For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
The gospel has enemies; but sometimes it is underestimated by its friends.
In the T4G affirmations and denials (2006), they wrote:
We affirm that salvation is all of grace, and that the Gospel is revealed to us in doctrines that most faithfully exalt God’s sovereign purpose to save sinners and in His determination to save his redeemed people by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to His glory alone.
We deny that any teaching, theological system, or means of presenting the Gospel that denies the centrality of God’s grace as His gift of unmerited favor to sinners in Christ can be considered true doctrine.
We affirm that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s means of bringing salvation to His people, that sinners are commanded to believe the Gospel, and that the Church is commissioned to preach and teach the Gospel to all nations.
We deny that evangelism can be reduced to any program, technique, or marketing approach. We further deny that salvation can be separated from repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
We affirm that salvation comes to those who truly believe and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
We deny that there is salvation in any other name, or that saving faith can take any form other than conscious belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving acts.
These issues remain. Our churches must begin to look like gospel people. But first it has to be heard. And first it has to be articulated. And we dare not underestimate the power of the articulated gospel.
In Romans Paul makes the centrality of Christ and the universality of the gospel clear, revealed in both the OT and the NT. Christ’s death satisfies the wrath of God to demonstrate the justice of God. There’s no condemnation. In Romans 10, Paul is following Romans 9, quintessentially displaying the sovereignty of God. In Romans 10 we find the “machinery of salvation” (Spurgeon).
The Word Is Brought Near
We come to faith in Christ because the Word is brought near to us. He has spoken to us in his Son (Heb 1). First, it was brought near to Israel; they did not go to find the Torah—it was given to them. Now it is near to us. Life is in obedience; death is in disobedience. He’s writing to both Jews and Gentiles to whom the gospel has come near. It is now our sacred responsibility to bring it near to others. It is a Words that is words. The point is not the proximity of the gospel, but the hearing of the gospel, which requires articulation. Without articulation there is no salvation.
Rom. 10:8: it is a word of (i.e., leads to) faith. Hearing they believe, believing they confess, confessing they are saved.
The Power of the Gospel to Save
Here is the “well-meant offer of the gospel.” We are to preach the gospel to all persons everywhere; if they believe and confess they will be saved. Rom. 10:9-13: there is no footnote or asterisks or hypothetical. This is an unconditional, infallible promise, and it’s an unmistakable command. How do we know the elect? It’s because they believe and confess and are saved—and that requires the preaching of the gospel. The content of the gospel is in Rom. 10:9: confess with the lips that Jesus is Lord; believe in the heart that he was raised from the death. We should be promiscuous and undiscriminating in our preaching of the gospel. We are in the “sowing business”—not “soil management.” God bless the sowers who don’t get to see the harvest but are confident in the power of the gospel to save.
Rom 9:12—Paul makes the revolutionary statement that there is no distinction in terms of our need for the Savior and in the Savior’s provision. In the mystery of the sovereign purposes of God the word was brought near to us, we were called, we believed the gospel, we repented and confessed.
The Necessity of Articulating the Gospel
It is not brought near without words. It is multi-faceted, but most essentially it is verbal. The supposed comment of St. Francis of Assisi (preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary) sounds like we can bring the gospel near by being there, by being kind, being righteous, and being loving. These are signs of the gospel, but the gospel requires articulation. Whatever you’re doing when you’re not using words, you’re not preaching the gospel. You may be giving evidence of and witness to the gospel, but it still has to be taught and explained. The NT is replete with verbs showing the verbal nature of the gospel.
We certainly don’t want to reverse the Assisi-comment: we don’t want to preach the gospel without looking like gospel people. We must demonstrate the gospel. But we really can’t do much of importance without words. Most of what we do that is most important in like is dependent on words. Imagine trying to communicate the most important things of life without words. At least in part, the image of God involves reflecting the Creator in the use of words. Meaning requires orality.
See the important, soon-to-be-released study from Duane Litfin: Word versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance (Crossway, 2012). Gestures are important but words are required. We are saved as we hear the pattern of right words and confess that Jesus is Lord.
1 Thessalonians 2:13:
“And we also thank God constantly1 for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men2 but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
1 Corinthians 15:1-11:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
Without the preaching, there is no believing. God intended the power of the gospel to be demonstrated through the word of faith produces faith and confession.
We are also to persuade. We should be unapologetically conversionist.
The Berlin World Congress on Evangelism put forward this definition in 1966: “Evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel of the crucified and risen Christ, the only redeemer of men, according to the Scriptures, with the purpose of persuading condemned and lost sinners to put their trust in God by receiving and accepting Christ as Savior through the power of the Holy Spirit, and to serve Christ as Lord in every calling of life and in the fellowship of His Church, looking toward the day of His coming in glory.”
The gospel requires exclusivity and profession.
1974 Lausanne Congress: ” To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe. Our Christian presence in the world is indispensable to evangelism, and so is that kind of dialogue whose purpose is to listen sensitively in order to understand. But evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God. In issuing the gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship. Jesus still calls all who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and identify themselves with his new community. The results of evangelism include obedience to Christ, incorporation into his Church and responsible service in the world.
Christopher Wright says “the whole gospel” must be:
- a Christ-centred story to be told
- a hope-filled message to be proclaimed
- a revealed truth to be defended
- a new status to be received
- a transformed life to be lived
- a divine power to be celebrated.
We cannot teach or tell the gospel without words.