I recently wrote that I think many of us have a narrow and deficient understanding of the Gospel. We need to remember, celebrate, and live out the reality that Jesus died to rescue us out of our old life and rose from the dead to transfer us into a new life.
Without this full-scoped perspective, we can oversimplify the Gospel into a message of: Jesus died to forgive your sins. This is true – praise God! But this is really only one view of the Gospel. As we read through the Bible we see a vast, deep, rich, multifaceted Gospel that we’ll spend eternity celebrating!
In “Picturing the Gospel,” Neil Livingstone writes,
“The assortment of images that these writers used makes the Bible like a gallery. It is a place where we can wander and see many portrayals of God’s saving work. Each image tells the gospel story: what Jesus did and how it affects our lives. Each one gives us a different angle, together giving us a complete picture of the work of God in Christ. We have a many-sided gospel to know and proclaim. New Testament scholar Leon Morris calls it a “multifaceted salvation, one which may be regarded in many ways and which is infinitely satisfying.” (p. 14)
I think it is helpful not to think of the Gospel as a one-dimensional square – with only one side – but as a three-dimensional cube – with (at least) six sides! Theologians talk about salvation accomplished and salvation applied. What Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection is applied to us through our faith in him. And so through faith in Christ, we receive Justification, Regeneration, Reconciliation, Adoption, Redemption, and Sanctification (see a summary chart here).
Before we define these deep theological concepts, know that they are immensely personal and practical. They each highlight different aspects of who God is, how our sin affects us, and what Christ accomplished for us. They are different angles, different views, of the one true Gospel. These six views of the Gospel give us direction in what it means to live out our faith. They also serve as entry points for nonbelievers – how we can connect the truth of the Gospel to their greatest felt need (more on that next week). Let’s take a look.
- Justification – God is a Merciful Judge forgiving the disobedient and lifting their guilt. In this expression, sin is understood as disobedience and law-breaking. What Jesus accomplished means that the guilty person is acquitted, released from their debt of wrongdoing and declared righteous. People that are aware of their unrighteousness, that feel the heavy weight of their guilt (often because they are living in overt disobedience) – need to hear the good news of justification and forgiveness.
- Regeneration – God is a gracious Life-Giver causing the empty to be reborn and find hope. In this view of the Gospel, we see sin as a sickness that causes death. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, the sickness is healed, the believer is filled with the Holy Spirit and born again to new life – beginning now and going into eternity. Those who feel hopeless and empty, aware of their failure in life, who feel a sense of darkness and misery in life – need to hear the good news of regeneration and new life.
- Reconciliation – God is a wise Peacemaker, reconciling the alienated and restoring their broken relationship. In this Gospel dynamic, sin is understood as rebellion against God and hostility toward our Creator. But, the Gospel means the enemy of God attains peace and harmony with his Creator. The relationship is restored. Men and women who feel alienated, living amidst broken relationships, a lack of peace, even anger toward God and the world – need to hear the good news of reconciliation and a repaired relationship.
- Adoption – God is a loving Father adopting the lost and giving them an identity and purpose. In this dimension of the Gospel, we see sin as a state of being lost, like an orphan trying to survive alone. The good news is that the lost person is adopted as a child of God and receives acceptance and a new identity as God’s son or daughter. People who feel they are wandering in life with no purpose, no meaning – that they are lost, alone, insecure – need to hear the good news of adoption and a new identity as a child of God.
- Redemption – God is a Powerful Deliverer setting free those in bondage and victims of oppression. In this expression, we understand sin as a form of oppression, while the person is a willing participant, the devil has them in bondage to their sin. The work of Christ means that the enslaved person is rescued and set free – not only released from sin’s penalty, but also released from sin’s power. Those who feel powerlessness and defeated by their sin, bound up in addiction, depression, fear – need to hear the good news of redemption and rescue from their bondage.
- Sanctification – God is a holy Purifier cleansing those in shame and restoring their worth. In this dynamic of the Gospel, sin makes the person impure and unclean. Through faith in Christ, the dirty person is washed, made pure, given value by God. Men and women who feel ashamed and unworthy, often due to a past of abuse or sexual sin – need to hear the good news of sanctification and being washed and made worthy.
What a loving, powerful God we have! What a deep, rich, amazing Gospel we have believed! May we grow to understand the length, width, depth, and height of this beautiful, multifaceted Gospel! And so we pray the words of Ephesians 3:16-19,
“…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”