Words Matter: What is the Gospel?
by Mark H. Ballard with Timothy K. Christian
Over the course of my life and ministry, I have looked for books that focus on explaining and expressing The Gospel in simple, clear language that speaks to popular audiences. I have found a few along the way:
- Right With God by John Blanchard
- Basic Christianity by John Stott
- Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
- and now this one – Words Matter: What is The Gospel? by Mark Ballard
This book is actually more like an extended tract or booklet than a full-length book. It is well within the range of readers with either time or attention limitations. The text of the book is only 75 pages. It is written in thoroughly-Scriptural, simple, straightforward, conversational language. In fact, the four short chapters are:
- The Gospel is Crucial
- The Gospel is Clear
- The Gospel is Certain
- The Gospel is Serious
If you are looking for a short read to reboot your own understanding and passion for The Gospel, refresh your ability to explain and express what The Gospel is, or for a book you can easily and confidently place in a friend’s hands to reinforce your Gospel witness, this is it.
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Words! Words! Words!
We are having numerous, multiple conversations among ourselves these days … intense conversations, passionate conversations, oftentimes contentious conversations. We are using words. We express our beliefs and convictions with those words … because words matter, words mean things.
The only problem is, sometimes we use the same word or words, but they mean different things to different speakers and hearers. The speaker is encoding his/her own nuanced thinking into the words, but the hearer is decoding the very same words through his/her mental filters with totally different nuanced thinking. Or, the hearer uses the same word/words, but means something different.
This is especially true in our contemporary context when we talk about the hot-button, hot-collar issues among us. When we want to add urgency to an issue, we say that it is a “Gospel-issue.” By adding “Gospel-” to it, we not only give it immediate urgency, but we also give it the weight of authority.
So, we have learned that if we want to add authority and urgency to the issues of, say:
- civil/political citizenship
- race relations
- same-sex marriage
- social justice/injustice
- social reconciliation
- social work
- (insert yours here…)
- and the list of agenda goes on ad infinitum…
…then, we just add the hyphenated “Gospel-issue” to it, and that throws the conversation into another strata of importance.
But, when we do that, we run the risk creating an equivalency between The Gospel and whatever issue we’re trying to promote or advance by linking it with The Gospel. What we end up doing is creating the impression that “The Gospel is the same thing as believing in and practicing this issue the same ways I do. And, if you don’t use the same words I do the same ways I do when I talk about this other issue in relationship with the Gospel … and if you don’t act it out the same ways I do … then you don’t believe the Gospel.”
It has even become trendy and fashionable to question the salvation of notable and prominent Christian leaders, both contemporary and historical, just because they either held to doctrinal interpretations or practiced cultural and social conducts that are judged to be contrary and antithetical to the Gospel.
What is “The Gospel”?
However, we must distinguish what is essential to The Gospel from those issues, practices, and conducts that are effects of correct belief and application of The Gospel. We must distinguish what is core to The Gospel from what is only a consequence of The Gospel.
The Gospel is separate and distinct from all the effects, consequences, and fruits of true Gospel faith and obedience.
It is very possible to believe and confess The Gospel perfectly – that is, through true and genuine faith in Jesus Christ – and, at the same time, imperfectly practice every conduct that The Gospel commands us to live out. It is very possible to be perfectly justified by believing The Gospel and at the same time be imperfectly sanctified in living every aspect of your life in strict conformity to The Gospel’s teachings and standards. Our progressive sanctification may be in various stages and degrees of still yet progressing.
Yes – a true belief in The Gospel must dictate, govern, and control every single expression and activity of our lives. But, we all have our inconsistencies, imbalances, and blind spots when it comes to our living out the full and complete implications and applications of The Gospel in our daily lives.
So, that brings us back to Words Matter: What is The Gospel? After everything I have said here to set it up, this book is actually not a polemic. It isn’t exactly an apologetic work. The author addresses everything I have said here only with a glancing reference in his Introduction. But, he does so to set the contents of his little book squarely in the middle of the context of these contemporary conversations I have just been describing.
Words Matter: What is The Gospel?, though, is just a thoroughly-Scriptural, simple, straightforward, clear, concise explanation and expression of The Gospel.
The Gospel is one thing, and one thing only: how Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, how He was buried, and how He rose again from the dead according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). The Gospel is The Message from God in Jesus Christ that saves us from our sins. That is it. And that is all it is. Because that is all that God has said it is.
And so, that is why “Words Matter: What is The Gospel?” – because when we begin to add more words and issues to The Gospel words that God has given us by which we are saved, then we have confused The Gospel and diluted it. We have counterfeited The Gospel (Galatians 1.6-9). More and worse than that, we have neutered and nullified The Gospel (Galatians 2.21).
The Gospel, as God has given it to us in Jesus Christ, is the power that God Himself uses to save all those who believe in Him (Romans 1.13-17). And, it is the only message/words that God will so use.
“What is The Gospel?” matters most because it matters to God!
When we attempt to add any other words or issues to The Gospel, then we render it void, ineffective, and useless. Because God is the only One who can make it work to give eternal life to all who believe. And The Gospel is the only words He will use.
That is why Words Matter.