I spent the early years of my Christian life with a somewhat deficient understanding of the Gospel. My perspective was almost singularly focused on the reality that Jesus died for my sins and my wrongs were forgiven. Praise God—that is true! But in a sense that is only half the Gospel.
Yes, Jesus died to forgive us, but what about his resurrection? Yes, our old life has been removed, but what about our new life? Is the resurrection just the cherry on top, Jesus’ final miracle to prove he is the Savior? This is desperately short-sighted! The resurrection works in conjunction with the atoning death of Christ to accomplish our salvation.
Colossians 1:13 says that God has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Through the death of Christ we have been delivered out of our old life in the domain of darkness and through the resurrection we have been transferred into our new life in God’s kingdom of light!
The beautiful Gospel truth is that our old life has died with Christ and we have been raised up, born again, to a new life by his resurrection. It is crucial that we appreciate, celebrate, and live in the dual reality of Christ’s work – his death and his resurrection is what saves us.
That’s why it is helpful to think about the Gospel as an ellipse, not a circle. A circle has only one focus, one centerpiece; an ellipse has two foci. The Gospel is an ellipse with the foci of Jesus’ death & resurrection.
French theologian John Calvin said in the 16th century:
“Although in his death we have an effectual completion of salvation, because by it we are reconciled to God, satisfaction is given to his justice, the curse is removed, and the penalty paid – still it is not by his death, but by his resurrection, that we are said to be begotten again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) – because, as he, by rising again, became victorious over death, so the victory of our faith consists only in his resurrection…By his death sin was taken away, by his resurrection righteousness was renewed and restored…Our salvation may be thus divided between the death and the resurrection of Christ; by the former sin was abolished and death annihilated; by the latter righteousness was restored and life revived” (Institutes II:16:13).
While I believe it is essential that we think about the Gospel as being constructed around these two aspects, we do need to be careful not to make an unwarranted division between the death and resurrection of Christ. In the book “Raised with Christ,” Adrian Warnock says that for the authors of the NT, the death and resurrection of Jesus are so entwined that when they refer to either one of them, they intend the reader to understand both of them. The death and resurrection of Jesus are so inseparably interrelated, that they constitute one work of salvation. One Savior and one saving work. In a real sense, the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus all form one unified, complete act of redemption.
In Romans 6, the apostle Paul unpacks the reality that our old self has died with Christ and we have been raised with Christ to walk in new life. And, in Galatians 2:20, Paul reflects on the dual nature of Christ’s saving work in an intensely personal way:
What a beautiful Gospel! We have been crucified with Christ – our sins are forgiven, our sinful identity is dead. We are no longer bound for hell. And, we have been raised up with Christ – Christ now lives in us, we have new life in him. We are bound for heaven!
This Gospel is not just good news for unbelievers, but for believers as well. This is not just a Gospel you believe to be saved and then forget. We need a Savior the first day we believe, the day that we die, and every day in between. This Gospel is our life.