Student Debt and the Debtor’s Ethic

What does it mean to be grateful?

Southern culture complicates our understanding of gratitude and creates confusion as to how we should actually show gratitude to God. Thankfulness in the South often means paying someone back for doing something kind for you. David Pao says,

“Modern Western conceptions of thanksgiving are dominated by the model that privileges the emotional sense of gratefulness in response to a certain act of kindness and the need to fulfill the ‘debt’ to achieve the balance of personal relationship. Within this model, thanksgiving is detached from social ethics and theological discourse and is reduced to the level of etiquette that is functionally limited to the realm of individual interchange.”

Pao is slicing up most of our experiences with thanksgiving, especially with regard to small gifts. Last night, my neighbor dropped off some tomatoes from his garden. It was a special gift, and it caused my wife and I to feel grateful for him. We talked through some things we could give him in return. Southern gratitude at its finest.

But, how would you feel if someone gave you a massive gift? I remember when my grandfather paid off one of my student loans. I was floored. I was speechless. I didn’t know what to do. Honestly, I felt a little embarrassed. I felt small because I knew there was no way I could reciprocate the gift. I couldn’t give my grandfather anything that would equivocate his gift to me. While my first inclination was to pay him back, I quickly realized how foolish that thought was.

First, it would be impossible for me to pay him back. Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t come close! Second, my debt didn’t shift from the government to my grandfather. My debt was paid in full by another. It was canceled. I literally logged into my account and I no longer had options to make payments, because there were no payments to make. And this was a gift of sheer grace. He didn’t have to do it. He wanted to do it. And he didn’t ask anything of me in return. We receive a similar kind of gift in the gospel. Christ has paid our debt in full with his sacrificial and substitutionary death.

Gratitude toward another person or toward God is the result of a conscious awareness of the giver and his gift. In the Bible, gratitude always, always, always flows from a humble and glad recognition of God’s grace:

  • Psalm 7:17 – “I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness”
  • Psalm 9:1 – “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”
  • Psalm 75:1 – “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.”
  • Psalm 105:1 – “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!”
  • Psalm 106:1 – “Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
  • Psalm 106:47 – “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.”
  • 1 Corinthians 1:4 – “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:3 – “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13 – “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

In the Old Testament and the New Testament there is a direct connection between gratitude and God’s saving work in the past, present, and future. When you are aware of God’s glory and grace in your life, your heart will well up with gratitude, which will then overflow in glad obedience to him. Gratitude requires you to rightly see God’s grace and rightly respond to it.

We must beware of the debtor’s ethic. The debtor’s ethic is the notion that since God has done so much for us, we now owe him a life of obedience. It is a way to pay back the debt we have accrued through receiving God’s grace in the gospel. You’ve probably heard it said, and you may have said it a number of times, “Jesus died for me, the least I can do is live for him.” But the debtor’s ethic robs gratitude of its God-centered joy. Trying to pay God back for what he has done for us is both an impossible and joyless task. It causes sanctification to be fueled by duty and guilt when it should be fueled by delight and grace.

I believe the reason many of us fail to pursue holiness with joy is because our motivation for godly living is guilt, not gratitude. The reason many of us cease our spiritual growth after baptism is because we adopt the attitude that we must obey God in order to pay him back for saving us. “Jesus died for you, so what are you going to do for him?” Is this the right kind of motivation to fuel gospel living?


A better way forward to living the good life, the new life we now have in Christ, is to live every second of every day in gratitude to God. When we are grateful to God, we are aware of his grace that he has freely given us in Christ. Gratitude creates the kind of gospel awareness necessary to cut off the lifelines of sin in our lives. Gratitude looks back in thanks to God for his grace in the past and looks forward in faith in God for his grace in the future.

Gratitude is central to gospel living because through our self-renouncing thankfulness we see both our need for God and his ability and willingness to meet our need. This empowers us to kill sin in its tracks and chase hard after righteousness.

Only a grateful heart can thrive in kindness, patience, love, and forgiveness. Only a heart that recognizes God as the rightful ruler of heaven and earth will submit to his will and his ways, and so be conformed to his image.

19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.


Remembering the Gospel with Machen

Gospel-Title-Slide-960x5461Last Sunday I emphasized in my sermon to the children of our church the fact that in order to stand in defense of the gospel, we must treasure the gospel. We guard most what we treasure most. I attempted to portray the gospel in words that show how truly satisfying the message of God’s salvation of sinners is.

