The New Testament Scripture is a collection of eye-witnesses’ account and the teaching of the Apostles (Acts 2:42). This collection is to provide an accurate account of Jesus’s ministry and teaching for the subsequent generations of disciples (Luke 1:1-4; 1Jo 1:1-4). This collection is recognized by the early disciples as having the same authority as the Old Testament (cf. 1Ti 5:18; 2Pe 3:15-16). From the New Testament, we have the Gospel of God (cf. Mar 1:14).
The Gospel, Conversion and Evangelism
In Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Dever lists mark 3 to 5 as biblical understanding of the Gospel, Conversion and Evangelism. This list points to the Gospel and its implications. This would then give each of us a gauge to examine ourselves whether we truly converted by God. Paul writes, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2Co 13:5a). The same gauge is also a guide for us to share the Gospel with pre-believers so that they may receive the full “specific, cognitive content” of the Gospel for their consideration (101). These three marks are summed up as the priority of the Gospel.
What is the Gospel?
The Greek word for gospel is “eὐaggélion”, which means “good news”. When Jesus came, he proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom (Mat 4:23; Mar 1:14). Jesus says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mat. 24:14; cf. Mat 26:13). This gospel of the kingdom was preached by Philip together with the name of Jesus Christ to the Samaritans (Act 8:12). This is the same gospel that Paul claimed as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jews first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16; cf. Act 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23).
What is this gospel? Paul calls it, the gospel of God and also the gospel of his Son or Christ (Rom 1:1,9; cf. 1Co 9:12). In 1st Corinthians 15:1-7, he laid down two main points of the specific, cognitive content of the gospel. These two main points must be received and held fast in order to be saved (15:1-2).
First, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture” (15:3). He needs to die for our sins because of Adam and Eve, our first parents, “we have all been seduced into disobeying God” (88). The consequence of their sin has two effects on the whole human race.
Firstly, everyone inherits the original sin, which is lawlessness (cf. 1Jo 3:4). This makes us “sinners” and “enemies” of God (Rom 5:8,10; cf. Eph 2:11-12). The evidence that everyone has inherited this lawlessness is the inevitableness of physical death “even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam” (cf. Rom 5:14). This inevitableness is also not removed from those who have believed in Jesus Christ, although believers have received the promise of bodily resurrection (cf. Phi 3:20-21).
The second effect is that lawlessness in everyone has produced sins (lawless deeds), making everyone a child of disobedience (Eph 2:1-3). Anyone who has broken at least one law of God “has become guilty of” the whole law and has “become a transgressor” (Jam 2:10-11). Dever explains “Our individual transgressions may not seem to blatant or offensive, but they are surely no less deadly for our relationship with God” (88). Therefore, Christ has to die for all our sins because “we are guilty before him” (89) (cf. Rom 5:8). He took “the punishment we deserve” (95).
Second, Christ was raised from the dead by God “on the third day in accordance with the Scripture” (1Co 15:4). The resurrection is not secretive but is witnessed by many eye-witnesses (15:5-8). By his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” (Rom 1:3-4). When we believe that God has raised his Son, Jesus Christ from the dead, our faith will be counted as righteousness by God (Rom 4:22-25; cf. Phi 3:8).
The third point of the gospel is the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ died and rose again to restore our status as sons (children) of God (1Jo 3:1-2). God is reconciling everyone who believes in Christ’s death and resurrection to himself (cf. 2Co 5:18-19). God, who is love (1Jo 4:8, 16), does not desire to condemn the whole human race but sent Jesus Christ to die as “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1Jo 2:2; cf. Joh 3:16-18). Through the propitiation by Christ’s blood, God could justly justify “the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:25-26).
Everyone who has faith in Jesus “received the Spirit of adoption as son, by whom we cry ‘Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:15). The Spirit is permanently sealed in us until the day of redemption to bear witness “with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:16-17a; Eph 4:30). Since the Spirit dwells in our bodies, this reinstatement also opens the door for friendship with God (cf. Joh 15:13-15; Jam 2:23).
The fourth point is the second coming of Jesus. Christ having ascended to the Father, is coming again to judge the living and the dead (cf. Act 10:42; 2Ti 4:1). All who have faith in him will be delivered from the wrath to come (1Th 1:10; Rom 5:9). Although believers will escape the wrath of God, they still must “appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body whether good or evil” (2Co 5:10). Therefore, all who have faith in him are “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age” while they wait for “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:12-13).
So, what is the gospel? The good news is that the one and only God who desires everyone to return to him as sons of God and friends of God (1Ti 2:4), has prepared the only way back to him, that is, though Jesus Christ. As sinners and enemies of God, there is no way for us to return to God by our own effort. Out of his great love, he sent Jesus Christ to die as a propitiation for our sins and raised him from the dead to secure the right to give eternal life to all who have faith in Jesus (cf. Joh 1:12-13; 5:24-26). Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be forgiven as sinners and enemies of God, and saved from the wrath of God (Joh 3:36). God reinstates each believer as his son (child) through sealing the Spirit of Christ in each one until the day of redemption. Meanwhile, every believer is “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age” as they wait for the second coming of Jesus.
Are you converted by God?
Have you believed in this gospel? Do you believe that this gospel is true? The ability to believe the gospel comes from God, who “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Co 4:5-6). Dever explains, “If any have come to know God under the sound of my preaching of the Word of God, I cannot go back and put a notch on my belt, because I know that the one who converts is not the preacher: The one who converts ultimately is God himself” (118).
When God converts us, there will be changes in our lives. All changes will be inevitable, some will be immediate and others will take time to surface. The first sign of change is the willingness to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. This means acknowledging that they are sinners before God and inviting Jesus into their lives to save them and be their Lord. At this point, although they recognized themselves as sinners, they may not recognise all the sins in their lives. Over time, their true willingness will produce more confession and repentance before God as they continuously turn away from the many sins that are in their lives (cf. 1Jo 1:7-10).
Another change over time will be the realization that they are never good enough before God and that they need to totally depend on Christ for acceptance before God. Dever explains, “In true conversion we begin to rest in Christ, to trust in him and in his merits before God. This great change is all about realizing that we can never go to church enough, we can never teach enough Sunday school classes, we can never give enough money, we can never be kind enough or beautiful enough, or happy and contend with our religious lives enough to merit God’s good will toward us” (113).
Therefore, we are forgiven and accepted by God sorely on the basis of Christ’s merits. When we begin to have this reliance on God’s forgiveness through Christ’s merit, this reliance is a sign that we are being converted by God (cf. Phi 3:12-13). We will discuss further signs of being converted by God in the next article.