August 30, 2014

The Epistles Begin with the Gospel

Reading Romans (1)
The Epistles Begin with the Gospel

Paul, a slave of King Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for God’s good news, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the sacred writings — the good news about his son, who was descended from David’s seed in terms of flesh, and who was marked out powerfully as God’s son in terms of the spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead: Jesus, the king, our Lord!

Through him we have received grace and apostleship to bring about believing obedience among all the nations for the sake of his name. That includes you, too, who are called by Jesus the king.

This letter comes to all in Rome who love God, all who are called to be his holy people. Grace and peace to you from God our father, and King Jesus, the Lord.

- Romans 1:1-7, Kingdom NT

* * *

When talking about “the Gospel” in the epistles, many people start with 1Corinthians 15. That is, indeed, a good place to start. The Corinthian letters are among the earliest in the New Testament, and 1Cor. 15 reflects what Paul “received” and “proclaimed” as the message of “first importance.”

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve….” (15:3-5, NRSV)

In The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight calls this text, “a lifting up of the curtains in the earliest days of the church; it tells us what everyone believed and what everyone preached. This passage is the apostolic gospel tradition.”

After giving a brief list of a few main events in the Gospel story, the chapter goes on to focus our attention on one particular aspect of the message: the resurrection of Jesus and its significance now and forever. Paul shows how the narrative that begins with the person of Jesus whose story is told in the Gospel records — the story that had its culmination in his death, resurrection, and appearances — leads ultimately to “the end” (v. 24), when the kingdom is consummated and all the powers arrayed against God are destroyed (vv. 24-28).

I agree with McKnight: Paul proclaimed a “King Jesus” Gospel. The message is bigger than a “plan of salvation” for individuals (the “soterian” gospel). I would summarize the Gospel and its call, as set forth in the epistles, in these words:

  • Jesus came to fulfill Israel’s hope of a King who would defeat the enemies of God (sin, evil, death, “the powers”), gather a people from the ends of the earth to be his new community in the world, and bring about a new creation over which God reigns without rival.
  • The Gospel doesn’t begin with my salvation. It begins with Jesus — who died, rose again, ascended to heaven, and poured out the Spirit — the crucified and exalted King (Messiah) who is making all things new.
  • This good news message calls me, and all people, to enter his Kingdom by turning from the alternate narratives that rule our lives (repentance) and making his story the guiding narrative of our lives (faith).
  • Upon responding to the Gospel and entering Jesus’ Kingdom through baptism, I die to the old life and am raised up with Christ to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:1-4), I become part of a community that is marked by the story of Jesus alone and not by other factors that divide people (there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female — Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11), I live in a community of “resident aliens” in this present age who are “in” the world but not “of” it; as God’s own “workmanship” we walk in good works he has prepared for us that we might show forth his goodness and love (Eph. 2:10, 1Pet. 2:9-12).

In the New Testament, this is exactly how the Epistles begin.

Appearence on the Mountain in Galilee, Duccio di Buoninsegna

Canonically, Romans comes first among the New Testament epistles, so when we are reading through our Bibles, the first words we read after Acts is Paul’s greeting to the Romans in Rom. 1:1-7. And what we find there is a yet another clear statement of the Gospel message. Tom Wright calls it, “Good News about the New King.”

This text tells us that “the Gospel of God” is…

  • The fulfillment of Israel’s story — “promised beforehand through his prophets in the sacred writings.”
  • The story of a person: Jesus — “the good news about his son.”
  • The story of a king of Israel — “who was descended from David’s seed in terms of flesh.”
  • The story of a king who died and rose again — “who was marked out powerfully as God’s son in terms of the spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead.”
  • The story of a king who chose royal messengers to proclaim his story — “Paul, a slave of King Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for God’s good news…”
  • The story of a king who calls all people to believe and obey him — “Through him we have received grace and apostleship to bring about believing obedience among all the nations for the sake of his name.”
  • The story of a king who is gathering his own from the ends of the earth into communities of people who love him — “That includes you, too, who are called by Jesus the king. This letter comes to all in Rome who love God, all who are called to be his holy people.”
  • The story of king who extends grace and brings peace — “Grace and peace to you from God our father, and King Jesus, the Lord.”

* * *

The Book of Acts ends with these words: “[Paul] lived there [in Rome] for two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (28:30-31, NRSV)

The Epistle to the Romans picks right up from there.

Paul carries on what Jesus began, proclaiming the good news message of “the kingdom of God” that Jesus announced at the outset of his ministry (Mark 1:14-15).

