Friday, November 11, 2005

What Is An Evangelical? Part 2 - The Gospel of Christ

At long last, Part 2 of my What Is An Evangelical? series has arrived! Thanks to all who showed patience and restraint in not cussing me for delaying. Let's recap quickly what an evangelical is: an "evangelical" is a person (preacher), church, or denomination that has the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially the primacy of Christ's work, as the central article of faith; that believes the spreading of the Gospel and the salvation of souls is the number one duty of the Christian; that believes all moral/spiritual truth is found in the Bible; and that Christians are called to live lives of service before God and fellow man. This week we are examining: The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8

It should be obvious to the reader that this is the very heart of the Gospel. Paul here repeats what is believed to be the earliest Christian creed ever. We would do well to take heed to what is the clear teaching of the Twelve to Paul. Firstly, we need to understand that this passage underscores why the Gospel is of primary focus for evangelicals: Paul passes this confession to the Corinthians as of first importance. The Greek implies that this teaching logically is "above all," meaning it is the one thing we cannot do without. Christ died for our sins. Christ dies for the sins of fallen humanity. Jesus made a vicarious, sacrificial, atoning death for our sins, that through Him we might be restored to a right relationship with God. Christ was buried. Lest anyone say, "Jesus didn't really die," the Apostles affirm that Jesus was buried in a tomb. You don't waste a perfectly good tomb on someone who is alive, much less put a Roman guard on it! Never mind that from the Gospel accounts alone it can be medically verified that Jesus really did die. That made burial, well, necessary! Christ rose from the tomb on the third day. Without the Resurrection, there is no Christianity. Period. Unless Jesus defeats death by rising from the dead, His work is in vain, God is thwarted, and we are hopelessly lost in a never ending cycle of sin. Paul says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, we are to be pitied most of all humanity, for we have been horribly deceived. Our entire lives have been a worthless waste. (1 Cor. 15:12-19) Christ appeared to many eyewitnesses after the Resurrection. Without appearing to those who knew Him, how would we know that He rose from the dead? For all we know, the tomb is still sealed tightly, waiting for an archaeologist to uncover it. But it is interesting to note that He appeared to so many people that it cannot be dismissed as grief, hallucinations, mob mentality, or "group-think." Even more interesting is that no Jewish authority from the time denies that His tomb was empty! Instead they tried to explain it away. Quite implausibly, I must add. The presence of eyewitnesses further cements early Christian history and theology, because if anyone tried to slander Jesus or make up false stories about him, you had eyewitnesses who could refute or corroborate any reports. The Gospel thus receives a firm grounding in reality by the presence of eyewitnesses. But it is interesting to note the addendum "in accordance with the Scriptures." This indicates that Christ died for us only because it has pleased God to allow Him to do so. God declared His will in His word, the Bible, and Jesus performed it expressly and perfectly. All other parts of this confession must be understood in the context that nothing happened unless God expressly willed it. How this enlightens Jesus's statement in John 5 that He can only do what He sees the Father doing! Just think, from the beginning of time (nay before time began!), God saw me and planned meticulously to save me, and allowed Jesus to see me and carry out that plan save me, and led the Holy Spirit to move me into His wondrous light. How humbling. I am driven to my knees in thanksgiving and praise to God, that He would have mercy on me, a sinner. As you may be able to see, this explanation of the Gospel of Christ leads into several essential Christian doctrines, namely the doctrines of atonement, resurrection, and sovereignty, to name three obvious choices. These doctrines themselves give birth to others which help flesh out what Christians historically have believed. So the centrality of the Gospel in evangelical (and indeed Christian) thought is illustrated. So, then, the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims that before the hands of the watch began to move, before God placed the singularity that caused the Big Bang ("Let There Be Light!"), God knew us. According to His divine and sovereign will, He sent His Son as a ransom, a sacrifice, for our sins, an atonement by which we are made right with God for ever. By His grace we are able to accept the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. "By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves--it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)." Don't you want the same kind of faith that can trust in God's power over existence? Faith that can save you through the atoning work of Jesus? This, my friend, is the Gospel. Jesus died and rose again so that by God's grace you might be saved. Won't you pray that His grace extend to you, that you might believe and be saved? "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)" You don't need to get right with God (clean up your life) first--this is HOW you get right with God! He declares His grace is enough for you, because His strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)! Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you WILL be saved! Next time in Part 3 we will examine evangelism, the second trait of an evangelical. Thanks for reading!

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