The apostle Paul declares, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16, NIV).
He uses similar language when speaking to the Corinthians when he says, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" ( 1 Cor. 1:18, NASB).
Paul does not say that the gospel is a true announcement about God's power. Instead, he says that the gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation. The word “power” that he's using here is the Greek word “dunamis” from which we get our English word “dynamite.” This word means: mighty, miraculous power, and enabling strength.
The popular reductionist gospel of our day seems to herald a message that says corrupt people can enjoy legal status change before an angry Father, exempting them from judgment and all consequences for their continual rebellious hearts and lifestyles. But we find that this gospel amounts to little more than a legal status change and lacks the promised power indicative of the true gospel. In fact, the reductionist gospel, while pleasant to the ear and welcome to the flesh, seems to propagate a growing harvest of narcissism, unholy living and fragmentation throughout the church.
We believe Scripture portrays the saving gospel of Jesus Christ very differently. What is the gospel? The gospel is the “good news" that a saving relationship with God is now possible through Jesus Christ—because of His death, burial and resurrection.
When Jesus introduced the term "gospel," "evangelion" in Greek, He borrowed it from the most powerful political leader in the world, Caesar Augustus. Though the individual word simply means "good news," the term assumed broader implications and significance in Jesus’ day. It became a political term, announcing the arrival of a political god: Caesar Augustus. One influential theologian tells us that the term “gospel" could be better understood in its fullest sense as "revolution," which refers to a complete overthrow of a social order or government. Caesar was acclaimed as a “god in human form, working miracles and healing men," freeing people from the yoke of oppression everywhere.
For the audience of His day, the very word Christ chose denoted a kingdom, a worldwide spiritual nation. He rarely refers to the "gospel" without alluding to the kingdom. He calls it "the gospel of the kingdom." Jesus declared, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15, NASB). The word Jesus chose for His salvation message was as closely tied to the concept of a kingdom as the word "campaign” today is to politics. In other words, He was not simply announcing individual liberty; He was declaring the inauguration of a new community, a worldwide cooperative of people living harmoniously under the guidance and rule of God in heaven.
If Jesus had peddled the Gospel we most often hear about today, He would not have said, "The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” He would've said something more like, "The wrath of God is at hand; accept Me as your private Savior who obeys God in your place." Today's gospel emphasizes God's wrath, suggesting that Jesus came and died on the cross to appease a God boiling with anger and violence against us. But Jesus did not say, "God so hated the world but killed his only Son instead." No, Jesus declared that it was God's love for humanity that sent His only begotten Son to die in our place.
We started by saying that the gospel was good news that a relationship with God was now possible through Christ. But we've been talking a lot about the kingdom. How does the kingdom pertain to our saving relationship with God? Jesus used the term "kingdom" simply to refer to God's covenant people. This community is also called the "church" or the "body of Christ," or the "bride of Christ." This community of God's covenant people can even be called the "Temple."
The church is Christ’s bride: Isa. 62:5; Hosea 2:19; Eph. 5:22-27; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 21:2, 9; Rev. 22:17.
The church is Christ’s body: Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 6:15; 1 Cor. 10:17; 1 Cor. 12:7, 12, 20, 27; Eph. 4:4, 12, 16; Eph. 2:16; Col. 3:15; Gal. 3:16.
The church is Christ’s kingdom: Matt. 16:18-19; John 18:36; Col. 1:13; Acts 8:12; 1 Cor. 4:8; Rom. 5:17; Eph. 2:19-22; Rev. 1:5-6.
The Church is Christ’s temple: John 2:19; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 3:9-11; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5; 2 Cor 6:16; 1 Pet. 4:17.
The good news is that the King of kings, Yahweh Almighty, intends to marry a bride. This bride of the Most High will bear His name and express her husband's will and purpose on the earth. Not only that, but the bride God chooses will have all her debts assumed and paid, even as she becomes joint-owner of all God's assets and blessings. You might say, "This is excellent news indeed, but only for that one person, the exceptionally fortunate gal upon whom God places His affection."
But that's the exciting part! This "bride of Christ" does not describe a single individual. Instead, this "bride" is the kingdom, the church—including all who choose to surrender their name, authority, identity, rights and autonomy into the new name and identity of their heavenly husband, Jesus Christ, as portrayed beautifully in Isaiah 62.
Paul showed that marriage between a man and woman only reflects the union between Christ and His church, His bride. "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their own husbands in everything (Eph. 5:23, NASB). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25-27; 2 Cor. 11:2, NASB).
