Matthew Introduction – Part 12: Knowing what is – and is not, the biblical (and saving) gospel.

Speaker: Scott Jarrett | Mar 20, 2016

6.4. Knowing what is – and is not, the biblical (and saving) gospel.

The Bible’s central message is the gospel: the good news[1] of God’s salvation or more specifically, what a person must do to be saved. Hence why the Scriptures are said to “give wisdom unto salvation (2Ti 3:15)[2]. This includes (then) what we find in book or “gospel” of Matthew. Its purpose is to shed new light (i.e. revelation) on God’s gospel – especially as it relates to Jesus and the New Covenant. That being said, one of the most dangerous things a person could do in endeavoring to understand its contents, is to enter into its study with an unbiblical view of the gospel. Such a study will not only help to perpetuate (even embolden) their heresy, but most assuredly damn them to Hell (Gal 1:8-9). As such, it is vital that this subject (i.e. the gospel) also receive robust examination in relation to what it is – as well as what it is not, before such a study begins[3].

 6.4.1. What it is NOT (#1): An act of “faith only” in who Jesus is or what He has done for us.

The gospel is not limited to simply faith in the historical facts of Who Jesus is (i.e. the Christ, the Son of God) or what He has done on our behalf (His earthly life, death and resurrection). This view is predominately the result of an erroneous:  Interpretation of passages such as (1Co 15:1-4) Lutheran view of the Law in relation to the Gospel.[4] Examples: Ed Stetzer (Breaking the Missional Code)  

“What is the Gospel? The gospel has been defined by many people in many ways. What does Scripture say the gospel is?” His answer is 1Corinthains 15:1-4 (see Tim Keller (The Gospel Coalition)
“The gospel is historical . . . …(It) is news about what God has already done for you, rather than instruction and advice about what you are to do for God… In Christianity, God achieves salvation for us. The gospel brings news primarily, rather than instruction. Some years ago, I heard a tape series I am sure was never put into print by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones. It was an evening sermon series on 1 Corinthians 15. He clarified how the Gospel is based on historical events in how the religion got its start. He said there was a big difference between advice and news. The Gospel, he would say, is good news, but not good advice. Here’s what he said about that: ‘Advice is counsel about something that hasn’t happened yet, but you can do something about it. News is a report about something that has happened which you can’t do anything about because it has been done for you and all you can do is to respond to it.’ So he says think this out: here’s a king, and he goes into a battle against an invading army to defend his land. If the king defeats the invading army, he sends back to the capital city messengers, envoys, very happy envoys. He sends back good newsers. And what they come back with is a report. They come back and they say: It’s been defeated and it’s been all done. Therefore respond with joy and now go about your lives in this peace which has been achieved for you. But if he doesn’t defeat the invading army, and the invading army breaks through, the king sends back military advisers and says . . . ‘Marksmen over here and the horseman over there, and we will have to fight for our lives.’ Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones says that every other religion sends military advisers to people. Every other religion says that if you want to achieve salvation, you will have to fight for your life. Every other religion is sending advice saying ‘here are the rites, here are the rituals, here’s the transformation of the consciousness and here are the laws and the regulations. Marksmen over here and horsemen over there and we are going to fight for our lives.’ We send heralds; we send messengers and not military advisers. Isn’t that clarifying? It’s just incredibly clarifying. And it’s not like there’s nothing to do about it, my goodness. Both the messenger and the military adviser get an enormous response. One is a response of joy and the other one is a response of fear. All other religions give advice and they drive everything you do with fear . . . as you know, when you hear the gospel, when you hear the message that it’s all been done for you, it’s a historical event that has happened, your salvation is accomplished for you, what do you want to do? You want obey the Ten Commandments, you want to pray, and you want to please the one that did this for you. If, on the other hand, military advisers say you have to live a really good life if you want to get into heaven, what do you do? You want to pray and you want to obey the Ten Commandments. It looks the same, doesn’t it? But for two radically different reasons: One is joy and the other one is fear. In the short run, they look alike. But in the long run, over here we have burn out and self-righteousness and guilt and all sorts of problems. And that’s fascinating. But having said that, what’s the ministry implication? The ministry implication is this: …if we are saying here’s the “how to” to live the right way, if that’s the primary message, I am not sure words are necessarily the best thing to send. You want to send a model.  If you subscribe to the assertion that the gospel is simply good advice on how to live a life that changes people and connects to God . . . dialogue would be alright. Stories and modeling and reflection would be more important. In other words, you would believe what some people would quip: “proclaim the gospel, use words if necessary”. You’ve probably heard that. That shows, I think, that they don’t quite understand what the gospel is all about.” The Reformers believed in faith alone NOT faith only. Consider the (HUGE) difference: Faith alone = It is through faith (alone) in the historical facts about Jesus that I am justified before God. This was the Reformers’ response to what the Roman Catholics teach (which is justification through Christ plus our works). Such justifying faith however must be followed by a life of obedience to God’s Word – a cost we must count before entering into saving relationship w/Him (Luk 9:23-24, 13:22-30, 14:25-35; consider also 1Pe 1:17-25)[5]. Faith only = It is through faith (only) in the historical facts about Jesus that I am saved. There is (therefore) no further Christian obligation (or fear of judgment). This view has been historically known as “Antinomianism”.

