Here is the next posting from our congregational study of 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. The question, “What is an Evangelical?” and the question, “What is the gospel?” are closely related. Because both questions are being asked today, let me give a little historical perspective as an introduction to this third mark of a healthy church. Church historian, Iain Murray says this:
A Little History:
“‘EVANGELION (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word; and signifieth good, merry and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance and leap for joy.’ So William Tyndale wrote in 1525, and at the same period all who so thought became describes as ‘gospellers’ or, less commonly, as ‘evangelicals’. Over two hundred years later it was the latter term that was to pass into more permanent usage at the time of the ‘Evangelical Revival’. That it did not do so earlier is largely due to the fact that all the churches of the Reformation were ‘of the gospel’ in the creeds and confessions. By the eighteenth century, however, while the profession of the national churches in England and Scotland remained orthodox there were many pulpits from which no gospel was heard and when the evangel was recovered a term was necessary to distinguish its preachers from others: they were the ‘evangelicals’.”
Evangelical are, to borrow a phrase, “Together For The Gospel.”
What happens when you start mixing up elements of the gospel with other things (Rom. 11:6; Gal. 2:21)? [See Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, p. 78-79]
It is of utmost importance that we are clear on the gospel. Confusion on the basic content of the gospel has very serious consequences. For instance, Paul says:
“So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.” (Rom. 11:5-7)
Paul argues for an election of pure grace by pointing out that if there was human works, merit, effort or any other thing in us, that served as the basis for God’s choosing of us, then grace would cease to be grace. Grace would be redefined out of existence. If God’s election was based on anything but grace, salvation would be of works. The very idea of grace is redefined when it is viewed as a response to works of any kind.
As Paul says in Galatians 2:21, the death of Christ is meaningless for our salvation, if human works are viewed as helping our right standing before God in any way.
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Gal. 2:21)
What are the elements of the Gospel?
- I. God is holy (“The Good News Is Not Simply That God Is Love”).
- It is with great joy that the Christian can say to the non-Christian that “God is love.” But this alone is not the good news. God is holy and righteous and glorious and good and will not tolerate unrighteousness. God is the Creator of all people and all people are accountable to live their lives in obedience to his will.
- Heb. 12:14, 18-29
- II. Mankind is sinful (“The Good News Is Not Simply That We Are Okay”).
- Robert Schuller in the last generation, and Joel Osteen in this generation, regularly de-emphasize sin and actually believe that bold condemnation of sin is contrary to the gospel. For instance, Schuller says “a lack of self-worth is the central core of sin” and because of this what the unsaved need is “a great deal of positive affirmation” before they can begin to embrace the Christian message [Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p. 48].
- The biblical picture of humanity, apart from God’s saving grace, is very different, however. By nature, we are mentally corrupt and morally deviant. The problem is not that the unsaved person feels guilty. The problem is that he IS guilty, In fact is he is usually far more guilty than he realizes. Apart from God’s grace, a person is totally depraved and under God’s just condemnation. We need a righteousness from God that we cannot muster up in ourselves. We need forgiveness of sins and a new heart through the new birth
- Matt. 8:8; cf. v. 10;
- James 2:10-11; Rom. 3:19-20; 6:23
- III. Jesus suffered God’s wrath in death as our substitute (“The Good News Is Not Simply That Jesus Wants To Be Our Friend”).
- “The cross is the pulpit of God’s love” – Augustine. The greatness of God’s love is seen most clearly in the sacrificial death of the Son of God in the place of sinners. Jesus died for our sins and rose again that we might have life. The death of Jesus in our place, as our substitute, provides atonement for our sins. God looked at Jesus as though he had our sinful hearts and lived our sinful lives. Because he did this, God can now look at Christians as though we had Christ’s righteous heart and lived his sinless life.
- Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8-10
- IV. The one who repents of sin and believes in Christ is saved (“The Good News Is Not Simply That We Should Live Right”).
- Cleaning up your act, is not the biblical solution to an immoral life. As sinners, we have violated God’s moral law and blasphemed his moral character. Our efforts to change that will not earn us the benefits of what Christ did for us on the cross. The benefits of Christ’s atonement are received through faith alone. It is faith, not works, that justifies a sinner before God. Saving faith can truly utter the words: “nothing in my hands I bring, only to the cross I cling.”
- It is faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is never alone. It will always be characterized by a humble repentance. Saving faith is a faith that turns away from sin in shame and turns to God in hope and love.
- Mark 1:15; Acts 3:19-20, 26; 11:21; 16:31; 26:20
 William Tyndale, Doctrinal Treatises (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1848), p. 8.
 Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of the Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000, p. 1.