Posts Tagged ‘The Biblical Gospel

12
Oct
16

The Gospel–A Manifestation of God’s Glory.

 

Having lost its grip on the biblical gospel, the church has bartered that priceless treasure for a pot of fool’s gold. We have all but eliminated any idea that salvation involves a thorough turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, and we have reduced faith to a “decision” and a rather superficial and vacuous decision at that. In our concern to maintain the freeness of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we have forgotten that salvation is about more than pardon. It involves the deliverance of the whole man, indeed in the ultimate sense the entire cosmos, from the corruption of sin into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. It is God’s unswerving purpose to “bring many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10). Augustus Toplady was clearly on target when he wrote about Christ’s redeeming work being a “double cure.” It not only saves us from wrath but it is also intended to make us pure.

Biblical writers and preachers spoke much differently than we about this magnificent message of all-sufficient grace. For them, salvation involved nothing less than a revelation of the resplendent glory of God. It is significant that in Stephen’s vindicatory sermon he began with the words “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham. . . .” (Acts 7:2). It is God’s manifestation of himself as the “God of glory” that turns sinners from darkness to light. When the Scriptures speak of God’s glory they are simply describing the sum of his glorious attributes. It was not without reason that the theologians who framed the Westminster Confession of Faith began their statement regarding God’s decree concerning salvation with the words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory. . .” When Jesus described his earthly mission and, indeed, the nature of eternal life itself, it was in terms of knowing God in all the majesty of his glorious being. He said, “I have finished the work you gave me to do. . .I have manifested your name [“name” was more than a mere appellation; it was a description of a person’s character] to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:4-6).

When Isaiah began to proclaim his message of comfort based on the work of the coming Anointed One, these were the words he used—“The glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). The splendor of the New Covenant is that it reveals the glory of God in a way the Old Covenant never could. Paul indicated that the glory of the Old Covenant had been so eclipsed by the glory of the gospel covenant that, by comparison, the old had no glory at all (see 2 Cor. 3:8-11). When John described the apostles’ experience with Jesus, he wrote, “. . .we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the uniquely begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It should be obvious that he was asking us to recall what should be a well-known event in the history of redemption. In Exodus thirty-three, we read the account of Moses’ request to see God’s glory. Jehovah had responded to him that he would allow him to see his back but not his face, since no one could see his face and live. It should not escape our attention that even this inferior revelation was a blessing that was granted by sovereign mercy (33:19). When Jehovah caused all his goodness to pass before Moses and when he proclaimed his name [his character] before him, part of what he declared is that he is “abundant in goodness [loving-kindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness].” This was the near equivalent to John’s words in John 1:14 “full of grace and truth.” What the law revealed in type and shadow, has now been fully revealed in Christ. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth [fulfillment as opposed to type] came by Jesus Christ” (v. 17).

We must always remember that the biblical gospel does not proclaim Christ in his state of humiliation but in his state of exaltation. The gospel not only “concerns his Son who, according to the flesh was made of the seed of David” but also “who was declared [determined] to be the Son of God with power [the powerful Son of God] according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead” (See Romans 1:3-4). We must never, in our minds, separate “Lifted up was he to die” from “Now in heaven exalted high.” It is not Jesus dying on a cross who saves, but the Jesus who died on the cross who saves. It is the one “who was dead, but is alive.” It is “Christ HAVING BEEN CRUCIFIED.” The Savior we proclaim is one who, as the result of his victorious redemptive work, is now enthroned in majesty and glory as the embodiment of the redemptive work he has accomplished once for all. He is enthroned as the crucified one. He is “the Lamb in the center of the throne.”

