I’m calling this Bible Study “Boot Camp” for at least two reasons. First, boot camp is meant to get a man into shape. It focuses on the basics of fitness and health and is meant to train a man’s instincts. Similarly, this study is just the basics, nothing fancy, but hopefully it’s the kind of “basic” that gets in your face a little. Second, boot camp is training for service. This study rests on the assumption that God made men to die. Our glory is our strength, and that strength is meant to be spent sacrificially in obedience to Jesus until there’s nothing left. Related to this is the fact that this is what leadership actually is. And to the extent that the Christian Church is weak and worldly, this is because men in the Church are fearful, cowardly, and refuse to die. This means dying to sin, dying to fear, dying to pride, dying to pain, dying to shame, dying for the good and blessing of others, and dying ultimately all for the sake of Jesus.
Nothing But the Blood: The Straight Bloody Gospel
Paul says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16)
This means at least two things: First, the gospel is the kind of good news that someone might be ashamed of. It may seem embarrassing. Secondly, the gospel is the power of God to those who believe and this runs across the most entrenched divisions in human society: Jew/Greek, male/female, Palestinian/Jew, black/white/hispanic, Democrat/Republican, rich/poor, educated/ignorant, abused/abuser, etc. And both the belief and the border crossing nature of the gospel are a good bit of what makes it tempting to be ashamed of.
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:17-18)
We know of course that Jesus did send His apostles to baptize, and Paul did baptize. But I take him here to be emphasizing the supremacy of the preached word. If we can borrow a phrase from catholic ecclesiology, the Word is the first among equals. And this is because Jesus is the Word (Jn. 1:1). But this isn’t rationalism or intellectualism – as though people are saved by diagramming sentences or reading fat theology books – because the efficacy isn’t in the rhetoric or mental gymnastics. The power is in what is preached, namely the cross of Christ. Again, Paul points out that this will appear foolish to those who are perishing, but to those who believe and are saved, it is seen clearly to be the power of God. People may be tempted to ascribe power to water, but the power is in the Word.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:1-4)
Just so we’re clear about what Paul was preaching, he says it here succinctly: Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day, and all according to the scriptures. Notice that Paul again clearly states that being saved is receiving this message, believing this message, and keeping it in mind: remembering it. Notice too that this is not a special technique for better health, successful business ventures, or happily-ever-after stories. The message is an event that took place in history that accomplished something objectively. And the response to that announcement is either belief or unbelief. One of the obvious signs that you are a receiver is that you become a deliverer.
“Now it was not written for his sake alone [Abraham’s], that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (Rom. 4:23-25)
Beginning at the end of these verses, we should note that Paul again easily summarizes what he means by the gospel: Jesus died for our offences and was raised again for our justification. Again, the key response is faith/belief in Jesus who accomplished this thing. Here, Paul is specifically arguing from the story of Abraham that this faith is the fundamental thing. This faith looks at past and present circumstances and trusts the promise of God for blessing in the future. That fallen, failing, corrupt, and weak men can trust God for a mind blowing future (glory) is staggering, and it depends entirely on the gospel: He was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification. God imputes the righteous obedience of Jesus to those who believe this, granting them peace and joy and the right to hope for glory (Rom. 5:1-2).
But not to put too fine a point on it: we don’t deserve it.
“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Rom. 5:6-10).
“The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23)
Putting these passages together with the previous ones that we’ve looked at, the gospel is good news for the ungodly, for sinners, for enemies. What do the ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God deserve? They justly deserve death, cursing, damnation, wrath, but God has intervened and sent His own Son to bear that death, that curse, that wrath for our sin. And this is why His blood justifies: it is the proof, the evidence that the penalty has been fully paid and so we can now go free. By the death of His Son, God has not only paid our debts, but He has also made us His friends again. Now we have peace with God through Jesus (Rom. 5:1).
This straight, bloody gospel makes proud men humble, makes cowardly men courageous, makes angry, frustrated men peaceable and joyful. It humbles the proud because you don’t deserve it. It gives courage to the cowardly because you can’t lose eternal life. And it encourages the discouraged because the worst is already over.
Assignment: Explain this gospel to at least one person this week. It may be a professing believer or an unbeliever, it may be someone you know well or a complete stranger, but it must be explained genuinely.