Last time, I answered the question, “What is the Good News?” Today, I’d like to answer a different question: “What does the Gospel do?”
News can be interesting. News can also be boring. If I turn on the news and the story is about something that interests me, I’m sticking around to watch. If the story is not something that interests me, I’m flipping channels. We skim over the newspaper or our news feeds or apps until we see something interesting. What makes a news story interesting? Usually, it’s because it impacts our lives.
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If the news is about the gubernatorial race in Texas, I probably won’t bother because I don’t live in Texas. If the news is about the Senate race in Ohio, I’d probably pay attention because I live in Ohio and that news impacts me.
The Gospel Matters to Everyone
The Christian belief is that the Gospel is good news that impacts everyone. It matters to everyone. The story that Jesus is the Lord over all things and makes salvation possible is news that everyone should tune in for. But why? How does it impact everyone?
Paul, in a famous verse in Romans 1, writes this: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the gift of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” The Gospel, the Good News, is the power by which God saves people. But what does that mean?
“God’s Power to Salvation”
First, there is the word “power.” Paul usually uses this word to mean the powerful action God takes in our world. God’s power is the power behind salvation. It is entirely on his initiative and completely accomplished by his action alone. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was God’s saving action.
Second, there is the word “salvation.” This is not a word typically used outside of religious contexts today. The word in Greek is soteria and it means a rescue from a bad situation to a good situation. So, for example, when God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land, that is soteria.
What is Our Bad Situation?
Now we must ask, “what is the bad situation we are in?” The answer to this question is “sin.”
Sin is everything in thought, word, and action that goes against God’s desires. Murder is a sin because God created human life. Lying is a sin because God is a God of truth. Hatred is a sin because God is love. Anything that is contrary to God’s character and wishes is sin.
Sin has enslaved humanity. All people have sinned. All people have failed to live up to God’s character and to God’s desires revealed to us in Scripture.
Sin separates us from God. God is the source of life. Therefore, the consequence of sin is death, because we are cut off from our source of life. And that is our bad situation. It is a very, very bad situation indeed.
Good News! Jesus Saves us from Our Bad Situation!
The Good News that Jesus is Lord means that he can bring salvation to us. He can rescue us from this bad situation. Jesus, by his death and resurrection rescues us from slavery to sin and delivers us to the Kingdom of God. The Gospel, the Good News, is the means by which God delivers his people from the forces of evil. One thing the Gospel does is save people. That is news that everyone needs to hear because it matters to everyone.
This is a fine distinction, but one that needs making. The Gospel is that Jesus is Lord. Salvation is not the Gospel, “getting saved” is not the Gospel. Salvation is a benefit, a result of the Gospel. The Good News is about the life and work of Jesus and how he fulfills the story of Israel. Remember, the Good News is the story of how Jesus became Lord over everything and now has the authority to grant salvation. Our salvation is a benefit, a result of the Good News.
Revealing God’s Righteousness
The Good News also reveals God’s righteousness. Paul continues in 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.” The Good News is how God has revealed his righteousness, his goodness, to the world. For Paul, “God’s righteousness” is a shorthand way of saying “God’s powerful and saving action toward people.”
The Good News, therefore, is how God has chosen to reveal his powerful actions that lead to our salvation. Jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension to the throne of heaven are powerful to save. The Gospel tells that story. The Good News reveals how a righteous God saves an unrighteous people, making them righteous in the process. In other words, the Gospel shows how God made it possible for us to be united with him.
“From Faith to Faith”
There is an awkward phrase in verse 17. “Faith to faith,” can be a confusing phrase to understand. It seems to be an idiomatic way of emphasizing a point. In 2 Corinthians 2:16, Paul uses the phrase “from death to death,” to mean sheer, absolute death. Here, “faith to faith” can mean sheer faith. Faith alone.
God’s actions revealed in the Good News are accepted by faith. We do nothing except receive the benefits of the Gospel by faith in Jesus Christ. There is no action on our part that contributes to salvation, neither for the Gentile nor the Jew. All now receive salvation solely by the righteousness initiative of God that we receive by faith in Jesus, by believing that the Gospel is true and devoting ourselves fully to Jesus Christ.
“The Righteous will Live by Faith”
Paul concludes this thought by quoting Habakkuk 2: “the righteous will live by faith.” There are whole books written on this verse. It’s not quite clear whose faith the writer is talking about. Is it our faith, our trust in God, or is it God’s faithfulness to us that the righteous live by? As with most instances when there seems to be two possible interpretations, I shrug my shoulders and ask, “Why not both?” Why can’t it be about God’s faithfulness to us (which is confirmed by so, so many other passages of Scripture) and why can’t it be about how we are to live by faith and trust in our faithful God?
Our salvation is received by faith in Jesus Christ alone. But just as our relationship with God starts with faith, it also continues with faith. We are to live lives marked by faith as we receive God’s saving power. That means we live lives like Jesus.
Shaped by the Cross and the Empty Tomb
Our lives should be cross-shaped; in other words, our actions must reflect the humility and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Humility, sacrifice, undeserved kindness should be the hallmarks of a Christian life.
Not only should our lives be shaped by the cross, they should also be shaped by the empty tomb. Our lives should be lived in the resurrection power of Christ. We should depend upon the Spirit who raised Jesus from the grave and now dwells in us. The Gospel is not just God’s power in saving us, but in helping us to live Christ-like lives.
The Gospel is the story of how Jesus became Lord over everything and brings salvation to the world. Salvation and the power to live godly lives are empowered in us by the Gospel, as it is the power of God to save people and enable godly living.