Is “the gospel” just shorthand for the daily life of a Christian? If not, how does the gospel shape our daily Christian life? Tim Keller offers biblical insights in this excerpt from his new book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. If you like what you read here, get the book 38% off: Buy Center Church (Special offer good through Sept. 18, 2012). -Adam Forrest
Faith vs. Works?
The gospel is not about something we do but about what has been done for us, and yet the gospel results in a whole new way of life…
One of Martin Luther’s dicta was that we are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that remains alone. His point is that true gospel belief will always and necessarily lead to good works, but salvation in no way comes through or because of good works. Faith and works must never be confused for one another, nor may they be separated (Eph 2:8–10; Jas 2:14, 17–18, 20, 22, 24, 26).
I am convinced that belief in the gospel leads us to care for the poor and participate actively in our culture, as surely as Luther said true faith leads to good works…
What is the gospel and what does it do?
I have often heard people preach this way: “The good news is that God is healing and will heal the world of all its hurts; therefore, the work of the gospel is to work for justice and peace in the world.”
The danger in this line of thought is not that the particulars are untrue (they are not) but that it mistakes effects for causes. It confuses what the gospel is with what the gospel does.
When Paul speaks of the renewed material creation, he states that the new heavens and new earth are guaranteed to us because on the cross Jesus restored our relationship with God as his true sons and daughters. Romans 8:1–25 teaches, remarkably, that the redemption of our bodies and of the entire physical world occurs when we receive “our adoption.” As his children, we are guaranteed our future inheritance (Eph 1:13–14, 18; Col 1:12; 3:24; Heb 9:15; 1 Pet 1:4), and because of that inheritance, the world is renewed. The future is ours because of Christ’s work finished in the past.
Gospel as divine rehab?
We must not…give the impression that the gospel is simply a divine rehabilitation program for the world, but rather that it is an accomplished substitutionary work.
We must not depict the gospel as primarily joining something (Christ’s kingdom program) but rather as receiving something (Christ’s finished work). If we make this error, the gospel becomes another kind of a salvation by works instead of a salvation by faith. As J. I. Packer writes [in Knowing God]:
The gospel does bring us solutions to these problems [of suffering and injustice], but it does so by first solving…the deepest of all human problems, the problem of man’s relation with his Maker; and unless we make it plain that the solution of these former problems depends on the settling of this latter one, we are misrepresenting the message and becoming false witnesses of God.
Gospel as news report
The gospel, then, is preeminently a report about the work of Christ on our behalf — that is why and how the gospel is salvation by grace. The gospel is news because it is about a salvation accomplished for us. It is news that creates a life of love…
So, what is the gospel?
There are two basic ways to answer the question “What is the gospel?” One is to offer the biblical good news of how you can get right with God. This is to understand the question to mean, “What must I do to be saved?” The second is to offer the biblical good news of what God will fully accomplish in history through the salvation of Jesus. This is to understand the question as “What hope is there for the world?”
Learn more about Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Tim Keller.
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