The Gospel According to the Gospels

Mike Harding

FrontLine • January/February 2009

The Good News of the Gospels centers on the bloody, sacrificial, vicarious death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, evidenced by His burial and bodily resurrection. The necessary implications of these truths include that we are Hell-bound sinners, incapable of atoning for our sins, meriting our justification, or contributing to our salvation, and that apart from a personal unreserved trust (repentant faith) in the Theanthropic Christ (God-man) and His Crosswork, each of us will be eternally judged by God. Additional implications of the Christian gospel that cannot be denied are His miraculous virginal conception/birth as well as His absolute equality with the Father and distinctive personality in the Triune Godhead (Phil. 2:5–11).

The way of salvation has been exactly the same at all times and in all places: by grace alone, through repentant faith alone, grounded in the merits of Christ alone. However, the content of faith increased progressively throughout Biblical history beginning with the protoevangelium (“first gospel,” Gen. 3:15) and concluding with the all-sufficient revelation of Christ in the sixty-six inscripturated books of the Bible. When Jesus began His ministry, He immediately proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom to national Israel (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). Jesus’ numerous references to the Kingdom of God call attention to the antecedent prophecies in the OT involving the Divine Messiah; they describe a literal, earthly realm involving the land of Palestine and the nation of Israel over which the Messiah would reign (cf. Dan. 2:44; 7:14, 27).

Nowhere does Jesus redefine this Kingdom as something substantially different than that which the OT prophets had repeatedly predicted. Though Israel as a nation rejected the good news about the promised Kingdom via rejection of the King and His message (Matt. 12:22–37, 21:43), the sacrificial death of Christ still remained a necessary precondition for the Messianic Kingdom to be inaugurated. Theoretically, had the Jewish nation not orchestrated the murder of Christ (though a virtual impossibility, cf. Acts 2:23), certainly the Romans would have done it. Nevertheless, the Christian gospel includes the concept that through the new birth we are positionally present citizens of a literal, future, anticipated, coming Kingdom of God on earth in which all regenerated individuals will experientially participate with distinct obligations and responsibilities (John 3:5). Therefore, though the gospel of the Kingdom and the Christian gospel are not identical in their content, they are closely related and more importantly are identical in their condition of repentant faith alone through God’s grace alone, grounded solely in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ alone.

Due to limited space, we will but briefly trace the gospel of the Kingdom and the Christian gospel through the Gospel of Luke, with a particular emphasis on repentant faith as the required condition for eternal life and forgiveness of sin. Luke begins with John the Baptist preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sin in anticipation of the Messiah’s arrival (3:7–9). Religious heritage or Jewish ancestry cannot shield one from the coming wrath. True repentance eventually expresses itself not in religious rites or an ascetic lifestyle but rather in obeying God (3:10–14).

Repentance entails a fundamental change of mind, desire, and intent regarding one’s sinful condition, including deliverance from sin’s eternal penalty and enslaving power.[1] The results of repentance (fruits of repentance) are ultimately divinely produced in concert with the complete participation of the repentant sinner throughout the believer’s life as evidence of true saving faith. Repentance and faith as theological counterparts are so closely linked in soteriological contexts that when one is mentioned the other is assumed (Mark 1:15; Acts 11:18; 17:30; Heb. 6:1; 2 Pet. 3:9).[2]

Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee, and Luke gives an example of Jesus’ presentation of the gospel of the Kingdom to the Jewish people in His hometown of Nazareth—and Christ is utterly rejected by them (4:16–30, 44; cf. 1:26–35). After the Sermon on the Mount, Luke brackets expressions of faith around the question of who Jesus is. The centurion’s humility, confidence in Jesus’ authority, and his trusting dependence represent the essence of saving faith in the person of Christ as contrasted by many in Israel who respond in unbelief and reject their Messiah despite greater revelation (7:1–10). Later, Jesus pronounces a sinful woman forgiven who anoints His feet with perfume and tears. Her faith, manifested by her actions of sorrow and devotion, offers Jesus the opportunity to declare His divine authority to forgive sins in response to her repentant faith (7:36–50). Luke continues to focus on Jesus’ identity and the nature of saving faith in the Kingdom parable of the sower and the soils. Only those who respond in saving faith and give evidence of such in their lives have forgiveness of sin and thereby are positional citizens of the future Kingdom (8:4–15). This conclusion is immediately reinforced by Jesus’ identity of His true family as those who hear the Word of God and obey it (8:19–21). Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, comprises the apex of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (9:18–22). Here Jesus gives the first clear revelation that He must suffer, be killed, and be raised on the third day.

