“For I am not ashamed of the gospel,” proclaimed the Apostle Paul, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
This statement at the beginning of his letter to the Romans summarises what Paul will show the gospel to be; a mighty work of grace that is solely the work of God, to be received by sinners holding out the empty hands of faith, knowing they cannot do anything to add to it.
The gospel, or euaggelion, means good news, the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. It is called the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1, Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 4:4; 9:13; 10:14; Gal 1:7; Phil 1:27) the gospel of the kingdom (Matt 4:23) the gospel of God (Rom 1:1; 1 Thess 2:2) the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15) and the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24). The corresponding verb, euaggelizo, means to proclaim good news (Luke 2:10; 16:16; 1 Pet 1:25). The same gospel was proclaimed and taught by Jesus and the apostles, in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises (Luke 4:17–19; Acts 8:35; 13:32; Gal 3:8; 1 Pet 1:12). Jesus is central to the whole biblical narrative, or “salvation history” from Genesis to Revelation. The early church exegetes saw Jesus as the great interpreter of Scripture, the antitype to which everything in the Scriptures pointed and in whom they found ultimate fulfillment. On the road to Emmaus, the risen Christ gently berated his disciples for failing to understand this, “and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Earlier he had stated to the Jews that Moses wrote about him and that the Scriptures witness to him (John 5:39, 46).
There is only one true gospel, that of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and his kingdom. Paul was adamant on this point; it is his purpose for writing to the Galatians. They had turned from “the grace of Christ” to “a different gospel, not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:6–7). Paul finds this “astonishing” because the gospel he preached to the Galatians was not man’s gospel, but one he received through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11–12). So significant is this point of a single, true , God-given gospel that Paul states, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8–9). Strong words! But then nothing less than the glory of God and their very salvation was at stake.
What was it that was so central to the gospel that the Galatians had missed? When Jesus preached the gospel he accompanied it with healing and blessing. It was a gospel of reconciliation, of healing and peace, a foretaste of the consummation of the kingdom of God. Jesus brought the kingdom, or reign of God, into the world because he is its king, and one day that kingdom will fill the earth. The gospel is for all nations, for the Jew first and also for the Gentile (Luke 2;10–11; Matt 24:14; Acts 15:7; Rom 1:14–16; Gal 2:7; Col 1:23; Rev 14:6). It is a gospel of peace (Eph 6:15) because it is the means of peacemaking, or reconcilation between God and humankind, and there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Luke 2:11–14; Acts 4:12; 10:36; Rom 5:1).
Jesus accomplished many interrelated things in his great work upon the cross, and central to his reconciling work are both the tearing of the veil that restricted approach to the Holy God, and also destroying the barriers between Jew and Gentile. For Jews under the Law, the only way to please God according to the Law was to keep it in every detail, which of course is impossible. The Gentiles were even worse off, they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). The gospel changes all that. Paul continues:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father (Eph 2:13–18).
The new covenant in Christ, which is the essence of the gospel, can bring this reconciliation for all, because it is not based on human works. It is the gospel of grace. Paul opens his letter to the Romans by introducing himself as “set apart for the gospel of God… concerning his Son… through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom 1:1–5). Later in the letter, Paul reminds them “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom 5:1–2). In Ephesians, Paul makes it even more explicit: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8–9).
This is the heart of the gospel; salvation by grace, appropriated by faith, without any contribution of human works. As Paul goes on to explain in Romans, after his damning indictment of sinful humanity:
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:20–24).
This was what the Galatians had departed from. They had been enticed back to the works of the law, adding to the gospel of Christ. They had become persuaded that Christians should be circumcised, a work of the flesh, which Paul points out made them a debtor to the whole law and disqualified them from grace.
Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified… For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Gal 2:16–3:7)
Returning to those opening words from Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” we see how the gospel is the power to save both Jew and Gentile. It is precisely because it is a gospel of grace and faith, not of works. Because the power to save is all of God, it is absolutely assured.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:1–4).
To try to add anything to the gospel, to add anything to the work of Christ, is to say that the gospel is not good enough, that the work of Christ is not good enough. It is to make salvation a human accomplishment, which is impossible. It is to base salvation on human works, human “righteousness” which is a garment of filthy rags (Isa 64:6).
The gospel is the power of God for salvation. It is the good news that salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. What would the Apostle Paul say to those who subscribe to the Christadelphian Statement of Faith, then, which lists as a Doctrine to be Rejected, #24, “that the Gospel alone will save, without obedience to Christ’s commandments”? This flies in the face of all that Paul says about the gospel. It adds works to the gospel. It makes salvation a human achievement; only those who have obeyed the commandments will be saved. To this a Christadelphian might respond, that they are the commandments of Christ and he did not issue them in vain. That of course is true, and to ignore the commandments and teachings of Christ would be antinomianism, of which, ironically, Paul was accused! (Rom 6:1–2)
Obedience is our loving response to all that Christ has done for us. Obedience doesn’t save us, works don’t save us. Salvation is by grace on the basis of the work of Christ, received by faith. As Paul explains in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:8–10). Good works are the response to salvation, not the means of salvation. In Christ Jesus we have been created for good works, enabled by the Spirit to bring forth his fruit.
A Christadelphian might respond, yes, I believe all that, I believe I am saved by grace, not works. In fact, many Christadephians do believe this. They do have the right perspective on the means of salvation, yet that is not what their basis of fellowship states. To become a Christadelphian, in most ecclesias, one has to assent to the Statement of Faith and reject the Doctrines to be Rejected, in order to be baptised and to enjoy fellowship. The Statement of Faith is very detailed; thirty positive affirmations and thirty-six negative affirmations. Some of them are broad and foundational, a number are anachronistic and some are difficult even for many Christadelphians to accept. But to deny that the gospel alone can save, that works are required, is to preach another gospel, and what would Paul say to that?