Mistaking the gospel for “right living” is a common error. Sometimes people think that the news (“gospel” means good news), the message of the Bible, is simply that we should live moral lives. Christianity is sometimes presented as nothing more than virtues—public and private. Christians are thought to be simply about doing religious things, such as baptism, and communion, and going to church. The Christian life is nothing more than obeying the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, reading our Bibles, and praying. Being Christian means building up the community, giving to others, contributing to soup kitchens, and preserving historical buildings rather than making parking lots.
But as startling as it may be to those who think this way, the biblical gospel is not fundamentally about our love or our power. To be a Christian is not merely to live in love, or to live by the power of positive thinking, or to do anything that we can do ourselves. The gospel calls for a more radical response than any of these things allow for. The gospel, you see, is not simply an additive that comes to make our already good lives better. No! The gospel is a message of wonderful good news that comes to those who realize their just desperation before God.
So what response is called for? What is it you should do when your own sense of need, your understanding of God and of Jesus Christ, all begin to come together like this? God calls us to repent of our sins and to rely on Jesus Christ alone.
We find both repentance and faith in the New Testament, and often they occur together. As Paul met with the leaders of the church in Ephesus, a meeting which is recounted in Acts 20, he summarized his message this way: “I‘ have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). This is the message that Paul and other Christians preached throughout the New Testament.
Once people have heard the truth about their sin and God’s holiness, God’s love in Christ, and Christ’s death and resurrection for our justification, the message calls out for response. And what is that response? Is it to walk down an aisle? Is it to fill out a card or to lift up a hand? Is it to make an appointment to see the preacher or to decide to be baptized and join the church? While any of those things may be involved, none is absolutely necessary. The response to this good news is, as Paul preached, to repent and believe.
Where did Paul and the other authors of the New Testament get this message? If you turn to the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, you’ll find out. They got it from Jesus, who called out, “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). The response to this news is believing and repenting.
Saving belief is not mere mental assent, but a believing in—a living in—the knowledge of that news. It is a leaning on, a relying on. We must come to grips with the fact that we are unable to satisfy God’s demands on us, no matter how morally we try to live. We don’t want to end up trusting a little in ourselves and a little in God; we want to realize that we are to rely on God fully, to trust in Christ alone for our salvation. That is the good news.
At Milwood we try to incoportate the gospel into everything we do. Our Sunday service is a gathering to sing, read, pray, and preach in light of the gospel. We'd love to have you join us on Sundays at 10:30am. Want to study the gospel further? We'd love to hand you a copy of Greg Gilbert's book What is the Gospel? and read along with you.
*The above gospel explanation is taken from The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever.