Paul when he wrote to the Galatian church exclaimed, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse” (Gal 1:6–9)!
Notice that there is only one gospel and no one, not the apostles (who were the first witnesses and bearers of this gospel) not even Paul himself, could change it. So, this should be the first point to register in our mind—there is only one gospel and it is sealed forever.
So then, what is the gospel? Paul clearly expounds it in 1 Corinthians 15:1–5: “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.”
Theologian A W Pink cautioned, “As Christ has a Gospel, Satan has a gospel too; the latter being a clever counterfeit of the former. So closely does the gospel of Satan resemble that which it parades, multitudes of the unsaved are deceived by it.”
There is only one gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. This is the only gospel by which we can be saved. There should be no ambiguity about it. There is no ‘gospel of salvation’ or ‘gospel of the kingdom’. There is only one gospel. Surely there is also no ‘prosperity gospel’ neither is there a ‘poverty gospel’—either would amount to making the gospel about materialistic values. There is only one gospel for the rich, the poor and the middle class. As much as the happy rich pagan, the poor also need to hear the gospel of salvation.
Unto good works
While the Bible clearly teaches us to be concerned for the poor, the downtrodden and those on the fringes, socially or culturally; we don’t need to distort the gospel to bring this emphasis. But unfortunately, these days, maybe with right motives, there is confusion created by teachers, who ignore the whole counsel of God and propagate the social gospel. This was the original error of the liberals in the church, who ended up forgetting the gospel and only having a concern for social issues such as poverty and injustice; and slowly slipped Jesus out of the picture.
Now, where does our responsibility for those on the fringes of society figure, in the gospel? Again, Paul clarifies that we are saved by faith unto good works that Christ has prepared for us (Eph 2:8–10). So, when we are (a) saved, the Holy Spirit leads us to (b) meet needs in society, whether they be physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. It is not ‘a’ versus ‘b’. It is ‘a’ leading to ‘b’. Yes, there is danger in thinking that salvation is only ‘a’. But, on the other hand, if we have only ‘b’, we just have the social gospel left.
We cannot and should not pit one against the other. This is how the liberals got to where they are. They did not hold on to the scriptural relationship between being ‘saved’ and ‘meeting needs’ and ended up in good works without the historical Jesus. In reality, many liberals do not even have the good works. They are just holding together institutions without any life in them; ending up in leaving behind both the gospel and also genuine concern for social and economic outcasts.
In the words of Christian thinker and author Josh McDowell, “Wherever Jesus has been proclaimed, we see lives change for the good, nations change for the better, thieves become honest, alcoholics become sober, hateful individuals become channels of love, unjust persons embrace justice.”
Then, what is the relationship between the gospel and the kingdom of God? Are they two different things? We see Jesus in his encounter with Nicodemus tell him, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3). Nicodemus seeks greater clarity so Jesus emphatically declares: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5–6). This makes it very clear that we cannot see or enter the kingdom of God without being born again. Thus, the access to the Kingdom of God is through Christ and Christ alone.