However, do we ever get beyond the gospel, growing up into what some would call deeper spiritual life? Many seem to have that idea in their minds, though that might be because their notion of what constitutes the gospel has been oversimplified and stripped of its substance somewhat. In answer to this question just look at the four times Paul mentions the gospel in Romans chapter one. Remember, he is writing to the church, to those who know the Lord, those who have believed, they are born of His Spirit and walking with God and yet he says that he is “separated unto the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1) and “serves God with his spirit in the gospel of His Son” (Romans 1:9). He adds that he is “eager to preach the gospel to you (believers) at Rome also” (Romans 1:15) and that he is “not ashamed of the gospel” (Romans 1:16) for precisely the reason, that right there, in the message of the gospel the power of God resides (Romans 1:17). From all this we can boldly say that we never get beyond the gospel and enter into some deeper, higher state of the Christian life. We must live in the gospel, remind ourselves of its truth constantly, rejoice in the comfort it brings and exult in its power. God’s holiness is revealed in it, His love also, forgiveness from sin and the end of guilt for sins is found there along with so much more! The message of the gospel is powerful, and we should remember that words like dynamic, dynamite and dynamism are derived from the Greek word for power. Apparently those who rejoice in the realities of God’s gospel will be a dynamic people!
Basically, in virtually all the letters the apostle Paul wrote to the churches he rehearses the truths of the gospel again and again and from those things God has done in Christ and made available through the Holy Spirit his practical applications flow. Ephesians chapters one through three are all gospel, as are Colossians one and two. Romans, the lengthiest of Paul’s letters begins with eleven chapters of gospel writing, only when he has rejoiced in the fullness of what he has said does he bring practical application (Romans 11:33-12:1). Take note that when he corrects the erroneous ideas concerning the second coming of Christ confusing the believers in Corinth he bases all he says upon perhaps the simplest and most succinct statement of the gospel we read in the Bible, “I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand and by which you are saved” (1 Corinthians 15:1&2). His weapon against false teaching and false ideas corrupting the church was a restatement of the glorious gospel of God.
Galatians is quite a letter, Paul displays such a jealousy for God’s glory, God’s gospel and for the churches he had helped to found in that area. There had been a departure among the believers; they had not so much forsaken the churches as the very gospel itself allowing false teachings to endanger their faith and practice. Paul nails their particular place of departure; “ you have removed from Him Who called you into the grace of Christ into another gospel” (Galatians 1:6). Here the grace of Christ and the gospel are synonymous, this is where God brings us and where we must remain. The gospel of God’s grace in Christ is the ark, the place of safety through all that will batter us as foundations are broken up and windows of heaven are opened. If we depart this gospel foundation perils most terrible will afflict our souls. We will be thrust back upon ourselves and our own performance will become the measure of our standing before God, our conscience will be troubled with a continuing sense of guilt and we shall be tossed about with every wind of doctrine. Our justification in God’s sight will be doubtful and so our progress in sanctification will be negligible. I must learn to live inside the gospel; it is my safe place from all the power of the enemies of my soul. The armor of God mentioned in Ephesians chapter six is basically a list of aspects of the gospel, salvation, justification, truth, the gospel of peace, the faith, and the word of God (Ephesians 6:14-17). We never get beyond the gospel. The old Puritan writers used to speak of “rehearsing to themselves the truths of the gospel.” This is a discipline we too ought to take up, reminding ourselves daily of what God has done for us in Christ. We should make this personal, what God has done for me, myself. We see in the Galatian letter how incredibly personal Paul is as he rejoices in the gospel truth that he is crucified with Christ and yet he lives. He has so much difficulty expressing it, but it is here he rests, in Christ alone (Galatians 2:20). This is not doctrine first; it is the testimony of an apostle whose life was grounded in the love of God poured out upon him personally in Christ. “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” Paul knew and experienced the power of the gospel as a day-to-day reality and this contributed to his boldness in saying that he was not ashamed of the gospel because it was the power of God to everyone who would believe!
