This post is a continuation of the series: What is the Gospel? If you missed part one, you can check it out here.
Before we begin to discuss what the gospel actually is, it is necessary for us to take a trip into the marvelous mysteries of eternity past. Before we even touch on our need for the gospel, we must consider the God of the gospel in all his glory and holiness. We are attempting to build a biblical theology of the gospel. If we are to do this, we must lay the foundation. God himself is our foundation. Here we will unpack four primary and essential realities that we must consider about God before we probe the sin of man and the gospel of God.
1. The Gospel Begins with God
The first essential reality is that the gospel comes from God. In our thinking about the gospel, this is a vital truth through which we must view all other gospel realities. Jesus Christ in his person and work must be viewed within this God-focused lens. The gospel is from God. Grace is his to give. Salvation is of the Lord. The Bible is clear that salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9; cf. Psalm 3:8; Revelation 7:10). And we will see how glorious and good this is for us! God is the giver of salvation. The depositor of mercy. The dolor of grace.
2. God is Perfectly Holy
A second essential reality is that God is perfectly holy. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3; cf. Rev. 4:8)! The seraphim call this to one another. The majestic creatures of heaven proclaim this as they behold the glory of the Lord. He is holy. Oh, he is holy. The Lord God is holy. Here is a list of a few places in the Bible that describe God’s holiness:
- Leviticus 11:44-45
- Joshua 24:19
- Isaiah 1:4; 2:2; 6:3; 41:14, 16, 20; 57:15
- Ezekiel 39:7
- Amos 4:2
- John 17:11
- Acts 5:3-4, 32
- Revelation 4:8; 15:4
The word “holy” when used to describe God “signifies everything about God that sets him apart from us and makes him an object of awe, adoration, and dread to us” (J.I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, 43). This means that God’s “Godness” is on full display through his holiness. God is perfect. He is without spot or blemish. He is supremely glorious. No one is like him (Isaiah 46:9; cf. Psalm 86:8; Exodus 15:11). There is no sin within him. And no sin protrudes from him. All good things come from him for he is sovereignly good. And he always has been. Every aspect of his character is marked by his holiness. There are no imperfections in him and he needs nothing to be eternally and completely fulfilled. Once we realize that God is perfectly holy and every aspect of his character (i.e. justice, mercy, wrath, love, etc.) is perfectly holy, we will begin to more fully understand the stipulations of his law. God requires the kind of holiness that he possesses. Another vital truth we realize from God’s holiness is that his justice is perfect. Therefore, there is no injustice in God. He cannot do what is unjust. If he did, he would not be God. This will be a very important consideration later.
3. God is Perfectly Happy
A third essential reality is that God is perfectly happy without people. In other words, God does not need us! He is perfectly glorious and gloriously happy within the relationship of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit live in harmonious joy and eternal bliss. Have you ever thought to yourself, “What was God doing before he created the world?” Remember, God is eternal. And the Son is eternal (Col. 1:17; cf. John 17:24). He has no beginning. “In the beginning…” refers to God’s creating work. What about before the beginning? While many answers to this can be given, I believe that at the very least, God, the “uncaused cause” (Mike Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity, 19) of everything, was living in a blessed joy, a holy love, and Trinitarian bliss, that emanated a glory that we can only imagine. I believe this because Jesus said as much in John 17:24.
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
Michael Reeves notes from this verse, “Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son” (Delighting in the Trinity, 21). This is where we must begin. This essential truth about God’s eternality and his eternal love for his Son is the paradigm through which we should view his love for sinners. But what does this have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Well, everything. Realizing that God was living in perfect harmonious loving joy before creation gives us a clue into the “who” of God. He is love (1 John 4:8, 16). This can only be true if he has had someone to love for all eternity. Possessing love necessitates having someone to love. God is love because the Father has always loved the Son (John 17:24) and the Son has always loved the Father. And the way the Father loves the Son is through the Holy Spirit. And the fullness of joy dwells eternally within him (Ps. 16:11).
Before creation, “the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were happy in themselves, and enjoyed one another before the world was” (Richard Sibbes, “The Successful Seeker,” in Works of Richard Sibbes, 6:113). God is therefore not dependent on creation. To bring this home, God does not need us to be who he is or to be fulfilled. Pertinent to the topic of the gospel, God did not need to save us in order to have a relationship or someone to love. He does not need you and he does not need me—for anything! God could have not saved one person and he would have not been any less God. And the most ground shaking truth is that if God had chosen to not save or even create the world at all, he would still be love. The glorious eternal God is Father, Son, and Spirit and he is perfectly happy in himself!
4. The Gospel Ends with God
Fourth and finally, the goal of the gospel is God himself. God graciously and lovingly created us for his glory (Isa. 43:7). After Adam, we have all (except Christ) fallen short of this glory (Rom. 3:23). The Father then begins to redeem his creation and fallen man through the perfect God-man Jesus Christ. For those whom God has chosen in eternity past he has given to the Son. And for those whom the Father has given the Son, Jesus laid his life down (John 10:15, 29). The ones for whom Jesus died will never perish (John 10:28). They have been redeemed by the blood of the eternal Lamb of God. And this redemption is ultimately for the praise of the glory of the grace of God.
“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace with which he has blessed us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:5-6).
Thus, the goal of the gospel is the praise of the glory of the grace of the eternally happy God. Simply put, God himself is the end and the goal of the gospel. We treasure the gospel because it gets us God! Those whom Jesus has redeemed will enjoy God forever, thus fulfilling man’s greatest end: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (Westminster Catechism, Question 1).
Before even approaching the gospel or the devastating effects of sin, which outlines our need for the gospel, these four realities were key foundations for us to lay concerning the God of our salvation.
(1) The gospel is from God. It is untouchable and foreign to all of us outside of his sovereign grace.
(2) God is perfectly holy. He is wholly just in all of his dealings. He cannot permit sin. He hates sin. He cannot do what is unjust because it would be sub-God.
(3) God is perfectly happy without people. He does not need us. He is eternally love and joy apart from creation, including us.
(4) God is the goal of the gospel. Our joy in him glorifies him. And beholding him and delighting in him are the primary purposes of our salvation.
In the following weeks, we will turn from some fundamental realities about our triune God to a basic definition of the gospel and then to some fundamental realities about mankind and our utter need of God’s intervening grace. In other words, we will continue to answer the question, “Why do we need the gospel?”
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.