We also discussed how we lose sight of everything in our lives when we lose sight of the gospel. This is why Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy. In order to guard the gospel, we must keep our gaze on the Christ and his gospel. One way to do that is to remind yourself of the gospel. I gave the kids a basic outline of the gospel and challenged them to read it throughout the week.

One of the many things I love about preaching is that through the proclamation of the Word, the Holy Spirit applies it even to the heart of the one preaching. As I continue to read through J. Gresham Machen’s What is Faith?, I came across an eloquent and beautiful explanation of the gospel. It stirred my heart and has compelled me to more intentionally apply the gospel to my life. Sometimes just sitting and seeing the good news play out before your eyes can cause your heart to sore in worship of Jesus.

Machen, in the tradition of Luther and Calvin, has a unique gift for showing just how dreadful the condition as sinners really is before God, which he uses to display the glory of God’s grace in the gospel. Machen had a high view of the law and he emphasized the necessity of not only the existential reality of Jesus of Nazareth, but also the biblical message of what his life, death, and resurrection actually mean. You will see all of this and more in Machen’s extensive and beautiful exposition of the gospel. It is a bit lengthy, but well worth the effort to work through. The last paragraph is just a straight gospel-bomb that will rock your world. Be encouraged by the gospel in the words of Machen today.

“How shall we become right with God? The most obvious answer is: ‘By obeying the law of God, by being what God wants us to be.’ There is absolutely nothing wrong in theory about that answer; the only trouble is that for us it does not work. If we had obeyed the law of God, if we were what God wants us to be, all would no doubt be well; we could approach the judgment seat of God and rely simply upon His just recognition of the facts. But, alas, we have not obeyed God’s law, but have transgressed it in thought, word and deed; and far from being what God wants us to be, we are stained and soiled with sin.

The stain is not merely on the surface; it is not a thing that can easily be wiped off; but it permeates the recesses of our souls. And the clearer be our understanding of God’s law, the deeper becomes our despair. Some men seek a refuge from condemnation in a low view of the law of God; they limit the law to external commands, and by obeying those commands they hope to buy God’s favour. But the moment a man gains a vision of the law as it is—especially as it is revealed in the words and example of Jesus—at that moment he knows that he is undone. If our being right with God depends upon anything that is in us, we are without hope.

Another way, however, has been opened into God’s presence; and the opening of that way is set forth in the gospel. We deserved eternal death; we deserved exclusion from the household of God; but the Lord Jesus took upon Himself all the guilt of our sins and died instead of us on the cross. Henceforth the law’s demands have been satisfied for us by Christ, its terror for us is gone, and clothed no longer in our righteousness but in the righteousness of Christ we stand without fear, as Christ would stand without fear, before the judgment seat of God” (What is Faith?, 163-165).

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. 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. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Can We Deny the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus and Preach the Gospel?

tomb61Is it possibile to deny the historicity of Jesus and advocate the preaching of the gospel? Can someone who denies the physical resurrection of Jesus, for example, even believe in the gospel?

While the consensus for evangelicals for the past 2000+ years has been to not only affirm, but to gladly affirm the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ based on the authority of Scripture, including its historical significance, there has been opposition to this doctrine at different points in history. Lutheran theologian, Rudolph Bultmann presented an anti-existential understanding of the resurrection that is mind-boggling and in my opinion contrary to logic. Bultmann was a German Lutheran biblical scholar, who was famous for his approach of demythologization. Starting with the Bible as myth, Bultmann advocated peeling back its mythological surface so as to uncover its essential meaning, which he viewed in terms of existentialist philosophy.

Bultmann denied the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus by claiming that “a historical fact that involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable.” Since there is no eyewitness account of the resurrection, Bultmann takes issue with the belief in its existential importance. Therefore, Bultmann claims that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a “mythological conception” that needs to be abandoned since the historical Jesus is “relatively unimportant.” However, Bultmann affirmed that the preaching of Christ as crucified and risen is essential to the faith and the components of the faith, but reliance on their historicity is not what is important to the faith. His theory applied to the United States of America could be seen in affirming the “idea” of independence from Great Britain without necessarily believing in the historicity of the American Revolution. Bultmann’s theory would argue that belief in a historical war of independence from Great Britain is unimportant.

It is both logically dishonest and foolish to teach the idea of something if one does not believe there is any historicity in it. The apostle Paul would agree. The essential aspects of Paul’s gospel are all rooted not in “mythological conceptions,” but in historical realities (1 Cor. 15:1-8). The highlighted focus of this passage is the historical importance of the resurrection of Christ. Paul writes,

“…that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Cor. 15:4-8).

