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The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Anyone who places their faith in Him is forgiven their sins, reconciled to God, and receives the gift of eternal life (Jn. 3:16). Paul describes the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as being about the substitutionary atonement of Christ on our behalf, through His life, death, burial, and resurrection from the dead. People are justified before God when they place their faith in the risen Christ who died on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for sin (Rom. 3:25; 1 Jn. 2:2; 4:10). There is no other sacrifice that is worthy to take away the sins of a person.
In this way, the gospel is fundamental to initiating the relationship between a person and God. The biblical and theological word used for this is justification (Rom. 4:25; 5:16; 5:18). Justification refers to our being declared righteous before God through Christ. Romans 5:18 and 19 says, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” ESV
The legal declaration of our righteousness, however, does not mean that we are presently without sin. The process of conforming us to the image of Christ is called sanctification. It is ongoing in the life of a believer until they die or Christ returns.
This article seeks to demonstrate that the gospel not only has bearing on our justification, but also on our sanctification.
The Gospel in Sanctification
The Greek word for sanctification in the New Testament, hagiasmos, is used 10 times and is translated either as “sanctification” or “holiness” depending on the context. The verb from the same root, hagiazō, is used 28 times and means “to be/make holy”. This word carries the idea of being set apart and devoted, or consecrated, for a specific purpose. In the Christian life, we are set apart for the purpose of being God’s people who grow in the likeness of Christ as we follow him.
While we are declared righteous and set apart as holy when we place our faith in Christ, we need to deal with the ongoing presence and power of sin in our lives. The gospel helps us become what we already are in Christ.
In the popular Disney animation, The Lion King, Simba the lion cub has fled his home after he was made to feel responsible for the death of his father Mufasa, the King of the Pride. After a long period of time Rafiki the wise baboon realizes that Simba is alive and he goes off to look for him. When he finds Simba he tries to convince him to come back to be the king he was meant to be. When Simba refuses Rafiki shows him a vision of his father Mufasa. As Simba looks up into the night sky he sees his father in the stars. His father urges him to go back to reclaim his kingdom saying these powerful words, “You are more than what you have become.” This illustrates for us the Biblical truth that we are a holy people, justified through Christ; and we are being made into what we are through the process of sanctification.
Sanctification is primarily a work of God (1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 2:11) but it does involve our obedience (1 Thess. 4:3, 4, 7; Heb. 12:14). Romans 8:12, 13 summarizes well how the believer and the Holy Spirit are both involved in sanctification. Paul writes, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (ESV)
How does the gospel help us in our sanctification? Let me show you the importance of the gospel in the ongoing growth and maturity of a believer as they live in obedience to the Word.
The gospel reminds us daily that we could not save ourselves. The pride which plunged us into rebellion and sin in the first place continues to rear its ugly head causing us to boast in our own righteousness, as though we somehow earned God’s favour. The message of the cross though, demonstrates that God did not choose us because we were something special, but purely based on His sovereign and gracious will (1 Cor. 1:26 – 31). Daily meditation on the gospel brings forth the fruit of humility in our lives.
There is an interesting account of a “sinful” woman who finds Jesus at the home of Simon the Pharisee (Lk. 7:36 – 50). She comes up to Jesus and falls at feet, wiping his feet with her hair and anointing Him with expensive ointment. The Pharisee was indignant of her actions, but Jesus says in Luke 7:47, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
The gospel teaches us to live in gratitude to God every single day of our lives. In a world that is characterized by ingratitude, we as Christians ought to be filled with gratitude, because the gospel shows us that everything we have is a gracious gift from God.
The gospel has a tremendous bearing on our relationships. In Ephesians 4:32 Paul writes, “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The gospel is a daily reminder of how much we have been forgiven and therefore how much we ought to forgive other people. The cross reveals the horrific reality of our sins and what Christ was willing to endure for our forgiveness. If He has forgiven us all our sins, then we ought to extend the same grace to other people. We need the gospel daily to live graciously with one another.
John in his letter writes a beautiful section about love in 1 John 4:7–21. He begins by talking to us about God’s love which was made manifest when He sent His Son to be the “propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10). He then goes on to say in verse 11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
The message of the cross is a message of how much God has loved us and the great cost He was willing to pay to show us His love. The Christian has no excuse to be unloving toward other people, having experienced such great love themselves.
In urging the Corinthian church to practice generosity in giving, the apostle Paul reminds them of Christ’s generosity toward them. He writes in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” The gospel teaches us generosity, through the example of Christ’s own generosity toward us. We ought to be cheerful givers (2 Cor. 9:7).
If God has forgiven us our sins (in justification), do we really need to try and live holy lives? The apostle answers that with a rhetorical question in Romans 6:2b saying, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” We died to sin through the cross when Christ died; when He was raised, we were raised to a newness of life (Rom. 6:4). In Romans 7:4 Paul continues this thought by teaching us that we now belong to Christ, “in order that we may bear fruit for God.” The gospel reminds us daily that we do not belong to ourselves and neither are we obligated to our sinful flesh (Rom. 8:12). We belong to God and the life we live in holiness is for His glory and honour.
Most people live quiet lives of despair because there is nothing in the world that gives them hope of lasting change. Paul even writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” And if we are still in our sins, then we have no hope of resurrection to eternal life. However, Paul goes on to say in verse 20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The word ‘firstfruits’ simply means, the first of many to come. In other words, the resurrection of believers and the new creation is guaranteed because Christ rose from the dead. Christians can live daily with the hope of lasting change, individually and cosmically.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” He goes on to speak of his role as an ambassador for Christ, calling people to be reconciled to God. The gospel compels us to take up the ministry of reconciliation, urging people to be reconciled to God through Christ Jesus.
Much more can be written about the ongoing significance of the gospel in the life of a Christian. Hopefully, these points give you an idea of why Christians need to meditate on the gospel of Christ daily. Through the gospel, the veil that blinds us to God has been removed. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” When we meditate on the character of God as revealed in the gospel of Christ, we are changed into what we are meant to be.