What is the Gospel

26 07 2013

The shortest definition of the Gospel that I know of is that God saves sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[1] For a succinct definition from Paul see 1 Cor. 15:1-4.

It’s important to stress that the Gospel is an announcement.  It is good news!  What exactly is the good news? We are separated from God from our willful act of rebellion against Him.  This has rendered us dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-5) thus making us unwilling and unable to reconcile ourselves to God by any good thing that we can do.  The very best one can do is filthy rags before God, not to mention the worst one can do (Isaiah 64). But, in Christ there is forgiveness of sins for all those who will repent and believe Him to be the only hope of reconciliation between God and man by His perfect life, vicarious death on the cross, and victorious resurrection.

What is required to stand in the presence of the one true holy sovereign God of the universe on the last day is righteousness.  The problem? We have no inherent righteousness.  An unrighteous person cannot become righteous because our unrighteousness is not just external acts, it’s our very nature! (Rom. 3:10-18, Jer. 17:9, etc.).

So, what can be done? Left up to us, nothing.  But God… Maybe two of the greatest words in Scripture! But God had a different plan.  This will be important in a moment but that plan began in eternity past and the first hint of the Gospel is actually not in the New Testament, it’s in Genesis 3:15.  God promised that He would send someone, born of the seed of the woman, to crush the serpent’s head.  That someone would be God Himself, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

Jesus steps onto the world scene taking on human flesh beginning humbly as a fertilized egg in the womb of Mary (eternally existed as the Son but of course not eternally in human flesh John 1:1ff), conceived by the Holy Spirit.  100% God and 100% Man. Two separate and distinct natures yet one person.  Only man can atone for man’s sin. The problem? All men are sinful! Yet, God in His wisdom had the solution to the problem by taking on human flesh Himself, laying down the splendors of heaven to live among us (Phil. 2:5-11).

He did not live among us to be our example but to proclaim to us the fulfillment of all God had promised in the Old Testament. He came to die for our sins and to be our righteousness!  He lived the perfect life of obedience to the Law, something no man has ever done, and then died a substitutionary, propitiatory[2], death on the cross so that all who would believe on Him would be saved (2 Cor. 5:21, 1 John 2:2, etc.).  He was raised for our justification, ascended into heaven, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling and reigning (Rom. 4:25, Heb. 1:3).

We must repent of our sin and take hold of these truths, by faith in Christ. We must feel our need for Christ.  People who hear the Gospel and reject do not feel their need for a Savior.  They do not feel the weight of their own sinfulness and rebellion against the One true God of the universe.  They think of their sin as a trivial matter and feel no need for reconciliation.

In the four gospels Jesus continually stresses that He has come to give His life as a ransom to God[3] and calls on people to repent of their sins and believe the Gospel.  Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law.  The demand on a lost man’s life is not to “obey” God by being “like Jesus” because we cannot be like Jesus!  The demand is to lay down your arms and through faith bow down to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Now, is obedience part of salvation? It depends on what you mean by that question.  On one hand, absolutely!  Not our obedience, but Jesus’ perfect obedience!  Also, if you mean by obedience that once God removes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27) we will live lives holy and separated unto God, then yes! In other words we cannot work to be saved.  We cannot work to be accepted by God.  We can’t clean up and get our act together to earn salvation.  We must repent and believe the WORK Jesus has finished on our behalf.  And the result WILL BE us living out what God has wrought new in our hearts, i.e. we will pursue obedience to God, even though imperfectly. This obedience is grounded in the gospel (which is one reason btw that Christians need to be constantly reminded of the Gospel!) and rooted in the fact that we have been given a new nature, our desires, affections, plans, dreams, wants, have all changed and are pointed at Christ! (cf. Philippians 2:12-13)

Anyway, the Gospel is an announcement.  It’s deep, wide, rich, full but also very simple. God saves sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  By the way, when did God start saving people in this way?

Read Galatians 3:8.  How were Old Testament saints saved? Through the Gospel!  Remember Genesis 3:15? God’s promise all along is that He would restore fellowship with man, through a man conquering the serpent.

Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

This is crucial to understand.  The Old Testament saints were saved through faith by looking forward to the promise of God (Galatians 3).  We are saved through faith looking to the finished work of Christ in our stead.

God is the holy, righteous, just Creator. Man lives in fallen rebellion. Jesus lived a perfect life and died the substitutionary death on the cross for sinners, and was raised again. We must repent of our rebellion and believe that message to be saved. That’s the Gospel.

Will you believe this?

Allen S. Nelson IV

[1] I think I first read this definition in Jared Wilson’s Gospel Deeps.

[2] Wrath absorbing

[3] How can God be just and at the same time justifier? An atonement had to be made. God is just in saving sinners because the payment for sin has been rendered.


Crucial Aspects of a Disciple Making Pastor

4 02 2013

These are my notes from Mark Dever’s session on the  Centrality of the Church in Disciple-Making at the 2013 Desiring God National Pastor’s conference. I listened via live-stream and you can do so too by clicking HERE. To hear audio of the message click here.

4 Crucial Aspects of a Disciple Making Pastor:

  1. Preaching: Don’t think that making disciples is something that happens in just 1 on 1 meetings.  The most fundamental way for a Pastor to make disciples is through preaching God’s Word. God uses His word to create faith- 1 Thess. 2:13, Heb. 4:12, James 1:21.  God creates His people by His Word.  If you want life, health, and holiness in your local church it must be done God’s way- through His Word. We must teach our congregations to value God’s Word over programs.  Preaching God’s Word is primary.  The heart of your public ministry as a Pastor is your private study of God’s Word; pouring over it, praying over it.  You must give yourself to the study of God’s Word. What did Paul say to Timothy? “Preach the Word!”
  2. Prayer: In your personal life, pray. In your home, pray. In your meetings with others, pray. In your public services devote so much time to prayer that nominal Christians are bored with so much time committed to talking with the God they claim to know. Lead your people into praying to God.  Diligently call upon God by prayer, so that you may able to teach and exhort with wholesome doctrine. Prayer shows our dependence upon God.

How should pastors pray/what should they pray for?

      •    Prayers of Paul 2 Thess. 1, etc. Allow the prayers of Paul to guide your prayers.
      •    Pray that your preaching the gospel would be faithful accurate and clear.
      •    Pray for the increasing maturity of the congregation- growth in love, sound doctrine, etc.
      •    Pray for sinners to be converted and the church built up through the preaching of the Gospel
      •    Pray for opportunities for yourself and others for personal evangelism.

Dever also gave these practical examples: In Capitol Hill’s regular gathering of believers they have 3 different types of prayers offered publically during the service- Prayers of praise, prayers of confession, Pastoral prayer of intercession.  Dever also suggested to use church directory to pray for church members individually , prayers for church members don’t have to be long, just biblical

3. PersonalDiscipling Relationships: If you’re in the type of congregation that people get upset about the pastor having “friends” confront that and call the people to repentance. Through your discipleship relationships the church as a whole will be built up.  Suggest a book to others and go through it together weekly, or every other week, or as often as you can.  The goal is to get to know them and to love them and to be a blessing to them spiritually. Initiate these types of relationships. Personal discipleship is another channel in which the Word can flow into people’s lives. Encourage a culture of discipleship within the church. What do you mean that you are following Christ if you’re not helping others follow Jesus? Hard-bake that into your definition of being a Christian. Another byproduct of personal discipling relationships is it will help in breaking down the resistance some may have to your leadership as a Pastor. Helps break down the “we vs. him” barrier.

4. Patience: Run at a pace your congregation can keep. The key to having patience is having a right perspective of time, eternity, and success.

      1. Time: Think in terms of 10, 20, 30,40, or even 50 years of ministry! We don’t often have this type of perspective. Are you in it with your church for the long haul or moving up the ladder by taking another church? Are you building a congregation or a career. Stay with them. Keep bleeding, keep loving.
      2. Eternity: One day we will be held accountable by God for the way we fed His lambs.  He will know how we handled His sheep. Shepherd the flock in a way that you will not be ashamed before the Lord (cf. Col 3:23ff).
      3. Success: If you define success by numbers you will result to methods that draw crowds without the preaching of the Gospel.  If you define success by faithfulness then you are freed to be faithful to God and His Word and let Him do His work.  Confidence in the Christian ministry is in the presence, power, and promises of God.  Confidence comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes us adequate through God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16). Stake your ministry on the power of the Gospel.  Success in ministry is faithfulness in that. So, be patient.