Paul gives multiple references to people who had seen Jesus as a bodily risen Savior. He basically declares to the Christians at Corinth that if they do not believe his testimony, they can go to one of the many of the five hundred who saw Jesus who are still alive (v. 6). The historicity of the resurrection of Jesus was of upmost importance to Paul’s gospel. This is because the “idea” of a risen Savior evidenced with a buried body gives no substance to the faith. Faith in a risen Savior who has not risen is utterly futile.

I am echoing Paul when he declared, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17, 19). This is the crux of Christianity. If Christ has not actually risen from the dead, then we have no hope in this life or in the life to come. We are still in our sins. Paul grounds our future bodily resurrection in Christ’s actual bodily resurrection. If he was proclaiming a mythological conception that entails a deeper meaning that needs to be dug out, he has a strange way of doing it.

Preaching Christ is futile, foolish, and in vain if Christ has not risen bodily from the dead. The message we have to preach is predicated on the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Christ. Therefore, if Bultmann is consistent in his thinking, he should most certainly not preach Christ nor even believe in him. So, to answer the question at hand, Bultmann was most certainly not right to call Christians to preach the message of Christ because he would be encouraging the preaching of a message that is either contrary to Christ or contrary to his own theory. The gospel of the Bible is directly contrary to Bultmann’s theory due to its emphasis on the bodily resurrection of Christ. Likewise, a “gospel” message absent of an actual and historical resurrection of Christ is directly antithetical to Christ and his message. Frankly, any message of Christ that does not include Christ as historically and actually risen from the dead is no gospel at all. The work of Christ is null and void if we find his remains in a tomb.

The church has always and must continue to faithfully assert the biblical truth that the actual and historical resurrection of Christ is “God’s seal of approval on the death of Christ as complete payment for humanity’s sin and as a promise of the final bodily resurrection of all believers” (Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, 411).

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew 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. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

What is the Gospel?: God the Creator and Sovereign Ruler


This post is Part 3 in the series What is the Gospel?. Please check out Part 1 and Part 2 to get caught up.

So far in this series, What is the Gospel?, we have looked at the reason behind unfolding the gospel in this manner and four foundational aspects of the gospel. The purpose of the following posts, beginning with this one, will be to give a basic and biblical definition of “gospel” and then to unfold each aspect of the gospel looking at the roles of both God and man.

In the original language of the New Testament (Greek), the word ευαγγελιον is a noun that means “gospel” or “good news”. This noun occurs seventy-seven times in the New Testament. Interestingly, the Greek verb ευαγγελιζω, which means, “preach the gospel,” also occurs seventy-seven times. However, the reason the average Bible reader comes away from the Bible without a clear and confident answer to the question “What is the gospel?” is that the definition for this noun and this verb is assumed in the text rather than being directly expressed. In other words, the Bible does not function as a dictionary that gives us a definition of “gospel.” So can we even define “gospel”? Yes. How? Context. Context. Context. What is this good news, this gospel referring to and speaking of?

There are certain key biblical elements that make up the gospel and each of these are necessary to understand in order to properly see the gospel for what it is.

God is the Eternal Creator

The first element is the biblical truth that God is the eternal creator of heaven and earth. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas came to the city of Lystra, which was located in Asia Minor. There was a man who had been crippled from birth who was listening to Paul preach (Acts 14:8-9). Paul then heals this man, “seeing that he had faith to be made well” (Acts 14:9). After witnessing this miraculous healing, the crowd marveled. These people were standing jaw-dropped and wide-eyed in disbelief as to what they had just seen. A man who had never walked “sprang up and began walking” (v. 10). The crowds realized something miraculous and divine had happened among them. Luke writes that the crowds lifted up their voices in praise of the gods of Greek mythology: “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men” (v. 11)! They then called Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes (v. 12). They were so grateful and amazed that the priest of Zeus even wanted to offer a sacrifice to these gods with the crowds (v. 14).

However, Paul intervenes. His intervention gives us our starting point to understanding the gospel. “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them (v. 15, emphasis added). Paul begins to share the gospel by establishing a truth that these Hellenistic men clearly denied. He begins with God’s role as creator. Paul teaches us here that one crucial element to the gospel is the truth that God is alive and he created everything.

I know this sounds basic, but think about it. Remember our first essential, fundamental truth? The gospel is from God. It belongs to him! Therefore, if this God is not living and did not create, there would be no good news for sinners. In the words of John Piper, “No cherished aspect of the Christian gospel would have any redemptive meaning if there were no living God who created heaven and earth” (God is the Gospel, 26). The gospel shook the very walls of the worldviews of those in Lystra as it showed them a God who was not made of stone or served by men, but was the living creator of all things. Thus, the initial element of the gospel is the fact that God is alive and created everything. Without this, there would be no gospel.

