The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration
I anticipate that the following document will become important to understanding the level of agreement necessary to call others brothers and sisters in Christ.
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST: AN EVANGELICAL CELEBRATION
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world. (Isaiah 12:5)
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is news, good news: the best and most important news that any human being ever hears.
This Gospel declares the only way to know God in peace, love, and joy is through the reconciling death of Jesus Christ the risen Lord.
This Gospel is the central message of the Holy Scriptures, and is the true key to understanding them.
This Gospel identifies Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, as the Son of God and God the Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, whose incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension fulfilled the Fatherís saving will. His death for sins and his resurrection from the dead were promised beforehand by the prophets and attested by eyewitnesses. In Godís own time and in Godís own way, Jesus Christ shall return as glorious Lord and Judge of all (1 Thess. 4:13-18; Mt. 25:31,32). He is now giving the Holy Spirit from the Father to all those who are truly his. The three Persons of the Trinity thus combine in the work of saving sinners.
This Gospel sets forth Jesus Christ as the living Savior, Master, Life, and Hope of all who put their trust in him. It tells us that the eternal destiny of all people depends on whether they are savingly related to Jesus Christ.
This Gospel is the only Gospel: there is no other; and to change its substance is to pervert and indeed destroy it.
This Gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches.
All Christians are called to unity in love and unity in truth. As Evangelicals who derive our very name from the Gospel, we celebrate this great good news of Godís saving work in Jesus Christ as the true bond of Christian unity, whether among organized churches and denominations or in the many trans-denominational cooperative enterprises of Christians together.
The Bible declares that all who truly trust in Christ and his Gospel are sons and daughters of God through grace, and hence are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
All who are justified experience reconciliation with the Father, full remission of sins, transition from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, the reality of being a new creature in Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. They enjoy access to the Father with all the peace and joy that this brings.
The Gospel requires of all believers worship, which means constant praise and giving of thanks to God, submission to all that he has revealed in his written word, prayerful dependence on him, and vigilance lest his truth be even inadvertently compromised or obscured.
To share the joy and hope of this Gospel is a supreme privilege. It is also an abiding obligation, for the "Great Commission" of Jesus Christ still stands: proclaim the Gospel everywhere, he said, teaching, baptizing, and making disciples.
By embracing the following declaration we affirm our commitment to this task, and with it our allegiance to Christ himself, to the Gospel itself, and to each other as fellow Evangelical believers.
This Gospel of Jesus Christ which God sets forth in the infallible Scriptures combines Jesusí own declaration of the present reality of the Kingdom of God with the apostlesí account of the person, place, and work of Christ, and how sinful humans benefit from it. The Patristic Rule of Faith, the historic Creeds, the Reformation confessions, and the doctrinal bases of later Evangelical bodies, all witness to the substance of this biblical message.
The heart of the Gospel is that our holy, loving Creator, confronted with human hostility and rebellion, has chosen in his own freedom and faithfulness to become our holy, loving Redeemer and Restorer. The Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14): it is through his one and only Son that Godís one and only plan of salvation is implemented. So Peter announced: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). And Christ himself taught: "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
Through the Gospel we learn that we human beings, who were made for fellowship with God, are by nature Ė that is, "in Adam" (1 Cor. 15:22) Ė dead in sin, unresponsive to and separated from our Maker. We are constantly twisting his truth, breaking his law, belittling his goals and standards, and offending his holiness by our unholiness, so that we truly are "without hope and without God in the world" (Rom. 1:18-32, 3:9-20; Eph. 2:1-3, 12). Yet God in grace took the initiative to reconcile us to himself through the sinless life and vicarious death of his beloved Son (Eph. 2:4-10; Rom. 3:21-24).
