PAPER NO. 56
THE GOSPEL: A SUMMARY WITH EXPLANATION
Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand
- Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
- He comes in the place of Adam to undo what Adam did and to do what Adam failed to do.
- He is the Word of God (the Logos) incarnate, Truth in its fullness who makes God known.
- Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever, in all that by which he makes himself known, in all his works of creation and providence.
Man is to fill the earth with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.
- Yet all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. No one seeks God; no one understands; no one is righteous, not even one.
- Root sin leads to fruit sin: not seeking and not understanding what is clear about God is without excuse and leads to all acts of unrighteousness.
- The Word of God calls all men to repent of root sin and to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness in all relationships of life.
The Lamb of God is a central theme through all of Scripture.
- Slain from before the foundation of the world.
- Revealed in the coats of skin by which God covered the spiritual nakedness and shame of our first parents in the Garden.
- In the sacrifice offered by Abel, Noah, and by Abraham offering up his son, his only son Isaac.
- In the Passover lamb.
- In the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement.
- In the prophets: Isaiah 53—But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was pierced for our iniquities.
- By John pointing to Christ: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
- By Christ in the Eucharist, in fulfillment of the Passover: this is my body . . . this is my blood.
- In the Church’s worship of the One who reigns in history: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.
- In the consummation of history in the marriage supper of the Lamb, in the full union of Christ and his people forever.
He comes in the place of Adam.
- God made a covenant with Adam to establish all of mankind in righteousness.
- In that covenant Adam represented all men; he was tested regarding his pursuit of good over evil; his obedience was to be made manifested in not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
- In the temptation Adam disobeyed and all mankind fell with him. By covenant representation his guilt is imputed to all in him.
- Christ in the place of Adam obeyed, even unto his death on the cross.
- Our sin is imputed to Christ on the cross and the righteousness of his obedience is imputed to all united to him by faith.
Thus, Christ undid what Adam did: he took away our sin by his death on the cross and his righteousness is imputed to us by the covenant.
- Made in the image of God, Adam was given the task of dominion; he was told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.
- By dominion, requiring all of mankind through all of history, he was to name the creation and rule over it. Naming the natural world is the task of science; ruling over it is the task of technology. Naming the realities of the human world is the task of the humanities; ruling over it is the task of all forms of the arts of human culture.
- The full expression of the work of dominion was to result in the highest expression of human civilization embodied in the City of God.
- Christ, in the place of Adam, calls his people to make disciples of all nations. Discipleship begins with baptism, on the basis of which all nations are taught to obey the law of God in all of life.
- Christ subdues all things to himself through his people. All thoughts raised up against the knowledge of God are taken captive. He fills the earth with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.
The Word of God.
- God makes himself known through his Word. There is no direct knowledge of God apart from his Word.
- The Word of God is eternal; it is eternally of God and with God. And the Word is God, the eternal Son who makes God known (John 1:1).
- The Word of God makes God known through his works of creation and providence. All things were made by him (John 1:3) and by him all things consist (Colossians 1:17). In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). He ascended far above all heavens that he might fill everything in every way (Ephesians 4:10).
- In him (the Logos, the Word of God) was life, and the life was the light of men who are made in the image of God (John 1:4). The life of the Logos is in all men as light, by which they see/understand what is clear about God. That light by which we understand is reason. Fallen man turns from the light, but the darkness cannot overcome or withstand the light (John 1:5).
- The Logos is revealed in the creation and is the object of study in biology, psychology, epistemology and all academic disciplines. Yet man fails to see what is clear (John 1:10).
- The Logos comes to God’s people in history through the prophets, yet that Word was not heeded (John 1:11).
- The eternal Word of God, rejected as reason in clear general revelation and in special revelation, became incarnate in Jesus the Christ, full of Grace and truth, to take away the sin of the world and to make God known (John 1:14).
- Christ sends the Holy Spirit to lead the Church into all Truth. In response to challenges to the faith, after much discussion, the pastor-teachers come to agreement summed up in the Church’s Creeds and Confessions. This historically cumulative insight is the holy catholic and apostolic faith, the basis of the unity of the faith for all who believe.
- The Holy Spirit brings each believer to faith through regeneration, which restores a person to the life of the Logos, working conviction of sin and death, repentance and faith by which that person is justified before God.
- The Holy Spirit sanctifies each believer through knowing the truth. The Word of God (the Logos) is Truth in its fullness. Through suffering in trials of faith believers are led to seek and understand what is clear about God.
Man’s chief end.
- Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever (SCQ 1). If one does not glorify God, one cannot enjoy God. And the emptiness of enjoying the world in place of God leads to all excess of unrighteousness.
