What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?

I know what you may be thinking. “I’m already a Christian, I already know the gospel, why do I need to read this?” *scrolls past, ignores, mentally marks as irrelevant* My friend, if you are breathing, this post is for you. The gospel is not just for unbelievers, it is for Christians, too. We all need it. We need to be reminded of who God is, what he’s done, who we are in Christ. While this post will contain a gospel presentation for non Christians, I want you sisters to know that I’ve had you in mind while I’m writing it. We never outgrow the gospel.

Like yesterday’s post, this will involve some points from some previous posts and I will link all of them down at the bottom, if you would like to read them. I also want to remind you what the focus verse is for this week, Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And one more reminder of Ephesians 2:8-10:

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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

What isn’t the Gospel?

Again, I want to start off with what the Gospel is not. It is not Your Best Life Now. It is not self help, this is not an area where you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. We contribute nothing to our salvation except the sin that made it necessary (Phillip Melanchton). 

This is also not something you can “live out.” We don’t live the gospel, we are recipients of God’s great love, mercy, and forgiveness. Now, living in light of the gospel does bring us back to the third use of the law, but it is not the gospel. And I would argue that those who say that we need to live the gospel by doing anti abortion advocacy or supporting homeless shelters do not understand the law or the gospel. Those things are good things and things Christians can and should do as part of their witness, but being active in those ways is not sharing the gospel or Christianity, they are part of our lives as citizens of the Kingdom of God and living in the world. 

It is also not calling someone a sinner. That’s part of the first use of the law and it is the premise that allows us to understand that we need a savior, but that is not the whole story. The gospel is supposed to be Good News and that is not good news.

Then what is the Gospel?

I think one of the most prevalent false ideas in the world today is the idea that there is a such thing as a good person. Humanly speaking, I can see how you would see how some people can seem better than others. Especially in this post-Holocaust era, where we see so much evil and corruption and we know that we are not that bad. But yet, we all know that we’re not perfect. Especially those of us that are reformed Christians, we understand total depravity and we get it. And even James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law, but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” So this first use of the law is the premise by which we come to the gospel.

Because of our sin, we are unable to have fellowship with God. In fact, 1 John 1:6 say that “If we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” But God loves his children, so as John 3:16 says, he gave his only Son as a propitiation for our sins. To say it a different way, in our sinful state, we are unable to access God on our own, but God still wants fellowship with us. So, he sent Jesus to die for our sins. But he didn’t just die for our sins, he lived a perfect and sinless life on our behalf, so that when we stand before God, we do not need to fear judgment, we can be comforted knowing that not only was Christ’s death in our place, but God looks at us as if Christ’s life was also in our place and we are now seen as blameless before God.

Now, it’s important to recognize that this isn’t something that just happens to everyone no matter how they feel about God. It’s not an “all roads lead to heaven” type of thing. God extends mercy and grace to those who are his. Romans 8:28-30 explains it as:

And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This is a gift freely given and open to anyone for the taking. You don’t need to pray a prayer or write today’s date down on a card to keep in your wallet. God is giving you a new heart and he is making all things new. You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

So how does this relate to legalism, antinomianism, or lordship salvation?

You may remember a few months ago, I did a Theological Errors Week post on Lordship Salvation and another on the New Perspective on Paul and said later on that I would be covering the Law Gospel Distinction during Reformation Month. Well here we are and I want to make sure I explain this all well and tie it back together.

In the Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson notes that legalism and antinomianism are two sides of the same coin. It can be easy to assume what a legalist needs is more grace and what an antinomian needs is more law, the truth they both need a proper understanding of the gospel. We need the gospel preached every Sunday, not as an altar call moment, but so that we have a right understanding of who we are, who God is, and how we are to live.

The argument is not that the law is for non Christians and the gospel is for Christians, but rather that both the law and the gospel serve different functions for Christians and non Christians. For the Christian, in light of this forgiveness, Paul wrote in Romans 6:1-3 (3rd use of the law):

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we, who died to sin, still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

In The Reformed Brotherhood’s podcast, Jesse notes that “the law and the gospel are different, but they’re inseparable friends.” When we flatten the differences, we either cheapen grace or make it unattainable. As we begin to close out Reformation Month, I also want to encourage you guys to check out Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ. I said in August that the book was a game changer for me and it is definitely true, it is a lifeline. We all need the truth of the gospel, Christians and non Christians alike. 