Is there a departure from the gospel in these days? We need to honestly answer that question. In the days of the Galatian churches the departure was one that took God’s people into legalistic religion. Probably that is not our problem today, not generally anyway, though there may be some individuals who go that route into “another gospel which is not another” (Galatians 1:6&7). During the late nineteenth century ‘another’ gospel swept into the churches and became known as the ‘social’ gospel. It was a ‘broad’ gospel and subtly rejected the atonement God had wrought in Jesus, it pooh poohed the seriousness of sin and instead of Christ crucified being known and preached He became (in this different gospel) a wonderful example to follow and people were to pattern their lives upon Him and the high ideals he embodied. Some who critiqued this false gospel mentioned that Jesus was now “that pale Galilean.” Now, that is quite a departure! Of course, as this gospel was embraced by portions of the church, the romantic teaching grew apace, it said that the measureless love of Christ would permeate through all and transform society bringing an end to all violence, war, robbery and evil, thus would mankind dwell together in the harmony of love and the kingdom of heaven would come. I do not need to say that the history of the twentieth century blew that false gospel to bits. False gospels always disappoint and those who believe in them find their hearts shattered.
Maybe the last remnant of that broad, social gospel lingers around even now; faith in the innate goodness of man does not die easily. There is another gospel though, current, and in vogue in some circles, a perversion of the true and it has most certainly infiltrated our thinking in the last thirty or forty years. Alas, this false gospel has no power to change people for it does not present a dynamic Christ crucified and raised for our justification. It does not speak of the seriousness of sin, of judgment and repentance; instead it speaks of self as being a victim and in need of therapy. At our point in history we face the effects of what probably began with Freud and has developed into a multi-billion-dollar industry. It has derailed the gospel preached and believed in many churches. Perhaps we can call it the psychologized gospel and its central tenets include the doctrine that the self needs to be esteemed and healed rather than crucified with Christ. Self is the victim of untold deep issues which have to be brought out and examined by trained counselors who present themselves more and more as those with the keys to deliverance. We must consider these things with great seriousness for at the very time (the 1980’s) when a secular psychiatrist named Karl Menninger quit his profession whilst writing a book with the title “Whatever Became of Sin” Christians in the USA began reading the books of Christian psychologists who repackaged secular ideas of experience, self-esteem and personal fulfillment thus constructing a kind of bridge with the Christian doctrines of sin and salvation. No wonder, in this atmosphere, that Christian self-help books and various ‘how to’ seminars proliferate and various para-church counseling organizations fill the void left by pastors who have been pressured to abdicate their confidence in the gospel to make way for these other ‘experts.’ The churches that have, in part at least, forsaken the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes no matter their heredity, race and background, now lack the key to vibrant and dynamic Christian life and grope for some new thing that will unlock the secrets of power. What is central in this distorted gospel is us, our personal self and our ‘felt needs’ while the fact that we should be “to the praise of God’s glory,” (Ephesians 1:12) if mentioned, is way down the list of priorities. Instead of self becoming crucified with Christ it needs to be understood and not only that, our self with its needs must be ‘met’ or else we will quit the congregation. How easy it is to forsake the Christian doctrine that we all have sinned, we are corrupted by it and cannot change ourselves. A gospel that tries to make us ‘nice’ is totally inadequate. We need God’s mighty gospel power to save us daily, the idea that we have a lot of imperfections, most of which are not our own fault, and simply need to find some ‘key truth’ to heal us and bring us on to perfection is bound to fail, it has no power to deliver.
I have no desire to end this musing on such a negative note but we need to ponder deeply and examine ourselves as to whether there is any departure from the faith in our hearts. I examine myself and am aware that I need to remind myself daily concerning the gospel of God. Therein lies the dynamic by which He is able to change and establish me in a life pleasing to Him, free from sin and happy in His service. This gospel will be my protection from every temptation and prowling enemy and will be the ground of the certainty of being transformed into His likeness from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). Through the gospel I know that He has justified me and from that righteousness freely given to me springs the desire to be holy; sanctification flows from justification (Romans 6:19). Reflecting on the gospel will help cure me from all doubt about God and His doings in my circumstances and those taking place around me in the world. I shall find a place of rest in Christ and His righteousness through the gospel and my guilt for sin will be steadily answered by His grace and serve as an empowering motive to please God and go and sin no more. All of these things and so much more spring from hearing afresh the glorious gospel of God (1 Timothy 1:11). We need to hear this gospel in our churches from the lips of preachers who themselves are proving its life-giving power. In the midst of our busyness we need to consider it again and again looking to God that by His Spirit He will help us keep in mind all that He has done for us in His Son. Those who are beginning to feel the power of the gospel of God must declare it gladly and freely. Let it be preached, it is medicine for the deepest ills of man’s soul and any other diluted gospel is a counterfeit remedy that will provide no lasting cure.