Last week we talked about the story of the gospel. The “good news” of Jesus is first and foremost about the breathtaking grace of God as accomplished in history. And so Jesus came humbly (incarnation), lived righteously (active obedience), died painfully (crucifixion/passive obedience), rose triumphantly (resurrection), exited gloriously (ascension), and will come again imminently (second coming). This is the history of the gospel and it is part of this grand story.
But there is another way to consider the gospel. We can think of all its cosmic and glorious accomplishments! The gospel didn’t enter into the story of history and then slip away, leaving the world unchanged. Jesus’s coming, death and resurrection shook the world to its core and the repercussions are still being felt!
So what did this “gospel history” accomplish for the believer? This question can only be answered by meditation, by setting the heart on the vistas of the triumphant gospel over sin, death, principalities and powers. If you would go “further up and further in” to its meaning, you must put your “hearts to the plough” in study and meditation. It’s not a task for the faint of heart, but it is the only task that will strengthen the faint of heart.
What am I talking about?
The Gospel As Study: Some Terms to Know
We are certainly not the first to studiously meditate on the gospel. In fact it would be an exceptional display of arrogance to try to attempt to understand its depths without the wisdom and work of others. Theologians in the present are indebted to many from the church fathers onward. Many have recognized that it’s impossible to enjoy the immense forest of the gospel if one has never properly understood the individual trees. So in our treasuring of the gospel, we will do our best to treasure it all up tree by tree and part by part. We will of course, not be fully successful, yet it will do us good to make the attempt. (Note: It is not my purpose to propose an ordo salutis here, for all of you seminarians that are concerned about such things!)
How will we treasure the gospel?
We will treasure expiation and propitiation. Expiation refers to the removal (Ps 103:12) or covering over of our guilt, the guilt incurred by our choice to sin and Adam’s. God “wiped away” our sins (Acts 3:19) on the basis of Jesus’s death. Propitiation is the turning away of God’s just wrath (Rom 1:18, Eph 2:3) against us because of our many sins. God placed this just wrath on his Son at the cross (Rom 3:25; 1 Jn 2:2).
We will treasure adoption. God, in great mercy, looked at the pitiful and wretched slavery of humans to sin, and gave the Son in order to make us his sons. He judicially declared believers to be his sons or daughters and himself to be their Father (Gal 4:4–5). He does this to make us heirs and so that there is now an spiritual father/child relationship to be experienced where there was none (Gal 4:6–7). This adoption makes us Jesus’s brother (Romans 8:29–30).
We will treasure justification. God, the righteous judge of the living and the dead, must be just if he is to be God. Jesus’s death provided a way for him to act justly in declaring a sinner to be perfectly righteous and forever treat him as someone who kept the law perfectly (Rom 3:21–26).
We will treasure glorification. God gives those who put their faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection unending sinlessness and experiential righteousness, a new pain-free body (1 Cor 15:42), a new inextinguishable happiness/joy, unending and uninterrupted love, and life forever with God (Rev 21:1–7). It is the final, irreversible conquering of death and sin.
We will treasure redemption. God delivered all who believe the gospel from the slavery of sin and death. Through the extravagant payment of his one and only Son, God gave believers true spiritual freedom for the first time. Thus, you are now “redeemed” or “freed” from the power of sin and death (Mark 10:45, Jn 8:34).
We will treasure regeneration. God quickened you, that is, instantaneously and supernaturally he breathed the breath of life into your stillborn soul. You now have dominant desires that contradict your former motivations (John 3:3–8; Titus 3:5).
We will treasure reconciliation. Spiritual death is separation from God, but it was not a quiet death. Spiritual death means we were God’s enemies and “anti-God.” But God accomplished a relationship status of peace and harmony while we still content being estranged (angry enemies) from God.
We will treasure sanctification. God set us apart to be saved by him from beginning to end. That is, he sets us apart by giving us life (1 Cor 1:2, Acts 26:18), by his making us progressively and experientially righteous (1 Thess 5.23), by finally accomplishing glorification.
We will treasure all of these as God gives us ears to hear and eyes to see. For now let is suffice that we will treasure the forest and the individual trees of the gospel, the gospel as story and the gospel as study.