The Gospel in Acts (1)

My previous post, “Paul’s Gospel in 1Cor.15,” has provoked some push-back! I’m grateful to the brothers who have commented and raised questions, and provided me with an opportunity to clarify. Thanks to you all!

While there are a number of factors that have led me to my present view, I suppose that the most influential has been a reading of the Book of Acts. I have preached through the whole book a couple of times, and read through it repeatedly.

Why is the Book of Acts important? Because it is the only NT writing that summarises the content of the gospel message preached by the Apostles and evangelists to Jews and Gentiles after the resurrection of Christ. What was their emphasis? What, for them, was the “cutting edge” of the gospel?

Only by a careful interaction with these questions may we cut through layers of Christian tradition to discover the message proclaimed by the first NT believers, and bring Christian theology as a whole into a proper balance of all its parts.

In a Facebook comment, Dominic asks, “But do you have a message for people who don’t trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour?” Of course! And to the best of my (limited) ability, it’s the message summarised in the Book of Acts. As I previously wrote, it is “Jesus is Lord through his resurrection from the dead; therefore, repent and put your trust in him, and your sins will be forgiven.”

To expand a little: the Gospels give us a “picture” of the Lord Jesus from four distinct angles. He is the Son of God. He came into this world to rescue sinners from judgment. He demonstrated his amazing compassion for us rebels, both in words and deeds. Yet, he was “despised and rejected” by men and ultimately put to death as the worst criminal. But God the Father raised him from among the dead, and elevated him to his right hand in glory. But not before Jesus commissioned his followers to carry on the work of making disciples (devoted followers) from every nation, based upon the fact that he (Jesus) had been given “all authority” as Lord of heaven and earth (Matt.28:16-20).

Remarkably, the death of his Son was the basis upon which our sins can be forgiven: it was an atoning death. His death was not the end, and his resurrection to glory marked a new start for all who believe in him.

Faith is not a “work” that we contribute to what Jesus has accomplished, thus completing what he started. Faith is fundamentally trust: trust, not in facts and propositions only, but in a living, glorious and compassionate Saviour who invites us freely to come to him (Matt.11:27-30).

So, the message to non-Christians is this: these are the facts about Jesus Christ – his life, deeds and words, death, resurrection and ascension. This living Lord Jesus now sincerely invites you to acknowledge that he is Lord, to turn from your rebellion (repent) and to put your trust in him. He will rescue you from the consequences of your rebellion against God. If you will do this, all your sins will be forgiven, and you will receive great blessings (see Acts 2:38, 5:31, 10:43, 13:38 and 26:18).

As Peter preached to Jews in Jerusalem,

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:36-38).

And as Paul preached to the Gentile philosophers in Athens,

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because 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” (Acts 17:30-31).