All Theology Gals episodes on this (in the order that I would listen to them in):

http://bit.ly/tglgimportance, http://bit.ly/tgGospel, http://bit.ly/tglawgospel, http://bit.ly/tgTheGospel, http://bit.ly/tgLawGospelP1, http://bit.ly/tgLawGospelP2, http://bit.ly/tgTheLaw, http://bit.ly/tglordsalvation, http://bit.ly/tglordcontroversy, http://bit.ly/tgantinomlegal, http://bit.ly/tgordosalutis, http://bit.ly/tgGoodWorks, http://bit.ly/tgsanctification, http://bit.ly/tgpracticalLawGos, http://bit.ly/tgcanwehave, http://bit.ly/tgassurance, http://bit.ly/tglordselfhelp, http://bit.ly/tgparentinpews, http://bit.ly/tglawgosparent 

Related Unit Posts: (in order I would read them in)

The Reformed Catechisms & Confessions address the Gospel here:

  • Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1-51
  • Belgic Confession Articles 20-26
  • Savoy Declaration 8-18
  • WCF Ch 8-18
  • 1689 LBCF 8-18
  • 2nd Helvetic Confession Ch 8-11, 13-16
  • 39 Articles of Religion Articles 9-18

Resources on the Gospel:

Resources on the Law Gospel Distinction:

 

Lordship Salvation

Lordship Salvation

This is another one that is a bit close to my heart, partly because a few Lordship teachers are men who I’ve greatly benefitted from, but also because learning about this controversy helped me come to the reformed understanding of law and gospel. I will be speaking about law and gospel in October for reformation month, but the podcast episodes that I’m linking here (especially the Reformed Brotherhood) and the two books I read in prep for this unit (Christ the Lord which was compiled and edited by Michael Horton, and Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ) were such a comfort to me and I so highly recommend them if you’re looking for a new read.

Also want to note that this is not a heresy, those that teach it are brothers in Christ and clearly do love the Lord. This view is not compatible with reformed theology and is barely compatible with Calvinism. I also want to give a MASSIVE thank you to Coleen Sharp for helping with so much of this. You can tell that this is something she is very much passionate about and the TG podcast episodes on this topic have been a huge blessing in my life in really shaping my understanding of theology as far back as the 2017 episode that I got mentioned in.

What is lordship salvation?

The Lordship controversy was a debate between dispensationalists. Both sides are in error and inconsistent with Reformed theology. Both are built on a dispensational framework. On the anti Lordship side was Zane Hodges and Charles Ryrie that taught you could be a carnal Christian, and not grow in obedience. This was a type of easy believism or free grace. This is contrary to a Reformed understanding of justification, sanctification, and union with Christ. Zane Hodges went so far as to promote a type of antinomianism. 

On the other side was John MacArthur. MacArthur was right to oppose the theology of Ryrie and Hodges, but MacArthur promoted another error.

According to Dr. MacArthur in his book The Gospel According to Jesus, the distinctives of Lordship Salvation are as follows:

    1. The gospel calls sinners to faith joined in oneness with repentance.
    2. Salvation is all God’s work. Those who believe are saved utterly apart from any effort on their own. Even faith is a gift of God, not a work of man.
    3. The object of faith is Christ Himself, not a creed or a promise.
    4. Faith therefore involves personal commitment to Christ.
    5. Real faith inevitably produces a changed life.
    6. God’s gift of eternal life includes all that pertains to life and godliness.
    7. Jesus is Lord of all, and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender.
    8. Those who truly believe will love Christ.
    9. Behavior is an important test of faith.
    10. Genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith.

 

So distilling this down a little bit, Matt Slick again at CARM says this:

Though there are variations on what Lordship salvation really is, it is basically the view that in order to become a true Christian a person must receive Jesus as both Savior and Lord and that he must also cease from sin or be willing to cease from sin in order to be saved (i.e., repent). The controversy deals with whether or not salvation is a one- or two-step process.

Links: https://bit.ly/gracelordship, https://bit.ly/gqlordship, https://bit.ly/dglordship, https://bit.ly/rplordship  

Who teaches or affirms lordship salvation?

  • John MacArthur
  • Todd Friel
  • Paul Washer
  • David Platt
  • Justin Peters
  • John Piper

Where do they get the foundation for what they believe?

This view is very much inseparable from dispensationalism, which we’ve already covered in a previous TEW. In fact, Dr. MacArthur says in The Gospel According to Jesus that this is an issue specifically for dispensationalists and that covenant theologians do not have this problem. He also focuses on scriptures that emphasize showing good fruit and having a changed life after regeneration.

A Reformed Response:

A lot of this section was written by Coleen. She put things so well that I didn’t really want to change too much, but one quote from her that really helped in this was:

MacArthur himself doesn’t include Reformed theologians in the debate saying, “Yet the fact remains that virtually all the champions of no-lordship doctrine are dispensationalists. No covenant theologian defends the no-lordship gospel.”. Even MacArthur essentially writes covenant theologians out of the debate basically implying we don’t have the antinomianism problem.  If he would have clarified that statement explaining Confessional Covenant Theologians, I would agree with him.  Unfortunately there are antinomians within certain covenant theology camps of hyper Calvinism, but those either deny the confessions altogether or take exceptions to them.  Reformed confessions leave no room for antinomianism, as neither does true covenant theology. 

