Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gospel of God vs Gospel of Man

"We cannot escape our destiny nor should we try to do so.  The leadership of the free world was thrust upon us two centuries ago in that little hall of Philadelphia.  In the days following World War II, when the economic strength and power of America was all that stood between the world and the return to the Dark Ages, Pope Pius XII said, "The American people have a genius for splendid and unselfish actions.  Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind."  We are indeed, we are today, the last best hope of man on earth."
-- Ronald Reagan, The Shining City Upon a Hill, 01/24/74

How many times have we heard lines like the one above from U.S. Presidents?  I remember the first time it really struck me.  I was sitting on the couch in my shared apartment in Silver Spring, MD during the 2000 presidential election season.  I heard George W. Bush say something like, "America is the greatest force for good in the world".  My friend who I was living with at the time was not a Christian, nor was he a U.S. citizen.  It struck him as a bold comment to make.  I was wondering, "Isn't the Church the greatest force for good in the world?"

But today, I'm pretty sure that both candidate Bush and I were wrong.  America isn't "the greatest force for good in the world".    Neither is the church.  Nor is it free elections, a laptop for every child, universal healthcare, reversing global warming, the free market, a return to traditional values, etc.  All modern U.S. presidents at one time or other have put forth some grand statement that puts individual freedom, international cooperation, or America itself as "the greatest force for good.  So what's the right answer?  It's the gospel.

But which one?

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son Who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of God in power the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 1:1-4

We all know that the word gospel means, "good news" and many have heard that the Greek word itself is euangelion.  But what many don't realize is that the first century readers of the New Testament would have recognized euangelion or gospel from a completely different context: Roman imperialism.  Yes, the term was a familiar one that would have indicated any of the following among other things:

1.  Yet another victory for Caesar or his agent over a military enemy or new conquest
2.  The arrival of Caesar to your hometown or region
3.  The crowning of a new emperor which would mean that the previous Caesar was now divine

So the gospel of Rome was fully and firmly founded in the faith that her emperor was godlike and had power to not only preserve the empire, but to extend it.  And that extension was certainly for the greater glory of Rome to be sure.  However, it was also for the betterment of mankind.  You see, the Romans saw other peoples as barbarians and savages who needed to be conquered so that they could learn the ways of enlightened Rome.  Sound like anything you've heard over the years?

Caesar Augustus, who had one of the longest and most peaceful reigns over the empire had coins with his face and this inscriptions on those coins like:  The Savior of the World, Augustus- Son of God, Salvation is in no Other Name, etc.  When you compare this to Acts 4:12, you come to some shocking conclusions about the counter-cultural, in-your-face nature of the Apostles' preaching and teaching.

So this isn't just about Rome and the USA- but the truth is that every nation, has a "gospel".  The goals of every administration in government and the platform of every political party- all of them are announcing what they believe is good news for all people.  It's the gospel of the City of Man- humans and the nations they build are exalted above and independent of the sovereign God- the only true God.  They may never say so openly, but what else can we conclude when national leaders point to their country as "the greatest force for good"?  Oh yes, be assured that the City of Man speaks of god, but it's a god who helps them, serves their purposes, and never rebukes but always rewards the City of Man with divine "blessings".

But Paul brought forth a totally different gospel.  It's not the gospel of Rome, not Caesar's gospel, not the gospel of Athens and Greek wisdom, not even the gospel of Moses and the law- but the gospel of God.  And that gospel is not without a King.  It is completely consumed with Christ- the true Israel and thus, the true Son of God.  Eternally existing in the form of God but born as a man and now revealed as divine via resurrection.  This King also conquered-- not by killing others, but by dying to self and denying His rights.  He was glorious but lived for the glory of another- His Father.  He was ruler of all but came not to be served, but to serve for the benefit of His servants.

That's good news!

The gospel in our Christian usage has simply swallowed up the Roman version of it.  And no wonder, for it is the Father's announcement entrusted to believers to declare the rulership of Christ over sin and death via the cross and now among His people/Bride, through the Holy Spirit.  Think about what kind of boldness was necessary for Paul to write a letter to believers living in Rome- the very heart of the empire- announcing the gospel of God, not the gospel of Caesar.  What are the implications for believers... especially those living in capital cities today?

In closing, I know it's Election Day 2012.  And I'm not here to diminish what goodness there is in the relatively peaceful transition of power that takes place every four years in this country.  It is, in fact, something to celebrate.  As one who has lived overseas, I have a very special appreciation for this aspect of American living.  But I do want to encourage you to consider how important it is not to be deceived into embracing Americanism, one-world globalism, the world is getting better through scientific advancement-ism, we can solve our problems by working together-ism, etc. as the "gospel" of what will make the world better.  The promises (electoral or otherwise) made by the City of Man may be well-intended but are ultimately empty and doomed to failure.  It is the City of God that we look to as the "best hope of man on earth".  


