How To Test Your Gospel Part 2: A Lonely Christ
Have you ever noticed the emphasis of good news in the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—looks noticeably different than the good news of the epistles? The difference is this: in the gospels, the declaration of the kingdom of God consumes the bearers of good news, while in the epistles, the person Jesus Christ is the focus.
Seeing this, we may very well think the gospels and the epistles are at odds, but we have not yet seen all there is to see. When Christ came proclaiming the kingdom of God, He came as the prince, heir to the throne, proclaiming that this kingdom had arrived. Indeed, it had. However, humanity could only access it after His death. We lacked the very thing needed to access this kingdom, namely righteousness. Christ, obeying the law perfectly, atoning for our sin by His death, and defeating death by His resurrection, became the door to the kingdom. We could only enter if our filthy, sinful rags we wore were exchanged for Christ's clean, righteous robe. The epistles do not change the story, but rather they simply magnify the only way into the kingdom. This is why the good news of the gospel lies in one simple word: imputation.
Imputation is the transfer of Christ's righteousness to us, and it is the glorious news set against the dark backdrop of our sin. This sets itself as the priority in our gospel, for without the transfer of righteousness to us, we remain forever lost in our sinfulness. In this, the second test of our gospel is seen, namely the content of the gospel. What are we presenting to the world as good news?
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)
If Paul wished to present a gospel pleasing to the cultures of his day, he would have been proclaiming the ability to perform miracles to the Jews, and to the Greeks, he would have presented a new philosophy. He did neither because Christ crucified is the only gospel with the power to save.
What can truly save us? Why do we need saving? We must answer these questions honestly if we are to see our need for Christ to take up the entire content of our gospel. If it is not Christ, it is no gospel, for there is no other power under heaven to save us from our sin. Sure, Christ as the center of our gospel may cause many to turn away for lack of excitement or worldly wisdom, but Christ as the center of our gospel is the only hope for sinners. Excitement and worldly wisdom are always hungry for more; Christ, having been raised from the dead, lives forever.
This test of our gospel extends far past the message we proclaim to the unbelieving world; it extends to the message we preach to ourselves and to fellow believers. It is here, truly, that our gospel is put to the test, for it is here that we see the extent to which we value Christ.
I have found an attitude reaching across many Christian denominational lines that says once there is a belief in Jesus as saviour, the believer is ready to progress to bigger and better things in the Christian life. What is meant by this is that spiritual growth ought to be most important in the mind's eye. How to live a better life, how to grow, or how to reach your God-given potential become important topics to study. Or perhaps, as is also the case, the focus simply becomes the affections the believer has for God. The motivation for these affections can come from anywhere, so long as they are produced. Growth in holiness and affections for God are certainly important, but when they become the main focus, or crowd out Christ, it is easy to forget where the motivation and power for these come from. And when we forget, we soon find ourselves relying on something foreign to the Christian gospel.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
"Abide" is the word that ties this teaching of Christ together. Unless we abide, we cannot bear the fruit of growth in holiness, nor will our affections be great for God. To abide, of course, means to stay put in that place, not moving on to something else, nor entertaining some new idea.
There is one other reason to abide, and it ties back into where we started. If it is true that Christ's righteousness is our only hope, why would we seek to move on to 'bigger and better' things? There is no such thing. Christ is the greatest good of the good news, and He is not simply for those who have not believed, but is for the weakest to the strongest believer. There has never been a Christian who has graduated from needing Christ’s righteousness to appear acceptable before God.
We never move on from Christ, for He is our salvation. He is our daily bread, and so we must depend upon Him daily. Indeed, such must constitute the whole of the Christian life. Why, then, would we move on from Him to something else? Of course, it would be amiss to say that we must never study the whole of the Scriptures concerning the nature and character of God, the sinfulness of humanity, the moral law, etc., but we must wear the lenses of Christ and Him crucified if we are going to study those subjects in a Christian manner.
The question, it seems, that sums up this whole matter is this: How lonely is Christ in your gospel?