What is the Gospel? What is Christianity? The following is a summary of what you can find on Doug Jones' "The Why and What of Christianity" found on our site here. For those who want a a little shorter version I have edited his great article here. By clicking on the various links you can be taken to his larger and more complete article.
INTRO: Fallen Man Has Deceived Himself About Reality - All men have a worldview (a view about how the world and therefore reality operates). But many have decieved themselves about what is true and what is false. The kind of deception I'm suggesting isn't the rather unbelievable sort, like being mistaken about whether your left thumb is really an African elephant.
Non-Christian thought has no cogent answer for such evident and world encompassing self-deception, but Christianity does. In Romans 1:18ff, the Apostle Paul famously describes non-Christians as those who know the truth of the Christian Creator and Judge but "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." God has made the knowledge of Himself so clear "that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20). (For more detail see here).
A. Reason and Faith are Twins - Christian faith doesn't ask us to act blindly, seeking to go contrary to reality. It seeks to follow the same procedure as the person devoted to rationality, though of course the two appeal to opposing ultimate standards.
(For example)..contrary to all the prevailing evidence that descendants are unlikely if you yourself lack a child, and contrary to all the evidence against a solitary, elderly gentleman beating back a host of hostile armies, Abraham believed in the Lord (Genesis 15:6). ...When God required Abraham to offer up his son, Isaac.. instead of being "rational" as some take it, explaining to God that corpses don't make good fathers of many descendants, Abraham had faith, believing the absurdity that God was able to raise his son from the dead in order to fulfill His promise of many descendants.
Faith and reason are not enemies but identical. They both seek conformity to the highest rule of truth. And... though non-Christians profess to obey their own alleged rules of truth, not one of them does so faithfully. They all act as though the Christian view of reality is true, all the while denying it. That is true irrationality. That is true blind faith. In stark contrast, Christianity rejects blind faith and calls us to bow before the Christian God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph -- the supreme standard of thought and life, to whom all rational people ought to conform.
B. The Jewishness of Christianity - Christianity self-consciously saw itself as the continuing outgrowth, the fulfillment, of true Judaism. As such, Christianity didn't start in first century but long before with King David, Moses, Abraham, and ultimately the first man, Adam. Everything in older Judaism was building up and pointing to the work of Jesus Christ. Over and over, the early disciples explained that Christ was the fulfillment of the ancient promises of Judaism.
Christ's Apostles declared the message that "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us... that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus .... And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:13,14,29; cf. Acts 3:20-26). Christianity is ancient Judaism fulfilled, and, as such, Christianity is the world's oldest faith, dating back to the very beginning of creation.
Christianity's Jewishness is pervasive indeed. Probably one of the most central notions of Christianity now often closely associated with Judaism is the notion of a covenant...... To start, a covenant is a special kind of relationship between persons. ..A covenant is so important in grasping basic Christianity because the Bible makes clear that this is the sort of relationship that God chose to have with humans....
I. Paradise Given: God and Creation - According to popular, twentieth-century dogma, no thinking person is supposed to reject the theory of evolution, the view that living things developed gradually as a result of the interaction of chance and selection. But the mythology behind evolutionary theory is very old, and biblical faith has always battled this religion.
Faithful Christianity has never been tempted to accommodate this alien religion since evolutionary theory is not limited to just the question of origins; its implications seek to undermine every aspect of a Christian view of reality -- creation, Fall, and redemption.
A. Creation reveals a fundamental distinction between God and man - In so many religions, humans and the world are outgrowths of a divine being. For them, God and man are on par; they are made of the same stuff and bow to the same rules...He is the Creator, and we are the created: "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8,9).
B. Creation reveals God's sovereignty over all things - Therefore everything in creation stands under His power...As Creator and ruler, everything is under His control, and no one can thwart His plans: "No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?"' (Daniel 4:35).
C. Creation reveals God's right to be glorified in all things - You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created" (Revelation 4:11)...see also 1 Corinthians 10:31.
