Gospel – what does it mean? For the Christian, it means the Good News. It is the summation of Salvation. Yet, is there more to this understanding of the Gospel? Pastor Rob Stewart of Ballard Church explores the Gospel and what it means through the lenses of the Epistle Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae.
In our modern context, there are competing ideologies about life. In the historical context, Paul refers to the Gospel of Jesus Christ verses the Gospel of Caesar and Rome. In fact, the historical context shows that Rome brought about the understanding of a “Gospel” 75 years prior to Paul and his Epistles:
About 75 years before the apostle Paul began proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to the gentiles of the mid-first-century Roman world, Rome had already begun formulating its own gospel and spreading its message to the peoples of the new empire. The small churches that Paul founded were established as communities of a new age–an age inaugurated by Christ’s death and resurrection, an age that would soon reach its fulfillment with Christ’s return. For Paul, the message of the gospel was embodied in the institutional reality of Christian community. And if the Christian gospel had to compete with the gospel of Rome, then these Pauline churches were institutional reflections of that competition.
For the Roman’s and within the historical context of the Roman Empire, the Gospel of Rome was tied to Rome’s military conquest and exploits. These exploits came about because of the reunification under Emperor Octavin “Augustus”. Caesar Augustus became heralded as the “Savior of the World” and “King of Kings,” because of these military exploits and conquests:
Since the time of Alexander the Great, the Greeks had been accustomed to giving their rulers divine honors. But, unlike the earlier successors of Alexander the Great, the worship of Augustus was not tied to specific benefactions or civic improvements. Rather, Augustus was worshiped throughout the empire as the savior and benefactor of the entire world, as the one who had rescued the world from the evils of war and chaos. And the proclamation of his heroic deeds and extraordinary benefactions constituted the essence of the new gospel of Rome
As Pastor Stewart teaches – Paul was arrested and put into Jail. Not because he committed any criminal acts. Paul was arrested because he was proclaiming that only Christ was divine, not Caesar. In the time of the writing of Colossians, Paul was addressing two specific perspectives.
- People teaching or challenging the authenticity of Jesus Christ
- Pagan attack where Christ & the Gospel are one of many diverse religious ideal’s of Paul’s time.
For the Apostle Paul, he was not only writing to Greek Christians, but he was writing to Jewish Christians as well. In his opening greeting, this is well reflected:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. (Colossians 1:1-2, ESV)
The Apostle uses two types of greetings. The first is Grace. A Greek word that means unmerited favor, pleasure, joy. The second is of Jewish/Hebraic origin Shalom or God Speed – peace. This latter also refers to unity and every kind of good, harmony. For Paul, he understood the story of Jesus and purpose of Jesus: Reconcile the individual to God and reconcile the people to one another. In this context, the Gospel is not merely the “Good news” of God’s redeeming love through Jesus Christ. It is extended to a more specific understanding that the Gospel is to bring unmerited favor, pleasure, joy through unity and harmony. First, to each individual whom God draws to Himself through Jesus Christ; and, secondly, bringing one another together into a relational community with one another. Today, many Christians refer to the Gospel as not a religion – instead, many evangelical Christians refer to the Gospel as a relationship between the Sovereign God and fallen humanity.
Jesus Christ himself made this succinctly summation in the priestly prayer of John “…And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, ESV). Therefore, as stated before, the Gospel is much more than just the “Good News”. It is about humility, unity, peace and community relations with one another.
The Apostle Paul further explores this in Colossians 1:2-9:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your] behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Because of the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Apostle acknowledges the fruit that is being born. This fruit is based on faithfulness and love within the community of Christians (both of Greek heritage and Jewish Heritage) at Colossae. Today, for many Christians, the Gospel has become complex, loaded with particular baggage. This is particular true when it comes to people attempting to define what the Gospel is or is not. Again, many Evangelical Christians refer to the Gospel as a relational experience with Christ and the Sovereign God of all. Other religions and cults refer to the Gospel as an embodiment of works and good deeds. The simplicity of the Gospel becomes very complex and complicated. This was not the case for Paul and his understanding of what the Gospel meant to him. Here, the Gospel is bringing people together and building them up in unity, love, peace and harmony. This is contrasted with the Gospel of the World.
According to the Gospel of the world, it is not about peace, love, unity or harmony. It is deeply rooted in selfish pursuits and disharmony. We see this on the news as of late. However, the Gospel of Christ requires the sacrifice of the Self and the pursuits of the Self. It requires a deep rooted sense of humility. The Gospel of Christ is ever transforming the lives of individuals as they are being reconciled to God and to one another. Through this transformation, the true Gospel of Jesus Christ brings about a deep rooted sense of peace, unity and harmony because of the sacrifice Christ had made on Calvary.
What then is the fullness of the Gospel? Paul gives us an answer to this question – and it is very different than what the Mormon faith teaches:
So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:10-14, ESV)
For the Mormon, they are taught that the fullness of the Gospel is based on being obedient, attending to temple rituals, being of service and a restoration of priesthood authority in these last days. However, Paul understood the fullness of the Gospel to be vastly different. The Christian who is humbled and reconciled to God, through Jesus Christ, walks in manner that brings about fruitful labors, an increase in knowledge of God and strengthened with all power – based on God’s own sovereign will. Within this context, the Apostle teaches that we receive endurance, patience with joy and we possess a deeply rooted sense of gratitude.
The Gospel is not just about the Good News – Christ crucified for the sins of the World. The Gospel is about how we are brought into relationship with God, nurturing that relationship and the relationship with those around us. Authentic Christians who are rooted into the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are not performing good works to please God. Authentic Christians who are rooted into the fulness of the Gospel are not in possession of any “restored priesthood authority”. No, authentic Christians are rooted into the fullness of the Gospel because of the power of Christ’s Sacrifice in bringing us closer to God and in relationship with the Sovereign as well as with one another.
What gospel are you following?