Beyond Belief
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira

Chapter 3 – The Gospel Defined

In the centuries before Jesus came to earth, the people of Alexandria in North Africa depended for their survival on the wheat brought by grain ships from Phoenicia (present-day Lebanon).  It was good news indeed, then, when these ships appeared in port.  The Greek-speaking residents of Alexandria actually coined a word to announce the good news that the grain ships had arrived.  It is this Greek word that the New Testament uses for the “gospel” — the unconditional good news of salvation for all mankind made sure by the historial reality of Jesus’ birth, life, and death [see Mark 16:15; Romans 1:1-14; 10:13-15].  The gospel is “good news” indeed.

The apostle Paul calls this gospel “the righteousness of God” [Romans 1:16, 17; 3:21].  By this, he means that righteousness which God:

  1. planned and initiated before the foundation of the world [see Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8];

  2. promised since the Fall [see Genesis 3:15]; and

  3. fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus Christ [see John 3:16, 17; Galatians 4:4-5].

In other words, it is a righteousness that is entirely of God’s doing, without any human contribution whatsoever [see Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16].  In Christ, according to this gospel, humanity stands perfect and complete before God and His holy law [see Colossians 2:10; Romans 10:4].  This salvation delivers us from the three predicaments that we face as sinful human beings.  It saves us from:

  1. the guilt and punishment of sin;
  2. the power and slavery of sin; and
  3. the nature and presence of sin.

The first salvation is the means of our justification.  The second is the means of our sanctification.  And the third is the means of our glorification.  We need to realize that although we Christians can claim justification as an already-established fact [see Romans 5:1], sanctification is a continuous, ongoing experience [see 1 Thessalonians 4:2-7; 5:23].  And glorification is a future hope to be realized at the second coming of Jesus [see Romans 8:24, 25; Philippians 3:20-21].

All three of these aspects of our salvation — justification, sanctification, and glorification — have already been accomplished in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, all three are offered to us in Christ; they cannot be separated.  Whom God has justified, He will also sanctify and glorify if we do not turn our backs on Him through unbelief [see Romans 8:30; Hebrews 10:38-39].  All three aspects of salvation make up the gospel — the good news of salvation — and, since they come to us in one parcel, Jesus Christ, they are inseparable.  We cannot choose to receive one without the others.

Everything we experience in our salvation — either in this world or in the world to come — is based on the finished work of our Lord Jesus.  The foundation of all our Christian experience is His birth, life, death, and resurrection.  For this reason, we must be grounded in the truth as it is in Him.  This is vital, because if our understanding of what Jesus accomplished in His earthly mission is partial or incomplete, so will be our experience.  That’s why He said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” [John 8:32].  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” [John 8:36].

Our understanding affects our experience.  For example, when some of the Christians at Corinth denied the resurrection of believers, Paul didn’t try to defend the truth of the resurrection by citing proof texts.  Instead, he argued that Christians would be raised to life because Jesus had been raised to life [see 1 Corinthians 15:12-23].  Likewise, Peter comforted suffering Christians by pointing out that, because they were suffering like Christ, they would one day be glorified with Him as well [see 1 Peter 4:13].

Through faith, we identify ourselves with jesus Christ and His crucifixion.  This means that, at conversion, when we believe and accept Jesus as our Savior, we subjectively become one with Him, and His death becomes our death.  Faith is being sure of things hoped for (God’s salvation in Christ), the substance of which we have not yet fully experienced [see Hebrews 11:1].

The Two Aspects of Salvation

We can divide salvation into two related, but distinct, aspects.  First, salvation is what God has already accomplished for all mankind in the life and death of Jesus.  This salvation, Jesus said, is the good news, the gospel, and He commissioned His disciples to proclaim it to all the world [see Mark 16:15].  Paul often describes this salvation as you in Christ [see 1 Corinthians 1:30-31; Ephesians 1:3-6, 2:13; Philippians 3:9].  This salvation is an objective truth realized in the earthly history of Christ and, therefore, we can refer to it theologically as the objective gospel.

Second, Scripture also refers to salvation as what God accomplishes in us through the Holy Spririt.  This aspect of salvation is not something in addition to the objective facts of the gospel.  It is making real in experience what God has already accomplished for us objectively in Christ.  This second phase of salvation may be described, then, as the fruits of the objective gospel.  Paul often refers to it by the expression Christ in you [see Romans 8:10; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27].  It includes peace with God that comes as a result of justification by faith [see Romans 5:1; Acts 10:36; Colossians 1:20]; holiness of living and victory over sin through the process of sanctification by faith [see Romans 6:22; 2 Peter 1:5-7], and the changing of our sinful natures to sinless ones through the glorification to be realized at Christ’s second coming [see Romans 8:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; Philippians 3:20-21].  Since this second aspects of salvation has to do with our experience, it is often called the subjective gospel.