God is the Sovereign Ruler

The second element of the gospel is that God is the sovereign ruler over his creation. This establishes a crucial aspect to the gospel, namely, that men are accountable to God; the creature is accountable to the Creator. By calling the men of Lystra to turn from their false gods to the living God, Paul establishes the fact that man is not autonomous. We are creatures. Our existence is dependent on the providence of the Creator. That simple fact teaches us that we are not accountable to ourselves, but instead to the one to whom we are dependent for life. God is the eternal creator of heaven and earth and this means he has the right to reign and rule all of his creation as he pleases. In the words of pastor and author Greg Gilbert, “Because he created us, God has the right to demand that we worship him” (What is the Gospel?, 28).

The all-glorious, all-powerful, all-joyous God of eternity past chose to create. Out of the abundant glory and joy within the Godhead overflowed, like abundant water from a fountain, a magnificent creation with man as its pinnacle. Immediately from this point, everything that was created was placed in a specific relationship with the creator. All of creation is subject to the will of the creator. All of creation owes obedience to the creator. God established a special covenant, or relationship, with man in the Garden. The bliss that was the sinless Garden of Eden abundant with the presence of the eternally joyous God was most enjoyed by the man and woman he created. From the moment God created humans, they have been accountable to him:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. –Genesis 2:16-17

The gospel begins here. The good news of God’s salvation of sinners begins with the living God who created heaven and earth. This sovereign Lord establishes a covenant with man. But what happens when man breaks this covenant? What happens when the creatures forsake their relationship with the creator? What happens when man exchanges the truth about God for a lie and forsake worshiping the Creator? We will seek to answer these questions and more next Friday.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew 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.

What is the Gospel?: Four Foundational Truths


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?”

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew 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.

What is the Gospel?: Introduction


Over the next few weeks, I will be going through the basic elements of the gospel. This is the first post in a four-post series on the message of God’s salvation of sinners. Today’s post will look at the need for such  a discussion with subsequent posts over the next few Fridays.

Suppose you were in a conversation with someone and they told you they had been studying world religions. This guy is not a scholar, but he is genuinely curious about religion, God, the afterlife, and things of a spiritual/religious nature. He never has been a religious kind of guy, but all of a sudden he has been intrigued by the thought of the possibility of a God. So, knowing you are the “religious type” since you go to church, this guy begins to just chat about different religions he has been looking at. He begins to share some of the core beliefs of a few of the world’s major religions (i.e. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.). His knowledge is very basic, so you add your comment when you feel you know a little about this and that.

“Yeah, I’ve heard of Muhammad,” you may say.

“Yeah, I think Hindus believe in multiple gods,” you interject.

You are not embarrassed that you have little to no knowledge about the five pillars of Islam though. And there is some river in India that is supposed to make you righteous? Oh, cool, but whatever. It is no skin off your nose that you did not know that about that foreign religion. Casual conversation. Nothing personal.

However, suppose this person then says,

“I cannot remember much about Christianity, but I do remember a word that was different from the other religions—gospel. You are a Christian, right? Have you ever heard of this word, gospel? And do you know what it is?”

“Of course I have and I absolutely know what it means,” you loudly and defensively respond hoping and praying that he doesn’t ask you just one more question…”Well then, what is the gospel?”

This situation is far too common among Christians today and if it isn’t, then that is because many fear of such a situation occurring. But why is that? As Christians, we hear this word all the time. Gospel. Gospel music. Gospel worship. Gospel preaching. Gospel reading. “The Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” “The gospel of Jesus Christ.” “Gospel-centered church.” People say, “I want to live a “gospel-centered life with a gospel-centered marriage with gospel-centered children in a gospel-centered home serving in a gospel-centered church.” Gospel. Gospel. Gospel. We hear the word so much in evangelicalism that we are almost numb to it. I mean, is gospel an adjective or noun? Is it an event, person, or message? Where is it found in the Bible? We ought to know what it is. Surely we do. But how often do we fear (dreadfully fear sometimes) someone asking us a very simple question,

“Hey [insert name], what is the gospel?”

This is a question that is so simple it is dumbfounding to the Christian. If there ever existed a ground level, drawing board, first step, initial, basic, fundamental question for the entire concept of Christianity, it is this. What is the gospel? I mean it is the gospel that separates Christianity from every other world religion. No other religion has anything remotely like it. The gospel is Christianity’s beauty mark. Christianity’s distinct flavor has the gospel as its central ingredient. Therefore, if there is any question that all Christians should be able to quickly, confidently, and clearly answer, it is this basic, simple question: What is the gospel?