The issue of whether coming to faith in Christ is the result of human decision or of divine intervention should be a simple one for anyone who understands what conversion truly is. If conversion is simply “letting Jesus come into my heart so I can go to heaven when I die” it is conceivable that a sinner in a state of corruption could make such a “decision.” After all, who wants to suffer in the lake of fire for eternity? As long as I can continue to be the master of my life, why wouldn’t I go for the goodies? The message of the modern “church” is so far removed from the biblical gospel that it bears almost no resemblance to it whatsoever. Look how the apostle Paul described conversion. He wrote, “If our gospel stands veiled, it stands veiled to those who are perishing, in whom the god of this age [He is “the god of this age” in the sense that the children of this age have chosen to follow him and worship him as their god] has blinded the minds [It is the minds that are veiled by darkness, not the gospel] of those who do not believe with the result that the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God does not shine [the word means dawn] upon them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). He then describes conversion in terms of a creative act of God for the purpose of making his glory known in the face of Jesus Christ, He wrote, “For it is the God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness who has shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Conversion involves nothing less than God’s creative power by which he manifests his glory in the face of Jesus Christ and only God can manifest himself in this way. We must never forget that the merciful decision to manifest his glory “. . .is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God who shows mercy” (Romans 9:16).

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03
Jun
16

Identifying the Authentic Gospel

There is no more important issue than the precision of our gospel presentation. We may stumble in our understanding of secondary and tertiary issues without eternal consequences, but if we err in our gospel proclamation, we not only endanger the souls of those who hear us, but we will personally encounter God’s judgment. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned” (Galatians 1:8). Even a slight deviation from God’s message will be devastating. There is no margin for error.

 

Given this necessity for accuracy in gospel preaching, it is incumbent upon us that we be able to distinguish the authentic gospel from all its counterfeits. Though the modern religious world has been flooded with counterfeit messages, it is not difficult to distinguish the biblical message and the method of its propagation from the substitutes. I would like to suggest seven earmarks of the biblical gospel that will help us recognize any departure from it.

 

 

It is Built on the Foundation Laid by The Apostles

 

In his introduction to the Epistle to the Romans, Paul began with the words, “Paul, a bond slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle.” He mentions his apostleship to establish his authority, conferred on him by Christ himself, to speak with certitude about the content of God’s good news. He made it clear in the verse I quoted above that the standard against which all other “gospels” are to be measured is “the one [gospel] we preached to you.” Any departure from that message must be a counterfeit gospel. We have no right or reason to preach any message that alters their message either by addition or subtraction. He wrote to the Corinthians, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder [wise architect] and someone else is building on it. . .” (1 Cor. 3:10). That foundation is Jesus Christ, and he tells his readers there can be no other. We must be careful how we build on that foundation.  If we would know what the content of our message must be, we need only scrutinize the messages the apostles and early believers proclaimed. Their preaching must be our pattern.

 

It is God-Centered

 

The second characteristic of the biblical gospel is that it is a message about God. Paul wrote, “. . .separated to the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). This phrase “gospel of God” could be understood to mean the good news that has God as its author or the good news that has God as its subject. The difficulty is that both these meanings are true.  If we understand the phrase in the first sense, the meaning is that there would be no good news for sinners if it were not for his salvation plan and his revelation of that plan in the Scriptures. Such a plan would never have occurred to us apart from God’s revealed truth.

 

The second sense in which we could understand this phrase is that God is the one who is the focus of this good news. That is to say, it is a message that is God-centered and not man-centered. Leon Morris wrote concerning the Epistle to the Romans whose central message concerns God’s universal salvific purpose, “Romans is a ultimately a book about God: How He acted to bring salvation, how His justice is preserved, how His purposes are worked out in history, how He can be served by His people.” To say this in a different way, the gospel is not primarily about the problems that have been produced by the existence of sin. It is not primarily about making people happy or repairing their broken relationships with other people. It is not even primarily about sinners going to heaven when they die. It is about the manifestation of God’s glory in the contrivance and execution of the plan of redemption.

 

It is According to the Scriptures

 

Paul wrote concerning this gospel, “. . .which he [God] promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2). It is important for us to remember that although God’s good news as it is disclosed in the New Testament Scriptures is more fully revealed than during the Old Testament period, it is not a brand new message. It is in full accord with God’s Old Testament promises. Additionally, the gospel call in the New Testament is essentially the same as the in the Old Testament. The essential difference between them is that the New Testament Scriptures reveal the fulfillment that only existed in type and promise during the Old Testament period.  The New Testament gospel answers all the Old Testament questions regarding salvation.