Perhaps now we see how the good news of our relationship with God is tied to the good news of the kingdom, the church, the bride. This is so because the entity Jesus died for is the church. Paul says that Jesus "gave Himself up for her so that He might sanctify her…that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory." God will enter covenant relationship with a people, and that people is called the bride of Christ and "the kingdom of God." "Kingdom" simply describes the place where people let Yahweh be king over their hearts and lives.
In short, the saving relationship offered to mankind through Christ is realized in the context of covenant, a spiritual marriage covenant.
Now if we continue the marriage metaphor, we must realize that our “old husband” or “master” is sin, the world and death. Before we can become one with Christ in the new covenant of forgiveness and life, we must divorce and die to all former masters. This is why Jesus insisted on repentance as a prerequisite for entering the kingdom, the bride. Repentance simply means dying to your old spouse of bondage. Similarly, Paul speaks of dying to the reign of sin in Romans 7, when he says that: our old husband must die before we are free to marry the Lord Jesus (Rom. 7:1-3). Our union with Christ is conditional on our separation, our divorce from the world and the reign of sin in our hearts.
“The mind governed by the flesh,” Paul says, “is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so" (Rom. 8:7 NIV). He also says, “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said: ‘I will dwell among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘Do not touch what is unclean; and I will receive you.’ ‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty’” (2 Cor. 6:16-18, AMP, NKJV).
John also says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (John 2:15 NASB). And James says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility towards God. Therefore whoever chooses to be a friend of the world, renders himself, and enemy of God” (James 4:4, NASB, AMP, BSB). So all of these passages are telling us that we’ve got to divorce, we’ve got to separate from the world; we must come to repentance, and only then can we be espoused to the Lord Jesus as part of His bride.
When Jesus accepted the unjust death on the cross, satan made a terrible mistake. By committing that epic, unjust act, the devil slew the only life untainted by sin—the only life he had no right to touch. Thus, the sacrifice at Calvary undermined satan’s stranglehold; creating a place on earth that satan could no longer control. Christ’s sacrifice paid sin’s penalty and balanced, not God’s wrath, but His equitable justice, a justice spoken as a creation law before sin’s advent.
When the bride of Christ marries the Lord Jesus, all her debts, liabilities, vulnerabilities and sins are assumed by her new husband. Likewise, all His righteousness, goodness and salvation become the just possession of His bride. Still, this exchange of assets and liabilities is based on actual oneness between bride and bridegroom. This oneness begins with the first step of authentic trust—faith. It is a process we must allow to proceed and continue. While we persist pressing into this relationship through faith, God credits all of His benefits to our account that have yet to be imparted. Still, if we abort the becoming process, we lose the imputation credit.
The following scriptures show how faith is a continual process and not merely a moment in time.
"After two days, He will revive us; on the third day, He will raise us up, that we may live in His presence. So let us know—let us press on to know the LORD. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the earth” (Hosea 6:2-3, BSB). This passage is depicting in cryptic language, the resurrection of Jesus after three days. But it’s tying it to a need on our part to pursue relationship when it says, “Let us press on to know—let us know the Lord,” and then He’s going to come to us.
The scripture also says, "He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy, unblemished, and blameless in His presence—if indeed you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved away from the hope of the gospel you heard…" (Col. 1:22-23, NIV, BSB). Here in Colossians, Paul is basically saying that the reconciliation accomplished by Christ is ours, if we continue in our faith. We cannot have faith as a moment in time that does all of imputation forever, into the future and the past; no, when we walk by faith in an abiding relationship of trust, then God is imputing everything we lack. But if we withdraw from the relationship, then we negate that imputation status.
But my righteous one will live by faith; and if he shrinks back, I will take no pleasure in him. But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Heb. 10:38-39, BSB, NIV)
“For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and severity of God: severity to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off” (Rom. 11:21-22, NIV, ESV). Again, he’s saying: God has shown you kindness to include you into salvation, but you’ve got to continue in this relationship or you too will be cut off. He repeats this theme in Corinthians when he says, “[By this] Gospel…you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain" (1 Cor. 15:1-2, NASB, AMP, NIV). So the saving word of the gospel is something we’ve got to continue to walk in, or else our belief is proven to be ineffective in saving our souls.
