Getting Beyond the Gospel

There are some who would encourage believers to “go beyond the gospel” and would castigate anyone who urges us to be gospel centered in our Christian living. These folks often appeal to what I believe is a misinterpretation of Hebrews 6:1-2 and insist that we must leave the gospel behind and simply “learn and do.” The writer was not telling these people to get beyond the gospel; he was telling them to get beyond the foundational truths of the old covenant expressed in types and shadows. The entire book he has written is drenched with gospel truth. Does it make any sense to think he is telling us to leave the gospel and go on to something else?  My question is where do we go to get beyond the gospel? In the book of Hebrews, the writer was anxious to teach his readers about a man named Melchizedek and about his priestly order. I can think of few topics that are more saturated with gospel than Hebrews seven. How could anyone suggest that studying such a blessed passage is “moving on from the gospel?”

 Where is “Beyond the gospel?”

The infinitude of the gospel makes it impossible for us to go beyond it. Paul wrote to the Ephesians about his desire that they comprehend the incomprehensible love of Christ that is revealed in the gospel. He wrote, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, . . .” (Eph. 3:17-19).  It will require “the ages to come” for God to show the immeasurable riches of this grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (see Eph. 2:7). How can one get beyond that?

Obedience and the Gospel

I do not deny that the New Testament writers call on believers to obey the Word as well as to hear the Word. The difficulty believers have with getting beyond the gospel as they seek to obey is that the New Testament writers continue to bathe biblical commands in gospel truth. Consider, for example, Paul’s exhortation to husbands. He does not merely say, “Husbands love your wives because this is your duty as a Christian.” Instead, he tells us to love them “as Christ love the Church and gave himself for it.” This does not only tell us how we are to love our wives. He could have simply said, “Love your wives in a self-sacrificing way.” Why did he state our duty as he did? He did so because the gospel provides powerful motivation for obedience. When Paul would exhort us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, by what does he exhort us? Does he not remind us of God’s tender mercies that are revealed in the gospel? (see Rom. 12:1).
Paul exhorts the Ephesians to walk worthy of the vocation with which they have been called. That is, we are to live our lives according to the good news of what we are in Christ. Much of the New Testament Scriptures could be summarized as follows: See what you are in Christ, and be what you are in Christ. In other words, we are to live out the profound implications of the gospel.This is what we mean when we say the imperatives of the New Testament are grounded on the indicatives of the New Testament.
Peter does much the same in his second Epistle, chapter one. He exhorts his readers to add to their faith virtue and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control etc. Notice the basis of the exhortation. He wrote that we are to add these virtues “For this very reason.” These words refer back to the blessings of God’s saving mercy about which he has written in verses three though five.

If the Apostles wanted believers to move beyond the gospel, why, in all their Epistles, do they continue to remind believers of the gospel and tell them to live in the light of it?

The Gospel is Only for Believers

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying we should not proclaim God’s offer of divine mercy to sinful rebels if they turn from their wickedness. What I am saying is that the riches of gospel truth are only made known to us as believers.

The reality is that most of what the New Testament writers present as the evangel is not good news at all. It is certainly not “good news” to recalcitrant sinners. The only part of the message that becomes good news to sinners is that if they lay down their weapons of rebellion against God, turn from their violations of his righteous standard, and trust his promise to pardon them for Christ’s sake, they will be declared righteous. In truth, it is only at the point of conversion that the message begins to become gospel. In a way, we could say that the gospel is not also for believers; it is only for believers. If one doesn’t believe it, it is not good news at all.

One of the issues is that people have become accustomed to proclaiming a message to the unconverted that belongs alone to believers. They tell sinners the opposite of what God has told them. God has told them they continue under his wrath as long as long as they refuse to obey the Son (see-John 3:36). He has told them his wrath toward them is revealed from heaven as long as they continue to suppress his truth by their unrighteousness (See Rom. 1:18). As long as they continue in Adam, they stand condemned before God. They are by nature, the children of wrath. But what is our modern message? “Don’t worry, be happy. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” But the only sense in which the Bible says God loves them is in his common grace and universal benevolence toward them, and this becomes a cause of aggravated condemnation for them as long as they remain in impenitence and unbelief. Paul wrote to the Romans, “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance, but because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up for yourself wrath for yourself” (see-Rom. 2:4-5). This revelation of God’s beneficence is really bad news for impenitent sinners. The revelation of God’s redeeming love is reserved for justified believers—“Because God’s love is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). If believers are supposed to “get beyond the good news,” why is Paul writing this to believers?

The affirmation “Jesus died for you” is also reserved for justified believers. You might wonder how it is possible to witness the gospel to sinners without telling them Jesus died for them. Isn’t that part of the gospel? You might wish to examine the message of the Apostles to the unconverted to see if any of them ever said to unconverted sinners, “Jesus died for you.” What I am saying is that the news that God loves you and Jesus died for you is good news for believers and only for believers. The gospel does not call on sinners to believe that Jesus died for them. Don’t take my word for it. Examine the messages of the Apostles and other gospel preachers in the New Testament record. If you can show me one example of a preacher saying to any unconverted sinner or group of unconverted sinners “Jesus died for you,” or “You must believe that Jesus died for you,” I’ll eat my hat. The warrant of faith is that God has promised to pardon all who repent and believe. It is at the point that one rests on that promise that the message becomes gospel. Until he believes it, it is not good news at all. One of the Puritan writers asked, “What is Christ to me if he is not mine?” I would ask, What is the promise of pardon to  sinners if it is not theirs by faith?

In Paul’s exposition of the gospel in the Romans Epistle his declarations about God’s love “for us” and Jesus’ death “for us” are reserved for justified believers. If the message that “Christ died for us” is proclaimed to believers only, how can anyone think that believers should get beyond the gospel
Paul was writing to believers in Rome (see 1:6-8), when he stated that he was eager to preach the gospel to them also (1:5). That makes no sense if God wants believers to get beyond the gospel.


4 Responses to “Getting Beyond the Gospel”

  1. February 6, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Amen and well presented my dear brother. I’ve heard men-pleasing preachers declaim Calvinist by declaring, “They cannot tell the man on the street that God loves him!” They have reduced the gospel to a false hope of potential salvation instead of the power of salvation to those who believe! It’s not popular to talk about the wrath of God on all who have not and will not be saved – but that is the message of Scripture. The pastor of my church recently preached from Rom 12:1 & 2 and brought this out. Everyone, he said, likes to talk about “God is love!”. Yes, that is true – BUT, God is just and holy and the love of God saves us from the wrath of God that is to come.

    He is so close to grasping the truth of “Spurgeon’s gospel” while he claims to disagree with Calvinism and Arminianism.

  2. 3 Peace and Grace
    February 23, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    Dr. Michael Horton’s reply to people who want to get beyond the gospel…”Have you read the will? There’s not enough time this side of eternity to talk about everything God has given to His children.”

    • February 23, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      As I wrote to you in an email, part of the problem is that these folks define the gospel differently than we would. I agree we need to get beyond what they call the gospel. We need to get so far beyond it that it is never preached again. Their “gospel” has no biblical foundation. It presents a pitiful God who truly wants to save sinners but can’t do it without the sinner’s vote.

      Sent from my iPad


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