It is not an exaggeration to say that the biggest problem facing the contemporary church is a confusion about the gospel. False teachers preach that God desires to give you health and prosperity. Others teach that man must do something, whether social change or charitable action, to merit the mercy of God.
Perhaps the most pernicious mangling of the gospel is that Jesus is nothing but a rescue vessel from a world about to be destroyed, so you better get your ticket punched. This created a class of Christians called the “carnal Christian”, or a person who prayed the sinner’s prayer and would one day in the distant, nebulous future get serious about faith. And it was all done under the banner of a "simple" gospel. Since the Christian is defined by love and obedience to Christ, these people are by definition not Christian, no matter what people tell them. This is textbook false sense of assurance.
What is the gospel, then? What is the message of saving faith?
The Confession begins, The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners.
By way of reminder, the covenant of works was the covenant made between God and man in the garden. God would provide eternal life should Adam and his posterity be fruitful, multiply, subdue the earth, and obey all revealed truth, including the prohibition of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Adam broke the covenant of works by eating from the tree, sending mankind into sin and death. We would never again earn eternal life by good works. That ship had sailed.
As in all covenants, there was a covenant head, or one who represented everyone else in the covenant. As Christ is the head of the new covenant, so Adam is the head of the covenant of works. With the covenant broken, God was under no obligation to make a new one.
But he did. He promised to Eve that her offspring, the Christ, would crush the serpent who deceived them. God promised a new covenant head, one who would bring about a new people and a new creation. This is the first gospel promise. This is the promise in which faith is placed, that Christ is the promised offspring of the woman who crushed the serpent's head, saves sinners, and brings about the new creation.
The Confession continues, This promise of Christ, and salvation by him, is revealed only by the Word of God; neither do the works of creation or providence, with the light of nature, make discovery of Christ, or of grace by him, so much as in a general or obscure way; much less that men destitute of the revelation of Him by the promise or gospel, should be enabled thereby to attain saving faith or repentance.
Since the fall of man, man’s nature is so corrupt that far beyond knowing the good and rejecting it, we are unable to believe it ourselves. We need the Scriptures to know the divine plan of redemption. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The gospel is not just another message. It is impossible to believe without the work of the Spirit in us.
The idea that if men are just presented with the gospel that they will believe it is a dangerous proposition. Man’s nature is more depraved and darker than we often think. “For the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). Not misguided, unintelligent, or open to persuasion—but evil.
Given a lack of restriction and oversight, we are all capable of horrors. By God’s grace, he has established institutions and ordained governments to motivate the good and temper the evil that is prevalent in all human societies. But even then, institutions and governments convert no one. That requires the work of God and God alone.
If we can’t receive the gospel by our own means, then we have to ask, how do we come to know what it is when we hear it?
That’s a good question for next week’s post!