The Father sent the Son to free us from the dominion of sin and Satan, and to make us Godís children and friends. Jesus paid our penalty in our place on his cross, satisfying the retributive demands of divine justice by shedding his blood in sacrifice and so making possible justification for all who trust in him (Rom. 3:25-26). The Bible describes this mighty substitutionary transaction as the achieving of ransom, reconciliation, redemption, propitiation, and conquest of evil powers (Mt. 20:28; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Rom. 3:23-25; John 12:31; Col. 2:15). It secures for us a restored relationship with God that brings pardon and peace, acceptance and access, and adoption into Godís family (Col. 1:20, 2:13-14; Rom. 5:1-2; Gal. 4:4-7; 1 Pet. 3:18). The faith in God and in Christ to which the Gospel calls us is a trustful outgoing of our hearts to lay hold of these promised and proffered benefits.
This Gospel further proclaims the bodily resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of Jesus as evidence of the efficacy of his once-for-all sacrifice for us, of the reality of his present personal ministry to us, and of the certainty of his future return to glorify us (1 Cor.15; Heb. 1:1-4, 2:1-18, 4:14-16, 7:1-10:25). In the life of faith as the Gospel presents it, believers are united with their risen Lord, communing with him, and looking to him in repentance and hope for empowering through the Holy Spirit, so that henceforth they may not sin but serve him truly.
Godís justification of those who trust him, according to the Gospel, is a decisive transition, here and now, from a state of condemnation and wrath because of their sins to one of acceptance and favor by virtue of Jesusí flawless obedience culminating in his voluntary sin-bearing death. God "justifies the wicked" (ungodly: Rom. 4:5) by imputing (reckoning, crediting, counting, accounting) righteousness to them and ceasing to count their sins against them (Rom. 4:1-8). Sinners receive through faith in Christ alone "the gift of righteousness" (Rom. 1:17, 5:17; Phil. 3:9) and thus become "the righteousness of God" in him who was "made sin" for them (2 Cor. 5:21).
As our sins were reckoned to Christ, so Christís righteousness is reckoned to us. This is justification by the imputation of Christís righteousness. All we bring to the transaction is our need of it. Our faith in the God who bestows it, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is itself the fruit of Godís grace. Faith links us savingly to Jesus, but inasmuch as it involves an acknowledgment that we have no merit of our own, it is confessedly not a meritorious work.
The Gospel assures us that all who have entrusted their lives to Jesus Christ are born-again children of God (John 1:12), indwelt, empowered, and assured of their status and hope by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 7:6, 8:9-17). The moment we truly believe in Christ, the Father declares us righteous in him and begins conforming us to his likeness. Genuine faith acknowledges and depends upon Jesus as Lord and shows itself in growing obedience to the divine commands, though this contributes nothing to the ground of our justification (James 2:14-26; Heb. 6:1-12).
By his sanctifying grace Christ works within us through faith, renewing our fallen nature and leading us to real maturity Ė that measure of development which is meant by "the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). The Gospel calls us to live as obedient servants of Christ and as his emissaries in the world, doing justice, loving mercy, and helping all in need, thus seeking to bear witness to the Kingdom of Christ. At death Christ takes the believer to himself (Phil. 1:21) for unimaginable joy in the ceaseless worship of God (Rev. 22:1-5).
Salvation in its full sense is from the guilt of sin in the past, the power of sin in the present, and the presence of sin in the future. Thus, while in foretaste believers enjoy salvation now, they still await its fullness (Mark 14: 61-62; Heb. 9:28). Salvation is a trinitarian reality, initiated by the Father, implemented by the Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit. It has a global dimension, for Godís plan is to save believers out of every tribe and tongue (Rev. 5:9) to be his Church, a new humanity, the people of God, the Body and Bride of Christ, and the community of the Holy Spirit. All the heirs of final salvation are called here and now to serve their Lord and each other in love, to share in the fellowship of Jesusí sufferings, and to work together to make Christ known to the whole world.
We learn from the Gospel that as all have sinned, so all who do not receive Christ will be judged according to their just deserts as measured by Godís holy law, and face eternal retributive punishment.
