The Nature of the Gospel

In Galatians 1:6, Paul writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel,” (emphasis mine).

Note carefully the connection Paul makes in v. 6 between God (i.e., a person, “…Him who called you”) and the gospel (i.e., doctrine, “a different gospel,”).

Mark this: It is impossible to desert the gospel without also deserting God.

Paul is astonished that the Galatians were in the process of deserting God, which raises an important question:

Exactly how were the Galatians in the process of deserting the gospel? How were they deserting Him who called them in the grace of Christ?

The Galatians were in the process of deserting God by adding additional requirements to the gospel!

In a recent unscientific poll, I asked the following true or false question: “The nature of the gospel is a free promise of life and salvation, devoid of any commands or threatenings.”

40% voted true and 60% voted false.

The responses are quite telling. The correct answer is true. Yet, 6 out of 10 voted false, (i.e., that there are commands and threatenings in the gospel).

There is always within fallen human nature an ever-present, subtle tendency to sneak into the gospel additional requirements.

This is exactly the problem going on in Galatia.

But, the gospel, by definition, is entirely devoid of all threatening, commands and requirements (i.e., do this and live or else be cursed).

Concerning the nature of the gospel, Ralph Erskine wrote,

    “The nature of the gospel, properly taken, is a promise, a free promise of life and salvation through Christ, as declares our apostle, Gal. iii. 8, “The Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” What makes he the gospel to be then? even a free promise, such as that given to Abraham, “In thy seed (i.e., in Christ) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”

    It is true, if we take the gospel largely for the dispensation of it, we find commands and threatenings both intermixed with this dispensation, to be a fence to the gospel, that people may know their duty as to the improving of it; hence such commands as that, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;” and also their danger in abusing and misimproving of it, hence such threatenings as that, “he that believeth not shall be damned.”

    These and the like commands and threatenings intermixed with the gospel-dispensation, are a fence to the gospel; the law is thus subservient to it, but the gospel, strictly taken, is neither the command nor the threatening, but it is the thing itself to be believed, namely, the good news of salvation to sinners through Christ, or, which is all one, the promise of life to be had in him,” (Gospel Truth, pp. 272-273).

“There is always within fallen human nature an ever-present, subtle tendency to sneak into the gospel additional requirements.”

Paul says that God called the Galatians (and us) in “…in the grace of Christ….”

The call of God in the gospel is totally contrary to His call in the law.

In the law, God calls to duty and works, exposes sin, and announces wrath and punishment.

In the gospel, God calls only by grace and announces good tidings of great joy (Lk. 2:10).

God’s call in the gospel is devoid of all threatening and commands. In the gospel, God bids sinners to come freely without conditions to be met.

No sinner need delay. No preparation is required to answer the call of grace. All that man brings to the Lord in salvation is his sin, sheer disgrace and emptiness. Christ calls sinners to freely believe in Him who justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). He who calls in the grace of Christ does not require sinners to be godly before they believe.

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price,” (Isa. 55:1). “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matt. 11:28).

Christ came not for the healthy but for the sick (Matt. 9:12). He did not come to call the righteous but sinners (Matt. 9:13). He did not come to call the rich but the poor (i.e., those who recognize their spiritual poverty; Matt. 11:5; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 4:18).

Again, Ralph Erskine proclaimed,

    “But, alas! say you, I cannot get away my filthiness; I cannot put away my lusts and idols. Oh! what mean you, poor soul? Do you think to put away your own sin, and take God’s work out of his hand? I tell you, in his great name, he never laid such an intolerable burden upon you; for, the cleansing from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, is harder work than the making of a world. It is only the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. He enjoins you “To take with you words, and say, Take away all iniquity,” Hosea xvi. 2. All your work is to put the work in his hand.

    Many think they cannot come to Christ, till first they put away all their sin, and give up with all their lusts; but all your pains, before you come to the blood of Christ, will be like pouring oil upon the fire, that will inflame it the more. Therefore, welcome, welcome a promising God, saying, “From all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you;” for I have got clean water in my hand for that purpose: “I have found a ransom.” By the blood of the covenant, I will send forth these prisoners out of the pit wherein there is no water; but here is water enough,” (“Sermon LXXXIII, Clean Water; Or, The Pure And Precious Blood Of Christ For The Cleansing of Polluted Sinners,” The Works of Ralph Erskine, vol. 4, p. 151).

The gospel is the Good News of a God who is exceedingly gracious toward undeserving sinners. Praise God who calls us in the grace of Christ!

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2 Responses to The Nature of the Gospel

  1. scottw says:

    John,

    I love your blog and subscribe on my RSS reader.

    And I hesitate to remark, but don’t you think your poll was a bit of a gotcha question? I get (and, frankly, agree with) the point that you and Erskine seek to make regarding the “freeness” of the gospel, but the way you phrased your poll forced people to provide their own definitions to words like “gospel,” “nature,” and “devoid” in order to answer.

    It seems Erskine is being fairly precise–for the purpose of making a point (not that I object to precision)–to differentiate gospel and “gospel-dispensation” when speaking of the commands like, “Believe,” “Come,” etc. in order to make his point. But do you think it is really another gospel to say that in order for the promise of the gospel to come to bear in one’s life the person must believe/trust/come, etc (recognizing, of course, that such believing, trusting, and coming is a result of the work of the Spirit)?

    Wondering your thoughts.

    ~Scott

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