However, there are countless answers that are typically given when this question is asked. In fact, if you surveyed ten Christians, you may end up with ten different answers. Some will answer, “The gospel is Jesus.” Others will reply, “The gospel is believing in Jesus to be saved from your sin.” Still yet, there are those who will say, “The gospel is God’s love for us.” How about, “The gospel is Jesus’ death for us all?” There are even those who say, “The gospel is the example all people now have to live by.” Multiple answers. Multiple viewpoints. All coming from one central message in a divine-inspired book called the Bible.

This is a problem.

At the heart of Christianity is the gospel. The gospel is the most essential reality in life. The gospel is the central theme of the entire Bible. Therefore, Christians who all claim to have been converted to the faith by the gospel, must have a clear understanding of what the gospel is. To the question, “What is the Gospel?” Christians need to have an answer; but not just any answer. Christians need to give a true, biblical, and clear answer. I think the essence of the problem is that once we have the gospel preached to us and we believe in Christ and repent of our sin; we feel that we no longer need the gospel and so we are rarely reminded of it. As a result, many God-loving Christians honestly do not know how to articulate the message that reconciled them to God in the first place. I believe this problem can be easily solved by returning to the fundamentals.

In a sport like basketball, when a team is going through a terrible slump and it seems that the team has totally forgotten their identity, something must be done. A coach cannot simply sit back and allow his team to shoot 25% from the field and turn the ball over 20 times per game. This team needs to (along with running their guts out for about an hour or two!) get back to the basics. This team needs to return to some basic passing drills. Some basic drills to refine some stagnant skills would be a great refresher to jolt this team back to playing well.

Likewise, Christians who cannot answer a fundamental question to the faith with clarity and confidence need to return to the basics. We need to run gospel drills. We need to review basic concepts, terminology, and truths that may have been forgotten in the hustle and bustle of life. These truths, terminology, and concepts will refresh the soul and usher believers into a realization of the faith we hold and the God we love. It is my prayer that through these basic theological “layups,” “free throws,” and “passing drills” over the next few weeks, we will all marvel at the grace of our holy God in the beautifully bloody work of Christ on the cross.

The focus prayer throughout the course of this series is that of David, the redeemed adulterer:

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:12).

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew 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.

What if Someone Asks Me a Question I Can’t Answer While Sharing the Gospel?

question-markOh, this is a big question! Not just long, but important also! Lack of evangelism is in one major sense due to pride. We fear rejection—pride. We fear ridicule—pride. And of course we fear being asked something we cannot answer—major pride. We don’t want to look like fools, so the fear that we could be wrong or left standing dumbfounded after we begin to share our faith is almost too much to bear. J.D. Payne’s discussion on this topic in his book Evangelism: A Biblical Response to Today’s Questions is poignant and helpful for personal evangelism.

Payne answers this question in four ways. He begins by stating an important caveat: “There’s no excuse for remaining ignorant in our knowledge of the Scriptures and how to better respond to questions” (110). Admittedly though, no one knows everything! And while being asked a question to which you have no answer seems imprisoning, Payne writes that there is great freedom and liberation in evangelism in these cases: “God does not need you or me to be his bodyguard. He does not need us to be his defnse. He is big enough to take care of himself. So when someone challenges you with a question you can’t answer, don’t freak out” (110).

Ok, so, don’t freak out. Got it. But what are we to do? We have this plan of how we are going to share the gospel and then, BOOM! Someone drops a tough-question bomb on us and we are struck dead. How do we respond? Payne offers four helpful things we need in such a situation—honesty, humility, sincerity, and relationality.

First, Payne writes it is important to be honest. I have noticed children, youths, emerging adults, and adults struggling with this. They want to appear superior to others and would rather make up an answer than say the dreaded phrase, “I don’t know.” I must admit that I struggle with this at times. As a theology student, it is a shot at my ego to admit I do not know something about God or the Bible. However, Payne urges readers to be honest in conversations about Jesus. During evangelism, if you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to, just admit it!

Secondly, Payne says we should be humble. “When you admit that you don’t know the answer to a question, you reveal a humility that is a witness to the power of the gospel” (111). That is helpful to think about. Admitting you don’t know an answer to a question is a powerful witness to the gospel itself. So, saying “I don’t know,” is not robbing Jesus, but rather pointing to him. Trying to show you know every answer to every question is not a sign of super Christian knowledge, but deep sinful pride.