D. Creation reveals God's lordship and our servanthood - Scripture speaks of God as the master potter and His creation as the clay formed by Him: "Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay... ?"' (Romans 9:20,21)..Deuteronomy 6:4...Ephesians 1:21
E. Creation reveals God's goodness - God doesn't need man or owe man anything. Yet He created us and gave us a beautiful creation to tend and tame...Creation reveals God's covenantal relationship to all mankind: In creating all things, God also created especially unique beings, humans...Most importantly for everything else that follows in history, God related to the first man, Adam, in a special way, a covenantal way.... .. Adam, the family head, the legal representative of the whole human race acted in our place. His faithfulness as our representative could pass on the eternal blessing of harmony and peace with God. Tragically, though, instead of faithful gratitude for God's goodness, Adam, our representative, rebelled.
II. Paradise Lost: Human Rebellion - The Fall of man has long been the butt of movie and television jokes, and the conspiracy to trivialize it has succeeded for the gullible. But instead of caricaturing Adam and Eve as naked simpletons munching fruit, we should see their faces in the culture of death engulfing us.
A. The Fall and Original Sin - God also gave Adam a simple command of faithfulness, as was God's right, and Adam chose futility for the human race...The double-edged truth about covenants and representatives is that they may bring us blessings or curses. ...When Adam rejected God, the whole human race rejected God and embraced spiritual death: "in Adam all die" (1 Corinthians 15:22). And we continue to bear that guilty shame from the day we are born. We are born alienated from God by Adam's guilt imputed to us, and because of this we are born with God's justified wrath against us...This pollution is all encompassing like death. We're told that the unbelieving mind "is death" (Romans 8:6), "being dead in [its] trespasses" (Colossians 2:13). ...John 8:34...Titus 3:3....Ephesians 4:18..John 3:19). Blind, enslaved, and dead rebels are in no place to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to try to please God.
B. The Fall and Actual Sin - But humans haven't just rested in bearing Adam's covenantal guilt and the ingrained pollution of sin. We have excelled in working out our own actual rebellion against God by our lies, adulteries, hatreds, vanities, blasphemies, idolatries, and envies... The Scripture explains that "sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). That is, God has revealed to mankind His standards of holy character, and any violation or failure to meet those standards of holiness is sin, rebellion against God... We are dead in our sin, impotent to restore our relationship with God and impotent to turn away His just wrath. Our natural inclination is to oppose God, and because of that, no one is open-minded or neutral about God.
C. The Fall and the Divine Antithesis - Adam's rebellion didn't, just enslave individuals to sin. It brought rebellion to entire cultures. Immediately after the Fall, God Himself imposed a permanent hostility between two cultures, the culture of God's enemies and the culture of God's friends, when He declared to the enemy: "I will put enmity [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed" (Genesis 3:15). The seed of the serpent -- his rebellious heirs throughout history -- and the seed of the woman -- her faithful heirs throughout history -- would be in spiritual combat until the close of history....From the very beginning, God commanded His people to remain faithful and separate from the seed of the serpent. They must refuse to imitate and compromise with an enemy at total war with God. ...Christianity recognizes that the distinctions of race and class are irrelevant to questions of sin and salvation. The friends and enemies of God come "out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9).
D. The Fall and Evil - we should find it curious that those who call Christianity evil or profess to reject Christianity because of all the evil in the world, still have to assume the truth of Christianity in order to make those judgments...... Scripture tells us that sometimes God imposes painful judgment on individuals and cultures because of their rebellion: "If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?" (Amos 3:6).....Most comforting in the face of evil is the Christian confidence that God controls all things, from things that look like chance (Proverbs 16:33) to the most pivotal historical events (Acts 2:23). We should be terrified and without hope if something could overcome God's plan...Ephesians 1:11)... In the midst of evil, God's people have the wonderful assurance that "all things work together for good for those who love God" (Romans 8:28). Only a sovereign, all-controlling God could accomplish that. Evil could never overwhelm God's purposes..
III. Paradise Regained: Christ's Redemptive Work - Given, lost, and regained -- that's the pattern of the Christian message. Through Adam, humans were in fellowship with God, then Adam, our representative, sold his descendants into slavery and destitution, and now Christ, our representative, has purchased His descendants back from slavery to sin.