Comments

  1. Yes, the gospel is so much more than getting to heaven or getting the gift of eternal life. It is about a whole new way of living life and looking at the world and treating other people. It is about putting on the “Kingdom of Heaven” glasses and seeing everything through those lenses.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  2. I know that the gospel is more than just being saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (although that is extremely important). The question I have that hasn’t been answered on blogposts ( I haven’t read the books), is where should we start when sharing the gospel with someone? In fact, I’ll narrow it down a little more. Where do we start when trying to tell someone about Jesus who really has no knowledge of the Bible and what God has done through history? I’m probaly still going to start with creation, sin, its consequences, the cross, the resurrection, and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. If I’m the last person they ever get to talk to about Jesus, that’s what I want them to know. If that is not the last conversation, then yes I want them to grow in their understanding of who Jesus is and what the good news is and get the whole picture. Now maybe I’m wrong, and if you think so, I would be glad to read your thoughts on this and where we should start in sharing the gospel.

    • I think you are on the right track. Tell them the story of the Bible. The main things you left out are the story of Israel, Jesus’ life and ministry, the church, and the ultimate goal of the new creation. Find a way like the apostles did in the sermons in Acts and in passages like this one from Romans, to tell it concisely and compellingly.

      • I certainly want them to know about the story of Israel, Jesus’ life and ministry, the church, and the ultimate goal of the new creation. My question is more about where do you start when sharing the gospel. What would you do if one of the people you were ministering to in hospice asked you about Jesus and how to be saved? I actually had the chance to speak with a dying man earlier this year. He didn’t know anything about the Bible. He didn’t know the story of Israel or about the Noahic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants. I doubt he died understanding the ultimate goal of new creation. What he did die knowing is that even though he is a sinner (and he never questioned that part) God loves him, and he sent Jesus Christ his only begotten Son to die on the cross for our sins and rise from the grave to defeat death, and if he repented of his sins and confessed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior that he would be saved, and the dying man did just that. Had I tried to explain everything else, he wouldn’t have lived long enough to learn what he needed to know in order to be reconciled to God. So while I certainly believe we such teach the whole story and not just “Be saved and live right”, the most crucile aspect to get across is how to be reconclied to God.

    • David Cornwell says:

      It starts also in a relationship with the person. And since every person we come into contact with is different, then our relationships with them will be different. Our lives must reflect this gospel, and that isn’t always in words unless we are led to do so. Pastors need to do this with the people they serve. Some of how we approach people is almost based on the intuitive guidance we receive in our relationships. We listen for the Spirit as we listen to those around us.

      And when led to speak, by either the person or the Spirit, then the Story will be adequate. If a person asks questions, then you go from there.

      What most people do not like is someone knocking on the door, or cornering them in the airport, with the steps of salvation.

  3. Great post.

    Yes, the gospel is at the heart of it all.

    If you’d like to hear an interesting take on it, try this one out:

    http://theoldadam.com/2012/08/14/the-kingdom-of-god-is-within-you/

    I think it confirms and unpacks a few of the issues surrounding this very topic.

  4. David Cornwell says:

    Knowing that we serve King Jesus and live in His Kingdom can take a lot of pressure away from the pull of other allegiances. Today they are legion and if they can will take us by the hand and pull us into some mighty strange and dark places. There isn’t any doubt about this with Paul who was “a slave of King Jesus.”

  5. Chaplain Mike,

    I was heading toward the King Jesus Gospel on my own over the last fews years. McKnight’s book pushed me the rest of way. I was so tired of the simplistic gospel. I was also struck by a thought that I think I picked up from McKnight that the Apostles’ Creed is a summary of the gospel as it was preached by the apostles. My wife and I have started using it as a the framework for the gospel when we talk to our children. They love it, and they ask a lot of questions.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “struck by a thought that I think I picked up from McKnight that the Apostles’ Creed is a summary of the gospel as it was preached by the apostles.”

      Awfully good starting point isn’t it? I’d never thought about using it when talking to children, but it’s a good idea.

  6. Jesus came to fulfill Israel’s hope of a King who would defeat the enemies of God (sin, evil, death, “the powers”), gather a people from the ends of the earth to be his new community in the world, and bring about a new creation over which God reigns without rival.

    The first part of this quote is news to me, and it is good news. Isreal of the NT and most people today do not see Christ as a victor, they only see he died on a cross. He did not come to defeat Isreals enemies, but the enemies of God by dying on the cross, deing resurrected and ascending into heaven.

    thanks again
    Bruce