Today, many Christians are confused about these two aspects of salvation.  The confusion comes as a result of failing to see the distinction between what God has already accomplished in Christ some 2,000 years ago and what He is presently doing in the lives of believers through the indwelling Spirit.  In turn, this confusion has led to much controversy over the doctrine of righteousness by faith.  Christ is our righteousness in both of these aspects of salvation; both are made effective by faith alone.  But there are important distinctions between the two.

We often describe the first aspect of salvation — the objective gospel — as the imputed righteousness of Christ.  This is what qualifies the believer for heaven, both now and in the judgment.  We describe the second aspect of salvation — the subjective gospel — as the imparted righteousness of Christ.  This is what gives evidence of the reality of the imputed righteousness of Christ in the life.  It does not contribute in the slightest way to our qualification for heaven; it witnesses, or demonstrates, what is already true of us in Christ.  Imparted righteousness does not qualify us for heaven, but, if it is lacking in our lives, that is evidence that we either do not clearly understand the gospel or that we have rejected the gift of imputed righteousness.  A refusal to clothe ourselves with the imputed righteousness of Christ indicates we do not have genuine faith and, therefore, unfits us for heaven [see James 2:20-23; Matthew 22:11-13].

Differences Between ‘Objective’ and ‘Subjective’ Gospels

There are four main differences between the objective gospel (“you in Christ”) and the subjective gospel (“Christ in you”).

  1. Complete/Incomplete.  Objectively, “in Christ,” we stand complete and perfect in all righteousness [see 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 2:10].  Subjectively, “Christ in you” is an ongoing, growing process of sanctification, to be realized before the second coming, and the glorification of our bodies and natures, to be experienced at the second coming [see Romans 5:3-5; 8:18-23; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Philippians 3:12-14, 20-21; Colossians 1:27; 2:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Peter 1:3-8].

  2. Universal/Particular.  “In Christ,” all humanity was redeemed — legally justified and reconciled to God [see Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2].  “Christ in you” applies only to believers who have by faith experienced the new birth [see John 3:16; Romans 8:9-10; 1 Corinthians 6:17-20; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 6:14-16; 1 Timothy 4:10].

  3. Outside of Us/Allied.  “In Christ,” the righteousness accomplished is without any help or contribution from us [see Romans 3:21, 28; Philippians 3:9].  “Christ in you” involves the cooperation of believers who by faith are walking in the Spirit [see John 15:1-5; 17:23; Romans 8:9-14; 13:12-14; Galatians 2:20; 1 John 3:23-24].

  4. Meritorious/Demonstrative.  Righteousness “in Christ” is the only means of our salvation and, unless we resist and reject it, it fully qualifies us for heaven both now and in the judgment [see Acts 13:39; Romans 3:28; 10:4; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5].  “Christ in you” witnesses to — or gives evidence of — our salvation in Christ, but it is not meritorious [see Matthew 5:14-16; John 13:34-35; 14:12; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8].

The objective truth of the gospel is that Jesus Christ has already accomplished everything necessary for sinful men and women to be declared righteous and candidates for heaven.  Therefore, those who welcome their position in Christ are considered by God as being already righteous, holy, sanctified, and glorified “in Christ” [see Ephesians 1:3-6; 2:5-6; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11].  Luther’s great rediscovery that “the just shall live by faith” [Romans 1:17] was the greatest truth to arise in men’s minds since the falling away of the gospel in the Dark Ages.

The ‘In Christ’ Motif

The central theme of the aspostle Paul’s theology regarding the gospel is the “in Christ” motif or idea.  It is based on the biblical teaching of solidarity or corporate oneness, a concept that is largely foreign to the Western mind, although still common in many parts of the world today.  The Bible plainly teaches that the whole of humanity is linked together in a common life and, therefore, constitutes a unit or a shared identity — a corporate oneness.

Notice, for example, how the writer of Hebrews uses this concept of corporate oneness to skillfully weave his argument that Christ’s Melchizedec priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood [see Hebrews 6:20-7:28].  First, he proves that Melchizedec was superior to Levi.  Once he establishes that, it isn’t hard to see how Christ’s priesthood after the order of Melchizedec is superior to the Levitical priesthood.

But how does the writer of Hebrews prove that Melchizedec is superior to Levi?  Simply by reminding his readers that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedec.  The argument is briliant; the one who pays tithes is always inferior to the one to whom tithes are paid.  But Levi never paid tithes to Melchizedec as an individual!  He wasn’t even born in the time of Melchizedec.  How, then did he do it?  “In Abraham,” says the writer of Hebrews.

Levi, Abraham’s great-grandson, who had not yet been born, “was yet in the loins” of Abraham [Hebrews 7:10] when Abraham met Melchizedec and paid tithes to him [see verses 7-10].  This whole argument is based on the idea of corporate oneness.  It helps us understand how all humanity stands condemned “in Adam” and is justified “in Christ,” since all humanity were “in the loins” of these two men and were, therefore, implicated in what they both did.

The Bible view, then, is that God created all mankind in one man, Adam.  “...The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into this nostrils the breath of life” [Genesis 2:7; cf. Acts 17:26].  The Hebrew word translated “life” in this verse is in the plural form; it says literally that God breathed into Adam “the breath of lives,” that is, the lives of all human beings.

