In this article I want to offer one more line of evidence regarding the royal overtones of the gospel, and then I want to draw out the practical implications of this understanding. Previously we have looked at this term in its ancient Greco-Roman context, its Old Testament context, and in conjunction with the content of the four gospels themselves. Let’s extend the argument by looking at the Book of Acts.
“Gospeling” in the Book of Acts
When the apostles and other inspired teachers preached the gospel (“gospeled”), their focus was on the lordship of Jesus, His status as Messiah, or Christ. Just take a moment to survey the major sermons recorded in Acts, analyzing them in terms of the salient features of the gospel delineated in Paul’s own summary in Romans 1:1-4:
- The gospel is the fulfillment of the promises found in the story of the Old Testament.
- The gospel is centered on the declaration that Jesus is King (or “Lord” or “Christ” or “Son of God”).
- The gospel is validated by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Whether you read Peter’s sermon on Pentecost in Acts 2, or Paul’s sermon in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13, the gist of the message is the same. Consider Peter’s presentation to the household of Cornelius:
As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:36-43).
There you have it: the announcement that Jesus is “Lord of all”; the royal actions of Jesus as a miracle worker and deliverer; His death and resurrection; and all of this in keeping with the Old Testament – “to him all the prophets bear witness.” This is the gospel.
While it may be easy for us to overlook the primary import of this term, those who lived in the world of the first century understood very clearly what the apostles were claiming when they “gospeled.” Even the rabble in Thessalonica got the point: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).
The Implications of How We Define “Gospel”
Now let me explain what I meant at the start of the series when I said that failure to grasp this point is at the heart of the greatest problem facing Christians and congregations today. Until these Scriptures came together for me, my concept of the gospel was very self-centered. I thought of it as God’s plan to save me from my sins, or in terms of the “plan of salvation” (hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized). The gospel was either what God has done for me, or what I need to do to be saved, but either way it was very self-centered. In contrast the New Testament is very clear that the gospel is about Jesus, and especially about Jesus’ position as King.
Please don’t misunderstand. Does the fact that Jesus is King have anything to do with my salvation? Absolutely – the angel told Joseph that Jesus would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). And does the gospel say anything regarding the connection between Jesus the King and faith, repentance and baptism? The Great Commission makes this connection explicit (Matthew 28:18-20). In fact, as prominent New Testament scholar, Scot McKnight, has observed:
One of the most important contributions that Acts makes to gospeling is the how – for it is in these sermons that we see how the apostles called people to respond. And they are consistent: to participate in the Story of Jesus the apostles called people to believe, to repent, and to be baptized. I would contend that there is no such thing as gospeling that does not include the summons to respond in faith, repentance, and baptism. (The King Jesus Gospel, p. 127)
So yes the good news that Jesus is King also includes the wonderful news that the King died to save me, and it includes the invitation to believe, repent, and be baptized. But in my experience, I think I have seen many people (myself included) reduce the gospel until it is nothing more than the “plan of salvation,” completely ignoring the central contention that Jesus is King. Such an incomplete view of the gospel can lead people to think that as long as they’ve been baptized they’ve “obeyed the gospel,” without ever surrendering their lives to the authority of Jesus.
And this is the major problem we face today – people in pews who can say they have been baptized, but have little if any concept of living a life of obedient discipleship under the reign of King Jesus. And when the gospel is distorted from the Christ-centered proclamation that Jesus is King to a self-centered story of what God has done for me, is it any surprise that Christianity in general becomes self-centered, and that fed by our very consumer-driven society, churchgoers turn into consumers of goods and services rather than servants of a King?
A local church is supposed to be a beachhead of the kingdom of God in a hostile world, demonstrating submission to the reign of Christ and summoning the world to serve its true Lord. We’re not in churches to get good customer service – we are supposed to be devoted to the King’s service! But such a spirit can only exist when we understand that the gospel we have obeyed and the gospel that we preach is “the gospel of the kingdom.”