  1. I was going to ask you how the church isn't the greatest force for good in the world, but I think I have reasoned an answer. I truly feel that a huge issue with the City of Man is the definition of "good". Every man has a different opinion on what "good" is and thinks their version is the right one. Al Qaeda thought/thinks that it was "good" to terrorize America. I myself am a Christian and have ways and think things that seem good to me (Proverbs 21:2). So in a like manner, churches have ways that seem right and good to them. How do you think we (as a body of Christ) can come together to propel the only true force for good? Also, I am scared for America's future based upon America's version of "good". So what do you feel we as believers can do and obligated to not be silent but demostrate the gospel in love?

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Isaiah. I don't think that the Church is the greatest force for good b/c I have come to the conclusion that the gospel birthed the Church and not the other way around. The people of God or Church are those who are called to advance the kingdom of God but this is done by the proclamation of the gospel message which includes teaching ALL that Christ commanded. I would be the first to say that the gospel transforms us and then we transform the world under the guidance of the scriptures and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. But so that no one might think that I am exalting Christians over Muslims or Hindus or any other group, I say the greatest force is the gospel. After all, it's not about us.

  3. To continue the thought briefly, I think that if we agree that the gospel itself and not the church is that greatest force, we also ensure that the gospel defines what is "good" and not we ourselves. But when God grants repentance and we believe the gospel, embracing Christ fully, we do and say all kinds of good things that glorify our Father in Heaven.

  4. Its amazing how the epistles intentionally flip every aspect of t roman patriotism to a advancing and proclamation of the Risen Savior and his kingdom. The more I grow in my walk with the Lord the more I see how almost everything that is promoted around me and by others is in direct conflict with the what Christ teaches.Its inevitable that what believers hold to(believers who believe in sound doctrine) will cuase us to be distinct form the world we live in and the culture as well.Even though its annoying at times .. its biblical.. we are called to be set apart from this age....

  5. Thanks Ben... our hearts are easily misled and as Calvin said, "The human heart is a factory of idols". So many of us have turned to the gods of political liberation, national glory, and cultural expression. All this is for naught as the only true deliverance is in the LORD. http://bible.cc/jonah/2-9.htm Until Christ returns, may we be found faithful to proclaim the glories of Christ and none other.

  6. Bro. Eric, this was an awesome article. A big part of effective exegesis and proper hermeneutics is seeking to understand the authorial intent while understanding the situation(s) surrounding the composition of the epistle to the Romans. With that said, the Apostle Paul, in composing the book of Romans was competing with the affluent cultural mindset and ideologies of his day, which you do an excellent job in pointing out. I'm reminded of another scripture in 2 Corinthians 10:5 "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Paul's preaching of the gospel of God was so radical in his day that the gospel spread like a wild fire because it totally went against the grain of that cultures ideologies and wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). Fast forwarding to today I believe the believers of today must wrestle with at least to main problems: the ghost of the past challenges that Paul had in sharing the gospel with his culture, in addition to a “new” wind of doctrine that has been uniquely focused, formed, and formulated for today’s society. The former being that nothing has changed in regards to the relevance of scripture and man’s devolution into sin. As Tozer says "the message of the gospel must be both timely and timeless." In other words, we are a different people, time, place and culture but share the same underlying sin problems as our predecessors once did in regards to abandoning God to pursue our own capricious fancies. Romans 1 among other things pinpoints the degradation of mankind when one stops acknowledging God, naturally becoming ungrateful, and turning inward to assume the role of God in one's life, or outward, to nature and creation instead of upward to the divine. Because we live in an iniquitous cesspool, we naturally progress into what Voddie Baucham calls "religious relativism", This is the later that I believe is unique to our culture. Not that the idea originated during this time, only that it has never been more organized and supported as today(please follow link, it is lengthy but does well to drive my point home http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MZuxy4FFQQ.) The idea that Christianity is discarded easily into a religious junk pile with other mainstream religions and that all one has to do is play a spiritual “pick a card” game, because all religions lead to the same thing, is impudent and erroneously asinine; as Romans says (paraphrased) “these very things bring about the wrath of God.” This is the fight our generation must face. We must preach the pure unadulterated gospel of God.

    Derek C. Walker

  7. I agree completely Ben. Every thing that Romans says is counter-intuitive to what the prominent culture of the day was preaching. This is why we that are believer must be even more adamant today than even Paul was in his day. Because the cultural influence has exponentially increased across the world and there are many version of the "gospel" being preached.

    Derek C. Walker