How God Turns Enemies Into Friends of Friends
Having been reconciled to God, we are now reconciled to each other—as family, as brothers and sisters, as members of the same body. All Christians are, collectively, the “bride” of Christ (Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17). It is important to grasp that these various biblical word-pictures—“brothers and sisters,” “one body,” “one new man,” “fellow citizens,” “household of God,” “bride,” etc., are not “just” metaphors (I suspect we should quite putting the word ‘just’ in front of the word ‘metaphor’ when trying to understand biblical language). They are describing true reality as communicated to us via revelation. We really are “brothers and sisters,” “one body,” etc.
In various classes I have taught (in Theology and Bible) I have tried to communicate—in different ways—a thoroughly biblical understanding of a basic question: “What is the gospel?” It is a good question, and may take a tad more thought than one initially realizes. If I were to ask such a question in a Sunday School class or Bible study, I might get a variety of answers: “Christ has died for us”; “Jesus is the way to heaven”; “The only way to get to the Father is through the Son”; and more. And those are all true answers. But they may not quite grapple with all that the Bible seems to mean when it speaks of the “gospel.”
Is there a way to think about the gospel in relationship to loving our neighbors? Or is the “gospel” simply a “vertical” reality while loving our neighbor is a “horizontal” issue—and never the twain shall meet? I hope to show that what God does in the gospel has direct ramifications and implications for how we love our neighbors. We get a glimpse of how the “vertical” and “horizontal” are rightly linked in texts like John 13:34–35 where Jesus gives a “new command” that Jesus’ followers are to love each other: “just as I have loved you, you are also are to love another.”
One should be careful about criticizing such answers, for at least one very good reason: the Bible itself at times seems quite happy to speak in a kind of short-hand way about the gospel. A few examples:
- 1 Corinthians 15:1–11: Here Paul summarizes the gospel in four key truths: (1) the death of Christ (according to the Scriptures); (2) the burial of Christ; (3) the resurrection of Christ (according to the Scriptures); and (4) the many appearances of Christ.
- Acts 2:22–24: Here Peter can say that (1) God delivered Jesus up “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,” that Peter’s listeners “crucified and killed” Jesus, and that “God raised him up.” In short, the gospel seems to be summarized in terms of the death and resurrection of Christ, which was a part of God’s plan.
- Mark 1:14–15: Mark records: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” Here we see an emphasis on a certain understanding of “fulfilled” time, the Kingdom of God, and the necessity of repentance and belief in the gospel.
If we go back to the Old Testament, we might consider passages from Isaiah:
- Isaiah 52:1–10: Here the Lord appears to be speaking of some future situation in the life of the people of God. Although they will be taken into captivity, there is a blessed future beyond their Babylonian captivity. God will vindicate his name (v. 6): “my people shall know my name,” and “in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.” There is one coming who will bring “good news,” “good news of happiness” (v. 7). This bringer of good news “publishes salvation,” and says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” And indeed “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (v. 10).
What would we say if someone said to us: “How in the world might I hold 1 Corinthians 15:1–11, Acts 2:22–24, Mark 1:14–15, and Isaiah 52:1–10 together?” At first glance we might struggle a bit. And it probably shows that the question “What is the Gospel?” may take some real thought if we are to answer it correctly.
But I want to pick up on a key theme or two in this article. We see in Mark 1:14–15 that somehow wrapped up with the gospel is the theme of kingdom, and the necessity of repenting and believing. Thus, we see that in sharing the gospel there is inherent to gospel communication an explicit call to respond to the gospel: one must believe and repent.
In Isaiah 52:7, we see that the “good news” that the messenger brings includes the announcement, “Your God reigns” (and in the immediate context, this phrase is seemingly coupled in Isaiah 52:7 with the messenger publishing “salvation”). But what exactly is the “good news”? What is “gospel” about the fact that “God reigns”? Let us say that I am talking to my non-Christian friend, and I am trying to share Christ with him.