UNITY IN THE GOSPEL
Christians are commanded to love each other despite differences of race, gender, privilege, and social, political, and economic background (John 13:34-35; Gal. 3:28-29), and to be of one mind wherever possible (John 17:20-21; Phil. 2:2; Rom. 14:1-15:13). We know that divisions among Christians hinder our witness in the world, and we desire greater mutual understanding and truth-speaking in love. We know too that as trustees of Godís revealed truth we cannot embrace any form of doctrinal indifferentism, or relativism, or pluralism by which Godís truth is sacrificed for a false peace.
Doctrinal disagreements call for debate. Dialogue for mutual understanding and, if possible, narrowing of the differences is valuable, doubly so when the avowed goal is unity in primary things, with liberty in secondary things, and charity in all things.
In the foregoing paragraphs an attempt has been made to state what is primary and essential in the Gospel as Evangelicals understand it. Useful dialogue, however, requires not only charity in our attitudes, but also clarity in our utterances. Our extended analysis of justification by faith alone through Christ alone reflects our belief that Gospel truth is of crucial importance and is not always well understood and correctly affirmed. For added clarity, out of love for Godís truth and Christís Church, we now cast the key points of what has been said into specific affirmations and denials regarding the Gospel and our unity in it and in Christ.
Affirmations & Denials:
1. We affirm that the Gospel entrusted to the Church is, in the first instance, Godís Gospel (Mark 1:14; Rom. 1:1). God is its author and he reveals it to us in and by his Word. Its authority and truth rest on him alone.
We deny that the truth or authority of the Gospel derives from any human insight or invention (Gal. 1:1-11). We also deny that the truth or authority of the Gospel rests on the authority of any particular church or human institution.
2. We affirm that the Gospel is the saving power of God in that the Gospel effects salvation to everyone who believes, without distinction (Rom. 1:16). This efficacy of the Gospel is by the power of God himself (1 Cor. 1:18).
We deny that the power of the Gospel rests in the eloquence of the preacher, the technique of the evangelist, or the persuasion of rational argument (1 Cor. 1:21; 2:1-5).
3. We affirm that the Gospel diagnoses the universal human condition as one of sinful rebellion against God, which if unchanged will lead each person to eternal loss under Godís condemnation.
We deny any rejection of the fallenness of human nature or any assertion of the natural goodness, or divinity, of the human race.
4. We affirm that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, the only mediator between God and humanity (John 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5).
We deny that anyone is saved in any other way than by Jesus Christ and his Gospel. The Bible offers no hope that sincere worshippers of other religions will be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ.
5. We affirm that the Church is commanded by God and is therefore under divine obligation to preach the Gospel to every living person (Luke 24:47; Mt. 28:18-19).
We deny that any particular class or group of persons, whatever their ethnic or cultural identity, may be ignored or passed over in the preaching of the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:19-22). God purposes a global Church made up from people of every tribe, language and nation (Rev. 7:9).
6. We affirm that faith in Jesus Christ as the divine Word (or Logos, John 1:1), the second Person of the Trinity, co-eternal and co-essential with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Heb. 1:3), is foundational to faith in the Gospel.
We deny that any view of Jesus Christ which reduces or rejects his full deity is Gospel faith or will avail to salvation.
7. We affirm that Jesus Christ is God incarnate (John 1:14). The virgin-born descendant of David (Rom. 1:3), he had a true human nature, was subject to the Law of God (Gal. 4:5), and was like us at all points, except without sin (Heb. 2:17, 7:26-28). We affirm that faith in the true humanity of Christ is essential to faith in the Gospel.
We deny that anyone who rejects the humanity of Christ, his incarnation, or his sinlessness, or who maintains that these truths are not essential to the Gospel, will be saved (1 John 4:2-3).
8. We affirm that the atonement of Christ by which, in his obedience, he offered a perfect sacrifice, propitiating the Father by paying for our sins and satisfying divine justice on our behalf according to Godís eternal plan, is an essential element of the Gospel.
We deny that any view of the atonement that rejects the substitutionary satisfaction of divine justice, accomplished vicariously for believers, is compatible with the teaching of the Gospel.
9. We affirm that Christís saving work included both his life and his death on our behalf (Gal. 3:13). We declare that faith in the perfect obedience of Christ by which he fulfilled all the demands of the Law of God in our behalf is essential to the Gospel.
