Here are some notes from this excellent sermon that addresses some major misconceptions we have in modern church culture about what the gospel is:
"What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Let's contrast the two approaches:
· Pursued righteousness
· Did not attain righteousness
· Used the law to fail to attain righteousness
· Did not pursue righteousness
· Attained righteousness
· Used faith to succeed in attaining righteousness
This is the difference between works righteousness and the gospel. Paul is was a Jew who saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
What the Gospel is Not
1. The gospel is not just how we get saved.
The average Christian believes that the gospel is the plan of salvation. They think that the gospel is what you need to get saved, but you need to graduate to something beyond the gospel after you have gotten saved.
Tim Keller says, "We never get beyond the gospel in our Christian life to something more advanced....The gospel is not just the ABCs, but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, butt he way we make all progress in te kingdom."
You often hear that the gospel is the ABC: Acknowledge your sin, Believe in Christ, Confess him as your Savior. That is not the gospel! It is a cheap substitute. The gospel is not for unbelievers, but believers need something more. Folks, there is nothing more than the gospel. You never move beyond it or outgrow it. If you think you are too sophisticated for the gospel, you don't know what the gospel is!
2. The gospel is not just the two great commandments.
This is what is popular in our day, we think the gospel can be boiled down to love God and love people. D.A. Carson says, "Other voices identify the gospel with the first and second commandments, the commandments to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourself. These commandments are so central that Jesus Himself insists that all the prophets and the law hand on them, but, most emphatically, they are not the gospel."
"Love God, love people" is not the gospel. In fact, here is the irony. That phrase, "love God, love people," is actually a summary of the law. It is the opposite of the gospel!
Paul says in Romans 13:10 that, "love is the fulfilling of the law." We use this phrase as though we have unlocked a magic key to the gospel and the irony is that we have run back to the law like a dog running to its vomit. Now we still love God and love people, but this is what the gospel produces, not the gospel itself. Our love for God and others is evidence that we have been born again, that Christ has transformed us. We are able to love and bear fruit because of the work of the gospel in our lives. It is not a substitute for the gospel. That is blasphemous.
3. The gospel is not the moral teachings of Jesus.
If we say that the gospel is all the moral teachings of Jesus, then we are saying this: "God gave us a law in the Old Testament that wasn't righteousness enough, wasn't clear enough, or wasn't enough. So Jesus came and gave us a new and better law that could be kept. God made a mistake the first time, had to come correct it." That is not the gospel.
Let's look back at Romans 10:30, " What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by..."
What? Saying a magical ABC prayer. No.
By loving God and loving people? No.
By keeping all the teachings of Jesus. No.
By faith! It is not by any of these works. Romans 10:32 gives the reason that Israel did not attain righteousness, "Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works." There is two ways. It is either faith or works.
What the Gospel is
Let's look again at Romans 10:33, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” That is a succinct statement that has all the major elements of the gospel.
1. The gospel is news.
Paul starts out by saying, "Behold," listen up, hear ye, hear ye. The word gospel means announcement. It means news. We do not live the gospel. That is foolishness. You don't live news. You can't live out the news from yesterday's newspaper and expect people to understand it.
People will remind you that St. Francis said these popular words, "Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words." You look at them and say, "He didn't know what the gospel is."
You must words to preach the gospel because the gospel is news. The gospel is news about what God has done in Jesus Christ. For me to think that I can live the gospel is to put myself in the place of Christ. That is blasphemy: "You don't need the news about Jesus, just watch me!"
2. The gospel is God centered.
The gospel is not just news, it is God centered news. It is about what God has done, not about what I have done. The gospel is news from, about, for, and through God. The gospel is God centered. That also means that it is not man centered. The gospel doesn't begin with God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. The gospel is not about you. The gospel is about God. The gospel is about creation, fall, redemption and consummation, creation by God, fall from God, redemption to God and consummation through God. It is God centered.
What role does man play in the gospel? You are the problem in the gospel. But the way we talk about the gospel is not at all God centered. It is man centered and here it what it sounds like: "You are so awesome that god made the world just so that one day he could look at you and you are also so awesome that God sent his Son Jesus because he couldn't imagine life without you in eternity. And so He stands here right now pleading with you, begging you because he just cannot imagine his life without you. Would you please do God the favor of accepting Christ so that He can finally be at peace because He has got you?"
That is not the gospel. The gospel is not about how special you are. The gospel is about how sovereign God is. The gospel is not about how much God needs you or wants you. The gospel is about how much you need God.
Romans 10:33 says, "Behold I lay in Zion..." It is about what God has done. It is not about what man has done. Read that part of the verse again, God says, "I lay in Zion."
3. The gospel is Christ centered.
Behold I lay in Zion what? A stumbling stone. This is Christ. Romans 10:33 says, "Behold (news) I lay in Zion (God centered) a stumbling stone (Christ centered)..." Martin Luther says, "Gospel is and should be nothing else than a discourse or story about Christ." The gospel is Christ centered, not man centered. The gospel is news about what God has done in Christ.
4. The gospel is cross centered.
"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense..." What is offensive about the gospel? It is the cross. It is the fact that the God of the universe killed His only begotten Son, pouring out His wrath on sin that is justly deserved by every human being, but has been poured out on His Son as a substitute for those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began. The gospel is cross centered.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1:22-24
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 1:1-2
It is cross centered. Now let's be careful here. Have you ever been to an Easter service where the gospel was presented like this: "Look how gruesome the cross was. He did that for you. Can't you live your life for Him?" That's what happened when The Passion of the Christ movie came out. The cross is not a tool to let men know how much they are worth. No, cross centered means you help men understand how significant and weighty their sin is.
