And how are any of the admonitions in the NT to the various churches to live as if Christ’ death and resurrection were real any less a part of the Good News? You know: Paul’s point in making these things plain is summed up when he says plainly, “such ones as these you once were” [Eph 2; Col 1] – meaning you are now something better, and have a better purpose and objective.There are several reasons I said this, and of course the first is that it’s the first post in a series of bloggery goodness and I had to make sure I said something worth blogging about a second time.
But another significant reason for saying this is that this is part of Paul’s Gospel which, I think, is getting lost in our “Gospel-centric” movements. I say “our” because let’s face it: I was blogging about the definition and centrality of the Gospel before it was a fad. I’m an O.G. blogger – Orthodox Gospel. Before there was T4G there was centuri0n out there giving Tony Campolo the angry eyebrows, and writing open letters to Derek Webb wondering if he has both hands on the discipleship wheel, and of course declaring that others who are far more post-medieval than I am are “clowns”. I’m a Gospel-centric guy.
But here’s the thing: I suspect some people say they are “Gospel centric” and they are in fact intellectually and academically afraid that if the Gospel means more than “God did”, they are trudging into either Liberalism or Catholicism. And these are guys who, frankly, think that people who don’t baptize babies are “churchless” and that those who do not pass the cup and the bread around every week are somehow turning their back on grace.
But the Gospel is in fact, “God did for us.” For example, take a look at what Jesus says here:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going. [John 14]Consider it: Jesus is here at the last supper, and when he tells the Apostles that the reason their hearts should not be troubled that he is “going” is that he is going somewhere for their sakes. That is: the “good news” is not that Jesus goes [to his death on the cross]; it is in fact that Jesus goes [to his death on the cross] to prepare a place for the believers. That is: it is not just that Jesus does something, but that it is for us, and that somehow there is something that makes us different.
Jesus also said this:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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]”Aha!” says one of those who thinks I have gone AWOL here, “You’re confusing ‘Law’ and ‘Gospel’, Frank: ‘Abide’ is a command, and this cannot be the Gospel because it something one must do. My doing is my death, if I can be so bold: only Christ’s doing is life for me, and I’ll trust him thank you very much. I’ll put my hope in His death and resurrection, and really hold your advice at arms length because let’s face it: you’re veering into the land of the doubtful here. This is not good systematic theology, and I exhort you to turn back.”
Well, before you start wielding the systematic fire hose to get me off your theological front porch, let’s see what some actual bacon-in-the-fire Protestants thought about this.
They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened, in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.That’s the WCF XIII.1, yes? And that’s what Christ is talking about in John 15: those in Him are not just “in him” but he is also “in them” so that they are no longer dead branches but branches full of new life.
Paul says it this way:
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.I mean: that’s the book of Romans, people. This is the Reformed home court. Yet when Paul says that we do not keep the Law in order that we be righteous but that Christ kept the law in order that we might live according to the spirit of life rather than the dead flesh, somehow we start wondering what’s for lunch or how nice it is outside. Paul says here without any real qualifications that God sent Christ to fulfill the law for us in order that we can therefore walk according to the Spirit.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. [Rom 8]
This is the Gospel: Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance to the Scripture. But if it is for us, and now our sins are the things ruined and we are now in the spirit, in the true vine, headed for a place prepared for us, is it moral and spiritual beer-thirty? Can we take eternity off? Is the Gospel the good news that we have a permanent vacation?
Or should we instead say, “God loves us, and has a wonderful purpose for our lives?”
I’ll be thinking about that next week. You think about it until then, and be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day in the Lord’s house, because of the Gospel.