One of Life In The Spirit’s core values is that we are Evangelical, and part of this means being Gospel-focused. But what do we mean by “Gospel” and how does that relate to the mission of Life In The Spirit?
Outside of Scripture, especially within later Greek culture the word gospel became a technical term for ‘news of victory’. Intriguingly the word euangelion also has importance for the Roman Emperor Cult, where successive emperors were viewed as divine beings: whose birth, coming of age, and accession were duly celebrated and announced. In using the word to proclaim the news of Christ the early church co-opted a word that made immediate sense to almost everyone and needed little cultural accommodation. Having adopted it they filled it with new meaning: a new type of King and a new type of Kingdom! One centred around the scandal of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17) where the living Christ confronts and supersedes all worldly Caesars.
Within Scripture, the word gospel actually has minimal background in the Old Testament, referring to a message of good news that brings both joy to its hearers and rewards for its messengers.
The four Gospels and book of Acts use the term “gospel” fairly sparingly: its content is the Kingdom of God (Matthew 24:14) manifest in the coming of his king, Jesus Christ the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Indeed Jesus himself is described as preaching the gospel in the Temple (Luke 20:1). Prominent themes are the preaching of, or testifying to, the gospel (Matthew 26:13 & Luke 9:6; Acts 8:25, 20:24); and the reality of giving up our very lives for the gospel (Matthew 26:13; Mark 8:35 & 10:29; Acts 20:24). Also there is a clear emphasis on preaching this message until the terminus of human history (Matthew 24:14 c.f. Mark 13:10). Communicating the gospel also implies lots of travelling in the Gospel record (Luke 9:6; Acts 8:25 & 8:40) – indicating real momentum.
Elsewhere in the New Testament the apostle Paul refers to the “gospel” on many occasions: It is described for example as “the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:8-9; 1 Timothy 1:11), being revealed by Him and promised beforehand in the Old Testament (Romans 1:2 – c.f. 2 Timothy 2:8) – being preached to Abraham (Galatians 3:8) and, according to the writer to the Hebrews, to the wilderness generation (Hebrews 4:2 & 6) . The gospel is also “the gospel of his Son” (Romans 1:9 – c.f. 2 Corinthians 4:4; 9:13; 10:14; Galatians 1:6 etc.). It communicates both the righteousness of God (Romans 1:16) and the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4), and is a word that is one of truth (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:13), peace (Ephesians 6:15), and hope (Colossians 1:23).
In terms of essential content the “gospel” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 is subsequently outlined as focusing on Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (v.3-7), and the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy in these key events. Its God-given core message is one of of grace, although that can sadly be perverted, calling forth eternal condemnation! (Galatians 1:6-9) – hence Paul warns more broadly of the danger of either preaching or receiving “a different gospel from the one you received” (2 Corinthians 11:4).
Verbally preaching the “gospel” is a very prominent theme. Whilst it is to be carefully defended on one hand (Philippians 1:7), it is also to be preached on the other (Romans 1: 9,15,16): which is effectively a priestly task, involving the demonstration of accompanying ‘signs and wonders’, as it’s declared to those who have never known of Christ (Romans 15: 16,19, 20 – 2 Corinthians 10:16). In particular, because of its message of free grace, the gospel should not be charged for financially or materially! (1 Corinthians 9:12b-18 – c.f. 2 Corinthians 11:7). Other people too were involved alongside Paul in “gospel” preaching; men like Titus (2 Corinthians 8:18), Timothy (Philippians 2:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:2), and women like Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2). It is a sacred trust from God for the preacher (Galatians 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).
In terms of lifestyle there is also an emphasis on the “gospel” being fleshed out tangibly: for example, the offering for the fellow-believers from a Jewish background in Jerusalem, being described as “the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ” (2 Corinthians 9:13). The apostle also highlights the issue of having table-fellowship freely with gentile Christians (Galatians 2:11-14), of the breaking down of racial barriers between Jew and gentile (Ephesians 3:6), and of the material support of gospel ministry (Philippians 1:5; 4:15). Gospel preachers like Paul, Silas and Timothy also share their very lives with new Christians (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Christian conduct and lifestyle too is intended to be lived in “a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
The scope of “gospel” proclamation is ultimately to be “to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:23). Thus, Paul has a big heart for preaching Jesus where he is not currently known (Romans 15:20). For example, using Rome as a springboard for Spain (Romans 15:24), and using Corinth as a springboard for “the regions beyond” that great city (2 Corinthians 10:16). Indeed, his main God-given calling is to minister pretty exclusively to the gentiles (Galatians 2:7). Paul’s clear experience is that “all over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing” (Colossians 1:6). Even a spell of illness was used providentially by God to get Paul to preach to those in Galatia (Galatians 4:13), and his imprisonment too was ironically used to further promote the gospel’s proclamation in Rome (Philippians 1:12).
