TC Verbum No 11 April 2008

By Dr Justin Thacker, Head of Theology, Evangelical Alliance of UK

The Whole Gospel

Go therefore and make believers of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to believe everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

I assume that you noticed the deliberate alterations to these verses from Matthew 28. The so-called ‘great commission’ does not call us to make ‘believers’, but rather ‘disciples’. Similarly, we are not to teach them to ‘believe’, but rather to ‘obey’. If you did not spot the changes, it may be because all of us have a tendency, whether conscious or not, to interpret this commission as if it said what I have suggested. Yet, to reduce the goal of the commission merely to a transformation in a set of cognitive attitudes is to peddle, not the full gospel of Jesus Christ, but rather a partial gospel.

Indeed, given that it questionable whether such a thing can exist—perhaps we should even say a false gospel. For the whole gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely a certain list of doctrines to be ticked off one by one. If it were, then it certainly would be possible to proclaim the ‘gospel’ just in words, and our aim would simply be to persuade others to adopt a different belief system. However, that is not the full gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ was declared in advance to Abraham (Galatians 3:8), embodied in Jesus Christ (Luke 4:21), and transforms our existence (Romans 1:16). It is not so much a package that we can pin down, process and then deliver to unsuspecting wanderers looking for a new worldview. It is rather a river in which we find ourselves being carried forward, and into which we invite others to jump. It defines us, rather we who define it. And like a raging torrent, it is uncontrollable, and unstoppable, taking us to places that we could never imagine, and may not even want to go.

All of us know this, and when we consider the gospel in relation to our own lives we recognise the metaphor that I have advanced. Yet, for some reason when it comes to sharing this good news with others, it is as if we step out of the river collect just a sample of the water—and offer it up saying, ‘here it is, a life transforming gospel, why don’t you try some?’ No wonder, our unsuspecting hearer looks at us with bewilderment. We have been swimming in the riches of God’s grace, yet in reducing the gospel merely to a set of propositions, we offer them little in comparison.

This is not to suggest for a moment that such doctrinal formulations are unimportant, or even absolutely necessary for any full presentation of the gospel. However, it is to suggest that when, either implicitly or explicitly, we suggest that the ‘gospel’ is merely that set of propositions, rather than a life changing encounter with the Lord of the universe, then we have sold our listeners short. The whole gospel of Jesus Christ transforms us, and as a result causes us to be transforming. It captivates the whole of our being—mind, heart, spirit, soul and body—and in turning us inside out, redirects the whole of who we are to the worship of Jesus Christ.

It is precisely for this reason that the whole gospel can never just be proclaimed verbally—though it must be proclaimed verbally—but in addition necessitates a demonstration in practice of the love of Jesus Christ. To treat orthopraxy as additional or optional is to indicate that one has not been wholly transformed oneself by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and is therefore to peddle a partial gospel, if not a false gospel.

It is then for this reason that the call upon our lives is to teach others to obey, rather than merely to believe. For Christ did not die on a cross to save Cartesian minds. He died to save people—in all their cognitive, affective, spiritual and physical being. That is the whole gospel of Jesus Christ.

Further Reading: