If you were asked to communicate what the gospel is to someone else, what would you include? In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul includes both Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection. Think about it.. what if you didn’t mention anything about the resurrection and just spoke of His death on the cross? At the core of the gospel, Christ’s work not only includes His death but His resurrection from the dead. This should give us a final clue as to what the gospel is.
Tim Keller offers a concise definition of the gospel as, Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever (Leadership Magazine, The Gospel in All its Forms). All I want to point out is the word “restores”. What’s clear about the gospel is it not only deals with the issue of sin, but it includes God’s promise of a future-restored Kingdom with the fullness of Isaiah 52 – shalom, happiness or welfare, and the completion of salvation.
Understood this way, the gospel is (here’s the big word), eschatological! it is the good news that the resurrection of Jesus was the inaugural event proving God’s commitment to finishing what He began. When we take part in the sacrament of communion, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 we re-enact the gospel until He returns. The gospel always comes with this sense of future orientation as fulfillment, consummation, complete transformation. So when we read the Bible, we live between two poles: the original Garden of Eden and the future redeemed Garden.
The danger is if we leave this eschatological piece out the gospel becomes stunted because now it’s simply about converting people. Or maybe the subtle message is that this life stinks but it’s really going to be good when we go to heaven. The gospel is much larger in the sense that it includes the deep valuation of life right now while acknowledging that we are all in a process toward a final end state. This is wonderfully good news! What God began not only in me, but in the world He will finish and not even death has the power to nullify His redemptive work.
This is one of the reasons why acts of justice toward the marginalized, poor and oppressed is gospel-centered. It’s not an add on after we get saved. Caring for the poor is what comes naturally to those who understand the robustness of the gospel. We don’t usher in the Kingdom by our actions. However, when we act in such ways, we at least model what this future Kingdom will be like. We act in redemptive ways because we know that God is redeeming the material world, not a part of it but all of it! Grace not only is the way “in” but grace restores what sin marred.