Receiving salvation through hearing and believing is the eventual end-product of the “gospel”, which the apostle describes as “the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13). Thus, the new believers in Thessalonica had been called to experience God’s electing love, his amazing salvation, and ultimately to share in Jesus’s glory all “through our gospel” (2 Thessalonians 2:14).
Finally, it is very telling that sometimes Paul refers to the gospel as being “his gospel” (i.e. God’s – 1 Thessalonians 1:5), often as “our gospel” (i.e. referring to his team – 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:14) – whilst in 2 Timothy 2:8 he speaks incredibly personally of “my gospel”. For the apostle the gospel is like an imprint running through the entire stick of rock!
In the final pages of the New Testament the “gospel” is mentioned outside Paul’s writings just six times: The writer to the Hebrews speaks of it being preached to Moses’ wilderness generation (Hebrews 4:2 & 6), who failed to enter the promised land through their disobedience and unbelief. Peter too highlights the OT prophetic background of the gospel, and the fact that it is currently preached to the spiritually dead – with an awesome outcome of judgment if they fail to embrace its message (1 Peter 1:12; 4;6; 4:17). Then, in the very last pages the apostle John sees an angel flying in mid-air, one who “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth” (Revelation 14:6)
The Gospel & Life In The Spirit
To draw these threads together, how is this understanding of the “gospel” specifically reflected in our five key values?
Evangelical: Clearly, first and foremost we are evangelical, simply because we are happily and unashamedly gospel-centred. At root we want to major on the majors. While we emphasise our doctrinal distinctives, we enjoy unity of mission and fellowship with those who can testify to the same eternal Gospel.
Reformed: Our Reformed heritage means that we would tend to highlight the fact that the gospel is ultimately God-centred, not merely man-centred – and that it is not just a panacea for human ills or a meeting of our felt-needs. God both revealed the gospel in the first place, and eventually gains maximum glory himself from it. Also, undeserved grace is at the heart of the gospel – us contributing absolutely zero to our salvation; Jesus contributing everything. Anything less than this implicitly puts us at the centre of our vision and God at the circumference!
Charismatic: The work of the Spirit is crucial to the gospel from start to finish, including bringing us to life spiritually from the very outset. Whilst terminology is sometimes understandably debated (e.g. baptized v filled with the Spirit), we look to God to pour out his Spirit on believers in a consciously received fashion as a vital part of the salvation-package. We would also expect God to confirm his word on occasions by miraculous signs following its preaching (Galatians 3:5 – c.f. Hebrews 2:4). The gifts of the Spirit can, of course, be used evangelistically sometimes (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
Missional: There is no point in being evangelical without also being evangelistic! Whilst mission rightly includes aspects like social action, the verbal declaration of the gospel is at its heart – consistently related to the word gospel throughout the New Testament is mention of it being preached. This worldwide proclamation is part of God’s sovereign purpose for human history (Matthew 24:14). Our motto might well be that of Paul in Acts 20:24: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace”.
Relational: At the very heart of the gospel is relationship with God: as Jeremiah poignantly prophesied “they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Jeremiah 31:34). Gospel preaching also involves teams of people working together in relationship. It means getting to know non-believers on their own turf (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), and it means sharing our lives holistically with new believers. Without this relational dynamic the gospel – which is a message of reconciliation anyway (2 Corinthians 5:19) – could appear somewhat cold and impersonal. Moreover, at the heart of the Gospel is the message that those who believe are made into one body in union with Christ. To be relational with regard to the Gospel then, means to emphasise that our relationships with others are part of the Gospel’s promise, and that these same relationships are the means by which many of its blessings flow into our lives.