Today, the Lord provided an epiphany (probably not the right term) for me, as understanding and presenting the Gospel came into the place in a more concrete and exciting way.
I was reading and meditating on 1 Corinthians 15 and realized the shear profundity of the Gospel and in turn the necessity of contextualizing it to one’s audience every single time it is presented.
Being apart of Campus Crusade for Christ in college (and in no way am I denigrating this Christ-exalting organization), one was taught to “share” the Gospel via a small booklet. Now as I fully agree with the contents of the “Four Spiritual Laws,” I’ve come to realize that presenting the Gospel in the same way, emphasizing the same Gospel motifs to every single person is not the most effective and Biblical way of doing so.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, Paul encapsulates the Gospel in the most concise way that I personally know of. He says:
3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Here we see that the Gospel is about Jesus: His death for our sins and His burial and subsequent resurrection.
Now as I’ve quoted this verse a number of times, I’ve never really put together the fact that Paul is bringing up the Gospel in this context to combat the heresy that the Corinthians believe there is no resurrection of the dead. It says in verses 12 and 13:
12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
Paul spends the rest of the chapter refuting this false belief. In verses 22-24, 28 it states:
22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power…. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
The chapter climaxes by Paul proclaiming,
55“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In essence, Paul refuted a heresy with one particular motif of the Gospel, namely the resurrection of Christ—Christus Victor.
As I read the New Testament, I’ve seen that no one author ever completely explicates and systematizes the Gospel in its utter entirety. The Gospel is so profound and multi-dimensional that no one author could have possibly ever done so.
Even in Romans, there are other themes and dimensions of the Gospel that this book does not address. The reason being is that the book is situation specific, being written to a people for a specific purpose. We see this everywhere in the NT.
Some really quick examples of the Gospel being contextualized:
§ In 1 Peter 2, servants are called to subject themselves to their masters, with Christ as their prime example, even when they are treated unjustly. The motif of Christ dying unjustly for sinners is expounded as an example to all servants and employees. It says in verses 22-24:
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
§ In 1 John 4:1-7, John is adamant that Jesus Christ is God came in the flesh, in opposition to the antichrists that were denying such. Regarding these secessionist/antichrists John comments in 2:22-23:
Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.
So the doctrines of the incarnation and mediation of Christ with Father, the Gospel is defended for John’s audience because of the infiltration of heretics.
§ In Acts 17 at Mars Hill, as the Greeks enjoyed knowledge and wisdom, Paul points out the reality of God’s sovereignty over the idols that “now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’”
The examples could be increased indefinitely. Even the way Jesus presented Himself to others was very different based on each person and people. Compare the women at the well (John 4) with the Pharisees.
Consequently, Gospel elements of redemption, propitiation, adoption, expiation, justification, union with Christ, Christ our mediator, Christus Victor, Christ Expellar, the Second Coming, etc, etc, are never brought up in a vacuum. There are always put forth put forth for a given people in a specific context.
More often than not, a particular Gospel motif is brought forth to challenge beliefs and deeds of specific people, to impel repentance and faith in Christ. As Tim Keller says, contextualization is giving God’s answers to people’s questions, though people may not enjoy or embrace them.
As it is obvious, contextualization of the Gospel is not only desirable, but necessity and utterly Biblical. The entire Word of God is contextualized.
The implications for the proclamation of the Gospel to both Christians and non-Christians are weighty, to the point that “angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12) and will take an eternity to explore.
But let me put forth a few that have griped by mind and heart presently.
First, every dimension of the Gospel must be preached, proclaimed, and relentlessly dove into—in pulpits, Bible studies, seminaries, and even causal conversations amongst believers. The Gospel is so profound, rich, and vital to the Christian life that one ever dare get past it. There is so much to explore and wrap our hearts around, with nothing more precious to us than to know the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
Second, as one comes to know the Gospel in increasing depth and dimensionality, one will be more equipped to proclaim the Gospel to non-believers in a more relevant, contextualized way. If a non-believer is struggling with the acceptance of God and others, the reality of adoption might be the entrance into the Gospel. If one is self-righteous, propitiation might be most relevant. If shame, than expiation. If demonic warfare, then Christ as Victor. If the fear of death is controlling, then the resurrection Christ and subsequently our. If guilt, then forgiveness in Christ. If bondage to sin, then the freedom over sin in Christ.
The list could go on indefinitely (with any permutation) and must base on every person and people group we interact with. This will take getting to know people more intimately, and abandoning a shot gun approach to evangelism that may have worked only for the more monolithic generations of past.
Each entrance point should lead into the riches of Christ at the appropriate time, with discipleship resolving around knowing nothing expect Christ and Him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2).
Not all people are asking the same questions to life, and struggling with the same sin. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ answers them all in the most radical and relevant way imaginable