The Sum of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Catechism

jesus-teaching

I wrote this last fall and had originally intended to publish it then. Better late than never, I guess. It is the result of significant reading and study for one of the core systematic theology classes in the M.Div curriculum at TEDS, specifically focused on anthropology (the study of human being), christology (the study of Christ), and soteriology (the study of salvation). This “paper” is formatted as a “catechism,” which is a book of instruction in the Christian typically organized in question-answer format. We were given the questions, and expected to write succinct answers that would be of use in training Christians in some key aspects of the faith. I had to be succinct (there are always word count limits on these things), so some of the answers are a little more terse than I would like. But the fact is that many books have been written on each question. Either way, I’m not going to rewrite it; rather, I’m publishing it pretty much as I turned it in.

Hope you find it interesting and useful. I’d love questions / discussion!


1. What is the Gospel?

The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:23b)
See also: Mark 1:15; John 10:10; Col 1:12-14

The Gospel is the unparalleled good news about what God is doing for us in Christ, specifically that His incarnate life, death and resurrection make it possible for fallen, sinful people to be reconciled to Him in true, abundant and eternal life. The Messiah, Jesus, has established a new Kingdom in which He reigns over a new regenerate and perfected humanity. He invites all people in all places throughout all of history to become citizens of His kingdom by turning from their sin, believing on Christ, being declared righteous before God, being joined to Him in intimate and eternal fellowship, and being renewed in His image.

2. What is the nature of sin?

Sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4b)
See also: Rom 1:20-25; Ex 20:1-20; 1 John 1:8

Both in the act of creation and in His spoken commands, God reveals His character (nature) and expectations (law). Human beings are uniquely empowered to choose to act in harmony or discord with God’s nature and to obey or disobey God’s law. Sin is the conscious choice to live in discord and disobedience. It is rebellion and lawlessness, betrayal of God, and an implicit rejection of the true, abundant and eternal life for which human beings were designed by their Creator; the fundamental denial of reality.

3. What are the consequences of sin?

The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a)
See also: Isa 53:6a; Eph 2:1-3; Rom 7:14ff

The consequences of sin are manifested broadly in creation and particularly in human beings. Beginning with Adam and Eve and proceeding through every generation, the rebellion and lawlessness of humankind has established our guilt before God (status), corrupted our nature so as to incline our hearts toward evil (habitus), and manifested itself in continuous sinful choices (actus). In each, we live in discord with God’s nature and in disobedience of God’s law, and if left unhealed, our sin separates us from God and poisons the created realm. Therefore, decay and death reign in this world, such that the natural result of unregenerate life is death and eternal separation from God.

4. Why am I implicated in Adam’s sin?

Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)
See also: Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:7; Eph 2:1-3; Jer 17:9

As representative and biological head of humankind, Adam represented all of humanity in his sin. Moreover, because human beings are individual persons who share a single human nature – a dim reflection of the Triune God, who is a complex unity of three individual Persons who share a single divine nature – Adam’s fall brought condemnation (status) and corruption (habitus) not only upon his own individual person but upon the whole of human nature, which he shares with all people in all places throughout all of history. Thus, in a real sense, all of humanity was present in Adam’s sin by virtue of our shared nature.

5. What did Jesus’ death accomplish?

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17)
See also: Eph 2:19-20; Isa 53:4-6; Rom 6:1-10; 1 Cor 15:20-28

In His incarnation, the Son fully assumes our human nature, but remains – by His divine, perfect righteousness – uncorrupted by it. Then, having lived in perfect harmony with God’s nature and in perfect obedience to God’s law, Jesus freely became the atoning sacrifice for all humanity, paying an infinite price for humanity’s transgression against God’s infinite righteousness. Because all who have been elected by God and responded in saving faith are joined to Christ, we are transported with Him through death (out of imperishable humanity and the clutches of sin) into new imperishable life. This results in:

  • Redemption – Christ pays the ransom required to liberate us from bondage,
  • Propitiation – God’s just wrath is turned away,
  • Expiation – we are cleansed from sin,
  • Justification – we are declared righteous,
  • Reconciliation – hostility between God and man is abolished,
  • Adoption – we are legally transferred from Adam’s old family to God’s new one,
  • Sending the Spirit,
  • Sanctification – indwelling, transformational work of the Spirit,
  • Establishment the Church,
  • Cosmic victory; Christ defeats death and evil spiritual powers in all creation.

6. For whom did Christ suffer and die?

Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear … to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb 9:28)
See also: Rom 9:6-29; 2 Tim 2:10; Rev 17:14

In one sense, Christ’s death makes provision (the possibility of salvation) for all of humanity; however, in another sense Christ’s death makes application (the actuality of salvation) only for the elect. Whereas God’s desire is that all people would be saved, it is fundamentally impossible simultaneously to save all human beings while ensuring the sovereignty of human choice. Therefore, only the elect can be saved, so Christ’s death is ultimately only for the elect.

7. Who are the elect?

[God] chose us in Him before the foundation of the world … predestined us for adoption to Himself as [children] through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will
(Eph 1:4-5)

See also: Eph 1:4-5; Rom 8:29-30; 2 Thes 2:13

“The elect” are a specific group of human beings who have been sovereignly and secretly chosen by God before the creation of the world to be saved – united with God, adopted into His family, and made citizens in His kingdom.