A. Redemption Anticipated - From the beginning to the end of Scripture, one repeated promise stands out as that connecting backbone, namely, God's promise that "I will be your God, and you shall be My people."....For a better grasp of Christianity, we can follow this primary promise of redemption through the most prominent Old Testament figures: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the major prophets:
1. Adam - God justly pronounced a curse upon Adam and Eve and their descendants. In the midst of the anguish of this curse (Genesis 14:1ff) and after the divine imposition of enmity, hostility, between God's people and His enemies, God mercifully anticipated His redemption of His people by promising that someone from the woman "shall bruise" -- crush and overwhelm -- the serpent's head
2. Noah - Finally God poured out His judgment on all creation by means of a flood that reduced the world population back down to one family once again, a family who had descended from the faithful seed of the woman (Genesis 5)..God made a covenant with Noah as the representative of all his descendants and all the living creatures (Genesis 9:9). God promised never to destroy all life by a flood again..
3. Abraham - God commanded Abraham to be faithful, and Abraham obeyed, leaving his country for another (Genesis 12:1ff) God made a covenant with Abraham and gave that primary promise of being the God of Abraham and his descendants and they His people -- "I will establish My covenant between me and you and your descendants after you... and I will be their God" (Genesis 17:7,8)...Centuries later, the New Testament identified this promise of worldwide blessings through Abraham as the Christian gospel (Galations 3:8) -here is the Jewishness of Christianity indeed! But Abraham never saw the fulfillment of these promises...but accepted it all in faith.
4. Moses - God also promised Abraham that his later descendants would suffer in slavery for a time, though the promise of a land and a people would stand firm...Exodus 6:6,7....So God renewed His covenant with the descendants of Abraham, and as with Abraham (Genesis 18:19), God required that His people obey His precious commandments, trusting in Him with all their being (Deuteronomy 6:4) and loving each other as each loves himself (Leviticus 19:18,34)...Included in these commandments was an elaborate system of animal sacrifices that would serve as a continuous reminder to Israel that sin always deserves death. God was so holy that He could not bear to be in the presence of sin, and so the people could only approach their God by symbolically having their sins transferred to another, an animal substitute who would take their just punishment -- a substitutionary atonement.... This form of substitutionary atonement made up the heart of Old Covenant thinking.... But if they (Isreal) rebelled and refused His graciousness, then He would pour out His covenantal curses on them (Deuteronomy 28:45ff) ...At every step in the anticipation of redemption, we learn more about God's goodness and justice, and we continue to learn more about this promised one who will conquer the serpent, bring worldwide blessings of a land and a people, and be a faithful and unique prophet of God.
5. David - But God did not forget His ancient covenantal promises to Abraham and Moses. Throughout that time, He preserved a faithful remnant, and finally revealed more about Himself by calling forth David, a man after God's own heart. David became the most powerful and famous King of Israel. He glorified God in His triumphs (2 Samuel 7:18) and in His repentance for his own horrid sins (Psalm 51:1ff)...Like his predecessors, David recalled that primary covenantal promise, confessing to God that "You have made Your people Israel Your very own people forever; and You, Lord, have become their God" (2 Samuel 7:24)....God had promised Abraham kings as descendants (Genesis 17:6), but to David, He described a kingly throne extending forever.
6. The Prophets - In the time of Israel's exile and despair, God raised up many prophets to condemn and encourage the people...The prophet Isaiah revealed that God had not completely discarded "the descendants of Abraham" (Isaiah 41:8; cf. 29:22; 63:16) and that God would indeed "make an everlasting covenant with you [Israel] -- the sure mercies of David" (Isaiah 55:3; cf. 9:7; 16:5). The prophet Jeremiah similarly revealed that God would restore the "descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (Jeremiah 33:26) so that they would "serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them"...see also (Ezekiel 37:24,25)...
