“What is The Gospel Message?”, by J.I. Packer (Faith, Repentance, Atonement, Following Jesus Christ)

What Is the Gospel Message? by J. I. Packer

1. The gospel is a message about God. 

It tells us who He is, what His character is, what His standards are, and what He requires of us, His creatures. It tells us that we owe our very existence to Him; that for good or ill, we are always in His hands and under His eye; and that He made us to worship and serve Him, to show forth His praise and to live for His glory.

These truths are the foundation of theistic religion; and until they are grasped, the rest of the gospel message will seem neither cogent nor relevant. It is here with the assertion of man’s complete and constant dependence on his Creator that the Christian story starts.

We can learn again from Paul at this point. When preaching to Jews, as at Pisidian Antioch, he did not need to mention the fact that men were God’s creatures. He could take this knowledge for granted, for his hearers had the Old Testament faith behind them. He could begin at once to declare Christ to them as the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes.

But when preaching to Gentiles, who knew nothing of the Old Testament, Paul had to go further back and start from the beginning. And the beginning from which Paul started in such cases was the doctrine of God’s Creatorship and man’s creaturehood. So, when the Athenians asked him to explain what his talk of Jesus and the resurrection was all about, he spoke to them first of God the Creator and what He made man for. “God…made the world…seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made…all nations…that they should seek the Lord” (Act 17:24-27).

This was not, as some have supposed, a piece of philosophical apologetic of a kind that Paul afterwards renounced, but the first and basic lesson in theistic faith.

The gospel starts by teaching us that we, as creatures, are absolutely dependent on God, and that He, as Creator, has an absolute claim on us.

Only when we have learned this can we see what sin is, and only when we see what sin is can we understand the good news of salvation from sin.

We must know what it means to call God Creator before we can grasp what it means to speak of Him as Redeemer. Nothing can be achieved by talking about sin and salvation where this preliminary lesson has not in some measure been learned.

2. The gospel is a message about sin. 

It tells us how we have fallen short of God’s standard, how we have become guilty, filthy, and helpless in sin, and now stand under the wrath of God. It tells us that the reason why we sin continually is that we are sinners by nature, and that nothing we do or try to do for ourselves can put us right or bring us back into God’s favor.

It shows us ourselves as God sees us and teaches us to think of ourselves as God thinks of us. Thus, it leads us to self-despair. And this also is a necessary step. Not until we have learned our need to get right with God and our inability to do so by any effort of our own can we come to know the Christ Who saves from sin.

There is a pitfall here. Everybody’s life includes things that cause dissatisfaction and shame. Everyone has a bad conscience about some things in his past, matters in which he has fallen short of the standard that he set for himself or that was expected of him by others. The danger is that in our evangelism we should content ourselves with evoking thoughts of these things and making people feel uncomfortable about them, and then depicting Christ as the One who saves us from these elements of ourselves, without even raising the question of our relationship with God.

But this is just the question that has to be raised when we speak about sin. For the very idea of sin in the Bible is of an offence against God that disrupts a man’s relationship with God. Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the Law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all.

For sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept.

Though sin is committed by man, and many sins are against society, sin cannot be defined in terms of either man or society. 

We never know what sin really is until we have learned to think of it in terms of God and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of His total demand on our lives.

What we have to grasp, then, is that the bad conscience of the natural man is not at all the same thing as conviction of sin. It does not, therefore, follow that a man is convicted of sin when he is distressed about his weaknesses and the wrong things he has done. It is not conviction of sin just to feel miserable about yourself, your failures, and your inadequacy to meet life’s demands.