Thirdly, sincerity is needed. Showing a willingness to seek an answer to a difficult question demonstrates genuine compassion for the person you are evangelizing.

Finally, relationality is important because when you admit you do not know the answer to a question you have the opportunity to set up a future time to discuss the question, which offers more time to share the gospel.

Being asked a difficult question during evangelism is paralyzing, but it can be an opportunity for vibrant gospel witness both in word and deed. As you share the gospel, be prepared to be asked difficult questions and while you may be able to answer some, do not be slow to honestly and humbly say, “I don’t know.”

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew 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.

God Provided A Way: Why Christians Need the Gospel

What-is-the-Gospel-A-Look-at-God-ManChristians need the gospel. This is an awkwardly obvious phrase. Obvious because without “gospel” there is no “Christian.” Awkward because so many Christians act as if they do not need the gospel. This kind of thinking is perilous to our faith.

We live in a world filled with seductive sinful passions that entice the flesh that lingers from our old selves. Everything from television, books, magazines, and various websites tempt us to treasure pleasures that are fleeting at best and destructively damning at worst. We are also tempted with everyday social sins such as gossip. We all know the dangers of a prayer meeting, as too often we are left with a smorgasbord of gossip topics when we return home or head to work the next day. The destructive yet tempting “he said, she said” conversations can lure us in to the point that we are numb to the hurtful words that we speak. Matthew Mitchell has written an important book on this oft-ignored topic. I recommend you checking out Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue.

These temptations and the rest are readily available to us everywhere we look, every single day. Facebook, Twitter, TV programs, newspapers, casual conversations, and other means tempt us to fall into sin not only every day, but every moment. I am actually beginning to wonder how helpful Facebook actually is. Do the pros really outweigh the cons?

Christians are called to holiness. Christians are called to conformity to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). So, how is a Christian to live in a world filled with sinful seductions? How is a Christ-follower, a child of the Holy One of Israel, to survive in this daily battle of (or for) the heart?

Answer: The Gospel.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the primary means that we fight and kill sin. If you want to overcome that temptation that is vying for your heart’s worship, look to Christ and his gospel. One tremendous benefit of these dangerous temptations is the fact that they remind us of our dreadfully sinful condition–the pre-grace predicament all of humanity is in from birth (Ps. 51:7). And thus, our eyes should gaze upon the glory of God’s grace in the gospel–the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provided the only way for us to be legally justified and paternally adopted by our holy and sovereign God. Paul realized the necessity of reminding Christians of the gospel (1 Cor. 15) and there have been books written on this all-important truth; one of which written by my former Greek grader, Mitchell Chase (The Gospel is for Christians).

The gospel is a sanctifying means of grace that you need on a daily basis. So, as you take in your daily dose of sinful temptations through your conversations and “clicks,” combat this satanic onslaught with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and most pointedly, the gospel. God provided a way for you to be made right with him and for you to be made like his Son. Your holiness was achieved on the cross, but it is being worked out in you every second of every day. One means for you to grow into this blood-bought and Spirit-wrought holiness is to meditate on the glory of God’s grace in the gospel.

Remind yourself of the undeserved gift of grace often. I would even recommend putting the gospel into words at various times. Focusing on the power of God in the gospel will allow your eyes to gaze upon pleasures that are unending (Ps. 16:11) in Christ and the assurance that your battle for holiness is being worked out by God in you and will be achieved in the last day (Rom. 8:30; Phil. 1:6). God provided a way for you to be made right with him. And he still is providing a way for you to flee and fight sin. The means in both cases is the same–the gospel of Jesus Christ; for your justification and your sanctification. Jesus died to cancel the debt of your sin, absorb the wrath of God against your sin, and free you from the slavery of sin.

Here is just one example of an articulation of the gospel from an Apologetics book I read recently that has helped me fight sin this week:

 Man fell from his original state and consequently lost the ability and the will to worship and serve the Creator. The covenant relationship that, prior to the fall, existed in harmony with the Creator’s will was, after the fall, a relationship of animosity and rebellion on our side, and was one of wrath on the side of the Creator.

But there was still a relationship. It is not that man ceased to be a covenant creature after the fall. He was still responsible to God to obey and worship him. He turned this responsibility, however, into occasions for rebellion. Instead of walking with God in the cool of the day, man began to try to hide from God, to fight with God, to run from him, to use the abilities and gifts he had been given to attempt to thwart the plan of God and to construe for himself a possible world in which he was not dependent on God at all.