Through Isaiah God reminded Israel, "I am the Lord your God .... You are My people" (Isaiah 51:15,16). Through Jeremiah, God testified, "They shall be My people, and I will be their God" (Jeremiah 32:38). Ezekiel too prophesied, "I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them .... You shall be My people, and I will be your God" (Ezekiel 34:24; 36:28)....The prophets also elaborated more on God's good news that through Abraham He would bless all the families of the earth....The prophet Amos saw that when the future David would arise, Israel would include "all the Gentiles called by [God's] name" (Amos 9:12)....Similarly, the prophet Joel declared God's promise that "it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh," all mankind (Joel 2:28)....Most significantly, Jeremiah spoke of this future time as the time of the New Covenant of which God declared:
"I will put My law in their minds, and write it ors their hearts; and I will be their God, arid they shall be My people" (Jeremiah 31:31-34)....This future covenant would not be like the older covenant where the people could not be faithful. In this New Covenant, God Himself would ensure their faithfulness by planting His commandments on their minds and writing His law on their hearts. ...see (Ezekiel 36:25-28)...Through Isaiah especially, God foretold of a special servant: ..."By His knowledge My righteous servant shall justify many, for He will bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 52:13ff).....This is the glorious divine resolution of the problem of God's justice! God would provide a righteous substitute to take the punishment of His people. He would be in close harmony and peace with His people, pouring out His transforming Spirit on them, by punishing the substitute who would represent His people.
B. Redemption Secured - With such a glorious anticipation, the people of God waited the fulfillment of all the ancient promises....Mary herself recognized this as God's fulfillment of His ancient promises to Abraham: "He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever" (Luke 1:54,55).....Christ Himself confessed to being the long-awaited Messiah (John 4:26) and said, "Abraham rejoiced to see My day" (John 8:56)....Significantly as well, the early Christians recognized the coming of Christ as the initiation of the New Covenant and saw this better covenant as the fulfillment of that primary promise, "I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Hebrews 8:10; 2 Corinthians 6:18).
1. Sacrificial Substitute - At the very core of securing a restored relationship between God and His people stands the need for bloodshed. Before the redemptive blessings promised to Abraham could go to all the world, the people had to be truly cleared of sin. And this bloodshed couldn't be the sort of symbolic, ineffective animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant....Christ's central mission was to serve as the blameless, sacrificial Lamb of God "to save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21) by being sacrificed on the Cross at Calvary. He Himself said that He had come "to serve and give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Just as Isaiah had prophesied, "for the transgressions of My people He was stricken" (Isaiah 53:8)...The Bible describes Christ's sacrifice as a propitiation, an important term that speaks of a sacrifice that turns away the wrath, the anger, of God. Given the Fall of man, we know that God is angry with humans for their senseless rebellion. ....see (1 John 4:9-10)...As the Apostle Paul explained, Christ's gracious propitiation shows us the justice and the love of God in one pivotal event (Romans 3:23-26)
2. Justification - Christ's propitiatory sacrifice is the means by which God forgives our sin, the means by which He justifies us, authoritatively declaring us not guilty of our crimes..cf. (Deuteronomy 25:1)....But God cannot just overlook our flagrant and deep rebellion and arbitrarily declare us not guilty. That would be contrary to His holy nature. In order to declare us not guilty, He imputed or covenantally attributed His people's sin to their New Covenant representative, Jesus Christ; and in turn, God has imputed or attributed Christ's righteousness to His people -- a gracious double imputation...(2 Corinthians 5:21)...."through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation" (Romans 5:18). Where Adam was disobedient to His covenant with God, Christ was obedient -- "I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10). Where Adam failed, Christ, "the second Adam," succeeded --'"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22).... "not having (our] own righteousness . . . but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (Phiippians 3:9)... Faith in Christ is a wholehearted trust and dependence upon Christ's work, not our own, for reconciliation with God. Such faith is just like Abraham's, Moses', and David's, a trusting in God's righteousness...But faith is not the ground, the foundation, of our salvation; it is merely the means. The ground of our salvation is Christ's perfect work on the cross.
C. Redemption Applied - God showed Ezekiel a valley full of dead men's bones drying in the sun (Ezekiel 37:1ff). Then He told Ezekiel to do something very odd -- to preach to the bones. By means of that preaching, God turned this valley of dead men into a living, vibrant army of His people. In the same way, the Holy Spirit gives life to the dead, sight to the blind, faith to the rebellious.....God is three-in-one, a tri-unity, or a Trinity. .. The Son, though equal to the Father (Philippians 2:5), submitted Himself and took on a human body (John l:lff.) in order to represent humans as Adam did. The Holy Spirit, in turn, came after the work of the Son (John 16:7) in order to empower and apply the redemption secured by Christ.