Nor would it be saving faith if a man in that condition called on the Lord Jesus Christ just to soothe him, and cheer him up, and make him feel confident again. Nor should we be preaching the gospel (though we might imagine we were) if all that we did was to present Christ in terms of a man’s felt wants: “Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Do you want peace of mind? Do you feel that you have failed? Are you fed up with yourself? Do you want a friend? Then come to Christ; He will meet your every need”—as if the Lord Jesus Christ were to be thought of as a fairy godmother or a super-psychiatrist…

To be convicted of sin means not just to feel that one is an all-round flop, but to realize that one has offended God, and flouted His authority, and defied Him, and gone against Him, and put oneself in the wrong with Him. To preach Christ means to set Him forth as the One Who through His cross sets men right with God again…

It is indeed true that the real Christ, the Christ of the Bible, Who [reveals] Himself to us as a Savior from sin and an Advocate with God, does in fact give peace, and joy, and moral strength, and the privilege of His own friendship to those who trust Him.

But the Christ who is depicted and desired merely to make the lot of life’s casualties easier by supplying them with aids and comforts is not the real Christ, but a misrepresented and misconceived Christ—in effect, an imaginary Christ.

And if we taught people to look to an imaginary Christ, we should have no grounds for expecting that they would find a real salvation. We must be on our guard, therefore, against equating a natural bad conscience and sense of wretchedness with spiritual conviction of sin and so omitting in our evangelism to impress upon sinners the basic truth about their condition—namely, that their sin has alienated them from God and exposed them to His condemnation, and hostility, and wrath, so that their first need is for a restored relationship with Him…

3. The gospel is a message about Christ.

—Christ, the Son of God incarnate; Christ, the Lamb of God, dying for sin; Christ, the risen Lord; Christ, the perfect Savior.

Two points need to be made about the declaring of this part of the message: 

(i) We must not present the Person of Christ apart from His saving work. 

It is sometimes said that it is the presentation of Christ’s Person, rather than of doctrines about Him, that draws sinners to His feet. It is true that it is the living Christ Who saves and that a theory of the atonement, however orthodox, is no substitute. When this remark is made, however, what is usually being suggested is that doctrinal instruction is dispensable in evangelistic preaching, and that all the evangelist need do is paint a vivid word-picture of the man of Galilee who went about doing good, and then assure his hearers that this Jesus is still alive to help them in their troubles. 

But such a message could hardly be called the gospel. It would, in reality, be a mere conundrum, serving only to mystify…the truth is that you cannot make sense of the historic figure of Jesus until you know about the Incarnation—that this Jesus was in fact God the Son, made man to save sinners according to His Father’s eternal purpose.

Nor can you make sense of His life until you know about the atonement—that He lived as man so that He might die as man for men, and that His passion, His judicial murder was really His saving action of bearing away the world’s sins.

Nor can you tell on what terms to approach Him now until you know about the resurrection, ascension, and heavenly session—that Jesus has been raised, and enthroned, and made King, and lives to save to the uttermost all who acknowledge His Lordship. These doctrines, to mention no others, are essential to the gospel…In fact, without these doctrines you would have no gospel to preach at all.

(ii) But there is a second and complementary point: we must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His Person. 

Evangelistic preachers and personal workers have sometimes been known to make this mistake. In their concern to focus attention on the atoning death of Christ as the sole sufficient ground on which sinners may be accepted with God, they have expounded the summons to saving faith in these terms: “Believe that Christ died for your sins.”

The effect of this exposition is to represent the saving work of Christ in the past, dissociated from His Person in the present, as the whole object of our trust. But it is not biblical thus to isolate the work from the Worker. Nowhere in the New Testament is the call to believe expressed in such terms. What the New Testament calls for is faith in (en) or into (eis) or upon (epi) Christ Himself—the placing of our trust in the living Savior Who died for sins.

This being so, one thing becomes clear straight away: namely, that the question about the extent of the atonement, which is being much agitated in some quarters, has no bearing on the content of the evangelistic message at this particular point. I do not propose to discuss this question now; I have done that elsewhere. I am not at present asking you whether you think it is true to say that Christ died in order to save every single human being, past, present, and future, or not. Nor am I at present inviting you to make up your mind on this question, if you have not done so already. All I want to say here is that even if you think the above assertion is true, your presentation of Christ in evangelism ought not to differ from that of the man who thinks it false.