- God is to be glorified in all that by which he makes himself known (SCQ 101), in all his works of creation and providence (WCF 4.1; 5.1). To glorify God is to know the glory of God and to make his glory known.
- The good is clear to reason: the good for man as a rational being is the knowledge of God. It is the same as man’s chief end. Virtue is the means to the good. Happiness is the effect of possessing the good. Eternal life, the highest good, the end in itself, is knowing God.
- Man is to glorify God through the work of dominion. It requires all of mankind through all of history to complete the work of dominion.
- The good, manifest in the Kingdom of God which is the City of God, is corporate, cumulative and communal: it requires the unity of mankind in all aspects of man’s diversity to complete the work of dominion.
- The Sabbath, the day of rest, is the sign of hope that man will complete the work of dominion and rest from that work.
- The work of man without the good is empty. The city of man has no foundation. The good without work is false hope. There is no beatific vision of God in heaven; God is known only through his Word.
- God has a zeal for his own glory: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of the glory of God (Isaiah 6:3).
- In exercising dominion through a spiritual war, the Church is to demolish arguments and every pretension raised up against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to Jesus Christ.
- Christ now rules to make God known. He must rule until all has been subdued to him. He will rule through his people until the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
All have sinned.
- All have sinned by coming short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is a denial of man’s chief end, the good, eternal life as knowing God. This is the most concise, focused summary of what sin is.
- Sin is an act contrary to one’s nature as a rational being. By nature we think and reason in itself is the laws of thought. What may be known about God is clear to reason, being understood by what is made so that unbelief is without excuse (Romans 1:20). It is to neglect, avoid, resist and deny reason in the face of what is clear about God.
- Sin begins in not seeking God. He that comes to God must believe that he is and that he rewards those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Yet no one seeks God, no one understands, no one is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10-11).
- Sin is unbelief, not just an outward act. The fool says in his heart there surely is no God. Or, God does not act in history. Or, God is not infinite, eternal and unchangeable in both justice and mercy. Or, there is no historically cumulative insight in the Creeds of the Church, always progressing subjectively from neglect to denial.
- Sin is autonomy: putting oneself in the place of God to determine good and evil; being a law unto oneself; doing what is right in one’s own eyes. It is contrary in spirit to Christ who said: “not my will but your will be done”; “deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me.”
- Sin is any want of conformity or transgression of the law of God. The law, summed up in the Decalogue, is written on the hearts of all (clear); it is broad and deep (comprehensive). The consequence of obedience is a matter of life or death, individually and culturally (critical). It is opposed to the antinomy of legalism (virtue as/or without the good) and antinomianism (pleasure/happiness is the good). It is not general and abstract but comes to concrete expression in precepts, statutes and ordinances, all aimed at the Kingdom of God and the knowledge of God.
- Sin is in human nature being fallen in Adam. We are conceived in sin and go astray from the womb (Psalm 51). From the guilt of original sin imputed to all proceeds all actual transgression. (But where sin abounded—in Adam, grace did much more abound—in Christ).
- The wages of sin is death. There are two kinds of death: physical and spiritual (John 11:25-26). The wages of sin is spiritual (not physical) death, which is present and inherent in sin (Ephesians 2:1), not future and imposed. The lake of fire is figuratively the second (or spiritual) death (Revelation 20:6, 14).
- The spiritual death inherent in the sin of not seeking and not understanding is meaninglessness (the darkened mind, pictured as outer darkness), boredom (burning desire without satisfaction, pictured as the fire that is not quenched) and guilt (the torment of conscience, pictured as the gnawing worm that does not die); all of which is unending, pictured as the bottomless pit.
- All have sinned in that all die physically. All are under the curse of toil and strife and old age, sickness and (physical) death. The curse is imposed by God to restrain, recall from and remove moral evil (the sin of not seeking and not understanding). It is God’s third and final call back from, not only sin, but self-deception and self-justification. This call back is mercy and is always (to be) given with the promise of redemption.
Root sin and fruit sin.
- Sin is both root sin and fruit sin. Root sin leads to fruit sin. Root sin is seldom recognized. Fruit sin, manifest in doing what is not right, is what is noticed. (By their fruits you shall know them). Yet without removing root sin, fruit sin will remain or recur.
- Root sin is universal; it is one and the same in all: no one seeks God; no one understands; no one does what is right, not even one (Romans 3:10-11).
