The gospel is the basic Christian message. If a person were to ask a Christian to summarize Christianity, the Christian would be right to answer by describing what the gospel is and what the gospel accomplishes. The Bible tells us the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). It is the message of a holy Creator God, a sinful and rebellious humanity who exist under God’s judgment, Jesus the loving Savior who bore God’s wrath for his people when he died on the cross for our sins, and a new creation where people are made right with God and each other through humble faith in the resurrected Christ. When people embrace this message, they are saved…they become Christians.
But what then? Once a Christian has been saved by the gospel, where should he set his sights? What does he need to know and do to mature and grow? Where should his focus be? Well, the same place he focused in the beginning of his Christian life…on Christ and his gospel. Sometimes there seems to be some confusion on this point. Sometimes it appears that once someone become a Christian through the gospel they get the sense that they need to move on to other bigger and better things to mature in their Christian life. The truth, however, is quite different. A Christian should never move away from the gospel. The Christian needs the gospel as much for his Christian walk as he did for his Christian conversion. There is nothing bigger or better to move on to!
As Paul rhetorically asked the Galatians, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” No, is the assumed answer. “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” the writer of Hebrews says. And the grace that strengthens a Christian still comes through the gospel. The gospel, then, is for sanctification.
In my experience, there is a doctrinal point that is often overlooked when a Christian is confused about this. It may help to understand that when God saves a person from sin and adopts them as His child, the work he does in their life is progressive. Salvation is a process. A Christian has been saved, is being saved right now, and will be saved in the future. Consider the following Scriptures:
Ephesians 2:5, 8 – “even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God”
2 Corinthians 2:15 – “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing”
Romans 5:9 – “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
Romans 13:11 – “And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.”
Some years ago I had a couple church leaders tell me that it is wrong for me to encourage the church to continue to believe the gospel. “If you tell people to keep believing the gospel,” one man reasoned, “it implies that maybe they were never saved to begin with, or maybe they lost their salvation somewhere along the way.” But there is an error in this kind of thinking. My passionate critic understood what the gospel was. But he didn’t understand how it accomplishes its work. To put it a different way, he understood that the gospel is for salvation. But he didn’t understand that it is also for sanctification.
Another way of putting this is that the gospel saves us and the gospel keeps saving us. The gospel is for the Christian, then, as much as it is for the non-Christian. We don’t lay the gospel aside and move on to bigger and better things.
As Paul clearly taught the Corinthians, “the word of the cross is to those who are perishing, foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The gospel, nothing more and nothing less, continues to be the power of God for those who are in the process of being saved by God. It is through the gospel that Christians grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.