What I mean is this: it is obvious that if a preacher thought that the statement, “Christ died for every one of you,” made to any congregation, would be unverifiable and probably not true, he would take care not to make it in his gospel preaching. You do not find such statements in the sermons of, for instance, George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon. But now, my point is that, even if a man thinks that this statement would be true if he made it, it is not a thing that he ever needs to say or ever has reason to say when preaching the gospel.

For preaching the gospel, as we have just seen, means [calling] sinners to come to Jesus Christ, the living Savior, Who, by virtue of His atoning death, is able to forgive and save all those who put their trust in Him. What has to be said about the cross when preaching the gospel is simply that Christ’s death is the ground on which Christ’s forgiveness is given. And this is all that has to be said. The question of the designed extent of the atonement does not come into the story at all…The fact is that the New Testament never calls on any man to repent on the ground that Christ died specifically and particularly for him.

The gospel is not, “Believe that Christ died for everybody’s sins, and therefore for yours,” any more than it is, “Believe that Christ died only for certain people’s sins, and so perhaps not for yours”…We have no business to ask them to put faith in any view of the extent of the atonement. Our job is to point them to the living Christ, and summon them to trust in Him…This brings us to the final ingredient in the gospel message.

4. The gospel is a summons to faith and repentance. 

All who hear the gospel are summoned by God to repent and believe.

“God…commandeth all men every where to repent,” Paul told the Athenians (Act 17:30). When asked by His hearers what they should do in order to “work the works of God,” our Lord replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Joh 6:29). And in 1 John 3:23 we read: “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ…”

Repentance and faith are rendered matters of duty by God’s direct command, and hence impenitence and unbelief are singled out in the New Testament as most grievous sins. With these universal commands, as we indicated above, go universal promises of salvation to all who obey them. “Through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Act 10:43). “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Joh 3:16). These words are promises to which God will stand as long as time shall last.

It needs to be said that faith is not a mere optimistic feeling, any more than repentance is a mere regretful or remorseful feeling. Faith and repentance are both acts, and acts of the whole man…faith is essentially the casting and resting of oneself and one’s confidence on the promises of mercy which Christ has given to sinners, and on the Christ Who gave those promises. Equally, repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as King in self’s place…Two further points need to be made also:

(i) The demand is for faith as well as repentance. 

It is not enough to resolve to turn from sin, give up evil habits, and try to put Christ’s teaching into practice by being religious and doing all possible good to others. Aspiration, and resolution, and morality, and religiosity,[15] are no substitutes for faith…

If there is to be faith, however, there must be a foundation of knowledge: a man must know of Christ, and of His cross, and of His promises before saving faith becomes a possibility for him. In our presentation of the gospel, therefore, we need to stress these things, in order to lead sinners to abandon all confidence in themselves and to trust wholly in Christ and the power of His redeeming blood to give them acceptance with God. For nothing less than this is faith.

(ii) The demand is for repentance as well as faith

If there is to be repentance, however, there must, again, be a foundation of knowledge…

More than once, Christ deliberately called attention to the radical break with the past that repentance involves. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me…whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Mat 16:24-25). “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also (i.e., put them all decisively second in his esteem), he cannot be my disciple…whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luk 14:26, 33).

The repentance that Christ requires of His people consists in a settled refusal to set any limit to the claims that He may make on their lives…He had no interest in gathering vast crowds of professed adherents who would melt away as soon as they found out what following Him actually demanded of them.

In our own presentation of Christ’s gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness. In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything; or else our evangelizing becomes a sort of confidence trick. And where there is no clear knowledge, and hence no realistic recognition of the real claims that Christ makes, there can be no repentance, and therefore no salvation.

Such is the evangelistic message that we are sent to make known.

Excerpt From Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God  by J. I. Packer.

