the gospel and looks at the big picture of what God did; it is called the Systematic Theological Method because it systematizes the overarching themes of Scripture and reduces them down to the fundamental realities. It is this that we are going to look at tonight. This appeals to a more western world and is generally the approach of conservative churches.
Opposed to this however is:
b.) Redemptive Historical Method - What God did in history to accomplish salvation.
In this approach the greater narratives are tackled to gain insight into what God actually did in history to accomplish salvation; in this approach Kingdom is big; story is key and salvation is emphasized in justice; community and what God is doing in us. This is the approach of the so-called Emergent Church Movement and the social justice movement. We will look at this approach for the next few weeks.
The reality is that we have to get a balance of both in order to minister to the world we find ourselves in. the creativity in communicating both the simple truth as well as the story of salvation will enable us to connect people from where they are to what God has done and then move them into a greater holistic redemptive reality.
In this the gospel is incredibly simply and yet eternally rich and deep and transformative. This is why it is so fundamental that we grasp the full reality of what God has done!
So night we will look at the simplicity of the gospel; the fact that there is one question to be asked and the Bible gives a clear answer:
1.What Must I do to be saved?
For this I want you to turn with me to Romans 10:5-13. This passage speaks of the simple truth of salvation; Paul contrast the Jews desire for salvation with the reality of salvation; saying that although they are passionate about God; their passion is misguided and lacks the knowledge of salvation. It is to this that he says:
5For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 6But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES INHIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”
It is a beautiful verse that illustrates the simplicity of salvation. Believe and be saved.
The question we ask is: Believe in what? And here you would say the gospel; which is true, buy how would we communicate this? How would we condense the complex narrative of gospel into a single simple reality; and it is here that we have to use the Systematic Theological Method; scanning over the whole of Scripture and communicating the systematic truths of the bible to the hearer.
i. Where does this start?
It has to start with God. But not a solitary God, rather a single God who exists in three persons for all eternity. This God, for all eternity, existed in love, friendship and community. Each part of the Trinity eternally glorifying the other.
I have heard it said over and over that the Christian God is a megalomaniac who demands glory like a spoilt child. However, Scripture declares something completely different. God did not create to get glory; God created to share His glory.
God dwelled in eternal glory; each member of the trinity sharing and receiving glory from the other. Then in the creative act; shared the delight that He had with His creatures: With us.
Our origin lies in God; our purpose, therefore, also lies in Him, in sharing in and eternally giving Him Glory, just as he has done for all eternity; He invited His creation to be a part of the eternal blessing.
But something went wrong…
ii. What went wrong?
Simply put: it all went wrong because of sin. Tim Keller puts it this way;
“God created us to adore and serve him and to love others. By living this way, we would have been completely happy and enjoyed a perfect world. But instead, the whole human race turned away from God, rebelling against his authority. Instead of living for God and our neighbours, we live lives of self-centeredness.”
This has two terrible results:
Firstly; bondage. Because we chose not to live in the way God created us to live; we are now bound to sinfulness and selfishness. All of us now rather than finding our centre, hope and fulfilment in God we seek these out in things, people, and achievements.
The problem with this is that because these things were not made to create meaning the enviably of putting our meaning in these things is that they will destroy us. They will eat you up. As the old statement goes; sex is a wonderful servant but a cruel master. This can be said of anything other than God that we are trying to gain meaning from. Money, success, fame, intelligence family, will consume us till there is nothing left of us but grief if we seek meaning from these things.
This is what the secularist cannot see. They perceive it; however, cannot see past their short sightedness.
The second result is condemnation. “We are not just suffering because of sin; we are guilt because of sin.” Keller
Our sinfulness (of which every one of us are keenly aware of even if we somewhat suppress) makes us guilty of punishment. We all owe a debt that none of us could ever pay!
iii. What sets thing right?
Christ put this right through His life (His incarnation); His death (His substitution); and His Second Coming (His restoration).
God didn’t just make things right through and arbitrary fixing of things.
No he put things right. CS Lewis wrote that if there was a God we would not relate to him as people on another floor of a building; no we would relate to him as Hamlet relates to Shakespeare. We the characters would only be able to know about the author as much as the author chooses to reveal to those characters.
“God, as it were, looked into the world he had made and saw our lostness and had pity on his people. And So he wrote himself into human history as its main character.” Keller
God became a man!
Not only this; but he lived the life we should have lived (a sinless, perfectly obedient life) to die the death we could not die (a death that would satisfy the wrath of God), to pay the debt we could not pay; so that we could receive the love that we do not deserve.
Jesus indeed paid our debt of sin and therefore he deserves everything of us.
But he doesn’t stop there for Jesus will restore all things. Jesus will come to set everything right; all of the material world will be set right at His second coming; meaning that Jesus doesn’t just save our soul; He will transform our world. And I believe the New Testaments says, that He is in the process of transforming our current reality now (even if it is only in part).
No other religion makes so bold a claim!
In all this we must ask…
iv. What sets me right?
The simple answer and the declaration of Romans 10 and the rest of the New Testament; faith! This faith is a transferring of our trust from ourselves to Christ.
This means that we no longer trust ourselves to fix our problem; we trust Jesus. It also means that we actually trust Jesus to fix the problem of guilt and sin that we have. So it is not the amount of faith that you have that matters it is the object of your faith that matters. It is not how much I believe in Jesus; it is the fact that I trust Jesus to save me that is the point.
10for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISSAPOINTED.”
That is why Paul could say in in Romans 8:1 “There is, therefore, no condemnation to those who believe.” Why because faith is a releasing over to Christ everything that we could do for our salvation over to Him!
Church the gospel is simple:
Jesus pays the price
Faith connects us with this reality.
However, in saying this there is a great danger in this approach which is why I would love for you to come through for the next three weeks which will balance this approach with the greater narrative of the gospel.
Let’s look at…
2.The Dangers of this approach
The systematized approach to gospel declaration that we have just discussed has three dangers that we need to be aware of. Firstly, it is…
a.) Overly individualistic
Ultimately, this approach addresses the single concern of “what must I do to be saved”. And therein lies its great danger: it can make the salvation story all about the individual. And so as a result of my Christianity is chiefly concerned about getting me to heaven. Now this is not bad; but it can create in us an incomplete picture of what God did in the gospel!
Added to this it can…
b.) Drive a Consumer mentality
Because the Gospel is about what I must do to be saved a real danger is making a Christianity that’s chief concern is the receiver of the gospel. A consumer mentality; what am I getting out of this? How am I growing? Are my needs being met?
The way to combat this is to discover the greater story of God in history which creates the us narrative that is so needed in our communication of the gospel.
And finally it…
c.) Underplays the Kingdom
In this approach there is a clear and unfortunate missing of a critical reality of the gospel which is the Kingdom of God (which we will tackle on the 13 November). And because of this we might have an “our church” vs “their church” mentality; also a danger of exclusivism is present here.
The reality is that we have a simple Gospel; a declaration of what God has done that is communicated in unity throughout scripture (to me this shows that Scripture’s origin is divine). A simple truth that you can be saved, that life has purpose, that there is hope and that salvation lies in the finished work of Christ!
Again, I want to emphasize, church, that the very power and wonder of the gospel lies in the fact that all of this is not up to us it is done! We have hope and power because Christ indeed answer the great question that man has; “how can I be saved.” And it is an answer that truly settles the soul and releases the power for change!
So my challenge to you is to continue the declaration and don’t let it sit here!