The Gospel and the Way of Jesus
By: Mark Mitchell, BASOM Executive Director

It’s been a few days since we lost a giant of the faith — Tim Keller. I wrote this blog prior to his homegoing, but I now realize how indebted I am to Tim Keller for expanding and refining my understanding of the Gospel. I now post this in remembrance of Tim and in gratitude for his life and work.

This past Easter, I preached a gospel message on the resurrection story from John 20:1-18. At the end, I prayed and offered those present an opportunity to place their faith/trust in Jesus Christ. I encouraged them to confess their newfound faith to someone and reminded them of the Apostle Paul’s promise in his letter to the Romans, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

In articulating the gospel in this way I made four assumptions:

  • First, the gospel is good news, not good advice about a way to live. As Tim Keller puts it in his excellent book, Center Church, “The gospel is not primarily a way of life. It is not something we do, but something that has been done for us that we must respond to.”
  • Second, the gospel is good news that salvation is available to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The great peril that we are saved from is the coming wrath of God at the end of history (1 Thess. 1:10).
  • Third, this salvation is granted to us by faith/trust in the aforementioned work Jesus has done for us. It is not something we earn, rather it is a gift of God that comes to us purely by grace (Ephesians 2:8-10).
  • Fourth, embracing the gospel will result in a whole new way of life. As Martin Luther said, “We are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that remains alone.” True faith will always result in a transformed life and the good works that accompany it.

One might argue that this is a very individualistic understanding of the gospel. This is why we can also articulate the gospel in a different way. We might turn to Mark’s description of how Jesus began his ministry, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news (gospel) of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:14-15).

This good news, of course, is that the rule and reign of God was being inaugurated in the coming of King Jesus, and it will find its consummation in the eventual restoration of the world. In the verses that follow, Jesus called several would be disciples to “Come. Follow me!” (Mark 1:17). Thus, the gospel might be articulated as an invitation to follow the way of Jesus, which of course means living under his rule and thus working to make the world a more just and peaceful place.

These two understandings of the gospel can help us appreciate the richness and complexity of the gospel. It is both individualistic and corporate. Our Savior’s work didn’t just put us in a right relationship with God, it also invites us to live under his rule, be part of a new community centered around Jesus, and promises the eventual restoration of the world through His coming kingdom.

I believe there is a danger of imbalance in both definitions. The danger in the first definition is that we will forget that embracing the gospel of grace will result in a whole new way of life, which Bonhoeffer famously called “cheap grace.” But there is also a danger in the second definition: we might confuse the results of the gospel with the gospel itself. We must not confuse what the gospel is with what the gospel does.

The coming Kingdom is only guaranteed to us because, through his cross and resurrection, Jesus restored our relationship with God. I appreciate how Tim Keller put this: “We must not, then, give the impression that the gospel is simply a divine rehabilitation program for the world, but rather it is an accomplished substitutionary work. We must not depict the gospel as primarily joining something (Christ’s kingdom program) but rather as receiving something (Christ’s finished work).” The bottom line is that no one can follow the way of Jesus without first being made right with God through faith in Jesus and receiving the regenerative life that comes through His Spirit. Jesus called that being “born again” without which no one can even see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3).

In light of all of this, perhaps we can define the gospel to be something like this: Jesus Christ is LORD and KING. He calls each of us to repent and believe that his death and resurrection alone provides forgiveness for our sins and makes us right with God. He calls us to follow Him and, as part of a new community, join in his work of renewing and redeeming all things.