 

It Concerns God’s Son

 

Paul’s continuing description of the gospel in Romans one defines the focal point of God’s good news. The gospel message concerns God’s Son in the two stages of his incarnate state. It is about his redemptive accomplishments during the period of his humiliation “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” and about his all-sufficient ability to save his people as the “Son of God with power” in his state of exaltation. It is as the enthroned conqueror that he now commands sinners to bow before his exalted throne and promises pardon based on the redemption accomplished during the period the writer to the Hebrews called “the days of his flesh.” First century preachers did not proclaim him as a Savior who would forgive our transgressions but who had no authority to rule our lives. God’s gospel does not invite sinners to kneel at the cross for forgiveness; It commands us to bow before the throne and promises that God will pardon our sins when we do.

 

It Excludes Boasting

 

God’s saving work and the gospel proclamation of that accomplishment will exclude all boasting in human ability or merit and will give all glory to God.  In 1 Corinthians 1:29-31, after having described the sort of people God has called into the fellowship of his Son, Paul assigned a reason for his method of operation. He wrote, “. . .that no flesh [human being] should boast in his presence, but it is of his [God’s] doing that you are in Christ Jesus who of God has been made unto you, wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption in order that just as it is written, ‘he that boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” Any message that leaves the sinner any reason to boast about his contribution to the work of salvation is not God’s gospel. This seems to be a theme throughout Paul’s Epistles. In Romans three, after having explained the good news that justification is through faith alone and apart from the works of the law, he asks, “Where is boasting then?” He answers, “It has been shut out once and for all.”

 

It Produces Obedience in Those Who Receive It

 

The authenticity of the message we preach can be determined by the fruit it produces. The authentic message, when rightly received, will always teach its recipients to live soberly, righteously and godly in Christ Jesus (see—Titus 2:11-14. If the message we preach does not produce the fruit of holy living we must assume it has either not been received rightly or that our message is not the authentic gospel. Paul wrote to Titus that the salvation bringing [note he does not say “the salvation offering”] grace of God, teaches us to say no to impiety, and worldly desires, and live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age (see Titus 2:11-12). God’s saving grace does not pardon sinners and then leave them in their sins.

 

The object of Paul’s apostleship was to bring about “obedience to the faith” (Rom. 1:5). It is difficult to know whether he was, in speaking of “obedience to the faith” referring to the obedience which is faith or to the obedience that results from faith. In either case, his message called for submission to Jesus’ Lordship.  Douglas Moo has written,

 

Paul’s task was to call men and women to submission to the lordship of Christ (cf. 4.b and 7b), a submission that began with conversion. This obedience to Christ as Lord is always closely related to faith, but which was to continue in a deepening, life-long commitment. This obedience to Christ as Lord is always closely related to faith, both as an initial, decisive step of faith and as a continuing “faith” relationship with Christ. . .obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience. They should not be equated, compartmentalized, or made into separate stages of Christian experience. Paul called men and women to a faith that was always inseparable from obedience–for the Savior in whom we believe is nothing less than our Lord. . . (Moo, 1991, 44-45).

 

It Produces a Sense of Amazement and Admiration

 

If properly understood, the revelation of the biblical gospel will produce in us a sense of amazement and admiration as we contemplate God’s great salvation.  We must not miss the fact that the ultimate goal of Paul’s gospel proclamation is stated in three words in Romans chapter one verse five. Paul states that the purpose of all his evangelistic activity is “for [on behalf of] his name.” A purpose that is even higher than obedience to the faith is the glory of the Jesus Christ. The ultimate goal in all God’s salvific activity as well his purpose in creating the world is the manifestation of his own glory.