Summary: Preach and pray, love and stay. We will never be faithful ministers if we only consider the ministry in terms of this life. “I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.” 19th Century Scottish Pastor, John Brown

Bible Reading 2013

28 12 2012

Bible on table
I certainly don’t think proof of your conversion can be based on whether or not you’ve read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  With that out of the way however, I’d like to encourage you to set a goal of reading through the Bible in 2013.  While I don’t think you are an apostate if you haven’t read through the Bible, I do think it should be every Christian’s desire to read God’s Word.  We believe Jesus’ words spoken to the Evil One in the wilderness right?: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  And this sentence, God’s very words, had already been recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, God’s very Word.

So, if you believe that we don’t just need cheeseburgers to live but the Word of God, why not commit yourself to actually read every word of God recorded for us in the 66 canonical books we call the Bible?  If you can’t get through it in one year, try two, or if necessary three.  The point is the Bible isn’t just for you to get information but it was written for our transformation (I’m sure I should cite someone here but I’m not sure who said something similar to this!). If God uses His own precious Word to transform you isn’t it to our great detriment to waste so much of our year on Facebook, Twitter, television, movies, etc., while our Bibles remain unread? Won’t you commit to being a student of the Word in 2013?

There are already tons of great plans out there.  Here’s a post by Justin Taylor that has several plansHere’s a plan from Denny BurkHere’s a plan from Grace For Sinners that will have you go through the whole Bible twice and the NT Epistles four times.

And here’s what I’m doing: The OT twice using this planAnd the NT twice using this plan.

So there you go.  Get a plan and stick with it! Print it out, keep it in your bible, post it on your fridge, set reminders in your phone, whatever you need to do!  Here’s a helpful reminder from John Piper on why you should “Read the Bible More and More.”


30 09 2012

“Regeneration is the work of God’s invincible power and mere grace, wherein by his Spirit accompanying his Word he quickeneth a redeemed person lying dead in his sins and reneweth him in his mind, his will and all the powers of his soul, convincing him savingly of sin and righteousness and judgment, and making him heartily to embrace Christ and salvation, and to consecrate himself to the service of God in Christ all the days of his life.”*

*David Dickson, Select Practical Writings of David Dickson, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Printed for the Assemblies Committee, 1845), p. 211. 

The Summer of no Television

6 09 2012

We purchased our first home just before Memorial Day weekend.  My wife and I decided that for the benefit of our budget and walk with Jesus that we would not purchase a satellite subscription.  Since Labor Day weekend just passed I’d thought I’d write a few things about our “Summer of no T.V.” and our plans for the future.  Here are some things we’ve learned so far this summer:

1. We don’t really miss our “shows”– I never really had a set number of shows that I liked to watch except The Office and Law and Order.  My wife had a few other shows and I’d surf back and forth between the History Channel, ESPN, and Discovery.  Come to find out, we can live with out those!  It’s been great.

2. We spend more time as a family– Let’s face it. When we were watching T.V. every night we weren’t really spending time together.  We were just sitting there glued to a little box without much real conversation.  Now we play together more, sing together more, communicate in the evenings more… It’s amazing to see the freedom from something we didn’t realize was consuming precious moments.

3. We have more time for more important things– Besides just spending time together as a family, we have more time to read good books, plan things together for our family (goals, how to pay off debt, the future, etc.), talk about God’s work in our local church FBC Oppelo (what He’s doing, new ideas, goals, etc.),

4. We still watch t.v. sometimes– while we don’t have local channels or satellite we are subscribers to Netflix.  We get about 1 movie every 1-2 weeks.  We still enjoy the entertainment but now it’s just drastically limited.