So God provided a way in which the obedience owed him and the worship due his name could be accomplished. He sent his own Son, who alone obeyed the spirit and letter of the law, and who also went to the cross to take the penalty we deserve in order that those who would come to him in faith would be declared not guilty before the tribunal of the covenant Judge.

–K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith, pp. 41-42

The Gospel: Global, Personal, Public, and Relentless Grace


In John 4 we see a shift in the mission of God. While the explanation of the need for saving grace is revealed to Nicodemus, a ruling Jew, in John 3, (“You must be born again”), God’s grace in the gospel is revealed to a Samaritan woman, an outsider, in John 4. John shows us in this account that his love and life-changing grace is not reserved for a few elite, but rather he shows that the love and grace of God in the gospel penetrates cultural, gender, and sin barriers. And since this glorious gospel of grace is a personal summons that has no bounds outside of the free will of God, those who receive it are compelled to share it. In short, what we see in John 4 is gospel hope that is global, personal, public, and relentless.

Global Grace

There are no cultural or linguistic barriers to the gospel. In John 4:4, the beloved disciple writes that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” But physically speaking, Jesus was not bound to pass through Samaria in order to get to Galilee. It is not as if he was in Tennessee and had to pass through Kentucky in order to get to Ohio. It would be like saying he was going to Ohio and had to go through Virginia. You would not physically have to go through Virginia in order to get to Ohio from Tennessee. In fact, you would be going out of your way. Likewise, Jesus was physically going out of his way to get to Galilee. Actually, Jews would do the exact opposite. They would go out of their way in order to avoid Samaria for cultural, religious, and racial prejudices. But Jesus does something radical. He goes through Samaria because he was bound by obedience to the will of the Father to go where the Spirit led him. Jesus had a purpose in going through Samaria.

What we see here is that God’s grace is not limited to certain races or cultural groups. The glorious gospel of God’s grace is extended to all peoples, cultures, races, and languages. This is so beautiful. This means that your acceptance by God and your salvation are not dependent on the color of your skin or the way you speak. Your salvation and the extension of God’s grace are totally dependent on the perfect will of God. Jesus extended love and grace to a Samaritan woman to show us that this gospel will be proclaimed throughout the whole world to all peoples in all nations regardless of race, culture, or linguistic differences (Matt. 24:14). God’s grace in the gospel is global.

Personal Grace

Another aspect of the glory of God’s grace in the gospel is that it is revealed to individuals. Isn’t it simply amazing that God saves individuals? Individuals are elected, justified, adopted, sanctified, and glorified (Rom. 8:29-30). God is not distant from his people. He is close to them on a personal level because of the mediatorial work of Jesus. The gospel meets individuals where they are. God calls not just a group of people to himself, but individual people to himself. It is correct in one sense to say that Jesus died for you (singular), to be your propitiation, to be sin for you.

Jesus offers grace to a Samaritan woman personally. He knew her (John 4:16-18). And instead of revealing himself in a public mass setting, he speaks with this woman on a personal level as he tells her he is the Well of living water and the Messiah (vv. 10, 13-14, 26). The gospel confronts you in your sin personally and gives hope to you personally. This is good news. God’s grace in the gospel is personal.

Public Grace

Although the gospel is clearly seen in John 4 as personal, John is careful to show us that it is not private.

So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him…Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did…” And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (vv. 28-30, 39, 41-42).

This personal gospel is not to be kept secret. The delight that you find in your savoring the living water that Jesus gives should drive you to bring others to this satisfying and overflowing Well to drink. The gospel is to be proclaimed to all peoples (Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20). If you are keeping the gospel in which you have believed private to your own family, faith family, or self, you are missing the point of the gospel. Good news must be heralded for all to hear. John later records Jesus saying, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). The means that Jesus uses to “bring them also” is the proclamation of the gospel by those he has already brought in.

Relentless Grace

If there is one barrier that many of us think keeps us from God, it is a sin barrier. In one sense, it is right and good to think that your sin keeps you from God’s holy presence. That is absolutely true! However, the glory of God’s grace in the gospel is clearly seen in the fact that God’s grace is relentless in pursuing you despite your sin. The living water of God’s grace is only sweet to those who know the bitter taste of sin. We need the sovereign work of the Spirit to give us this particular taste. I do not believe there is a greater joy than the truth that your sin, no matter how deep, is deeper than God’s grace. “[A]s far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Jesus brings the sin of this Samaritan woman into the light in the process of offering her living water. By no means does Jesus belittle her sinful lifestyle, but it is clear that this barrier is being overcome in the persona and work of Jesus, for he is the Messiah and the Savior of the world (vv. 25-26, 42). The grace of God in the gospel is relentless in pursuit of those whom the Father predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). The glory of God’s grace in the gospel is that it will not relent!