6.4.2. What it is NOT (#2): A system requiring meritorious perfection in order to be saved (i.e. works-based salvation)

Contrary to popular opinion, this has NEVER been the gospel/the way to be saved! This view is the result of an erroneous: Assumption regarding God’s plan of salvation for the Jews under the OC[6] (Luk 5:21) Expectation regarding what God will accept from those in covenant relationship w/Him[7] (1Jo 2:1-3)[8] Homogenization (i.e. to make uniform or the same) of the Law[9] (1Co 7:19; Lev 10:10) Understanding of the phrase “works of the law”[10] (Rom 2:25-3:1 w/3:20, 28; Gal 2:11-15 w/16, 4:10; Act 15:1) Interpretation of passages like (Luk 18:9-14). This false gospel has made necessary another heretical doctrine = The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ (i.e. to be righteous requires not only the imputation of Christ’s death but also His life of perfect obedience) [11] (Heb 10:8-14). This (too) has promoted Antinomianism in professing Christianity/Evangelicalism. Examples: Steve Lawson (T4G)
“You really are saved by works, just not your works.” Burk Parsons (Backstreet Boys/Ligonier Ministries)
“Are we justified by works? Yes. Jesus’ works, not ours.” RC Sproul (Ligonier Ministries)
“Man’s relationship to God in creation was based on works. What Adam failed to achieve, Christ, the second Adam, succeeded in achieving. Ultimately the only way one can be justified is by works.” Greg Gilbert (
“In His Law, God calls us to perfect obedience to His holy commands, yet an honest assessment of ourselves will force us to acknowledge that we all fall woefully short of doing so, leaving no hope in ourselves. But in the Gospel, Jesus mercifully obeys the commands for us. Christ’s full obedience to all the prescriptions of the divine law…and His willing obedience in bearing all the sanctions imposed for our disobedience to that law is both the ground of God’s justification of sinners like us and makes available a perfect righteousness that is imputed or reckoned to those who put their trust in him. In other words, the gospel is not about any merit I have, but is based upon Jesus’ Person and merit alone. Where Adam failed, Jesus prevailed. It is God’s promise to us, not our ability to keep our promise to Him.”

[1] The word “gospel is actually a derivative of the Old English word, “godspell” which means, “good news or glad tidings”.

[2] Instruction unto salvation is the predominate meaning carried by the Greek word (euvaggelias) translated as “gospel” or “good news” in the NT (Mar 1:14-15 w/Luk 3:3-14, 18, 4:48, 8:1, 16:16; Act 2:38-40, 8:12//Act 8:35 w/10:34-43// Mar 10:29-30; Act 13:26, 32, 14:15-17; Rom 1:16; 1Co 9:22-23; Gal 3:8; Eph 1:13; 2Th 1:5-8; 1Pe 1:12)

[3] Regular vetting of our gospel to make sure that what we possess is indeed biblical (and therefore saving) is itself biblical (see Gal 2:1-2).

[4] “Law is what we are to do and give to God…Gospel is what has been given to us by God” – Martin Luther (How Should We Regard the Law)

[5] “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light.” – John Calvin (Antidote to the Council of Trent)

[6] “The pattern of Rabbinic religion …is this: God has chosen Israel and Israel has accepted the election. In His role as King, God gave Israel commandments which they are to obey as best they can. Obedience is rewarded and disobedience punished. In the case of failure to obey, however, man has recourse to divinely ordained means of atonement, in all of which repentance is required. As long as he maintains his desire to stay in the covenant, he has a share in God’s covenantal promises, including life in the world to come. The intention and effort to be obedient constitute the condition for remaining in the covenant, but they do not earn it. Any other mode of religion doubtless would have appeared to them as unbiblical, not in accord with the revelation of God’s will in Torah. Only by overlooking this large pattern can the Rabbis be made to appear as legalists. In discussing disobedience and obedience, punishment and reward, they were not dealing with how man is saved, but with how man should act and how God will act within the framework of the covenant. Within that framework, they were determined to understand and obey God’s commands as best they could, but they did not think that they earned their place in the covenant by the number of (laws) they fulfilled. The failure to understand the relationship between (this) framework has led to a complete misunderstanding of the essentials of Rabbinic religion.” – E.P. Sanders (Paul and Palestinian Judaism)

[7] “So God, in the Law…implied that perfect obedience would bring eternal blessing and salvation; but He never gave the Law with that purpose, knowing the impossibility of fulfilling it. To use the terminology of covenant theology, the law expresses a hypothetical covenant of [meritorious] works. In the law God says in effect: “Here I am, and here is what you must be [perfect] if you want to stand before Me.” – Doug Moo (“The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses”)

[8] “The passages which assert that one who transgresses one commandment loses his place in the covenant or his share in the world to come do not mean that the Rabbis required legal perfection. There is no hint in Rabbinic literature of a view…that one must achieve legal perfection. Human perfection was not considered realistically achievable by the Rabbis, nor was it required. The general view was that the righteous man was not characterized by perfection – as one (Rabbi) put it, if God judged strictly, not even the patriarchs could stand His reproof – but by earnest endeavor to obey the law and by repentance and other acts of atonement [there was provision for] transgression.” – E.P. Sanders (ibid)

[9] “Jews in Jesus and Paul’s day certainly did not divide up the law into categories; on the contrary, there was a strong insistence that the law was a unity.” Doug Moo (ibid)

[10] “Works of the law” according to John MacArthur, refer to “those attempting to earn salvation by keeping the law.” (MacArthur Study Bible notes on Gal 3:10)

[11] On his deathbed, J. Gresham Machen dictated these words in a telegram to his friend, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”