We deny that our salvation was achieved merely or exclusively by the death of Christ without reference to his life of perfect righteousness.
10. We affirm that the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead is essential to the biblical Gospel (1 Cor. 15:14).
We deny the validity of any so-called gospel that denies the historical reality of the bodily resurrection of Christ.
11. We affirm that the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone is essential to the Gospel (Rom. 3:28; 4:5; Gal. 2:16).
We deny that any person can believe the biblical Gospel and at the same time reject the apostolic teaching of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. We also deny that there is more than one true Gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).
12. We affirm that the doctrine of the imputation (reckoning or counting) both of our sins to Christ and of his righteousness to us, whereby our sins are fully forgiven and we are fully accepted, is essential to the biblical Gospel (2 Cor. 5:19-21).
We deny that we are justified by the righteousness of Christ infused into us or by any righteousness that is thought to inhere within us.
13. We affirm that the righteousness of Christ by which we are justified is properly his own, which he achieved apart from us, in and by his perfect obedience. This righteousness is counted, reckoned, or imputed to us by the forensic (that is, legal) declaration of God, as the sole ground of our justification.
We deny that any works we perform at any stage of our existence add to the merit of Christ or earn for us any merit that contributes in any way to the ground of our justification (Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8,9; Titus 3:5).
14. We affirm that while all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are in the process of being made holy and conformed to the image of Christ, those consequences of justification are not its ground. God declares us just, remits our sins, and adopts us as his children, by his grace alone, and through faith alone, because of Christ alone, while we are still sinners (Rom. 4:5).
We deny that believers must be inherently righteous by virtue of their cooperation with Godís life-transforming grace before God will declare them justified in Christ. We are justified while we are still sinners.
15. We affirm that saving faith results in sanctification, the transformation of life in growing conformity to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification means ongoing repentance, a life of turning from sin to serve Jesus Christ in grateful reliance on him as oneís Lord and Master (Gal. 5:22-25; Rom. 8:4, 13-14).
We reject any view of justification which divorces it from our sanctifying union with Christ and our increasing conformity to his image through prayer, repentance, cross-bearing, and life in the Spirit.
16. We affirm that saving faith includes mental assent to the content of the Gospel, acknowledgment of our own sin and need, and personal trust and reliance upon Christ and his work.
We deny that saving faith includes only mental acceptance of the Gospel, and that justification is secured by a mere outward profession of faith. We further deny that any element of saving faith is a meritorious work or earns salvation for us.
17. We affirm that although true doctrine is vital for spiritual health and well-being, we are not saved by doctrine. Doctrine is necessary to inform us how we may be saved by Christ, but it is Christ who saves.
We deny that the doctrines of the Gospel can be rejected without harm. Denial of the Gospel brings spiritual ruin and exposes us to Godís judgment.
18. We affirm that Jesus Christ commands his followers to proclaim the Gospel to all living persons, evangelizing everyone everywhere, and discipling believers within the fellowship of the Church. A full and faithful witness to Christ includes the witness of personal testimony, godly living, and acts of mercy and charity to our neighbor, without which the preaching of the Gospel appears barren.
We deny that the witness of personal testimony, godly living, and acts of mercy and charity to our neighbors constitute evangelism apart from the proclamation of the Gospel.
As Evangelicals united in the Gospel, we promise to watch over and care for one another, to pray for and forgive one another, and to reach out in love and truth to Godís people everywhere, for we are one family, one in the Holy Spirit, and one in Christ.
Centuries ago it was truly said that in things necessary there must be unity, in things less than necessary there must be liberty, and in all things there must be charity. We see all these Gospel truths as necessary.
Now to God, the Author of the truth and grace of this Gospel, through Jesus Christ, its subject and our Lord, be praise and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
"THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST: AN EVANGELICAL CELEBRATION" IS COPYRIGHT 1999 BY THE COMMITTEE ON EVANGELICAL UNITY IN THE GOSPEL, P.O. BOX 5551, GLENDALE HEIGHTS, IL 60139-5551