Article Source: Mongerism

Link to Resources to Know Jesus Christ on “Beloved”
Link to Resources for Christianity Deeper Dive on “Beloved”

“KNOWING CHRIST”, BY CHARLES SPURGEON (GRACE, FAITH, Christian RESOURCES)

“Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”  —2 Peter 3:18

“Grow in grace”—not in one grace only, but in all grace. Grow in that root-grace, faith. Believe the promises more firmly than you have done. Let faith increase in fullness, constancy, simplicity. Grow also in love. Ask that your love may become extended, more intense, more practical, influencing every thought, word, and deed. Grow likewise in humility. Seek to lie very low, and know more of your own nothingness. As you grow downward in humility, seek also to grow upward—having nearer approaches to God in prayer and more intimate fellowship with Jesus. May God the Holy Spirit enable you to “grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.” He who grows not in the knowledge of Jesus, refuses to be blessed. To know Him is “life eternal,” and to advance in the knowledge of Him is to increase in happiness.

He who does not long to know more of Christ, knows nothing of Him yet. Whoever hath sipped this wine will thirst for more, for although Christ doth satisfy, yet it is such a satisfaction, that the appetite is not cloyed, but whetted. If you know the love of Jesus—as the hart panteth for the water-brooks, so will you pant after deeper draughts of His love. If you do not desire to know Him better, then you love Him not, for love always cries, “Nearer, nearer.”

Absence from Christ is hell; but the presence of Jesus is heaven. Rest not then content without an increasing acquaintance with Jesus. Seek to know more of Him in His divine nature, in His human relationship, in His finished work, in His death, in His resurrection, in His present glorious intercession, and in His future royal advent. Abide hard by the Cross, and search the mystery of His wounds. An increase of love to Jesus, and a more perfect apprehension of His love to us is one of the best tests of growth in grace.

“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” Philippians 3:8

Spiritual knowledge of Christ will be a personal knowledge. I cannot know Jesus through another person’s acquaintance with Him. No, I must know Him myself; I must know Him on my own account. It will be an intelligent knowledge—I must know Him, not as the visionary dreams of Him, but as the Word reveals Him. I must know His natures, divine and human. I must know His offices—His attributes—His works—His shame—His glory. I must meditate upon Him until I “comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”

It will be an affectionate knowledge of Him; indeed, if I know Him at all, I must love Him. An ounce of heart knowledge is worth a ton of head learning. Our knowledge of Him will be a satisfying knowledge. When I know my Saviour, my mind will be full to the brim—I shall feel that I have that which my spirit panted after. “This is that bread whereof if a man eat he shall never hunger.” At the same time, it will be an exciting knowledge; the more I know of my Beloved, the more I shall want to know. The higher I climb the loftier will be the summits which invite my eager footsteps. I shall want the more as I get the more. Like the miser’s treasure, my gold will make me covet more.

To conclude; this knowledge of Christ Jesus will be a most happy one; in fact, so elevating, that sometimes it will completely bear me up above all trials, and doubts, and sorrows; and it will, while I enjoy it, make me something more than “Man that is born of woman, who is of few days, and full of trouble”; for it will fling about me the immortality of the everliving Saviour, and gird me with the golden girdle of His eternal joy. Come, my soul, sit at Jesus’ feet and learn of Him all this day.

From Charles Spurgeon’s daily devotional, Mornings and Evenings with Spurgeon. Go to www.daily-devotional.com to sign up to receive emails with each day’s reading.

Links to resources to Know More About Jesus-

Billy Graham.org

The Gospel Coalition.org

Connection Points

About Jesus from Christianity.com

Scripture on Faith in Jesus

The Side B Podcast (castos.com) (Podcast for Sceptics)

Resources to Know God from CRU

Spurgeon on Knowing Christ

Eternal Perspective Ministries

The Truth about Christianity

Blue Letter Bible and Commentaries

Mongerism (Articles on the Christian Faith)

Tim Keller podcast “Why we believe in Jesus” 

Tim Keller podcast “The Timing of Jesus”

“Praying The Lord’s Prayer,” from Tim Keller’s book on Prayer (Prayer Resources, Christian Resources)

