18-11-2018 HAVE WE FORGOTTEN

HALF THE GOSPEL?

Published 18th November 2018

By John Aldworth

I’ve often wondered why the Apostle Paul in places mentions the ‘gospel’ without defining just what this ‘good news’ is. Now, at last, I think I understand. My suggestion is that when Paul refers to ‘the gospel’ as such he means the ‘whole gospel’. By that I mean all the good news that God gave to him to proclaim to mankind. Each and every part of it should be believed by those who would be saved. After all, didn’t the Lord Jesus after his resurrection tell two of his disciples they were ‘fools and slow of heart’ for failing to believe ‘all that the prophets had spoken’[2]. Harsh words indeed but needed to underline the message that it is necessary to believe all that God says not just select certain parts of it and leave out or ignore that which does not fit our preconceived notions.

And if that’s true of God’s word as a whole, then it must also be true of the gospel. The good news of salvation is of supreme importance and it is vital we understand and believe all of it if we are to be saved. Because salvation is not a once-forever experience. Rather, it is an ongoing process, future in complete fulfilment, and also conditional. Thus the Apostle Paul writing to Jews says ‘… now is our salvation nearer than when we (first) believed’[3].

He also wrote of the need to ‘keep the faith’, fight the good fight and finish the course’[4]. Obviously, you cannot keep the faith if you don’t fully know it nor can you fight if you don’t what the fight is about. And while we know that having been made one with Christ, who died for us and rose again, He will ‘present us holy, unblameable and unreprovable before Him’, this glorious prospect is conditional on us ‘continuing in the faith, grounded and settled and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel’[5].

A popular hymn of yesteryear says, ‘Tell me the old, old story’ but it would be better for many church goers, who have only half a gospel or less, if it had said, ‘Tell me the whole, whole story’. Why? Because today organised Christianity is losing ground on every front. Nations that used to be proudly Christian and once set out to convert the rest of the world now defy and deny their very birthright. And, it is my conviction a major reason for this decline is that at best the so-called ‘church’ is preaching only half the gospel.          

Does that matter? You ask.  Is it really essential to tell it all? Well, the Apostle Paul thought so. He insisted the Ephesian elders record the fact that he was ‘pure from the blood of all men’ because he had ‘…not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God’[6]. What’s more in the previous two verses[7] the apostle mentions together the two most important parts of ‘a whole gospel’. They are: 1) the grace of God and 2) the kingdom of God as cited below:

But none of these things (i.e. the impending bonds and afflictions awaiting him in Jerusalem) move me, neither count I my life dear to myself, that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry I have received of the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.

Notice, Paul says he proclaimed both the gospel of God’s grace and the good news of the soon coming kingdom of God. He did so in order to ‘finish my course with joy’. Indeed, in these two verses he makes it clear that, actually, in teaching the kingdom he was also preaching the gospel of the grace of God. In other words, the two are parts of one whole gospel. Which means that, if we take his words seriously, as we should since they are also the words of God, it is impossible for any Christian teacher, preacher, church or theologian to ‘finish their course with joy’, still less be free from ‘the blood of all men’, unless they also proclaim both God’s grace and his forthcoming intervention to rule the world in his kingdom as the ‘gospel’.

You see, if we split God’s good news through Paul to mankind into two parts we find one half is concerned with salvation by grace through Christ’s death on our behalf - that is that He bore our sins on the cross and rose again so that we too can be resurrected in time to come. There is much more to it, of course, and sadly many details are left out in the understanding of most Christians today but we will set that issue aside for now. The other half concerns the kingdom of God message heralded by all the Old Testament prophets, proclaimed by the earthly Jesus as ‘at hand’[8] and reiterated by the apostles, especially by Paul, as vitally necessary gospel truth for us today.

Though largely ignored by Christianity this ‘kingdom’ gospel, which is that very soon God will intervene to rule over earth and its people and in doing so create a far better world for all to live in, is actually crucial to our salvation. Why? Because being resurrected into this ‘the heavenly kingdom of his dear Son’ (which actually will be on earth by the way) is the only way can we live on again after death. Jesus said so[9]. And so did the Apostle Paul[10]. It is my deep conviction that nobody will find their soul going straight to heaven upon death and living on in eternity. If that were possible it would make redundant the many scriptural promises of a physical, bodily resurrection as our ultimate redemption[11].

Otis Q. Sellers who for 60 years made it his business to study the Bible in depth has this to say:

In view of the important place the kingdom of God has in the Bible – it is the main theme from beginning to end - one would think that this term would be often on the lips of all those whose lives have been shaped by God’s Book, and that it would have a very large place in the writings of those who claim, to be expounding the Word of God. But, alas it is not. One can only be amazed at the small place that is given to this theme among believers and, and the writings of many Bible teachers will be searched in vain for any mention of it… we can say without question that the truth concerning the kingdom of God has ‘suffered great violence’[12] at the hands of men all through the Christian era. It has been incorrectly defined, erroneously interpreted and hopelessly confused.

In my view Mr. Sellers rightly takes issue with most popular views of the kingdom of God, saying:

To define the kingdom of God as being the church establishment is a disgrace. To define it as being the universal sovereignty of God which has always been and always will be, as many do, and then to apply this concept to the occurrences of this phrase found in the New Testament is to do violence to the truth declared in the many usages of this term by the Lord Jesus Christ. To say that the kingdom of God is something ‘within’ all Christians and then to ‘prove’ this by citing words He spoke to his malignant enemies[13], can only be described as a wicked usage of the word of our Lord. There is one debt all Christians owe to God. This is to get into His Book and find the real truth concerning the kingdom of God[14].         

