The Gospel and Separation III

I’ve been setting forth the case that the gospel must control our understanding and practice of separation. The gospel should not be understood, though, merely as three or four statements about Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 was not an exhaustive statement of gospel content, but to provide a summary of the message in order to lay the foundation for addressing the doctrinal problem over the resurrection at Corinth. The gospel is the faith which was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

The gospel is a message with essential content—things which must be accepted and cannot be denied. It claims this authority because it was given to us by the apostles and is recorded for us in the Scriptures. The gospel cannot be understood properly unless it is set in the context of man’s alienation from the true and living God who created us. If you study the evangelistic preaching in Acts and examine the way that Romans unpacks the gospel, it becomes very clear that contemporary gospel presentations are woefully shallow.

That’s what we’ve covered so far, so let’s look again with 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, and other supporting texts, to sharpen our thinking regarding the biblical gospel. In regarding to the essential content of the gospel, we must be very clear that…

The Center of the Gospel is Jesus Christ, “Christ died…was raised” (cf. Phil 1:12, 15, 16-18).

This may seem like a given, but we must not pass by it too quickly. The modern tendency to design gospel presentations around what Jesus will do for you and what you must do to receive these benefits is seriously out of step with the NT. The center of the message was the person and work of Jesus Christ. Look at the language that is used for communicating the gospel: “proclaiming Christ to them” (Acts 8:5); “he preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35); “immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues” (Acts 9:20); “preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20); “solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:5); “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2); and “we preach…Christ Jesus as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). To preach the gospel is to preach Christ. Preaching Christ is preaching the gospel.

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the OT promises (Acts 13:32). Those promises include details of His life, death, and resurrection (1 Cor 15:3-5). Preaching the gospel also means announcing His exaltation, Lordship, and coming Kingdom (Acts 2:36; 2 Cor 4:5; Acts 8:12; cf. 14:22). The preaching of the gospel includes warnings about coming judgment by Jesus Christ (Rom 2:16 “on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Jesus Christ;” Acts 10:42 “He ordered us to preach…that this is the One who has been appointed by God as the Judge of the living and the dead;” 17:31). Gospel preaching offers the promise of final salvation through Him (Acts 13:38-39; cf. 1 Ths 1:10 “to wait for His Son from heaven…who rescues us from the wrath to come”).

Any doctrinal threat to the person and work of Jesus Christ cuts at the heart of biblical Christianity. Because it attacks a fundamental of the faith, the gospel is at stake. Paul warned about people who might preach “another Jesus” than the one that Paul had preached (2 Cor 11:4). The only Jesus who saves is the one revealed to us in the Scriptures. Any so-called gospel that rejects or distorts what the Scriptures teach about Jesus Christ is no gospel at all.

It is a Message with Eternal Consequences, “by which also you are saved”

The seriousness of getting the gospel right is seen in the first few words of 1 Corinthians 15: 2, “by which also you are saved.” Though some disagree, I take this as referring to final salvation (vs. sanctification) for the following reasons: (1) the context addresses final salvation, e.g., “you are still in your sins” (v. 17) and “have perished” (v. 18); and (2) this is consistent with other NT passages which call for an enduring faith, cf. Col 1:23 “if indeed you continue in the faith” and Heb 10:39 “we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” Genuine saving faith is an enduring faith. If it is real, it lasts because it is the work of God in the soul (cf. Phil 1:6).

Paul’s point here is that to deny or turn away from any essential element of the gospel is to reveal that your faith was really vain or empty (v. 2b “unless you believed in vain”). It was a defective faith. The particular point of departure in this text is the resurrection (cf. v. 12). This means there is no “gospel lite”—either you have the biblical gospel in its fullness or you don’t have the gospel at all. God graciously gives us warnings like this so that we do not become careless about the gospel.

This is why the gospel isn’t simply an evangelistic issue—it is the center of the church as well:

  • A congregation is formed by the gospel (2 Ths 2:14).
  • The ordinances picture the gospel and serve as constant reminders of the gospel and what it has accomplished (Rom 6:3-7; 1 Cor 11:23-26).
  • Our fellowship is supposed to be a display of the gospel (John 13:34-35).
  • Our praise recounts and rejoices in the gospel (Rev 5:9-10, 12).
  • Our preaching and teaching is the exposition of the meaning and implications of the gospel (Acts 20:24, 32).
  • Our giving is a confession of the gospel (2 Cor 9:13).
  • Our separation, internal and external, is a defense of the gospel (1 Cor 5:11-13; 2 Cor 6:14-7:1).

Keeping the gospel at the center of the church is the means by which God will preserve His people and bring them to glory. Guarding the gospel, then, through the proper application of what the Bible teaches about separation is crucial to health of the church and the advance of the mission of Jesus Christ.

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