In chapters 10–19 Jesus clarifies His earthly mission as He draws near to Jerusalem. His clarification culminates in Luke 19:10 when He says that the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. Again, several clear examples of repentance are presented. Regarding those unfortunate souls who were indiscriminately massacred by Pilate or victimized by the collapsed tower of Siloam, Jesus responds by saying to His hearers that if they do not repent they also will likewise perish (13:1–9). Christ clarifies the thought with the parable of the unfruitful fig tree. God is giving the nation and its inhabitants one more chance to repent and bear evidential fruit, or eternal judgment will fall. In the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son Heaven rejoices over the one sheep who repents and trusts in the good Shepherd, the angels joy over one sinner who repents, and the father celebrates over the salvation of his lost son (15:7, 10, 18–21). Jesus states that such repentance is always in conjunction with childlike trust and dependence upon the Father (18:15–17). Luke finalizes this section with the conversion of Zacchaeus, who exemplifies what happens when an outcast Jew comes to Christ. Zacchaeus immediately demonstrates a spirit of generosity and restitution, having experienced God’s regenerating grace and divine restitution (19:1–10).

Is it any wonder, then, in the Great Commission recorded by Luke, that Jesus says to His disciples, “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (24:46, 47; cf. Acts 17:30, 31)? Ultimately, this becomes the Christian gospel that all believers are to proclaim to the whole world during this Church Age, which is particularly characterized by the unmerited, undeserved, and, more accurately, ill-deserved grace of God. The Gospel writer Luke summarizes his gospel message this way: “Repent . . . and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19; cf. 2 Cor. 7:10).

Mike Harding pastors First Baptist Church of Troy, Michigan, and serves as an Executive Board member of the FBFI.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2009. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Metamelomai (lit. “to become a care afterward”) means a feeling of concern or regret in the sense that one wishes it could be undone (BDAG, p. 639; cf. Matt. 11:21; 21:31, 32). Metanoeo originates from two words, meta meaning “after”and noeo meaning to “think,” with the idea of feeling remorse, turning about, and changing one’s mind (BDAG, p. 640; Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8; cf. Ps. 51:3; Acts 26:20). “It affects the whole man, first and basically the center of personal life, then logically his conduct. . . . The whole proclamation of Jesus is a proclamation of unconditional turning to God . . . from all that is against God” (Behm and Wurthwein, TDNT, 4:1002–3). The OT equivalent terms are nacham, indicating a deep feeling of regret and sorrow (Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 87), and shuv, which emphasizes a turning of one’s whole being—such as in Jeremiah 24:7, “I will give them a heart to know me that I am the Lord and they shall be my people and I will be their God; for they shall return [shuv] with their whole heart”; Behm and Wurthwein, TDNT, 4:985). Millard Erickson summarizes that repentance is “godly sorrow for one’s sin together with a resolution to turn from it” (Christian Theology, p. 937). []
  2. Repentance is not penance. Penance consists of works assigned by a priest to help pay for the temporal punishment of sin. As such it is a sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church consisting of confessing sin to a priest, the priest’s pronouncement of absolution, and the assignment of certain works of penance to merit mercy and make up for the temporal punishment caused by sin, thus shortening one’s stay in purgatory. Penance is not toward God but toward the Romanist Church and becomes the meritorious grounds for pardon (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 434; Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism, p. 254ff). []