What the Gospel is and What it is Not

by Mike Ratliff

20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21 (NASB) 

Any attempt to “improve” the Gospel according to human wisdom or philosophy empties the Cross of Christ of its power. In our day, this tinkering with Gospel is called “Contextualization.” This is the process of adding to, taking away, and changing the Gospel message in an attempt to make it relate to culture. While there is a part in all of us that sees this as a “good move,” if we compare this with what the Word of God teaches us about the Gospel and how God works through it to save His people, we will see that this process actually creates just another false gospel or non-gospel. For clarification let us look at what God’s Word teaches us is the Gospel.

If you have not done so already, read the passage I placed at the top of this post (Matthew 1:20-21). The name “Jesus” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means, “Yahweh is salvation” or “Yahweh saves.” This name described His mission, which was given to Him by the Father. What was it? It was to save His people from their sins. This salvation is the Good News or Gospel, but what exactly does it mean to be saved from one’s sins? Carefully read the following passage which describes what it means to “be still in your sins” when the Day of God’s Wrath does come.

14 Near is the great day of the LORD,
Near and coming very quickly;
Listen, the day of the LORD!
In it the warrior cries out bitterly.
15 A day of wrath is that day,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of destruction and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 A day of trumpet and battle cry
Against the fortified cities
And the high corner towers.
17 I will bring distress on men
So that they will walk like the blind,
Because they have sinned against the LORD;
And their blood will be poured out like dust
And their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold
Will be able to deliver them
On the day of the LORD’S wrath;
And all the earth will be devoured
In the fire of His jealousy,
For He will make a complete end,
Indeed a terrifying one,
Of all the inhabitants of the earth. Zephaniah 1:14-18 (NASB) 

Who is it that will be consumed by the wrath of God? It is those who have not been “saved from their sins.” However, the following passage describes those who have been “saved from their sins.”

9 For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 (NASB) 

This passage tells us that those whom Jesus saves have “turned” from serving false gods and idols to serve the Living God. This “turning” has also changed them so that instead of pursuing the world and its ways, they wait for God’s Son from Heaven, who raised them from the dead and delivered them from the wrath to come. We learn from this passage that all true Christians have made this “turning” away from false religion to serving God. This “turning” is repentance. Notice also that those who have repented also believe. They await the return of the Son. This is what those with saving faith do. Their Savior promised to come back for them and keep them from God’s wrath.

However, this salvation is much more than simply be saved from hell and being taken to heaven. Yes, salvation does produce this, however, it also contains our Lord’s triumph which has also given to His people a complete deliverance from their enemies. When Christ saves someone, He casts Satan from his throne in that person’s heart. He will not let Satan be master over that person any longer. Sin remains, but it will never have dominion over a true Christian. The Christian’s unredeemed flesh will still lust for dominion, but it will never again gain the throne over his or her New Nature. Christ will be the Master of the heart, and that means sin must be mortified.

The Word of God tells us plainly that the visible Church is made up of genuine believers along side of tares. These tares are professing Christians, but they are not genuine. The true Christian is not sinless and never will be in this age. However, in the age to come when each true believer’s spirit enters glory, sin will be expelled permanently. However, the regenerate heart of the true Christian will be in the process of becoming more and more holy. All believers should examine themselves to see if sin is being subdued in their hearts. The life that is unholy is the product of a heart that is unregenerate. The unregenerate are unsaved. When a Christian repents and believes by God’s grace through his or her regenerate faith, God justifies them. He imputes their sins to Christ on the cross while imputing Christ’s perfect Righteousness to their account. He then sanctifies them. This begins the process of drawing the Christian out of sin into holiness. It will continue for the life of the believer. The regenerate heart is given a new character. This character hates sin and loves holiness. The unregenerate heart is the opposite. Since that person’s flesh is in dominion over them along with Satan, he or she has no ability or desire to hate sin and love God and His holiness. On the other hand, these same unregenerate professing Christians can be quite religious as they equate their religiosity with being a real Christian, which the Word of God no where supports.

God’s grace makes the true Christian a new creation. Those who profess Christ, but are unregenerate are counterfeit Christians. God saves His people from their sins not “in their sins.” They are justified after the washing of regeneration, not before.

14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14 (NASB) 

This salvation makes a Christian holy and this is not simply justification which is a declaration, but is also sanctification which is holiness in reality.

19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” 2 Timothy 2:19 (NASB) 

If a professing Christian is unholy in their heart and actions then he or she has no hope of being counted among God’s people. On the other hand, the true Christian will be washed clean through regeneration and changed forever with a heart that loves God and His holiness while abhorring sin and evil. He or she will desire deeply to live a life that brings honor to their Savior.

Examine yourselves! If you have doubts about your salvation then now is the time to settle it with God. Ask Him to change you, to save you, to wash you clean and turn your heart to Him.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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