The word gospel has experienced a bit of a resurgence of late. All one has to do is take a walk. down the aisle of their favorite Christian bookstore or go to their favorite blogger’s website to see this term utilized in seemingly every book or blog post title. We are encouraged to be “Gospel-Centered”, “Gospel-Driven”, “Gospel-Focused”, to “preach the gospel”, “love the gospel”, and to “not be ashamed of the gospel”. Trust me this is just a small snippet of the many ways gospel is used in titles and conversation.
I have no qualms with any of that as the gospel is truly the focus of the Christian faith. But what exactly is the gospel that everyone is talking about in these books and blogs? On many occasions, the word is used in almost a buzzword type approach with no real explanation of just what this thing called the gospel is all about for which we are supposed to be centered, focused, in love with, and declaring. In order to be in love with something, to be focused upon that something, to be centered on that something, or to be capable of properly declaring the message of that something, one has to be well-versed in what that something is all about and why it matters.
Many suggest the gospel is about being saved from going to hell and in turn going to heaven. While one’s eternal destination is certainly part of the gospel equation, the message of the gospel contains something even more valuable that simply avoiding the fires of hell or the joys of eternity with God. Again, those are part of the gospel but only a part.
To have any chance at understanding what the gospel is about, we have to start the conversation way back in Genesis. In the first two chapters of Genesis, we are told that God created everything and He created everything perfect. There was no sin and there was no death in the original creation. Man, experienced perfect harmony with nature and more importantly, man (meaning Adam and Eve) knew God both physically and spiritually. There was no separation of Creator and His creation. We are told that God made a habit of walking in the Garden with man. As long as man was obedient to God’s command, this wonderful existence of complete perfection was designed to extend into eternity with man having dominion over creation and their progeny filling the earth.
Something happened to impact this perfect existence. That something was sin. Once man sinned, the perfect relationship between Creator and His creation experienced a tragic separation. God being without sin would no longer dwell with man who had sinned. Furthermore, all creation began to groan under the weight and impact of that sinful deed. Yet despite this horrific separation from God and the resulting process of death, both physical and spiritual death, beginning to ensue, hope was provided. Genesis 3:15 is often called the protoevangelium or the first gospel message. In this passage, God declared:
“And I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
This passage notes there will be a battle that will ensue between two seeds: the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. The seed of the serpent represents the enemy and his progeny (the wicked) and the seed of the serpent represents the people of God, specifically the Messiah. The enemy would inflict a wound on the Messiah, but in the end, the serpent would be crushed forevermore.
Thus, the message of the gospel involves the Messiah, the Promised One sent by the Father to pay the penalty for our sin. This is the message of salvation. The question remains as to salvation from what? Salvation from hell? Again it is in part salvation from hell and eternity with God, but as we noted earlier, that is merely the tip of the iceberg. You see prior to sin coming into the picture, there was no need for salvation. Everything was in perfect order and man’s relationship with God and with nature was the essence of beauty. They were in the very presence of God because He dwelled with them in the Garden. When they sinned, man was removed from the Garden with the promise given that redemption would take place through the Messiah.
This presents another question. Redemption to what? We are often told that we are redeemed from sin and death by the shed blood of Christ on the cross. Very true indeed. Christ did buy us back through that sacrifice. In fact, the word redemption has as its meaning the action of “buying back” or more specifically, in this case, “buying or purchasing back that which was lost”. But what was lost and where was it lost? We must remember that what was lost was a relationship with God in the Garden of Eden. When sin came into the picture, man lost a great many things to include the beauty of physical interaction with God in a place, with that place being the Garden, a place of existence on earth.
Why is this even important and what does it have to do with the gospel? God promised to redeem His people back to Him so that which was lost would one day be restored. Since that which was lost was not only the beauty of physical relationship and the absence of sin but also a perfect existence in the Garden on a perfect earth in a universe without death and decay, we have to state that the gospel includes all of these things under the umbrella of redemption. We lost our heritage in the Garden, that perfect existence with God for which we were created and the movement of history is a return to that heritage for those who are the children of God. We are looking forward to that Day when all things are restored and we live for eternity in the presence of God in this restored “Garden”.
The banishment from the Garden will be lifted and we will once again live in the presence of God in a place that functions in all elements of perfection. Sin and death will be destroyed for all eternity and the heritage that was once promised will be restored. The joy of relationship will be a joy everlasting. This is truly what the gospel is all about. It is far more than just getting your ticket punched to escape hell and make it to heaven. Embracing the gospel will, of course, involve escaping the torment of hell. There is no question about that, but in biblical terms, the story presented is one of redemption and that redemption is the restoration of relationship.
When we look at the bookends of Scripture we find perfection and perfection. We find God dwelling with His people. In the middle is the battle between the two seeds. In the beginning, man is in the Garden with dominion given to him by God with man walking with God. In the end, man is again in the Garden of God with dominion given yet again to him by God with man walking with God. Perfection given, sin impacting everything, redemption promised, redemption fulfilled. That is the pattern of the gospel message in Scripture – the return to the Heritage of the Garden.
So as we become “gospel-centered”, “gospel-focused”, “gospel-driven”, etc. let us not forget what the message of the gospel is all about. It is more than not going to hell. It is all about redemption in the context of a relationship with God. When we understand the gospel in those terms, we will in turn grasp what God is doing and revealing in His Word and what all of history is moving towards. Furthermore, we will better understand the importance of growing in relationship with God as we await that glorious day when that which was lost is restored for all eternity. Certainly saved from eternal destruction, but most importantly, saved to restoration of a relationship with God.