By Gary D. Erickson
There are two aspects of the gospel. First, is the work God has done for us and, second it is the work He has done in us.
The gospel is succinctly defined by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. According to this passage of Scripture, the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although the gospel has many ramifications, these three events define the “gospel in a nutshell.”
We should notice first of all that the gospel is the experience of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is historical in nature, recorded in the greatest history book in the world, the Holy Bible. It was a very physical event that involved great physical suffering, real blood, the agony of rejection, and the stark and frightening reality of death. The burial and embalming of the body of Jesus was a very literal event. The resurrection was a miraculous event and yet it is a physical and historical fact.
It is difficult for the human mind to comprehend the magnitude of what Jesus did at Calvary. The God of heaven came to earth, visiting fallen flesh and even becoming one of us, and then He laid down His human life for us. The gospel transcends every event in the annals of human history. No man in history has ever raised himself from the dead—only our Lord Jesus Christ. The work He did is complete. Forever the sin problem has been solved. We cannot add one thing to the perfect and complete work of our Savior. The work of Jesus is so entirely perfect that it is the very substance of the gospel. Our Christian experience is actually the “fruit of the gospel.” Regardless of the intensity of our own personal experience, the work of the Lord Jesus Christ surpasses it in magnitude. Without His work for us, we can expect no work to be done in us.
The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was vicarious in nature. He did not suffer for personal gain, but He suffered that we could have eternal life. The gospel is a beautiful picture of love and compassion. It is not just beautiful rhetoric full of careless promises and romantic nothings. Jesus proved His amazing love by submitting to the executioners when He could have defended Himself. “Greater love bath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
When considering the gospel, we must accept the objective work of the Lord for us. The gospel must be accepted as a historical fact on the basis of God’s Word. Even if there is no emotion when we first consider the gospel, we must make a deliberate decision of the will to believe and accept the work of Jesus as a complete work of redemption. This must provide a basis for any experience we receive. Subjective experience that does not stand on the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ is a spurious experience. Regardless of the religious fervor, it is still subject to the scrutiny of God’s Word. On that basis it stands or falls.
The second aspect of the gospel that we need to consider is God’s work in us. This initial work of regeneration, which gives us spiritual life, is the fruit of the work of Jesus. Without the redemptive act of our Savior, our experience could just be another sensation.
Everyone has had experiences of a mystical nature—a dream that came true an intuition that turned out to be valid, a sudden feeling of awe and wonder at nature, or a feeling so profound that it defies verbal description. All these unusual experiences are noteworthy, but the greatest of all experiences is the salvation experience. There is no act greater than the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our experience with Jesus Christ in applying and obeying the gospel should not take second place to any other phenomenon in our life.
Our salvation experience should be a reflection of Jesus’ experience. Jesus died, we must die. Jesus was buried, we must be buried. Jesus rose from the dead, we must rise from the dead.
The question may arise, “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked the same question in John 3. Jesus told Nicodemus he must be “born again:’ This ruler misunderstood Jesus to say that when a man is old he must return to his mother’s womb. But Jesus was speaking of a spiritual rebirth. “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
The three aspects of Jesus’ experience in the gospel story must be enacted in our experience, in a spiritual way. Our experience is an extension of His. His was historical and physical, ours is present and spiritual.
The three aspects of our obedience to the gospel are clearly defined in Acts 2, which describes the birth of the New Testament church. The 120 disciples of Christ who had been praying and waiting in an upper room in Jerusalem were gloriously filled with the Holy Spirit, accompanied by the initial sign of speaking in other tongues.
Since it was the Day of Pentecost (the fiftieth day after Passover), many Jews from different parts of the world were there. As they began to hear and see this mighty outpouring of God’s Spirit, a curious crowd soon gathered.
Peter took advantage of the occasion and began to preach the gospel—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:23-24). After he preached the gospel to them, they were pricked in their hearts and asked, “What shall we do?” (They believed the gospel message or they would have never asked this question.) Then Peter told them what to do to obey the gospel.
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).
This passage identifies the three steps in obeying the gospel: repentance, water baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost. This message is beautifully confirmed in Romans.
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4)
These and other scriptural references explain very explicitly how to obey the gospel. We die with Christ in a spiritual sense by submitting our will to God and by allowing the old man (the sinful lifestyle) to die. This is repentance. We are then buried with the Lord by baptism, which is a symbolic burial of the old man after he is dead. We are immersed in water to signify the burial. The name of Jesus Christ is also used as the formula, since we are “buried with him in baptism” (Romans 6:4). The Father was not buried, neither was the Holy Ghost. The Father or the Holy Ghost never died. It was Jesus Christ in the flesh who died. It was also the Lord Jesus Christ who rose again from the dead. If we die with Him by repenting of our sins and if we are buried with Him by baptism, we will rise with Him in newness of life by receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
Our experience in obeying the gospel definitely entails subjective involvement. Repentance is an emotionally moving encounter. It brings sorrow and regret for past rebellion and indifference to God, great peace to the spirit when the death to self is complete. It is a great relief to confess our sins to God and place our lives in His hands. The sweetness of surrender is overwhelming.
Baptism requires physical involvement. We go down into the water to bury the old nature and we experience abundant joy as we realize our sins are remitted. The baptism of the Holy Ghost is the culmination. At that experience, God replaces the death we have died with His life, and we become new creatures. It is more than the bland, unemotional experience some are told to be satisfied with.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).
Our experience in the gospel is not complete at this point, however. The work done for us in the Lord Jesus is sufficient and complete, but the work He is doing in us is a perpetual work of developing us to maturity. The new birth experience is only the beginning.
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18). As important as the initial experience is, it is not the conclusion. It is the foundation upon which a Christian life is built.
The above article, “The Gospel For Us and In Us” is written by Gary D. Erickson. The article was excerpted from chapter two of Erickson’s book The Conversion Experience.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.