“Gospel” Defined

Dear brother Aspinwall,

> Do we all agree?

We agree in the main, but not in the application.

> [1] the gospel is the power of God to save all who believe

It is the power to all who believe, but its power to save is conditioned
upon individuals who receive it by faith and obey. Those who do not
believe are not saved.

> [2] the gospel is of first importance
> [3] the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is the gospel

These are gospel facts. There are also commands to be obeyed that are
gospel (Rom 10:17, II Thes 1:8, I Pet 4:17).

> [4] all additional Christian teachings must harmonize with these
> biblical facts, which Acts 2 is the first record of such harmony

Acts 2 is the first record of people obeying the commands of the gospel in
response to believing the gospel facts. Their obedience to the gospel
commands was in harmony with the gospel facts. Obedience to the gospel
commands was necessary (Acts 2:38) before the gospel facts provided any
benefit (Acts 2:37).

> [5] the gospel is a message of grace, which shows that God is the
> initiator of our rescue from sin and death

Yes. God has initiated the means of salvation (the sacrifice of Christ’s
body and blood). He has initiatiated the conditions of salvation (HBRCB).
He has created man and the world in which we live. He has also given man
free will, and He appeals to that free will through the preaching of the
word. So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God
(Rom 10:17). Faith is not a miracle that God puts into your heart. It is
an act of free will from a good and honest heart (Lk 8:15).

> [6] it remains for the believer to express faith in the operation of
> God according to the teachings of Christ and the apostles

Yes. And if the believer does not by his own free will express his
acceptance of God’s terms, then he will not benefit from what God has

Salvation is provided by God, but it is conditional salvation, else all
men would be saved. Men must “work out [their] own salvation” by
accepting the terms of God’s pardon. If we do not, then we can expect
wrath and not mercy (II Thes 1:8, Heb 10:31). God does not promise
salvation to men who reject the overtures of His mercy.

> [7] the believer must respond to God’s grace by doing things that
> cannot be counted to their personal merit, but does signify their
> acceptance of what God has done for them

Yes, and salvation is conditioned upon man’s free will acceptance of God’s
provisions. Man can write “Refused by addressee” on God’s offer of
salvation, and God’s generous offer will do that man no good.

> [8] certain things of sanctification are expected in Christians and
> their absence indicates that no real faith abides in them and they
> must not be saved or else the fruit of the Spirit would abound

What’s wrong with talking about obedience? God does (Rom 16:26, II Cor
7:15, 10:5, I Pet 1:2). Obedience and free will are integral parts of
being a Christian. You cannot be pleasing to God if you do not obey of
your own free will. The way you speak of salvation it is almost as if man
was a pawn that God moves. Obedience does not nullify God’s grace.
Obedience is the exercise of free will in accepting God’s grace.

Free will exercised in obedience/disobedience is the main reason for this
present creation. If it were not for free will, God would not have needed
this creation. He could have gone directly to the new earth where
righteousness abounds (Isa 66:22). This present creation has no real
purpose without free will. God brought about this present order to bring
about a permanant solution for the unpleasant result of free
will–disobedience. Because God gave man free will, it was certain that
some would choose, even in a pristine environment, to sin. We know of
several instances where free moral agents choose to sin in a pristine
environment. The Devil sinned. Adam and Eve sinned. The angels sinned
(II Pet 2:4). These were in a pristine, sinless environment. These cases
show the necessity for this world where sin can abound. God has worked an
eternal remedy for sin, but He needed a sinful place where His sacrifice
for sin could be offered. Having accomplished His eternal remedy for sin,
He is now waiting for the harvest of souls at the end of the earth. He
will then clean up the mess, and start over again in a new earth that will
abide for ever (Ecc 1:4).

What, then, is God to do with a creation that has free will and will
surely sin? There was no remedy for sin, and the wages of sin is death
(Rom 6:23). God foresaw this and created this temporary world as a place
where sin could occur and He could fix it. His plan before the world was,
was to sacrifice His Son as a final remedy for sin (I Pet 1:19-20). Jesus
is the capstone on God’s creation (I Pet 2:7). God’s creation was
complete at Jesus’ death where He offered the sacrifice for sin and said,
“It is finished”. God’s creation was finally complete. Jesus died
because of man’s free will that would be exercised in disobedience, and
your words sound like salvation is wholly of God. It is not. Man must
respond to God’s provision. Christ died in order that man might have free
will and still might retain fellowship with God.

You make it sound like salvation is wholly of God and thus make Christ’s
death useless. If salvation was wholly of God, He did not need to create
this temporary world (Isa 65:17, 66:22, 2 Pet 3:13, Rev 21:1) and could
have gone directly to an earth where men had no choice but to live
obedient lives. Because men can choose to sin, God had to provide for
that fact. This world is that provision. If salvation is wholly of God,
then this earth is useless, and God has subjected men to torture and death
for nothing. If salvation is wholly of God, then Christ did not need to
die, man’s obedience is meaningless, and either everyone is saved or God
is capricious. If salvation is contingent upon man’s obedience then man
plays a part in his own salvation as the Bible clearly teaches (Jn 1:12,
Heb 3:8, etc.). Man is not a pawn in a cosmic charade. God genuinely
gives men free will (Mt 11:28, II Pet 3:9). This present earth is mute
testimony to that fact, as is the death of Christ. It is up to us to
respond by obdeient faith or suffer the eternal consequences in a Devil’s
hell (Rev 14:10).


James J.

About James Johnson

Bible student for 60 years. Preacher of the gospel for over 40 years. Author of commentary on Revelation, All Power to the Lamb. Married with children. Worked in aerospace and computer engineering for over 40 years.
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