The Gospel Disconnect: Reflecting on "The Gospel Precisely" (Chapter 2)
There seems to be a disconnect.
When we open the pages of our Bibles and survey the use of the word “Gospel”, it seems that we find a slightly different good news than what many Christians are used to hearing. It is not that the common presentations we have been inundated with are altogether wrong; they are just incomplete. Sin is a problem. Eternal life is a promise of God to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. But is this “The Gospel” as exhaustively laid out in the pages of Scripture?
In chapter 2 of “The Gospel Precisely”, author Matthew Bates speaks of the common Gospel presentation of many Christians as simple “salvation instructions”. We are sinners, so we must do X so that God will save us, and so that we can be personally restored to right relationship with Him. Bates is clear that while this is as aspect and a consequence of the Gospel, it is at best an incomplete picture of the good news as presented in passages like 1 Corinthians 15. To trim the Gospel message down to salvation instructions is to create a disconnect in the Christian life that is not inconsequential.
What is causing this disconnect? Bates argues in the second chapter that it “stems from an incomplete picture of God’s purposes for humanity.” Sin, for example, has become a “one-dimensional” problem. While sin is a personal problem that separates man from God, it also has vast social and cosmic implications. The ignorance of these implications is where the disconnect lies, even though they are necessary for grasping why we need the Gospel as Jesus, the human king.
What are the implications of sin, not just for our personal separation from God, but for God’s plan for mankind? How does the fall and the presence of sin throw a wrench in the purposes that God has for us as image bearers? These are the questions that will help us to re-connect sin and salvation back to the Gospel. As Bates aptly phrases it, “What if God’s aim in seeking to save sinners is to rescue them for as much as to rescue from?”
As he should, Bates starts at the beginning in fleshing out God’s purposes for man. In Genesis chapter one, we see that God makes mankind in his image. There is much debate over the extent and content of the “imago dei”, but one aspect that is clear in Genesis 1:26-28 is that the image-bearing is directly related to God’s plan for mankind to rule, serve, and safeguard creation. This is a picture of what divine rule looks like; it is not tyrannical. It is authoritative, yet focused on serving and safeguarding the Kingdom over which it rules (see Mark 10:45).
What does this imaging rule by mankind do for God? Bates argues that our image-bearing “makes his glory present” to the world. The world encounters the glory of God through the images of God, living out their purpose in the Kingdom set before them. This is the inherent issue with idolatry. It is not that God does not want images, but that the images that God desires to represent Him and bring Him glory are not made of wood and stone, but are those fashioned by His words and hands.
So what does this have to do with sin and the Gospel? Simply put, when we sin, we rob God of His glory, and we set ourselves up as God. This means that sin is personal. We are separated from God in our transgressions and sins (see Ephesians 2:1). But sin is also social. It shames the community of God and robs God’s people of the opportunity to image God and give Him proper glory. Lastly, Bates highlights the cosmic consequences of sin. Romans 8:20 says that the “creation was subjected to frustration” as a result of sin. The Gospel, then, does not just give good news for the personal consequences of sin, but also for the social and cosmic issues as hand.
God’s image-bearers are marred. Those created to give God glory are now robbing Him of His glory, and exchanging it for personal idols. We routinely “fall short” of God’s glory. Bates argues that in this frustrating, broken, image-marred situation comes exactly what humanity needs; a “flawless human king who can restore God’s glory amid humanity’s brokenness”. Only then can creation “be ruled by humans properly again and God can receive the glory that is His due.”
Let’s circle back to where we started. Why is there a disconnect between the “salvation instructions” we often hear championed as the Gospel, and the “good news” as outlined in totality? It seems the answer lies in our desire to focus on ourselves, in effect missing the consequences of our sin on God’s greater plan for our image-bearing. God does want to make a way for you to be personally restored to fellowship with Him. But He also desires to restore humanity’s purpose as image-bearers who illuminate His glory to creation through ruling, safeguarding, and serving what has been given to them by God. As we will continue to unpack in chapter three, Jesus comes as a saving King to restore all of those things broken by sin; personal, social, and cosmic. It will take a human King who perfectly images God; who rules, serves, and safeguards, to restore you, me, and the whole world.