In my opinion some of the best Bible scholarship is coming out of western Europe! Ironic isn’t it? In a part of the world that is clearly post-Christian there are some who are challenging the misbelief that the Western European church is an empty shell of what it used to be. Simon Gathercole is a British New Testament scholar who has given much thought to harmonizing the four gospel accounts along with the apostle Paul’s understanding of the gospel. Gathercole in God’s Power to Save, summarizes the data from Paul as, “the gospel is God’s account of His saving activity in Jesus the Messiah, in which, by Jesus’ death and resurrection, He atones for sin and brings new creation.” Let’s tackle the first part.
What did Jesus accomplish on the cross? In Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 5:21… “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” While there are discussions about “atonement”, “propitiation” and “expiation” that we could have, I just want us to see the thrust of the verse. Paul is stating that there was an exchange that happened in history because of the cross: He made Him to be sin for me and He made me righteous. Again, we could have a discussion on what happened and it certainly has its roots in the Old Testament understanding of sacrifice. But all I want us to see is central to the gospel account is Jesus’ rescuing work. Our sins are “put on” Him and His righteousness is “put on” us.
At the center of the gospel then rests Jesus’ accomplished work on the cross. Jesus cries out in John 19:30, “It is finished” or “tetelestai”, debt paid in full. So Jesus accomplished on the cross something that we could never do in fulfilling a debt to God that you and I could never pay and we are thus declared to be in a relational right standing with God. At the center of the gospel rests Jesus’ work in history that He accomplished on our behalf to make a declaration: we were in far worse shape than any of us would want to admit. But we are far more loved by God than we could ever imagine.
The gospel is not moral formation. It is not “get in” and then get busy. You do not become a Christian merely to become a good person. Nor do you become a Christian merely to go to heaven. You become a Christian by rejecting your own wisdom in order to embrace the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). Christ did something for you that you could not do and now has declared you to be somebody that you’ve always wanted to be.