We affirm that, because God always and only acts in complete harmony with His perfect love, goodness, justice and power, His approach to human history constitutes a redemptive system than which none more effective or efficient can be conceived. We also affirm the mysterious compatibility of God’s sovereign election unto salvation with man’s responsibility to meaningfully choose Him — to personally appropriate God’s grace through saving faith.

We deny that God arbitrarily or capriciously chooses people to be saved while others are callously left to perish. We affirm instead that God chooses individuals to be saved in order to maximize His glory, maximally communicate His goodness, and the redemptive reach of His Kingdom, so that God is proven perfectly just in His choice.

8. What is grace?

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. (Eph 2:8)
See also: Eph 1:7-14; Titus 2:11-14

Grace is the unmerited favor of God – to receive from God what we do not deserve and could not earn. First, to all humankind, God extends common grace, by creating and sustaining the life of sinful beings in a beautiful world in which God dramatically restrains the effect of sin. However, to the elect alone, God also extends saving grace, which rescues them from death unto new life in Christ. We affirm that human beings cannot earn or merit the favor of God manifested in these graces, both of which are the outpouring of God’s undeserved love. We also affirm the irresistibility of God’s grace, acknowledging that human beings can no more refuse God’s grace than they can earn its benefits.

9. What is saving faith?

“The time has come,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
See also: Rom 4:13ff; 1 John 1:9; Jas 2:14ff

Saving faith is the human response to God’s irresistible grace. It is the inevitable outworking of God’s election and necessary for salvation. Saving faith consists in the human choice, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to repent and believe the gospel. To repent is to reject and turn from sin in order to live in harmony with God’s nature and obedience to God’s law. By this, believers submit to God’s work in uniting us with Christ. To believe is to know God, to cultivate a personal trust in Him, and to put one’s weight down on His promises. By this, believers purposefully abide in a life-giving union with Christ. We affirm the active, ongoing nature of these choices – not single moments of decision or evidenced in words, but demonstrated in a lifetime of active decision.

We affirm that God’s saving grace is a precondition for man’s saving faith and that man’s saving faith is in response to God’s electing grace. We therefore affirm that God elects individuals to be saved in such a way that the same individuals freely choose Christ, as a consequence of God’s election. We deny that God’s election is an imposition of His will upon the elect, that election is a result of God’s foreknowledge of human choice, or that human choice is in any sense a prerequisite for God’s election.

10. What is union with Christ?

Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable… For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Cor 15:50, 53)
See also: Eph 2:4-7; John 15:4-7; 1 John 4:13

Adam is the original head of humanity. His rebellion against God corrupted human nature and made death inevitable for all people, apart from God’s grace. Jesus Christ became man and defeated death in order to inaugurate a new humanity, whose nature is unstained by Adam’s sin. Christ’s atoning sacrifice makes it possible for all those who have been elected by God and responded in saving faith to be rescued from our union with Adam in his perishing nature, and united with Christ in his imperishable nature. By this union we receive the most significant benefit of salvation, which is Christ Himself. Because we share Christ’s new nature, it can well be said that we live in Christ, and because we are indwelled by God’s Spirit, Christ lives in us. Likely, the closest human metaphor is marriage, in which a man and a woman become “one flesh” in intimate communion with one another.
We deny, however, any comingling or ontological confusion of the Person of Christ and the individual believer. We also deny that this union in any sense results in the believer’s absorption into God, the diminishing of human being, or equality with God.

11. How, through justification, can sinners be deemed righteous?

Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them. (Rom 4:7-8; c.f. Ps 32:1-2)
See also: Rom 1:16-17, 3:20-30, 8:1-4; Phil 3:9

Jesus Christ led a life of perfect harmony with God’s nature and perfect obedience to God’s law. Although He alone in history deserves thus to be declared righteous before God, He instead took upon Himself the death and separation from God which are the penalties God justly requires for our sin. Because of His sinless life and infinite righteousness, Christ’s undeserved death can be accounted the atoning sacrifice and full payment for the sins of all people in all places throughout all of history. Therefore, all those who have been elected by God and responded in saving faith are declared blameless by God (status), receiving the righteousness of Christ. As a result, we have been united with Christ, and enjoy a new nature (habitus) which is free from bondage to sin and threat of death.

12. What is sanctification and what does it have to do with the Holy Spirit?

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Cor 3:18a)
See also: Rom 6:15-22; 2 Pet 1:3-11

All who have been elected by God and responded in saving faith undergo daily surgery at the hands of the Holy Spirit, as He works in our hearts and lives to increasingly realize our identity in Christ. To that end, the Spirit matures our love for God, grows our capacity to live in harmony with our new nature, and increases our obedience to God’s law. Although perfect conformation into the image of Christ is the ideal, the Spirit’s refining work is fully realized only upon our final resurrection and glorification in the Kingdom of God. In the meantime, the Spirit changes us to increasingly realize our new natures (habitus) and to love and serve God in growing Christlikeness (actus).


Image credit:
1) Jesus teaching – TalkOfJesus.com
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About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Christ. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long journey, learning to swim with the current of God's love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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