Many seek to enter another country through a marriage of convenience. They are "legally" married and gain access through "legal" documents, though they may never love, live with, or even see their imaginary "spouse." If we attempt such a legal contract with God, we deceive only ourselves. In other words, fraud perpetrated under correct labels and within legal constructs saves no one but only increases one's judgment before God.
Paul and Peter both said that we must obey the gospel. Yet, how do we obey the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ? We obey the gospel when we die to the reign of former sin masters through repentance (Rom. 6:12-14). We obey the burial of Jesus when we commit that old man under the cross in a pledge of baptism (Rom. 6:3-4). Finally, we obey the resurrection of Jesus when we have faith to receive the baptism of His Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11). I repeat: to obey the gospel, we must die in repentance, bury our old nature in a baptismal commitment and be filled with the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. This is real, active obedience in the gospel, no merely mental assent or a legal formula that our carnal man would try to hide behind. We partake of Christ's atoning sacrifice, not through legal formulas, but by becoming one with Him in a relationship of trust, a marriage covenant.
Jesus repeatedly depicted people who were surprised at the end of their life by their lack of salvation. They were surprised because they thought they were saved—and they assumed that salvation—but they did not have the relationship with God that would have entailed salvation. Relationship, not legal formulas, is the basis for salvation. In these parables, Jesus would tragically say to them: I never knew you, you workers of iniquity; depart from Me (from: Matt. 7:23; Luke 13:24-28; Matt. 25:31-46).
Isaiah, Jeremiah, David and Ezekiel all depicted Christ's New Covenant in terms of a new level of relationship with God.
To become one with Jesus and His atoning sacrifice is to belong to Him, allowing His blood to redeem—purchase us—from the power of sin and all other allegiances (Gal. 3:13; Rom. 3:24; Col. 1:13-14). "He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, eager to do good works" (Titus 2:14, BSB, CSB). We must crucify our flesh—our slavish submission to sin's reign—before we can belong to Christ. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with all its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24, NIV). Paul also shows that we are free to marry our new husband, Jesus, only once our old master (self) has died (1 Cor. 7:39; Rom. 6:7; Rom. 7:1-6).
The Calvary purchase frees us from the custody of sin and the law and transfers us to the custody of Christ through the Spirit. It does not free us on our recognizance; it takes away the lordship of sin and replaces it with the lordship of Christ. This is why Ephesians 4:8 tells us, “When He ascended…He led captive a host of captives.…” Our freedom from the law of sin and bondage is contingent on our submission to the law of the Spirit and its lordship (2 Cor. 3:17).
But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ's triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere. (2 Cor. 2:14, NIV)
Paul poignantly states: "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal 5:18, NASB). His implication is clear: if you are not led by the Spirit, you are indeed still under the law. You have to move from the custody of the law and the flesh, into the custody and lordship of Christ. And again, "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Rom 8:2, 14, NASB, ASV). We’ve got to have a relationship with God, and in the context of that real relationship that is defined by being led by the Spirit, that’s where all of our liabilities are assumed and His assets are imputed to us.
No longer can people hope to broker salvation through external compliance to minimum requirements—the law. A vital relationship with God entails profound trust—faith—leading one to surrender his will in obedience to the Father's will. Faith is not a static belief about God; faith describes the risky trust involved when someone abandons their whole self to the Spirit's leading. Even the demons believe there is one God and tremble (James 2:19), yet this belief does not describe saving faith—either for them or us. Saving faith is portrayed in Hebrews 11:
“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain… (Heb. 11: 4) Faith empowers us to do God’s will, for this same chapter says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11: 6). “By faith Noah…moved with godly fear [and] prepared an ark for the saving of his household…” (Heb. 11: 7). Faith isn’t what allowed people to disengage from faith, rather it is what empowered their obedience. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called…” (Heb. 11: 8) By faith Sarah…received strength…” (Heb. 11: 11). “By faith Moses refused [Egyptian identity] and forsook Egypt…” (Heb. 11: 24, 27).
Faith enabled them to do everything God was calling them to do.
We all comply with legal requirements, such as paying our taxes or keeping the speed limit. Why do we comply with these legal requirements: to avoid contact with the police! And those who wish to avoid interaction with God similarly adhere to minimal requirements, whether these minimal requirements are credal or behavioral. Whenever you adhere to minimal requirements at all, it’s legalism, but if you obey God out of a pure heart, that’s a relationship.
Legalism shows you the least you have to do; love inspires you to the most you can do.
Spirit-inspired obedience is one undeniable proof of our trusting, saving relationship with God. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matt 7:21, NASB). Being led by the Spirit to do the Father's will flows from an active faith and devotion—a vital relationship with God. In short, you can’t please the Father without faith, and you can’t obey Him unless it comes from a heart of love. He’s not requiring the minimal demands of the law anymore: He’s requiring so much more. He’s requiring our hearts, our minds, our will, your whole self. That is called faith.
Dishonest teachers suggest that obedient Christians are not walking by grace, but Paul says, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet it was not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (1 Cor. 15:10, NIV). Unscrupulous liars suggest that obedience flows only from fear, but the Lord Jesus said, "He who loves me, keeps my commandments,” showing that a vital relationship of trust produces godly obedience (John 14:21). And John poignantly tells us how we can be sure we have come to know God in that saving relationship of trust. "This is how we know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I know Him,' but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4, NIV).
Jesus is not in the business of handing out legal "get out of jail free" cards. Instead, He invites us into a relationship of complete oneness with Himself. In short, He invites us to surrender and abandon everything that makes us distinct from Him—our own name and authority, the dictates of our fallen flesh, the fearful suspicion that makes us hide from His presence. So total is His invitation to unity that He offers to give us His own Spirit in regeneration, His saving name in water baptism, and His righteous character through ongoing sanctification.
As soon as we launch this relationship unto oneness based on faith, our salvation begins. As long as our faith remains active and progressive, He credits to our account everything lacking, justifying us completely (2 Peter 1:5; Col. 1:23; Col. 2:7). But it’s all contingent on our continuance. Paul says, “You…He has reconciled…if you continue in the faith” (Col. 1:21-23, NIV).
A wife takes on her husband's name in a moment in time, but her transformation and conformity to her husband's identity, purpose and will is not finished with the simple words "I do." She must live out the commitment made at the marriage altar and thus valorize that beginning moment as more than a superficial fraud. Suppose she begins to distance herself from her husband, divorce herself from his wishes or even scorn his word and will. In that case, she cannot rebuff all warnings and cautions by simply producing a marriage license, affirming her legal status. Christians who throw up some moment in time where they trusted in God, are holding up a marriage license. But God is interested in the relationship. In the same way, our legal status change in justification must correspond to our actual relationship with God—our daily transformation into His identity and will.
Legalism describes those, whether ancient Judaizers or modern-day cheap gracers, who are attempting to avoid relational accountability and trust by hiding behind legal status based on behavioral works or doctrinal, credal works—anything devoid of ongoing dependence on the living presence of the living God.
The gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Still, Peter described our participation in this gospel when a crowd of convicted sinners asked him on the first day of the church how they were to be saved. He replied, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, NKJV).
Salvation is oneness with God in a relationship of ongoing trust. Repentance is part of the gospel because it describes our participation in Christ's cross, our divorce from our old masters, enabling us to make Jesus our new Lord. Baptism is part of the gospel because it binds us to the relationship that saves us, pledging our old man to death in repentance and taking on the righteous identity and name of our heavenly Husband. Peter called baptism, “the pledge of a good conscience.” Regeneration by Spirit immersion is part of the gospel because it is the resurrection, endowing us with the very life and presence of God, giving us His veritable spiritual DNA. Everything that facilitates a biblical relationship of increasing trust is part of salvation.
In summary, God has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel because the gospel reveals our relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus describes this immortality when he says "This is eternal life, that they may know You, [have a relationship with] the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3, NIV).
Relational oneness with God is immortality, eternal life, salvation. Our transformation into Christ's likeness is not complete in a single moment. It entails an ongoing process—launching with our first sincere answer of faith, followed by dethroning the reign of sin in repentance, burying our old man under the curse of the cross and receiving Christ's identity in baptism. Then we're empowered by the Holy Spirit's infilling, and the process continues through the sanctifying work of discipleship, culminating in glorification when we meet the Lord in heaven. So long as this process proceeds, we're walking by faith, being saved by grace through faith—justified before God.
If we continue to trust and yield to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in steps of ever-increasing obedience, grace and fruit, then whatever we lack—either in understanding or righteousness—God imputes to our account. He credits this to our account because we are His bride, submitted to the relationship, pressing into sanctification, continuing to change and better express His divine will and glorious image.
Salvation is a relationship with God and the gospel is the good news that this is possible.
And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And the one hearing, let him say, ‘Come!’ And the one thirsting let him come; the one desiring, let him take freely the water of life.” (Rev. 22:17, BSB)