5. Television is just a “fruit” issue–  In other words, if we could get every Christian to quit watching TV, we still haven’t addressed some root issues.  These root issues include laziness, lack of appreciation for the gift and responsibility of family, “practical” denial of the sufficiency of Scripture (in that many don’t read it and study it together), prayerlessness- and perhaps these are not the real root either, since these all stem from a lack of trust and love for Christ.  Truth is, we can all find other wasteful things to replace TV.  Christians did it for centuries!

6. We are still growing– I can’t honestly say we’ll never have television in our house again.  I hope we don’t.  We still need to work on limiting the time our children spend watching their movies.  We still need to work on not just sitting around together staring at our iPhones.  There is still much sanctification that needs to happen in the Nelson household!  Turning off the T.V. has freed us in some ways, and revealed areas where more growth is needed in other ways!

Concluding thoughts:

I don’t think every Christian has to give up their satellite subscription.  If they did, how would I watch College Football!? But I do think Christians need to be more disciplined in their use of t.v.  For us, it was most helpful to just unsubscribe.  Others may be able to be more disciplined while also having satellite and I think that’s fine.  I do think we will be held accountable as Americans for all the time that God has richly blessed us with.  Be careful not to waste time God has given you by sitting around a talking box (or glued to an iPhone Cuatro!).

Soli Deo Gloria.

Why you don’t read the Bible

31 08 2012

One of the greatest problems in our churches today is a practical denial of the sufficiency of Scripture.  I say “practical” denial because most people (at least in Southern Baptist churches) would not actually verbally deny that Scripture is sufficient for knowing, trusting, and obeying God, but practically this is not lived out.  We “know” the Bible is sufficient, it just doesn’t show up practically. While there are several examples of this, one major example is the fact that there are many in the South who claim allegiance to Christ who rarely read their bibles.  Sure, maybe they open it from time to time, or read a “devotional” daily, but for the most part they go day after day without meaningful time in the Word.  Here are 3 common excuses:

  1. I’m too Busy
  2. I’m no bible scholar-  I just can’t understand the bible when I read it
  3. I just don’t like to read

I’d like to tell you the real reason people don’t read the Bible: they don’t want to.  Plain and simple. If you really want to read your Bible you will.  If you don’t want to read your Bible you won’t- and here in the South, there’s no in between.  We can read, we have time, and we have access to God’s Word in our language (several times over!).  What are people really saying when they don’t discipline themselves to take in a consistent regimen of God’s Word? “I don’t really need that.”  In other words, it’s not important.  Sure, I may say the Bible is sufficient, but in reality I’m just trying to “live life” and I really depend on other things (like “feelings”) to tell me what I need to know about trusting, obeying, and knowing God.

Now, there are tons of passages that we could examine but I’d just like to quote one- Matthew 5:6

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

People don’t “hunger and thirst” for righteousness by reading the Bible.  People read the Bible because they hunger and thirst for righteousness.  The explanation of this verse is that God’s people will hunger and thirst to pursue righteousness because of the change He has wrought in their hearts.  The application is that God’s people will read the Bible because they desire to read God’s Word since they’ve been changed and want to learn and grow in their pursuit of godliness.

I’m not saying if you don’t read your bible every day that you’re not a Christian.  I’m simply saying that when you don’t read the Bible it’s because you don’t want to, so don’t make a different excuse.  Confess it, repent of it, and look to Christ who atoned for our flippant attitude toward’s His Word.  And realize that if you don’t have a desire to pursue righteousness, then you are not saved.  Repent and believe the Gospel.

Dead Man Walking?

11 07 2012

“When a man’s heart is cold and unconcerned about religion, when his hands are never employed in doing God’s work, when his feet are not familiar with God’s ways, when his tongue is seldom or never used in prayer and praise, when his ears are deaf to the voice of Christ in the Gospel, when his eyes are blind to the beauty of the kingdom of heaven, when his mind is full of the world, and has no room for spiritual things- when these marks are to be found in a man, the right word to use about him is the word ‘Dead.’

This is the true explanation of sin not felt, and sermons not believed, and good advice not followed, and the Gospel not embraced, and the world not forsake, and the cross not taken up, and self -will not mortified, and evil habits not laid aside, and the Bible seldom read, and the knees never bent in prayer.  Why is all this on every side? The answer is simple- Men are dead.”

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) in Alive or Dead?