In order to preach the gospel, we must continually rehearse our knowledge of the nature of the gospel. We must do this lest we bring into the message of the gospel the religious inclinations of men, and thus turn the gospel into a religious system of justification through meritorious law-keeping. In the first century, this invasion into the church occurred. Two Holy Spirit-inspired books were written to meet the challenge of keeping meritorious law-keeping out of the gospel.
Those to whom Paul wrote the letter of Romans were trying to turn the gospel of the grace of God into a legal system of self-justification through law-keeping. Those to whom he wrote the letter of Galatians were preaching gospel, but they were adding to the gospel the necessity of meritorious law-keeping. They were thus preaching “another gospel” (Gl 1:6-9). Therefore, in order to introduce any study on the subject of the gospel, we must be very clear as to what we understand to be the truth of the gospel. We must do this lest we become “other-gospel” preachers as opposed to gospel preachers.
The gospel is a good news message.
Since the Greek word from which the English word “gospel” is used to translate its meaning into English, means “good news,” then we must refresh ourselves as to what the good news is. We have found that too many people have been diverted from what the good news is. In other words, they have been diverted from gospel by confusing it with law. The law of God is certainly good (Rm 5:17). But the law of God is not good news for any person. In fact, it is bad news in reference to our justification before God. “By works of law no flesh will be justified” (Gl 21:16). James referred to this when he wrote the following statement concerning law: “For whoever will keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he has become guilty of all” (Js 2:10).
One sin makes a sinner, and since sin exists only where there is law, then law reveals death, not good news. Paul stated it as follows: “For without law, I was once alive. But when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rm 7:9). Law brought spiritual death and separation from God. But gospel brings life, and because it brings life, it is good news. It is for this reason that gospel is not law. Notice this comparison in the following words of the Holy Spirit: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ [gospel] has freed you from the law of sin and death” (Rm 8:2). Glory hallelujah! And once delivered from the law of sin and death, “do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gl 5:1).
There is an obvious conclusion from the preceding that is necessary to make. Law can never be gospel, for gospel is good news. It is good news in the fact that one can be justified before God without perfect obedience to any system of law. Therefore, if one is preaching law as the gospel, then he does not understand the gospel. If he preaches the gospel as law, then he still does not understand that he is preaching the law of sin and death. He is preaching “another gospel” that is contrary to the gospel. (More on this later.)
If the preceding thoughts do not shock “other-gospel” preachers into some sense of gospel reality, then they have joined the crowd of those that Paul described as “false brethren secretly brought in, who sneaked in to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gl 2:4),
It is absolutely critical to understand this point before continuing on in our efforts to understand the truth of the gospel. If one cannot separate law from gospel, then he can never be an effective gospel preacher. If one preaches a “legalized gospel,” then he is “another-gospel preacher” (Gl 1:6-9). And sadly, this is the predicament in which many preachers find themselves today because they have either forgotten the gospel, or they never initially understood the truth of the gospel.
Sometimes it is as it was in our own case. We went off to a Bible school where we were overwhelmed with law. We eventually graduated, but we understood law more than gospel. We were simply taught that there was no difference between gospel and law. The gospel of freedom in Christ and law were so fused together that it took no little time to separate the two when we went forth to “preach the gospel.” We became more effective when we took down our “law degree” in order that the gospel would shine forth in its simplicity. And once we finally appreciated the freedom of the grace that Jesus introduced into the world of misguided religiosity, it was a refreshing time of restoration from the presence of the Lord. It was just as Peter said to some law-obsessed Jews two thousand years ago: “Repent and be converted so that your sins may be blotted out, in order that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (At 3:19).
[Next in series: March 19