Today we live in the dispensation of the grace of God[15] which puts forward a full, ‘whole’ gospel to be believed. It includes the good news Christ died for all men[16], that all men have been reconciled to the Father through Christ[17] (indeed, the whole world has been reconciled to Him for that matter), that God so loved us all that He has quickened everybody to awareness of Him and of his free salvation[18] and, very importantly, that the next thing the Lord will do is to dramatically intervene in the world to bring about his kingdom on earth by appearing in a blaze of glory from heaven that will install his rule in every heart[19]. No, this does not place at his (second) coming’, it precedes it.

So, it is lamentable that today many who call themselves Christian have less than half the good news and, in many cases, fail to ‘continue in the faith’[20] even in that which they do believe  A further look at Colossians 1:21-23 explains why believing in and holding fast to a whole gospel is so important:

And you that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet hath He now reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight. If ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard and which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I Paul am made a minister.

Note that when we were yet enemies God reconciled us and also has done all that is necessary to in future present us holy before Him. But there are two conditions to be met: 1) We must ‘continue in the faith’, and that means believing all the relevant truth of the gospel; 2) We must not be moved away from the hope of the gospel. Now this second condition sets an acid test before anyone seeking eternal life. It is that we must ensure our hope is kept burning bright, shining within us until the dawning of the actual day. Tragically, only a very few Christians know anything about this ‘hope’, though it is writ plain and clear in their bibles, still less do they know about the ‘day’ in which the hope of being with Christ in glory it will be realised. Proof that this is so is that when you ask the average believer what his or her hope is, the reply will be: ‘To go to heaven when I die’. But let me say emphatically, that is not the hope of Paul’s gospel or any other gospel for that matter. Instead this is:

Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works[21].

It is the appearing of Christ as God Almighty, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Jesus of the New, the Lord who has ‘all power in heaven and earth’[22] and holds ‘the keys of death and hell’[23], blazing forth his glory so that every man will know Him, that is our hope. Why? Because at his appearing in glory to be seen, known, and experienced in the heart by everyone on earth, we will also appear with Him in glory[24]. This will be the time of our resurrection (or bodily change if we are alive at the Lord’s appearing[25]) to live again on earth in a spiritual, sinless body like the Lord’s body.

Our blessed hope then is His appearing. Titus 2:13 is speaking of one thing, not two, just as it is speaking of one Person, not two, when describing the One who appears: the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ’. Proof of that is that in Greek kai (and) is used in apposition, which means putting two things together.  Jesus Christ is God Almighty, the Lord of all and the Lord of glory. He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New and He is Lord of all that is to come.

Our hope then is resurrection at the appearing of the Lord. It is not going to heaven. Fact is not one plain scripture can be found saying that we go to heaven when we die, yet this is the false hope cherished by billions. Jesus is now the only human being in heaven; no-one else is. Which is why, when on earth, He said plainly:              

And no man hath ascended to up to heaven but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven[26].

It is incredibly sad that ministers are preaching, and their flocks believing, that upon death the souls of believers will be whisked straight to heaven (without resurrection, be it noted) and there meet the Old (and New) Testament saints when in fact all such are all still dead and in their graves. The Apostle Peter said as much of David[27]. The Apostle Paul made clear there is a resurrection from the dead and that it is the only way by which we can live again; indeed it is at the very heart of the gospel. As he said, ‘If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable’[28]

And we would be miserable indeed if we relied on our soul to get us to heaven because being sinful it dies at death along with our body[29]. Jesus told us to ‘…fear Him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (i.e. the grave)[30]. For sure, at death our spirit, which is our life, returns to God who gave it but there is nothing in scripture to say that we consciously go along with it for the ride. Rather, our life to come depends on our resurrection as a whole person, body, soul and spirit.

To be saved we first need to believe and hold fast to all God says He has done, i.e. in dying for our sin, reconciling all of us to Himself, quickening us and making us alive unto Him and counting us righteous before Him because of Christ. But it’s just as vital to believe and hold to what He says He will do. And that is that at his appearing He will resurrect us bodily into a new age in which he forcibly but peaceably intervenes in the world to rule from heaven over mankind with great blessing. That is why it is called ‘our blessed hope’. What’s more it has been the hope of God fearers down the ages.

My prayer is that, having read this, you too will refuse to settle for half a gospel and insist on believing ‘all that God has said’.

The end

 

[1] Revelation 14:6

[2] Luke 24:25

[3] Romans 13:11.

[4] 2 Timothy 4:7

[5] Colossians 1:22-23

[6] Acts 20: 26-27

[7] Acts 20:24-25

[8] Mark 1:15

[9] Luke 20:34-38

[10] 1 Corinthians 15:17

[11] John 11:25-26, Ephesians 1:13-14, Romans 8:23

[12] Matthew 11:12

[13] Luke 17: 20-21

[14] Pages 123-124, Seed & Bread Vol. 1, Otis Q. Sellers, published by Word of Truth Ministry, Inc.

[15] Ephesians 3:1-4

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 John 2:2

[17] 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

[18] Ephesians 2:1-5

[19] Titus 2:13, 2 Timothy 4:1, 1 Corinthians 1:7

[20] Colossians 1:23

[21] Titus 2:13

[22] Matthew 28:18

[23] Revelation 1:18

[24] Colossians 3:4

[25] Philippians 3:21

[26] John 3:13

[27] Acts 2: 29

[28] 1 Corinthians 15:19

[29] Ezekiel 18:20

[30] Matthew 10:28