By: T.M. Moore|Published: November 24, 2009 4:59 PM
The Achievement of the Gospel
Late in the ninth century, somewhere in Ireland, an observant Celtic bishop began to be alarmed at the fact that certain words, which he considered to be important for the Irish and Christian experience, were falling into disuse.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age... Galatians 1:4,5
Determined to preserve as many of these as he could, Cormac began assembling a Glossary of perfectly good and useful terms that, in his day, were disappearing from the Irish tongue.
We need a Cormac for our own day.
In the minds of many contemporary believers, words and practices that previous generations regarded as integral to the Christian faith have gone stale and are in need either of “refreshing” or of simply being set aside.
This is one of primary factors motivating the rise of contemporary Christian pop culture, the transformation of worship, and the appearance of new forms of evangelical Christianity which are determined to distance themselves from that label in a variety of ways. Like Eliza Doolittle, complaining to Freddie, many erstwhile evangelical believers are complaining, “Words, words, words! I’m so sick of words! Is that all you blighters can do?”
The old words of the Christian faith have lost their meaning for many believers because they have become mere words, accompanied by little substance, either of significance or action. The fact that this generation fails to find these words appealing or relevant does not for a moment negate their value. That value simply needs to be rediscovered before the words will be owned anew.
We could cite many examples; however, I want to concentrate on rehabilitating only one word, a word of tremendous significance for understanding what it means to be a Christian and for making the Good News of the Kingdom known to others.
Why Jesus died
According to the Apostle Paul, Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to deliver us from the present evil age. There’s the word—“deliver”—that I want to consider more closely. We don’t hear this word much in Christian circles these days. It used to be prominent along the sawdust trail and in revival hymnody. I can’t remember the last time I heard a Christian describe his experience of Christ as his having been “delivered.”
But it’s a good word and worth retaining in our vocabulary. Besides, it’s a very biblical word, and we should not be involved in obscuring, avoiding, or simply setting aside good biblical words. Our duty, on the contrary, is to learn such words and to use them as God intends.
We can only truly understand the scope and achievement of the Gospel as we commit to understanding such words as “delivered.” In what sense or senses should they who believe in Jesus Christ regard themselves as “delivered”?
Beginning at Galatians 1 and browsing around Paul’s other epistles we can identify six senses in which we have been “delivered” from this present evil age by the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Deliverance six ways
In the first place, those who have been delivered by our Lord Jesus Christ are spared the judgment of God against this present evil age. This has two facets.
First, there is the judgment which is being poured out even now (Romans 1:18-32). In Paul’s understanding, God is exercising judgment against unrepentant sinners by simply turning them over to their own sinful choices. The result is they become trapped in a downward spiral of increasing sin and misery, culminating in death and separation from God.
The Christian is able to avoid that hamartiological whirlpool by looking to Jesus, trusting in Him, and devoting himself heart, soul, mind, and strength to following Jesus in His way, along the pathway of God’s Law (Romans 7:12), rather than according to our own best ideas.
This, then, enables the believer to live in the hope that he will be delivered from the second facet of God’s judgment, which is yet to come, when men, who insist on living their own lives and who persist in rejecting the offer of free, delivering grace, will be separated from God forever. Those who believe in Jesus are delivered from the power of present judgment and the penalty of eternal judgment before a holy and just God.
The second way in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ delivers those who believe is from the power of evil which is so widespread and all-pervasive in this age. Believers are able to resist the devil’s attempts to pull them off track in their walk with the Lord. By recognizing temptation for what it is and looking to the Lord to show us the way of escape, we may avoid the power of evil to draw us into sin and thus make progress in bringing holiness to a higher state of completion (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 7:1). Filled with the power of God, believers are able to draw on that delivering power to get beyond old sinful habits, thoughts, or practices, so that they are delivered from the power of evil and may continue to grow in the light of Truth (Ephesians 3:20).
Third, and as a consequence of these first two forms of deliverance, believers are spared the misery of those who are trapped in sin and vulnerable to every temptation that comes their way in this present evil age. Many have written or commented on the apparent lack of joy and happiness among people today. Use of anxiety-decreasing drugs continues to rise. Alcohol is more widely abused than ever. Depression is common to increasing numbers of people.
These conditions persist for a number of reasons, one of which is that people aren’t pleased with themselves. They violate their own consciences, can’t live up to their aspirations and ideals, and live a kind of quiet misery, with little hope that they will ever know anything different.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ provides transforming power to deliverpeople from such misery, so that real peace, hope, joy, and love become increasingly the possession of those who believe (Romans 14:17; Philippians 4:6,7). By resisting the temptations of this present evil age, the followers of Christ exercise the power of His deliverance to know real righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ believers are delivered from the fears of a generation without hope. Chief among these is the fear of death (Ephesians 2:12; Hebrews 2:15). Believers know they are going to die, but they do not dread dying; they have no need to euphemize death and no reason to tremble before its prospect. Because they know that dying is not the end of life but merely a stage along the way to a higher form of existence (Philippians 1:21), believers may approach death with peace, confidence, and even joy. For those who do not believe, death is a tragedy—the end of all hope, life, and existence. But believers are deliveredfrom such fears and liberated to look forward to eternal glory and existence beyond death and the grave (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).
Fifth, beyond the grasp of the power, misery, and fear of this present evil age, believers are delivered by the Gospel to understand and embrace the will of God for their lives (Philippians 2:2,13). God has made people for full and abundant lives, and He is able to make His wisdom and ways known to those who believe so that they do not have to live like those who have no hope, but may walk in the light of Truth and know the sheer joy of doing the will of God in every area of their lives (Ephesians 2:8-10; 5:15-17).
Finally, believers are delivered by the Gospel into the arena of God’s glory, so that they may know Him truly, as He is, and may live, increasingly, in a way that shows His glory—His presence, beauty, goodness, truth, and many distinct virtues—to all the people in their everyday lives (2 Corinthians 3:12-18; 1 Corinthians 10:31).
Jesus Christ died to deliverbelievers from this present evil age. As we can see, it makes good sense for believers to hold on to this term, to speak gladly and unapologetically of being deliveredby the Gospel, and to celebrate that deliverance and offer it gladly so that whosoever will may come.
Thus, when we offer the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors, let us hold it out in all its grandeur and its glorious prospects. We don’t want to say to people, merely, that if they believe in Jesus He will forgive their sins and take them to heaven when they die. Yes, that’s true; however, such a facile explanation of the Gospel obscures the powerful scope of the deliveringpower of grace.
Instead, let us invite our friends and neighbors to consider a way of life that offers real and lasting deliverance from misery, fear, disappointment, confusion, uncertainty, hopelessness, and the exasperating inability to live up to their own expectations and ideals. Let us hold out Jesus as their Deliverer and the Gospel as the power for deliverance that, deep inside, each person is desperate to know.
For Jesus came to bring a power that trumps our sinfulness, transforms our outlook, and treats us to a way of life filled with Truth, power, and hope for the glory of God (Romans 5:1,2). The Gospel of Jesus Christ delivers us from this present evil age and all its foibles, follies, and failings, into a Kingdom of righteousness, peace, joy, light, and hope from which nothing can shake us free.
There is thus great hope in that word, deliverance. We must not lose sight of this great hope, and we must not let it go.
Typically, when you share the Gospel with someone, how do you phrase it? Can you see a way to work more of the language of deliverance into your presentation of the Gospel?
Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Chuck Colson or Prison Fellowship. Outside links are for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.