iii. The Expansive Scope of the Gospel
The gospel—the good news that in Jesus Christ, God has graciously acted to bring salvation to a sin-marred world—is the redemptive hope of the Christian church. Throughout history and across the world this deeply held conviction is personally embraced, liturgically celebrated, and ethically embodied. Even so, there is confusion about the breadth of this gospel and its meaning for the world. All Christian churches confess that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. But to save them from what? And to what? What is the scope of this saving work? To properly grasp the answer to this question, we must remember the Scriptural story.
We begin with creation. The Scriptures begin with a vision of the creation that is tantalizing in its beauty. We see God in a posture of unqualified delight towards His creatures. We see human beings, bearing the very dignity of heaven in their selves and extending the purposes of heaven into the world. We see human relationships marked by mutual delight and freedom from shame. We see a material world, celebrated in beauty and nurtured by loving hands. This—the loving co-existence of God, our selves, others, and the world—is God’s original vision for creation (Gen. 2).
And yet in the Scriptural story, the glory of creation is shadowed by the sorrow of the fall. According to the Scriptures, God’s people turned away from God’s created intention—with all of its goodness—and plunged both themselves and the world into the shadow of sin. As a result of this sin, the loving co-existence of God, our selves, others, and the world has been broken, and the world in which we now live is—for all of its undeniable glory—nonetheless only the barest image of this original vision. God’s relationship with His creatures—once marked solely by loving delight—is now marked by grief, holy anger, and the justice of judgment. Our own selves—once shining with the full glory of God’s image and the deep dignity of His purpose—have been diminished into a shadow of our former selves. Human relationships—once a source of freedom and mutual delight—have become a source of violence, shame, and fear. And the material world—which once promised such glorious fruitfulness—now groans under the curse of exploitation and futility. Because of sin, God’s original creative intention—with all of its manifold beauty—has fallen into the tragedy of ruin (Gen. 3).
But this ruin is not the end of the Scriptural story. As it unfolds, we find that the sorrow of the fall gives way to the promise of redemption. God, rather than abandoning His intentions for creation, has—in Jesus—entered into creation for the redemptive purpose of restoring creation from the ravages of the fall. How does he bring about this restoration?
- First, by restoring human beings to God. Because of the crucifixion of Jesus, humanity—made for God in creation, and alienated from Him by the fall—may now be restored to God (2 Cor. 5). Through faith, all who have become enemies of God and exiles from His kingdom may now become children of God and friends of the very King of heaven. And yet this is not all.
- Second, by restoring human beings to themselves. At creation humanity was graced with the glorious dignity of bearing the image of God. At the fall, this image—though still irrepressibly present—was diminished and obscured by sin. But through the power of the resurrection of Jesus, all who trust in Him may be made new, free from death and all of its corruption, and restored again into the glory of the image of Christ (Col. 3), the second Adam (Rm. 5)
- Third, by restoring human beings to one another. In creation, God declared that it was not good for human beings to be alone, that we were somehow not fully ourselves until we were ourselves with another. And yet at the fall, human relationships—made with such glorious promise—began to disintegrate, collapsing into the misery of loneliness. In Jesus this loneliness may be healed. This is because all who trust in Him are joined—really and truly—not only to Christ Himself, but also to one another, as members of His body. It is in this Christ-shaped community of love, constituted by the Spirit, that God’s relational intentions for humanity—so broken by sin—may be realized anew (Jn. 17).
- Finally, by restoring the world itself. The material world matters deeply to God. That this is so is seen in the creation account, in both God’s seven-fold affirmation of its goodness and in His twice-repeated command for human beings to nurture the earth, and multiply its glories. God’s intention for this material world was an endless future of creative care. And yet because of sin, this world—in spite of its overwhelming beauty—has become a place of exploitation and futility. But in Jesus, the material ravages of sin, so clearly evident in the world in which we live, will be washed away. The prophets who anticipated Jesus’ coming spoke not only of a coming sacrifice for sin, of the renewal of sinners, and the restoration of God’s people, but also of the healing of deserts, the fruitfulness of fields, and the joy of trees (Ezek. 47, Rev. 22). Jesus’ ministry was deeply marked not only by words of spiritual forgiveness, but also by works of material restoration: the healing of illness, the creation of wine, the calming of storms, and—most dramatically—the resurrection of the material body. And these actions—rather than being mere signs of a deeper spiritual meaning—are themselves witnesses to the material aspects of God’s redemptive intentions, foretastes of the healing of all things (Rom. 8). Because of this, Christians confess that the material order—now groaning deeply under the curse of sin—will one day be itself liberated, washed clean, and made new.
And yet even the glories of redemption do not exhaust God’s restorative intentions. For one day, those intentions take the beatific shape of consummation. If creation may be understood as establishing the trajectory of God’s intentions; the fall, the deformation of God’s intentions; and redemption, the process of renewing God’s intentions; the scriptural vision of consummation may be understood as the realization of God’s intentions. A day will come, the Scriptures promise, when Jesus will return and will bring the longed awaited “reconciliation of all things” (Col. 1) In this day, at long last, God will be fully restored to His creation—His posture towards His creatures only and always one of joyful delight. Human beings will be restored to themselves—the twin follies of pride and shame graciously replaced with the thrilling dignity of the very image of Christ. Human beings will be restored to one another. The long shadows of loneliness and violence finally set aside in the warm relief of embrace. And the world itself will be fully and finally restored: no more sorrow, no more pain, no more tears—only unabated fruitfulness giving rise to a perpetual orchard of joy. And in this consummate moment, the good news of the gospel of Jesus—so long proclaimed, and in such bitter darkness, will be fully realized and beheld in the radiant face of Christ Himself (Rev. 21).