OUR GOD-GIVEN RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL
BY: HARRY R. FOX, JR.
I have deliberately entitled this message our God-given response to the Gospel in order to highlight the importance of our keeping in mind that the response we are talking about is response to Gospel, rather than to Law. This can also be said in terms of “obeying” the Gospel versus obeying Law. These are two radically different kinds of “obedience.” Whereas obedience (or response) to Law entails our doing something in order to GET something from God, obedience to Gospel means ACCEPTING as a FREE GIFT what God has already done and given to us. In line with this thinking, let us first look briefly at the Gospel we have been considering the past three years, beginning with the six messages delivered to you during your Silver Anniversary celebration in August, 1997 and continuing once a week in your Wednesday night Bible classes on Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and Hebrews.
I. THE GOSPEL TO WHICH GOD ASKS US TO RESPOND OR OBEY
In I Corinthians 15:1-3, the Apostle Paul reminds his readers that the Gospel he had delivered to them was “of first importance,” namely, that Christ died for our sins and was buried and raised. This was and is the Gospel in a “nut shell.” It is the same Gospel that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, and its implications can be stated as follows: “When we all did our worst to God by participating in one way or another in nailing Christ to the Cross, God did His best for us by forgiving our monstrous sin.” This was, and will ever be, in sharp contrast to conventional thinking, which says that God does His best for only those who do their best for Him. The unprecedented nature of Peter’s Gospel message caused the people (and we, along with them) to cry out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)
II. OUR INITIAL GOD-GIVEN RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL
Peter’s God-given response to the peoples’ question is found in Acts 2:28: “Repent and be baptized (or, as the Japanese translation says, receive baptism) every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I stress the God-given nature of this instruction since without it neither they nor we would know what to do.
The first word in Peter’s instruction is “repent.” There is a big difference between repentance in response to the Gospel good news of God’s precious free gift to us on the one hand and repentance in response to Law on the other hand. The Gospel offers us the free gift of eternal life (per Romans 6:23) and asks us to receive that gift. The Law, on the other hand, demands that we earn eternal life by perfect obedience to all of its commands. (For a full discussion of this radical difference, read Romans 4 and Galatians 3). Thus repentance in response to Gospel can be characterized as allowing its incredibly good news to transform our whole thinking about God and our relationship to Him. Whereas a Law-relationship to God is based on our perfect obedience to His every command, a Gospel-Grace relationship is based on our acceptance of what He does for us while we are yet in rebellious disobedience, and before we are even aware of our need for such grace, and therefore, before we repent and ask for forgiveness. As Paul says so well in Romans 5:6-11, “While we were enemies (of God), we were reconciled to God by the death of His son.” (V.10). Thus, as stated in Verse 1, Christ died for us “ungodly” sinners while we were yet “helpless” to obey his commandments.
Although Peter doesn’t mention faith in Acts 2:38, it is implied as follows: The first fruit of the transformation of our thinking about God and our relationship to Him which results from Gospel-inspired repentance is the birth of “faith” in God’s grace rather than confidence in our ability to measure up to the demands of God’s law. We thus come into an awareness that our every response to the Gospel is a gift from God. We can then see that all four elements in Peter’s God-given instructions (repentance, baptism, forgiveness and the Holy Spirit) are GIFTS from God. This realization and the willingness to receive those gifts is the main sense in which Paul uses the word, “faith.” Thus, the Gospel creates in the willingness to RECEIVE from God what we cannot DO apart from His grace (as Jesus so well told His disciples in John 15:5, “apart from me, you can do nothing.”). It is of interest to me that the Japanese translation of Acts 2:38, instructs us to “receive” baptism, thus implying that baptism is a GIFT to be received along with the gifts of repentance, forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit.
Baptism is our acceptance of what God does for, with and in us, rather than what we do for God. In baptism, we manifest our Gospel-created submission to everything He did for us in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:1-11) and our unconditional commitment to God and His church in response to His prior subjection of himself to our salvation and well-being. Baptism is our incorporation into the body of Christ (per Acts 2:47).
D. FORGIVENESS OF SINS
One of the main gifts we receive in the gift of baptism is the forgiveness of our sins, the cancellation of the death penalty due us for all of our sinful misconduct. Paul Lehman once wrote a book entitled, Forgiveness: Decisive Issue in Protestant Thought. Forgiveness is decisive because it reveals the very quintessence of what the Gospel is all about. In the death of Christ, God absorbed into Himself the full consequences of our sinful enmity and rebellion against Him instead of making us absorb those consequences. And since this gift of God was done by Him for us before we ever realized its necessity or asked for it or did anything to merit it, we can be infinitely confident that it is “for real.” In other words, since none of what He did was dependent on us, but wholly dependent on Him, we can have an indestructible foundation on which to stand in His presence. (See Ezekiel 36:16-36 for a preview of this important truth).
