The article, Jesus vs. Paul, by Scot McKnight is, in my opinion, absolutely crucial for modern Evangelicals not only to read … but to understand and hold onto.
I found it painfully long and slow to get to the point, but perhaps that’s necessary for the average Christian, who hasn’t already spent time thinking about those things, to get a good picture of what he’s saying. Either way, it’s worth wading through, even if you find it painfully long. It could change your whole understanding of the Gospel and resolve some questions that I know are asked by a lot of Christians because I’ve both heard and read those questions … often.
I only want to make two comments:
The Gospel of the Kingdom
One, the article addresses the whole issue of Jesus’ emphasis on the kingdom of God and does an excellent job of putting the Gospel of the Kingdom in perspective. This means that he touches lightly on what the Gospel of the Kingdom is, but even more importantly, he puts it in a role of proper importance that may do more for explaining what the Gospel of the Kingdom is than trying to explain it directly.
Justification Is Not the Gospel
Two, I think one of the reasons Evangelicals focus so much on justification is because we don’t really believe the Gospel enough to let it work.
Listen, explaining justification and preaching the Gospel are not the same thing. When you explain justification, like Paul did in Romans, you are not preaching the Gospel.
Everyone’s a sinner … We all fall short of the glory of God … If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus … The gift of God is eternal life … He who has died has been freed from sin …
None of those things has anything to do with the Gospel.
They’re cold, critical analyses of what happens when someone does believe the Gospel.
Cold and critical aren’t bad words. If you’re going to explain something carefully, you need to be cold and critical. Paul’s explanation and defense of his Gospel in Romans is awesome.
But an explanation and defense of the Gospel is not preaching the Gospel.
Preaching the Gospel vs. Explaining the Gospel
The Gospel is Christ. Have you heard of the four Gospels? Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are called Gospel because that’s what they are. They’re not Gospels because they contain a few sentences where Jesus talks about how to be saved. They are Gospels because they contain somewhere around a thousand sentences about who Jesus is!
Jesus is the King! He as a kingdom. You can be in it, and in it your sins will be forgiven, and you will be joined to God because he is God’s Son. He has taken God’s only kingdom on earth, Israel, and he has opened it up to all of us who were formerly outside of it, so that we can born again and partake of him.
Why him? Because he rose from the dead and is thus proven to be the Son of God.
I’m sure there’s better ways to phrase the Gospel than that. Paul chose this:
In addition, brothers, I declare to you the Gospel which I preached to you, which you have received, in which you stand, and by which you are saved … : … that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he was seen by Cephas, then the twelve … (1 Cor. 15:1-5)
Either way, the focus is Christ. Where’s the "you’re all sinners"? Where’s the "we all needed someone to pay the price for our sins"?
Search in vain for it in Acts when the apostles are preaching the Gospel. Search in vain for those things in 1 Cor. 15 where Paul says what the Gospel is.
You find those things in Romans, where Paul explains why he preaches his Gospel and why it works.
Taking the Gospel Apart
We’re like people who have taken apart a car in order to prove that it works. "See, here’s the fuel injectors. They put fuel in the car. The fuel comes from that tank back there. Look, there’s fuel in it, and this pump right here can pump it right down this fuel line. You can tell it works, can’t you? Look, look, here’s pistons! See how big they are? They catch the power from the fuel and transfer it to the camshaft, which turns the transmission, and the car can go down the road. Can you tell how much power this car must have?"
The person who says, "Here’s a car, here’s the keys, and here’s how you drive it," will find themselves demonstrating the power of the car, which can always be explained later.
We Evangelicals are so often like that first person. We spend our time explaining salvation, and then, when there’s no power in a person’s life, we explain why they have to pretend there’s power.
"You believe, don’t you? John 6:47 says that if you believe, you have eternal life. There you go! You’ve got it! It doesn’t matter that nothing’s changed and that you’ve got no power over sin nor any relationship with God. You believe, so you’re born again. That’s how it works!"
That’s not how it works.
John took 21 chapters and about 1,000 verses to explain the Gospel "so that you might believe, and believing, you might have eternal life."
We don’t give people anything to believe. We give them a driveway full of parts.
What if we really believed? What if we trusted Jesus, and we just told people who Jesus is and what he did?
People are getting saved today. They are finding themselves transformed. But it’s not because they had justification explained to them. It’s because they fell in love with the Jesus that they either experienced or were told about.