The cross is a reminder of how holy God is. The cross is a reminder that God demands payment and satisfaction. The cross is a reminder that you may not approach God with your sinful, filthy life and your filthy hands and that there must be propitiation, that the wrath of God must be poured out upon sin, that God's righteousness has to be satisfied. Justice has to be served and you are not worthy. Christ alone was worthy. He suffered, died, and rose again because He was worthy and the grave had no right to hold Him. That is what cross centered theology is, but we take the cross and turn it into man centered theology. That is how ego centric and narcissistic we are. Whether it is southern gospel, "He was on the cross, I was on His mind;" or contemporary Christian, "Crucified, laid behind a stone, He lived and died rejected alone. Like a rose trampled on the ground, You took the fall and thought of ME above all."
How dare we? How dare we? It is the glory and righteousness and holiness of the Father that is vindicated on the cross, not my worth! It is the worth of Christ that is vindicated on the cross. It is the magnitude of my sin that is demonstrated on the cross.
Today we think of the cross as cosmic child abuse. We don't understand the cross. We don't understand sin. We don't understand the Levitical law which says that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. In Exodus, remember how the lamb was slain and his blood was placed on the doorpost so that the death angel would pass by, in the desert the serpent was placed high on that cross and that they would look at him and live and now Jesus Christ, Him who knew no sin becomes sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. That is God vindicating His righteousness and allowing Himself to still have mercy on you, a sinner who deserves to hang on that cross and then spend eternity separated from God in hell.
The offensiveness and scandal of the gospel is that it wasn't you who died for your sins. It was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God who died in your place. That is the gospel.
5. The gospel is grace centered.
"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever..." What does He say next? Whoever lives a life worthy of Him...no. It says, "whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” That is the answer. Here is the amazing thing. A lot of people will say that believing is the work that man does. Man does the work. You are absolutely right. Man must believe, but watch this. Go back to verse 30.
"What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness..."
If they did not pursue righteousness then it was a gift by grace. It is election. Ephesians 2:4-9 is perhaps the most beautiful presentation of this anywhere in the Bible:
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
The gospel is grace centered.
6. The gospel is eschatological.
"Behold," it is news. "I am laying in Zion," it is God centered. "A stone of stumbling," Christ centered. "And a rock of offense;" cross centered. "And whoever believes in him," grace centered. "Will not be put to shame;” that is eschatological. Eschatology is the branch of theology that deals with the end times, specifically the Second Coming or the Last Judgment of Christ. This a reference to the day when you will stand before God. That doesn't mean that you poke your chest out. Why would you? There is no boasting when you understand that it is of grace.
Because the gospel is eschatological what do we eliminate? We eliminate any possibility that somehow the gospel is just how we get in and then we have to work to keep ourselves. If that were the case, and if it were up to us, we would have no eschatological hope.
If someone asks, "Are you saved?" We say, "Yeah, I am right now, but it depends on how firmly I hold on to this thing." Now we laugh at that, but do you live like it? Do you believe that the grace that saves you is the grace that keeps you?
Listen to John Hendricks, "In short, the gospel is the life altering news that Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God became man, lived a sinless life under the law, died for sinners and rose again to reconcile them to Himself eternally victorious over every enemy that stood between God and man. Now because of His redemptive work, there is nothing that separates those who believe from their Creator and all the benefits that He promises in Him."
That is the gospel. And the difference between Israel and the Gentiles is this: One is holding out hope, pursuing, racing towards a law with the belief that it will eventually be attained; and through attaining it they will also attain righteousness and right standing with God. The other simply believes the news of what God has done in Christ through the cross by grace for the eschatological hope of those who faith their faith in him. The difference is the gospel. That is the difference. Our hope is the gospel. And it is our only hope.
I will close with this from D.A. Carson, which is necessary for us who are in the process of raising children. "Perhaps more common yet is the tendency to assume the gospel, whatever that is, while devoting creative energy and passion to other issues—marriage, happiness, prosperity, evangelism, the poor, wrestling with Islam, wrestling with the pressures of secularization, bioethics, dangers on the left, dangers on the right—the list is endless. This overlooks the fact that our hearers inevitably are drawn toward that about which we are most passionate. Every teacher knows that. My students are unlikely to learn all that I teach them; they are most likely to learn that about which I am most excited. If the gospel is merely assumed, while relatively peripheral issues ignite our passion, we will train a new generation to downplay the gospel and focus zeal on the periphery. Moreover, if in fact we focus on the gospel, we shall soon see that this gospel, rightly understood, directs us how to think about, and what to do about, a substantial array of other issues."
You pick the gospel up and look at everything through the prism of the gospel. It is the gospel that orients my thinking on every other issue so that I can approach it rightly, because if I don't, then what happens is I am putting my hope in something else. We too often think, "The gospel is how I get saved, parenting needs something more advanced; the gospel is how I get saved, my marriage requires a trained psychotherapist; the gospel is how I get saved, but in politics you have got to make compromises to get along."
Wrong answer, wrong hope, wrong picture. Behold, it is news, I am laying in Zion, God centered, a stumbling stone, Christ centered, a rock of offense, cross centered, whoever believes in Him, grace centered, will not be put to shame, it is eschatological. Is that all of the gospel? You will spend eternity marveling over the depths of the riches of God in Christ. What is the gospel? It is an announcement of what God has done in Christ through the cross by grace to give eternal hope to those who have faith in Him.