Tuesday 31 October 2017

Rediscovering the Gospel

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son… Jesus Christ our Lord… God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness… I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes… for in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed…
Romans 1:1-4, 9, 14-17

This week sees the 500th anniversary of an event which arguably set in motion what has come to be known as the Reformation. Martin Luther’s 95 theses, nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg – serving as a public noticeboard – were an invitation to debate. They were triggered by the sale of indulgences (pardons for certain types of sins), but quickly led to other questions about how we know God and how we can be right with God. For Luther and others, at their heart was the nature of the gospel itself.

Whatever we make of Luther, the Reformation, and its aftermath, it’s vital for us constantly to return to what really matters. It’s all too easy for our faith to become about who we are and what we do when it’s first and foremost what God himself has done – for us and for the world – in Christ. The gospel is not some abstract teaching about the nature of salvation, but the announcement of the good news that God saves.

In these opening verses of his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul makes it clear that the gospel is focused on ‘Jesus Christ our Lord’ and rooted in Scripture, the fruition of promises made long ago through the prophets. Nor is it merely a private claim, but one of public truth – it’s good news for the whole world.

Small wonder, then, that the gospel defines Paul and his ministry, that he is set aside for it, that he is so eager to preach it. Recall what he says of the gospel: the declaration of God’s saving power through the work of his Son, not least by bringing men and women into relationship with himself, which comes about as it always has done – through faith, from first to last – and which is available equally to all who believe, breaking down barriers between ethnic groups in the process. How could he be ashamed of that?

And, since belief in the gospel comes bound up with a particular view of reality – of God, creation, humanity, sin, redemption – we discover that it provides the perspective from which to view the whole of life. Whole-life discipleship begins with the gospel.

Wherever we find ourselves today, and whatever we have to turn our hand to, may the God of the gospel of Jesus Christ be our strength, our joy, and our hope.

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