If It’s Something We Do Then It Isn’t Good News

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The gospel centres on what God did for us in the incarnate Christ in order to save us from sin, the devil and death. Its goal is the new creation where the people of God redeemed by Christ will enjoy the presence of God for eternity. The gospel is what we must believe in order to be saved. To believe the gospel is to put one’s trust and confidence in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. To preach the gospel is faithfully to proclaim that historical event, along with God-given interpretation of that event. It cannot be stressed too much that that confuse the gospel with certain important things that go hand in hand with it is to invite theological, hermeneutical and spiritual confusion. Such ingredients of preaching and teaching that we might want to link with the gospel would include the need for the gospel (sin and judgment), the means of receiving the benefits of the gospel (faith and repentance), the results or fruit of the gospel (regeneration, conversion, sanctification, glorification) and the results of rejecting it (wrath, judgment, hell). These, however we define and proclaim them, are not in themselves the gospel. If something is not what God did in and through the historical Jesus two thousand years ago, it is not the gospel. Thus Christians cannot ‘live the gospel’, as they are often exhorted to do. They can only believe it, proclaim it and seek to live consistently with it. Only Jesus lived (and died) the gospel. It is a once-for-all finished and perfect event done for us by another.

When we confuse the fruit of the gospel in the Christian life for the gospel itself, hermeneutical confusion is introduced. The focus easily turns to the life of the believer and the experience of the Christian life. These can then become the norms by which Scripture is interpreted. Instead of interpreting our experience by the word, we start to interpret the word by our experience. Such reversal of perspective from Christ to self really begins the movement towards the autonomy of human reason in hermeneutical theory.

 

-Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundation and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), pp. 58-59

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