The gospel is global, personal, public, and relentless. This has innumerable implications for the way we evangelize and view our lives. Our worldview should be radically impacted by the radical grace of God in the gospel. Embrace the gospel knowing that it penetrates all cultural, racial, social, economical, and sin barriers. Proclaim the gospel knowing that the Christ who has personally saved you has sheep that are not of this fold.

Fan Dies at Atlanta Braves Game: Gospel Hope Amid Tragedy


The Atlanta Braves have had tremendous success this season. This comes as good news to me, an Atlanta Braves fan since age two, as the Braves boast the best record in Major League Baseball. There are many happy faces in Atlanta. However, these happy faces are temporarily gone as a tragedy has struck the Atlanta Braves. I am spending part of my morning praying for the family of a man who died in Atlanta last night. CNNThe Washington Post, and other major news outlets reports that a 29 year-old man named Ronald Homer fell 65 feet from an upper-level platform onto a parking lot. Police say they do not suspect foul play and that the fall seems to be a complete accident. It is also unclear whether alcohol or other substances were involved or not. Police are still investigating. Homer fell around 9:00 P.M. (EDT) as the game between the Braves and Phillies was about to get back underway after a two-hour rain delay.

Though there are some mysteries surrounding this accident, some things are certain and very clear.

(1) This accident is a tragedy and a family is grieving and suffering.

(2) This accident is yet another reminder of the shortness and brevity of life. It calls to the forefront of our minds what James wrote many years ago, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:13-14).

(3) This accident reminds us that because of sin, Adam died just as God had promised (Gen. 5:5; 2:17). And as a result of Adam’s sin, we all die; for when Adam sinned, in some mysterious way, we all sinned (Rom. 5:12, 15). And this position of guilt we find ourselves in is more serious than physical death. We are guilty before God and the death we receive as a result of our union to the first Adam is eternal (Rom. 6:23). God’s wrath will be exhausted on the hard and unrepentant sinner who follows in the footsteps of his first father Adam. We are reminded from this accident that one day we will die and one day we will face the judgment of God for every one of our deeds, even the most careless word we speak (Matt. 12:36).

(4) This accident reminds us that on the day of death, all that will matter is if you know Christ (Matt. 7:21-23). Eternal life with an eternally joyful God is only found in knowing Jesus (John 17:3; 14:6). The gospel of Jesus is the only hope any of us have in life and especially in death. I am reminded of the power of the gospel through this tragic accident. Though we stand guilty before God, there is good news. There is good news for Ronald Homer if he knew Christ. There is good news for the Homer family. There is good news for you. God, in his great love, sent his Son Jesus who was fully God and fully man to live the perfect and sinless life that is required. Jesus then took the death that sinners deserve. He died in our place to take the wrath of God upon himself. In the death of Jesus the wrath of God was satisfied. Then Jesus rose from the dead three days later in defeat over sin and death. He now reigns forever at the right hand of God the Father. By God’s grace, he has made a way for us to be justified before him and by his grace he calls us to himself. Through faith in Christ, you stand immediately justified before God as your sin has been punished in Christ and his righteousness has been imputed to you. Jesus did what Adam and you failed to do and became your propitiation so that through your union with the second Adam, you can freely be declared innocent and experienced undeserved and unparalleled joy from the God whose essence is joy and love. May this tragedy lead you to the gospel.

So what conclusions should we draw from a tragedy that may be minuscule on the world-wide scale? Firstly, by realizing that it is not minuscule. If you have lost someone close to you, realize that the world of this man’s family has just been shaken with the force of a violent earthquake and they may be hoping that they fall between the cracks. Pray for the God of all comfort to bring peace to their souls and for them to find peace with God through faith in Christ. Secondly, take a step back and look at your own life and see where you may be wasting your time realizing that you do not have much of it. Are you giving of yourself to a worthy cause that will last beyond your life that is like a mist? Are you maximizing your life to magnify the glory of God in all things? Is Christ seen as supreme and is his gospel evident in your life? Tragedies like this have a tendency to wake up those to whom they happen to. I pray that this tragedy would have this effect on all sports fans and that Christians would pray for a renewed devotion to promote and live for the kingdom of God, proclaiming his gospel to all who are still under the wrath of God (John 3:36).

Pray for the Homer family today. Blessings.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).