Tim Keller’s notable book on Prayer, experiencing awe and intimacy with God offers the following treasured notes on praying the Lord’s Prayer explaining that…

  1. None of our three master teachers of prayer, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, developed their instruction primarily based on their own experiences. In each case, what they believed and practiced regarding prayer grew mainly out of their understanding of the ultimate master class in prayer—the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9–13, in the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
  2. The Lord’s Prayer may be the single set of words spoken more often than any other in the history of the world. Jesus Christ gave it to us as the key to unlock all the riches of prayer. Yet it is an untapped resource, partially because it is so very familiar.
  3.  Jesus is saying, as it were, “Wouldn’t you like to be able to come face-to-face with the Father and King of the universe every day, to pour out your heart to him, and to sense him listening to and loving you?” We say, of course, yes. Jesus responds, “It’s all in the Lord’s Prayer.”
  4. How do we overcome the deadly peril of familiarity? One of the best ways is to listen to these three great mentors, who plumbed the depths of the prayer through years of reflection and practice.

“Our Father Who Art in Heaven”

  • Calvin explains that to call God “Father” is to pray in Jesus’ name. “Who would break forth into such rashness as to claim for himself the honor of a son of God unless we had been adopted as children of grace in Christ?”
  • Luther also believed the address was a call to not plunge right into talking to God but to first recollect our situation and realize our standing in Christ before we proceed into prayer.
  • Calvin agrees that “by the great sweetness of this name [Father] he frees us from all distrust.”

“Hallowed Be Thy Name”

  • A seeming problem of logic, expressed by Luther. “What are we praying for when we ask that His name become holy?
  • Luther, who joins Augustine when he says it is a prayer that God “be glorified among all nations as you are glorified among us.”
  • To “hallow” God’s name is not merely to live righteous lives but to have a heart of grateful joy toward God—and even more, a wondrous sense of his beauty. We do not revere his name unless he “captivate[s] us with wonderment for him.”

“Thy Kingdom Come”

  • This is the cause of all our human problems, since we were created to serve him, and when we serve other things in God’s place, all spiritual, psychological, cultural, and even material problems ensue. Therefore, we need his kingdom to “come.” Calvin believed there were two ways God’s kingdom comes—through the Spirit, who “corrects our desires,” and through the Word of God, which “shapes our thoughts.”
  • This, then, is a “Lordship” petition: It is asking God to extend his royal power over every part of our lives—emotions, desires, thoughts, and commitments.
  • We are asking God to so fully rule us that we want to obey him with all our hearts and with joy.
  • To pray “thy kingdom come” is to “yearn for that future life” of justice and peace.

“Thy Will Be Done”

  • Unless we are profoundly certain God is our Father, we will never be able to say “Thy will be done.”
  • Only if we trust God as Father can we ask for grace to bear our troubles with patience and grace.
  • This is the one part of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus himself prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, under circumstances far more crushing than any of us will ever face. He submitted to his Father’s will rather than following his own desires, and it saved us. That’s why we can trust him.
  • Calvin adds that to pray “thy will be done” is to submit not only our wills to God but even our feelings, so that we do not become despondent, bitter, and hardened by the things that befall us.
  • The beginning of prayer is all about God. We are not to let our own needs and issues dominate prayer; rather, we are to give pride of place to praising and honoring him, to yearning to see his greatness and to see it acknowledged everywhere, and to aspiring to full love and obedience.
  • First, because it heals the heart of its self-centeredness.

“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”

  • Augustine reminds us that “daily bread” is a metaphor for necessities rather than luxuries.
  • For Luther, then, to pray for our daily bread is to pray for a prosperous and just social order.

“Forgive Us Our Debts as We Forgive Our Debtors”

  • The fifth petition concerns our relationships, both with God and others.
  • In the presence of God everyone must duck his head and come into the joy of forgiveness only through the low door of humility.
  • If regular confession does not produce an increased confidence and joy in your life, then you do not understand the salvation by grace, the essence of the faith.
  • Jesus tightly links our relationship with God to our relationship with others.
  • Unresolved bitterness is a sign that we are not right with God.
  • It also means that if we are holding a grudge, we should see the hypocrisy of seeking forgiveness from God for sins of our own.