 

As he came to the close of the doctrinal section of his epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul seemed to have been overwhelmed with a sense of wonder as he contemplated those great truths that no eye has seen, no ear has heard and have not entered into the heart of man. He wrote, “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past tracing out” (Rom.11:33)? Having considered the depths of God’s riches in accomplishing the salvation of his people, he could only conclude that his judgments [most likely referring to his decrees] are unsearchable and his ways [most likely referring to this acts of providence in executing his predestined plan] are inscrutable. He stood amazed as he considered the profundity of the divine mind in contriving such a magnificent plan. There is no evidence of an arrogant self-sufficiency that presumes to fully comprehend God’s mind. Often those who have failed to grasp the depths of their own corruption are so bold as to question what God should have done and what he would have been unjust to have done. They feign the ability to understand his paths and even seek to impeach the unfathomable ways of Jehovah. They will gladly receive God’s revealed truth as long as they can reconcile his providential dealings with their standard of fairness. Robert Haldane wrote,

 

Multitudes receive the testimony of God only so far as they can satisfactorily account for all the reasons and grounds of His conduct, when measured according to the petty scale of their limited capacity. How unbecoming in such a creature as man! Shall he who is but ‘of yesterday,’ and ‘knows nothing,’ who is born ‘like a wild ass’s colt,’ pretend to penetrate the counsels of the Omniscient! (Haldane, 1966, 549).

 

By contrast, Paul asked, “For who has known the mind of the Lord or being his counselor has taught him?” In his decrees and providential ways, God is infinitely exalted above the oversight or management of his creatures.

 

A biblical understanding of God’s good news will invariably demolish any thought of bringing him under obligation. Paul asked, “Who has first given to him that it might be repaid him” (v. 35)?  If our concept of the gospel leaves us believing we have offered anything to God that would obligate him to smile with favor on us, we have clearly misunderstood his message. Charles Hodge wrote, “The creature has neither merit nor power. His hopes must rest on sovereign mercy alone” (Hodge, 1953).

 

The authentic gospel, when rightly understood, will inevitably and invariably lead us to ascribe all glory to God because it will lead us to understand that he is the source of all that is good “for of him are all things.” He is the means through whom all good occurs both in nature and in grace. His everlasting glory is the end to which all things are moving. Charles Hodge wrote,

 

When Paul asks, Who hath first given to God? the answer is, No one, for of him, through him, and to him, are all things. It is for the display of his character everything exists, and is directed, as the highest and noblest of all possible objects. Creatures are as nothing, less than vanity and nothing in comparison with God. Human knowledge, power, and virtue, are mere glimmering reflections from the brightness of the divine glory. That system of religion, therefore, is best in accordance with the character of God, the nature of man, and the end of the universe, in which all things are of, through, and to God; and which most effectually leads men to say, Not Unto Us, But Unto Thy Name Be All Glory (Hodge, 1953)!

 

If the message we proclaim does not lead us to a sense of awe and admiration as we contemplate the manifold wisdom of God in the plan, accomplishment and application of redemption, then that message is not the authentic gospel. A clear understanding of the biblical gospel will lead us to ascribe honor and glory to God as the beginning, middle and end of all things.

 

Haldane, Robert, The Epistle to the Romans, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1966.)

Hodge, Charles, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,) 1953.

Morris, The Theme of Romans, 249-63

 

 

18
Feb
14

Evangelistic Drivel

The following are statements often used in modern evangelism that are nowhere found in the preaching of Jesus and the apostles. Most of them have entered the evangelical vocabulary through a theologically and biblically vacuous hymnology and not from a careful study of the New Testament record.

Let Jesus come into your heart.

Give Jesus your heart.

Open your heart, and let Jesus come in.

Pray to receive Jesus.

Decide for Jesus.

Jesus died for you.

God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

Smile, God loves you.

God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.

God can’t save you unless you let him.

Why do people continue to employ such banal jargon in their “evangelism?” I suspect it is because they are too lazy to study the Scriptures in an effort to discover the apostolic pattern. After all, it is far too easy to get decisions when sinners don’t understand the real issues.

I challenge you to examine the history of early evangelism in the Gospels and Acts and emulate the pattern of apostolic preaching. If nothing more, begin by reading just one chapter a day. It might just change your life.

