Monday, November 1, 2010

The Gospel and its Results Should be Neither Confused nor Separated

From Tim Keller in Gospel Theology:

What is the gospel? It is not about everything the Bible teaches. It is about how our relationship with God is put right through the work of Jesus Christ.

What are the results of the gospel? They include the eventual healing of the world and all the other alienations resulting from the disruption in our relationship to God. Racism, hunger and poverty, the ravaging and exploitation of the environment—all these enormous problems will ultimately be solved on judgment day, because the rupture in the relationship between God and humanity has been mended through Christ. The gospel is not just incarnation and atonement but also resurrection—Jesus is the first-fruits of the future renewal of the world. Therefore, the gospel—what Jesus has done to put us right with God—points forward to the day when we will also be put completely right in every other way.

The gospel and its results/implications must be carefully related to each other—neither confused nor separated. This is very close to Luther’s dictum that we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that remains alone. His point is that true gospel belief will always and necessarily lead to good works, but salvation in no way at all comes through or because of good works. Faith and works must never be confused for one another, nor may they be separated.

In the same way, once your alienation from God is healed, your other alienations will begin to be healed within and around you, partially now and fully later. Gospel-changed people will be moved to serve their neighbors and use their gifts and resources to alleviate psychological, social, and physical suffering, because of the hope and love the gospel brings.

Having said that the gospel and its results must neither be confused nor separated, we risk making two overgeneralizations. Some people over-emphasize the distinction, and they fail to adequately stress how the gospel always leads to community and justice and peace. On the other hand, some under-emphasize the distinction, giving the impression that gospel work is synonymous with making the world a better place.

I have heard people preach this way: “The good news is that God is healing and will heal the world of all its hurts; therefore, the work of the gospel is to work for justice and peace in the world.” The danger in this line of thought is that the good news becomes a divine rehabilitation program for the world, rather than an accomplished substitutionary work. “Believing the good news” means joining that program, rather than receiving Christ’s finished work. In other words, the gospel becomes primarily a salvation by practice instead of a salvation by faith.

As J. I. Packer says, “The gospel does bring us solutions to these problems, but it does so by first solving…the deepest of all human problems, the problem of man’s relation with his Maker; … and unless we make it plain that the solution of these former problems depends on the settling of this latter one, we are misrepresenting the message and becoming false witnesses of God.”  J. I. Packer, quoted by James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive and Readable Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 319.

1 comment:

Jacob S. Wells said...

Right on! Those who put healing the suffering in the world before letting Christ do His redemptive work are letting pride or missed placed passion rule. Those who promote Christ's redemptive work without exercising their faith to reach out to a hurting world are tarnishing the name of the Lord by either allowing their faith to wither or failing to walk in love.
I'm glad you put exploitation of the environment on your list of things of which the world needs to be healed.