“Lead Us Not into Temptation”

  • Temptation in the sense of being tried and tested is not only inevitable but desirable. The Bible talks of suffering and difficulty as a furnace in which many impurities of soul are “burned off” and we come to greater self-knowledge, humility, durability, faith, and love. However, to “enter into temptation,” as Jesus termed it (Matt 26:41), is to entertain and consider the prospect of giving in to sin.

“Deliver Us from Evil”

  • Calvin combined this phrase with “lead us not into temptation” and called it the sixth and last petition. Augustine and Luther, however, viewed “deliver us from evil” as a separate, seventh petition.
  • This seventh petition is for protection from evil outside us, from malignant forces in the world, especially our enemies who wish to do us harm.

“For Thine Is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory Forever”

  • Augustine does not mention it because it was not in most earlier manuscripts of the Bible or in the Latin Vulgate. Luther does not treat it.
  • Calvin, while noting that “this is not extant in the Latin versions,” believes that “it is so appropriate to this place that it ought not to be omitted.”
  • After descending into our needs, troubles, and limitations, we return to the truth of God’s complete sufficiency.

Like Luther in A Simple Way to Pray, Calvin insists that the Lord’s Prayer does not bind us to its particular form of words but rather to its content and basic pattern.

The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of all other prayers, providing essential guidance on emphasis and topics, on purpose and even spirit.

Prayer is therefore not a strictly private thing. As much as we can, we should pray with others both formally in gathered worship and informally. Why? If the substance of prayer is to continue a conversation with God, and if the purpose of it is to know God better, then this can happen best in community. By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived.

Links for further reading include:  (see “Prayer, Breathing God” page for more resources)

“The Power of Prayer”, from R.A. Torrey (united prayer, worship, God who Loves)

Rejoice in Hope, Be Patient in Tribulation, Be Constant in Prayer by John Piper

Draw Near to God in Prayer: John Calvin on The Definition and Effectiveness of Prayer, by Dr. Joel R. Beeke

Draw Near to God Through Prayer; John Calvin’s “Rules of Prayer”

Rejoice in Hope, Be Patient in Tribulation, Be Constant in Prayer by John Piper

Conforming to God’s Holiness from Ligonier Ministries of RC Sproul

Is Anything Too Hard For The Lord? Sermon from C.H.Spurgeon, 1888 Metropolitan Tabernacle

Draw Near to God in Prayer: John Calvin on The Definition and Effectiveness of

Prayer, by Dr. Joel R. Beeke

More Resources for Prayer Enrichment:

Pray in The Spirit from Martin Lloyd Jones

The Spirit’s Intercession from Ligonier.org

Intercessory Prayer from The Gospel Coalition

See Jesus.net (Paul Miller on Prayer, Podcast)

C.S. Lewis Institute: A Season of Prayer- Prayer Resources & Links

Pray the Scriptures: Ligonier Ministries

Praying using Scripture; The Gospel Coalition

Pray The Bible; John Piper

Intercession of Gods Promises in Prayer from Desiring God; a book

A Teaching Series on Praying The Lord’s Prayer from R.C. Sproul

Core Christianity on The Lord’s Prayer

Theology of Prayer

A Puritan Mind

Puritan Prayers Download

Praying the Psalms from the Gospel Coalition

The Gospel Coalition; on Prayer

Singing the Psalms with Seedbed

Singing the Psalms with ChurchWorks

Learn about Jesus

The Gospel Coalition.org

Connection Points

About Jesus from Christianity.com

Scripture on Faith in Jesus

Resources to Know God from CRU

Spurgeon on Knowing Christ

Eternal Perspective Ministries

Peace with God.net

Knowing and Doing Podcast (C.S Lewis Institute)