- Not seeking and not understanding leads to any and all fruit sin of unrighteousness. The root sin of not understanding is culpable ignorance; it cannot be excused but requires forgiveness: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
- General revelation concerning God and man and good and evil is objectively clear. It is clear to reason by which we understand. In every age, understanding is by seeking, not requiring one or many “great teachers” in history. Understanding is by seeking, not by spontaneous intuitive knowledge (sensus divinitatis). If we understand God and man we can understand (have rational justification for) good and evil. To lose rational justification based in metaphysics is to (eventually) lose ethics (as in the Enlightenment).
- It is the objective clarity of general revelation that makes unbelief inexcusable. If there is no clarity and inexcusability, then there can be no sin and no Christianity in which Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
- The one who comes to God must believe (with understanding) that he exists and that he rewards (with understanding) those who diligently seek him. Failure to see what is clear about God (his eternal power and divine nature) shows that one is not seeking. If we see (know/understand) what is clear, we can show what is clear.
- The root sin of not seeking and not understanding what is clear remains because the shame and guilt of its inexcusability is avoided by self-deception and resisted by self-justification. In pride we think we know. Professing oneself to be wise one becomes a fool.
- The Word of God (the Logos) makes God known in every way. It begins with reason and general revelation before redemption in special revelation. Clarity and inexcusability is the cornerstone of the foundation. By it all else comes into place. The stone which the builders rejected is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalm 118:22-23).
- There are degrees of sin in both root and fruit sin. The degree depends on the amount of light one has (or claims) and the nature of the sin (omission or commission). All have sinned but not all are blameless. Teachers are blameless only if they hold fast to the first principles (the foundation from clear general revelation, from the worldview of Scripture and from the historic Christian faith).
- The best of men have root sin remaining: Job: now my eyes see you, wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:5-6); David: you desire truth in the inward parts . . . wash me and I shall be whiter than snow (Psalm 51:6-7); Christ reproving the unbelief of the Apostles: O fools, and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and (then) to enter into his glory? (Luke 24:25-26).
Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
- The Word of God calls all men everywhere to repent that they may enter the kingdom of God. To repent is to change one’s mind of the sin of unbelief regarding the truth of God. All men are to repent of the root sin of not seeking and understanding what is clear about God and to pursue the good in the kingdom of God.
- Repentance is based on the conviction of one’s own sin and death, which originates in the grace of regeneration (spiritual rebirth). Repentance acknowledges the justice of God, which would leave a person to perish in the unending miseries of sin and spiritual death. It apprehends also the mercy of God in the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God.
- Repentance begins when one confesses one’s guilt and helplessness as a sinner against God and seeks mercy offered by God in the gospel concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God incarnate. The prayer attitude of the repentant is summed up in the words: Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner.
- Sin must be confessed particularly: if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The commandments guide confession of sin both root and fruit, both omission and commission, both inward thought and outward act. Confession of sin is only to those whom we sin against (God and man).
- We sin in not seeking and understanding what is clear about God: we take God’s name in vain in that we lightly and thoughtlessly disregard God’s self-revelation in creation, in history, in Scripture. We are in self-deception (hypocrisy—Moral Law 3): we think and say we seek, but we do not know and acknowledge what is clear (Moral Law 1); instead we misconceive of God’s nature in every form of idolatry through world history (Moral Law 2). Root sin results in every form of fruit sin/unrighteousness.
- In the forgiveness of sin Christ represents us in the place of Adam. Adam’s sin is imputed to all in him. Our sin is imputed to Christ who bears the penalty of our sins in his death on the cross, on which basis our debt is forgiven. And Christ’s righteousness is imputed to those in him by faith.
- Forgiveness and cleansing are distinct but inseparable. (Justification is not sanctification and vice versa). Sanctify them through thy Truth. Thy Word (logos) is Truth (John 17:17). Knowing truth in its fullness (from foundation to worldview) sanctifies. Knowing the truth requires discipline (through the Church and through trials of faith).
- The Kingdom of God is Christ’s rule over his people in all the relationships of life. All who have repented and believed in Christ are the people of God, the body of Christ, the Church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth and is the kingdom of God on earth. The Church is the salt of the earth and the light of the world as it obeys Christ. In repenting, believers are called to seek first (before all else) the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, the goal of which is to glorify God in all that by which he makes himself known.
- The Church today is badly divided. It has not built on its first principle but is compromised by worldly first principles. Its teachers, without its philosophical, theological and historical foundations is unable to disciple its members, who in turn are to make disciples of all nations. Seeking first the kingdom of God requires first that the Church become established on its foundations.
- God has appointed Christ to rule. The Scriptures, when read contextually and not literally or allegorically, and while acknowledging the full extent of human sin, bursts throughout with the hope that Christ, in his present rule through his people, will subdue all things to himself until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of the Lord and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever (so let it be!).
The message of the gospel is therefore: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.