1. Sanctification - Justification removes our guilt but not our sinfulness. After justification, God's people need to be renewed and transformed inwardly...Christians don't become godly overnight, though they may now want to. Christians, though justified, will continue to fight against sin in their lives just as a legally victorious army may have to fight pockets of resistance long after the war has ended...The goal of sanctification is for every Christian to imitate the godliness found in Christ, our primary model....More specifically, the Holy Spirit aims to produce virtues in God's people, virtues that ought to distinguish them from all other communities. Scripture describes these virtues as "the fruit of the Holy Spirit" -- (Galations 6:22ff)..Over and over again, Scripture exhorts God's people to true Christian living, to true fruitfulness in the Spirit. Any Christian who doesn't have this as his chief priority under God is malformed in some way.
a. Godliness Exercised - The Holy Spirit aids us in our sanctification, our growth in godliness, through various means. The Apostle Paul exhorts, "exercise yourself toward godliness" (1 Timothy 4:7)...The Holy Spirit uses all these things to discipline us into godliness. We train so as to replace our non-Christian habits with Christian habits, so that our tempers and reactions will be more and more like Christ's.
b. The Standard of Sanctification - The Apostle James tells us that the person "who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:25). God's law given to Moses is that "perfect law of liberty." It forms the standards for Christian behavior and shows us our priorities....The Apostle Paul described God's law as "holy and just and good." (Romans 7:12). Christ declared that "whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19ff). Much earlier, David glorified God for the profound wisdom revealed in these laws...The fruit of the Spirit and God's law go hand in hand. Christ's Apostles defined love as keeping the law. See Romans 13:10...1 John 5:2-3
c. Sanctified Worldview - God is the Lord over all things not just our inner life. He is Lord over our families, work, recreation, education, economics, civil affairs, art, philosophy, science, and every other feature of life....After all, we're told that "all Scripture... is profitable for doctrine, reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (1 Timothy 3:16). Scripture, therefore, equips us to understand and make judgments about every issue under God. Of course, much work still needs to be done in many areas, but much work has already been done.
2. The Church - Central to all of Christian sanctification stands the Church. Christ didn't establish a disjointed, individualistic people; He established a covenantal community -- the Church -- a community of those in submission to Christ and each other, a community that shares the bonds of faith and family and service and worship...In all, the Church is supposed to be a sanctifying community in which we grow by God-honoring worship, the proclamation of God's word, Church ceremonies (like baptism and the Lord's supper), and close fellowship with other believers of like mind.....we are confident that the Church will prosper wonderfully, growing beyond all the divisions we see today, for as Christ promised "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18) -- that is, the Church will win out over all its enemies.
C. Redemption Fulfilled - Though many contemporary popular expressions of Christianity expect the end of history to arrive with massive disasters, wars, and a nearly extinguished Church, this was not always the case, and a sober understanding of Scripture doesn't lead one in those paths. Historic Protestants have long looked to God's promises rather than the newspapers to get a glimpse of the future....(Genesis 12:3)......Through Isaiah, God also promised Israel, "I will give you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be My salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6; cf. 54:4-5; 66:12).....David declared of the Messiah, "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord's, and He rules over the nations" (Psalm 22:27-28; cf. 72:8-20; 102:15).....In a Christian view of the future of redemption, we should expect a worldwide success for Christianity -- not by impotent physical weapons or ballot-box coercion, but by peacefully proclaiming the gospel at home and throughout the world. This may take thousands of years, but history is on our side, because the sovereign God is still fulfilling His ancient covenantal promises...At the end of the Bible, in Revelation 21, we see paradise truly regained in a vision intentionally reminiscent of the Garden of Eden (Revelation 21:19ff). It is a vision of Christ's Church, united, whole, and complete, adorned for Her husband, Christ. It is a vision of the Church as the "holy Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:2,10) and with gates named for the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:12) on a foundation of the Apostles (Revelation 21:14).....
IV. Creation, Fall, Redemption - - that is the pattern of history, all wrapped around God's promise: "I will be their God, and they shall be My people." God gave Adam paradise for us all; then Adam and we rebelled; then Christ faithfully restored it all and then some......
Trust in Christ and flee from your self-deception -- God can be Your God, and you one of His people. As David said so many centuries ago:
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him (Psalm 2:11-12)