In the same way, the bible considers that when Adam fell, the whole human family fell “in him.”  Since Adam’s sin took place before he had children who could make their own moral decisions, his fall into sin plunged the entire human race into sin [see Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22].  This view is difficult for the Western mind to grasp and accept because it is much more accustomed to thinking in individualistic terms.  However, the idea of all mankind, as a corporate unit, participating in Adam’s fall is clearly taught in the Scriptures.

If the downside of the idea of corporate oneness is that we all fell in the one man, Adam, the glorious upside of the idea is that God likewise has redeemed all of us in the one man, Jesus Christ, who is the “second Adam” [see Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:19-23; 45-49].  God has legally justified all mankind in Christ just as surely as Satan has brought about the condemnation of all mankind in Adam [see Romans 5:18].

By God’s miraculous act, initiated and carried out by Him alone, He united in one person — Jesus Christ — our corporate humanity that needed redeeming with His own perfect divine nature.  At His incarnation, Christ assumed the corporate life of the entire human race in its fallen condition [see 1 Corinthians 1:30].  Through this mysterious union, God qualified Christ to become the second or “last Adam” [1 Corinthians 15:45].  In Hebrew, the word Adam means “mankind” and, as the second Adam, Jesus Christ became the representative and substitute of corporate humanity.  The entire human race is corporately one “in Him” just as we are one “in Adam.”  What Jesus did, we have done, because we are corporately one in Him.  Thus His life and death, which fully met the positive demands of God’s holy law as well as its justice, are considered to be our life and death also.  “In Him,” we are justified because His life and ours were forever linked at the incarnation.  This, in brief, is Paul’s “in Christ” motif.  It is what constitutes the good news of the gospel [see Ephesians 1:3-12; 2:4-7].

Jesus Christ can abide in you through the Holy Spirit [see Romans 8:9-10] and fulfill in your life the demands of God’s holy law [see verse 4] only because of the objective fact that “in Christ” you have already met all the requirements and demands of the law.  That is why Paul comes to this conclusion regarding justification by faith:  “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?  Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” [Romans 3:31; cf. 10:4].

The idea of corporate oneness — that all humanity was “in Christ” — gives a new understanding to the Bible’s teaching of Christ as our Substitute.  There is an ethical dilemma in the way we usually think of Christ as our Substitute, a dilemma that is solved by the concept of corporate oneness.  That is what we will turn our attention to in the next chapter.


Key Points in Chapter 3
• The Gospel Defined •
  1. In the New Testament, the “gospel” is the unconditional good news of salvation for all mankind made sure by the historical reality of Jesus’ birth, life, and death [see Mark 16:15; Romans 1:1-14; 10:13-15].

  2. This salvation delivers us from the three predicaments we face as sinful human beings.  It saves us from:

    1. the guilt and punishment of sin (this is our justification);
    2. the power and slavery of sin (this is our sanctification); and
    3. the nature and presence of sin (this is our glorification).

  3. All three of these aspects of salvation — justification, sanctification, and glorification — have already been accomplished in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  4. The apostle Paul describes the salvation God has already accomplished for all humanity in the finished work of Jesus as “you in Christ” [see 1 Corinthians 1:30-31; Ephesians 1:3-6; 2:13; Philippians 3:9].  If can also be referred to as the “objective gospel” because it is an objective truth realized in the earthly history of Jesus.

  5. Paul describes the salvation God accomplishes in men and women through the Holy Spirit as “Christ in you” [see Romans 8:10; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17].  It can also be referred to as the “subjective gospel” because it is making real in our experience what God has already accomplished for us objectively in Christ.

  6. The objective gospel (the imputed righteousness of Christ) is what qualifies us for heaven, both now and in the judgment.

  7. The subjective gospel (the imparted righteousness of Christ) does not contribute to our qualification for heaven; it gives evidence of the reality of Christ’s imputed righteousness in the life.

  8. The Bible teaches that the whole of humanity is linked together in a common life and, therefore, makes up a unit or a shared identity — a corporate oneness [see Hebrews 6:20-7:28].

  9. The Bible view is that God created all mankind in one man — Adam.  When Adam fell, the whole human face fell “in him” because of our shared identity with him.  All mankind, as a corporate unit, participated in Adam’s fall [see Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22].

  10. Likewise, the Bible teaches that God has redeemed all humanity in one man, Jesus Christ, the second Adam [see Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:19-23; 45-49].

  11. At His incarnation, Jesus assumed the corporate life of the whole human race in its fallen condition [see 1 Corinthians 1:30].  The entire human face is corporately one “in Jesus Christ,” just as we are one “in Adam.”  What Jesus did, we have done, because we are corporately one in Him.  His perfect life and death are considered to be our life and death as well [see Ephesians 1:3-12; 2:4-7].

  12. This “in Christ” motif, based on the biblical teaching of solidarity or corporate oneness, is the central theme of Paul’s theology regarding the gospel.

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