30
Nov
12

What is the biblical gospel?

One would have thought that after all these centuries the church would have arrived at a consensus in answering that important question. This is not a question that is exclusively the topic for discussion among ivory tower theologians. It is a topic that concerns the eternal destiny of sinners. Mistakes here have devastating consequences.

There are, of course, those obvious departures from the biblical gospel such as those perpetuated by the Roman Catholic message. Such departures are bound to occur once a person, group or organization adopts a standard of authority other than the Word of God. This is true whether that standard be experience, feelings, tradition or something else altogether. The departures I am talking about are perhaps a bit more subtile but nonetheless devastating to the biblical message.

The term “gospel” itself is quite easy to define. It is simply God’s good news. The difficulty arises when one inquires about the content of this good news. The specific message to which I am referring in this article is defined by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. He wrote,

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Cor. 15: 1-8).

Still, the specifics of this statement are a bit difficult to define. First, there are occasions when the New Testament writers used the term “gospel” to refer to messages that were not the New Testament gospel at all. For example, Paul wrote in Galatians 3:8, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.'” In Hebrews 4:2, the writer tells us, “For good news [gospel] came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” The messages they heard were clearly messages of good news, but they cannot be identified with the message God has given us to proclaim.

Also, Paul does not elucidate in this statement what he means by “. . . .that Christ died for our sins. . . .” Does he merely mean Christ died to forgive our sins, or does he mean he died to deliver us from our sins altogether? I believe other passages make it clear he referred to the latter. Justification is not full-orbed “salvation.” It is only one aspect of that redemptive work Jesus has accomplished.

Before we consider the content and concern of that message, perhaps it would be helpful to consider the question negatively. There are several erroneous concepts we should dismiss out of hand. For example, the gospel is not “Jesus died for you. If you will only open your heart and let him come in, God will take you to heaven when you die.” You will search the New Testament Scriptures in vain to find any gospel preacher proclaiming such a message. This message is deficient at a number of points.

First, it makes the issue in salvation whether sinners will accept Jesus. In reality, the issue is whether he will accept sinners. That may sound strange to you if you were brought up in a modern evangelical church. You may have been led to believe that somehow God at least owes everyone a chance to be saved. Of course, he will accept sinners because that is his job. All sinners must do is give Jesus a chance. You may recall a situation recorded in John 2 in which many believed on Jesus because they had seen the miracles he had done, but Jesus did not commit himself to them. In other words, they accepted him, but he didn’t accept them.

Second, nowhere in the New Testament is a crowd of sinners told indiscriminately, “Jesus died for you.” The gospel is, “Jesus died for sinners.” By his sacrificial death, he has accomplished the salvation of the most guilty sinner who will believe God’s promise. The message is, “All things are now ready; come to the feast.” Sinners need not bring anything to him but their sins. As Horatius Bonar wrote, “That [my sin] is the only thing I can truly call my own.”

Third, the issue in gospel proclamation is not deliverance from hell and a free ticket to heaven when we die. Instead, its goal is to turn us sinners from our sins and turn us into worshippers of the sovereign of the universe. It intends to break us of our egocentricity and make us Theocentric in our focus. Forgiveness of sin is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. The goal of gospel proclamation is to make us bold worshippers of the living God. Listen to Paul’s description of “the circumcision,” i.e., the true people of God. “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).

It should, of course, go without saying that any message that suggests that belief in Christ will deliver us from material, physical, psychological, and relational difficulties is far removed from the biblical gospel.

Another erroneous concept is that the faith the gospel demands is a mere one time decision through which all our sins will be forgiven. A popular idea is that once sinners have registered their decision, justification is a done deal. It is as if once we get our ticket punched, we don’t need Jesus any more. The New Testament concept of faith is entirely different. The true believer is one who goes on trusting in Christ. Though he never becomes any more justified than he was the moment he first believed, if he truly belongs to the company of true believers, he will trust in Christ no less today than he did the moment he first believed. The question should not be “Have you trusted Christ?” but “Are you trusting Christ?” Those who fail to persevere in faith, never had true faith to begin with. True faith perseveres. The writer of the Hebrews expressed the nature of true believers this way, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Heb. 10:39). Notice, he does not say “had faith” but “have faith.” Faith doesn’t shrink back.