In the book Christ the Lord, Rick Ritchie explains:

Must one submit to the lordship of Christ in order to be saved? What often remains unnoticed in the current debate is that, while the two sides differ in their answer to this one question, they both come to the question with a common theological background, dispensationalism, which determines in advance the possible range of answers. We might call the proponents of the two positions “Dispensational Lordship Salvationists” and “Dispensational Decisional Salvationists.”  Before we offer our support on one side of the debate, we ought to take notice of the fact that both parties occupy the same theological continent and have pledged allegiance to the same doctrinal constitution. The better question for us might not be, Which side shall we support?” but,  “How can we avoid the mine fields of both positions and find our way back to our true country?”

To many American Christians, dispensationalism is not just a peripheral set of doctrines tacked onto a core of beliefs held in common with the rest of Christendom. Dispensationalism is the grid on which these Christians hang all of their doctrines, even the ones they claim to derive from other Protestant theologies. When dispensationalism is the interpretive grid by which theology is understood, it affects even the understanding of those doctrines which originated outside of the dispensationalist system.

When we witness MacArthur and his adversaries using Luther and other Reformation theologians to support their respective positions, we might be tempted to think that they are our cousins in the Reformation faith; however, even when they use the same vocabulary as the Reformers, their interpretive grid has already given to certain key terms a meaning that is foreign to the theology of the Reformation. This is never more evident than where they speak of “law” and “gospel.”

One response I really appreciate from Michael Horton is, “We’re not saved by making Jesus savior or Lord. We’re saved because he’s savior and Lord.” My husband took that even a step further and said, “how can Jesus send anyone to hell if he wasn’t their Lord?”

Historically faith is defined as knowledge, assent, and trust. Dr. MacArthur redefined it as knowledge, assent, and a determination of the will to obey. This ultimately adds works to faith, which changes what is meant by sola fide, faith alone. 

Lordship Salvation also does not recognize law/gospel distinctions. For instance, Dr. MacArthur calls the story of the Rich Young Ruler “gospel.”  In the story of the rich young ruler, Christ gives him law to show him he is not perfect. One purpose of the law is to show us our sin. To call this story “gospel” would mean the “good news” (gospel) is do more, obey more. This is not good news. 

Links: http://bit.ly/wscallord, http://bit.ly/trblord74, http://bit.ly/justifsanctif, http://bit.ly/ctlordship,  

A reformed view of the church needs to have room for false converts. There is a distinct difference between the visible church and invisible church, but the difference is one of the heart.

All Theology Gals episodes on this (in the order that I would listen to them in):

http://bit.ly/tglgimportance, http://bit.ly/tgGospel, http://bit.ly/tglawgospel, http://bit.ly/tgTheGospel, http://bit.ly/tgLawGospelP1, http://bit.ly/tgLawGospelP2, http://bit.ly/tgTheLaw, http://bit.ly/tglordsalvation, http://bit.ly/tglordcontroversy, http://bit.ly/tgantinomlegal, http://bit.ly/tgordosalutis, http://bit.ly/tgGoodWorks, http://bit.ly/tgsanctification, http://bit.ly/tgpracticalLawGos, http://bit.ly/tgcanwehave, http://bit.ly/tgassurance, http://bit.ly/tglordselfhelp, http://bit.ly/tgparentinpews, http://bit.ly/tglawgosparent 

The reformed confessions also address this in:

  • Belgic Confession, Articles 23-24
  • Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 2, 81, 87-90
  • Savoy Declaration Ch 10-20
  • 39 Articles of Religion, Articles 16 and 27
  • Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 29-33, 35, 87
  • Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 58-59, 66-71, 75-78
  • WCF Ch 10-19
  • 1689 LBCF Ch 10-20

The above are also expounded of here: http://bit.ly/apmordosalutis

The Attraction of Legalistic Teaching

The Attraction of Legalistic Teaching

This week we talk about the attraction of legalistic teaching. We also address how to avoid falling into the ditches of antinomianism or legalism. 

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Episode Resourses:

What is the Gospel? with Pastor John Fonville Theology Gals

Antinomianism and Legalism with John Fonville Part 2 Theology Gals 

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Antinomianism and Legalism with John Fonville Part 2

Antinomianism and Legalism with John Fonville Part 2

This week is part two of a two part series with John Fonville. In part one we focus on the gospel and law and gospel. In part two we discuss antinomianism and nomism. 

Episode Resources:

What is the Gospel? with Pastor John Fonville – Part one of Theology Gals episode 

Paramount Church (you can find John’s sermons here) 

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Walter Marshall

Assumed Evangelicalism: Some Reflections En Route to Denying the Gospel by David Gibson

Lordship Salvation with Pastor John Fonville – Theology Gals Episode 

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Legalism, Antinomianism & Christian Liberty

This week Coleen and Angela discuss legalism, antinomianism and Christian Liberty.

Episode Resources:

Christian Liberty – Reformed Pilgrims

Heidelcast Series: Nomism And Antinomianism

Heidelberg 91: What Are Good Works? (1) R. Scott Clark

Heidelberg 91: What Are Good Works? (2) R. Scott Clark

What Hath Beer To Do With Calvin? Christian Liberty Is Not License R. Scott Clark

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