In this connection, the question is raised by some of us to the essentiality of baptism. Instead of asking, “Is baptism essential in the forgiveness of sin?” It would be more accurate and helpful to ask, “In what sense is it essential?” The answer would be, in the same sense in which faith, repentance and the gift of the Holy Spirit are essential: they are all four gifts to be received. No gift can be fully effective until it is received.
E. THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit is the last of the five gifts enumerated or implied in Acts 2:38: (1) Faith, (2) repentance, (3) baptism, (4) forgiveness and (5) the Holy Spirit. All five are gifts to be received. Thus, even the implied faith (by which we accept the other four gifts) is also itself a gift. Therefore, the entire word of God in the Bible can be compressed into two words: (1) Grace and (2) Faith. Grace is everything God does for us as a free gift; faith is everything we do in our God-given acceptance of God’s grace. The Holy Spirit is God working in us “both to will and to do for His good pleasure.“ (Phil. 2:13) In the 14th, 15th, and 16th Chapters of John, we are told a most important truth, namely: the Spirit’s chief characteristic is that of a “Counselor” (Revised Standard Version) or “comforter” (King James Version). The Greek word underlying both of these translations is “paraclete,” literally, one who stands beside us, one who serves as our advocate. All of these translations boil down to the idea of “comfort.” This meaning, above all others, should make us exceedingly grateful to God for “the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
III. OUR ONGOING LIFELONG RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL
Virtually everything else in the New Testament can be classified as having to do with our ongoing, lifelong response to the Gospel. Time does not permit me to deal with all of that teaching. So, I would like to call our attention to the following three responses:
- A lifelong presentation of ourselves as living sacrifices to God and to His service to our fellow human beings. (Romans 12:1)
The Apostle Paul knew very well that before we could live such a sacrificial life, we needed to be provided with sufficient energy for doing so. That energy is contained in the eleven chapters preceding Romans 12. Thus, Paul tells his readers that his “beseeching” them to live sacrificially is based solely upon “the mercies of God” communicated to us in those eleven chapters. I know of no more powerful a spiritual resource than those chapters, and would recommend that all of us read them over and over again during our entire lifetime. Two other scriptures that can be of special help to us in this connection are Philippians 2:1-7 and Ephesians 5:21. In Philippians 2:1-7, Paul tells us to be of the same mind as Christ who “emptied himself and took on Himself the form of a servant,” and that the basis for such a way of life is to be found in the extent to which we experience “any comfort of Christ,” “any consolation of love,” “any fellowship of the Spirit,” “any affection” and “any sympathy” (RSV) A parallel passage is Hebrews 6:4, where the author implies that the most effective incentive for faithful conduct is with those “who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the ages to come.“ (RSV) Men and women who have experienced what these two passages are talking about will be enabled to practice Ephesians 5:21 and be “subject to one another” (as God subjected Himself to us in Christ). This mutual subjection applies to husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees and, by extension, to brothers and sisters in Christ and His church. Such people will also be able to practice Ephesians 4:3 and 13, where Paul asks us to “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit until... we all attain the unity of the faith.”
- PARTICIPATION IN THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE CHURCH AS WE SHARE WITH THOSE IN NEED.
In Acts 2:44-46, we have our earliest example of this fellowship and sharing where we are told that the 3,000 persons baptized on the Day of Pentecost and added by God to His church “continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship” and in “the breaking of bread and prayers.” And they also “had all things in common….and distributed to all as any had need.” “Day by day, they attended the Temple together” and “broke bread” from “house to house.” This inspires us in our era to meet regularly for Sunday worship at a central place for such meetings and enjoy fellowship in one another’s homes as often as possible. This will enhance our love for God and for each other. It will also motivate us to share with others what God blesses us with.
- A DESIRE TO SPREAD THE GOSPEL TO THE WHOLE WORLD.
The natural result of our having heard and been blessed by the Gospel is to want to tell it to everyone else. Thus, we are told in Acts 8:4 that those believers who were “scattered abroad” at a time of persecution “went everywhere preaching the word.” This was in line with the “Great commission” Jesus gave to His disciples when He told them to go into the whole world and spread the Gospel to every creature. (Mark. 16:15-16; Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8).
OUR GOD-GIVEN RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL [Harry R. Fox, Jr] 1