Please understand my point here. I am not suggesting that justification is progressive but that it is perpetual. That is, it does not gradually increase but it is ongoing. It is a judicial standing that has been objectively accomplished by Jesus’ redemptive work and is applied to the believer in union with Christ. It is not merely that I was declared righteous when I first believed, but that I now stand justified in God’s presence because of my union with Christ. On more than one occasion, Jesus made it clear to his disciples that faith is to be ongoing and that it is our responsibility to remain united to him by faith. In John 6:54, he described those who have eternal life as those who feed on his flesh and drink of his blood. This is an obvious reference to the believer’s appropriation of Jesus’ sacrificial death. He used the present tense of these verbs to describe this action. In Greek the tense of the verb is concerned not so much with the time of the action as it is with the kind of action in view. The present tense denotes continuing action. Thus, Jesus described an action that was to be ongoing. If your faith was merely a decision that occurred in the past, it wasn’t justifying faith. Similarly, he taught his disciples it was their responsibility to continue in their union with him by faith. In John 15:4 he said, “Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, neither can you, unless you remain in me.” He was not describing some super spiritual experience enjoyed by those who have dared to delve deeper into the Christian experience and become “Spiritual Christians.” He is describing the responsibility of every believer to go on believing in him. The good news for true believers is that not only is such perseverance in faith necessary, it is also certain. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints was never intended as a guarantee that all who ever walked an aisle or signed a decision card would be saved for eternity no matter what they do. Instead, it concerns the assurance that those who are true believers will persevere in faith unto the end.

Some have questioned whether this righteous standing must be maintained or is it an act that is now behind us. In the sense that nothing more needs to be accomplished to keep us justified for eternity, it needs no maintenance. In the sense that there is a current and continual application of Jesus’ finished work through faith, there is an ongoing maintenance of our standing before God. In reality, what must be maintained is not justification, but our union with Christ. In union with him through faith, we enjoy all the blessings of his redemptive accomplishments. His current and continuous ministry of intercession is simply the application of his redeeming work. It is not that justification must be maintained in the sense that each time a believer falls, something new must be done to restore his righteousness. It is simply that Christ continues to present the evidence of his finished work in God’s presence and thus maintains our standing before God in him. We are accepted in the beloved one.

We must be clear that faith lays hold of every benefit of Christ’s redeeming work, not merely the forensic aspects of that work. We are not justified because God accepts our faith in place of the righteousness he demands. Instead, we are accepted as righteous in God’s sight because by faith we are united to him who is righteous and has satisfied every demand of God’s holy law.

This union also applies Jesus’ death to sin to the believer. Paul wrote, “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:10-11).
Because believers are “in Christ,” his death for sin has become our death to sin. This does not describe something we must do; it is a simple statement of fact in God’s reckoning. By faith, we are to account this to be true and act accordingly. We don’t act as we do because we feel like we are dead to sin because we believe God’s declaration that it is reality. This does not mean believers have no responsibility to obey God’s commandments. What it does mean is that any attempt to obey God apart from this reality will fail. It is cruel to tell slaves to stop acting like slaves, but to tell former slaves to act as freemen is an exhortation that is necessary to implement their freedom. Paul’s argument is, “Since you are no longer slaves, stop acting like slaves.” We don’t free ourselves by obeying; we obey because we are free. This is what Paul wrote,

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Rom. 6:11-13).

What, then, is the gospel? It is God’s published intent to completely restore to a right relationship and holy fellowship with him every sinner who believes and returns to him through the redeeming work of Christ. It is his gracious promise to welcome, pardon, restore, and crown with glory the most vile sinner who will return in saving faith. It is the message of mercy that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the most despicable of sinners. It is the good news that it is God’s work from first to last. It is according to his plan, under his control, purchased by Jesus’ blood, applied by his effectual call, sustained by his Spirit and crowned by his grace.