1-3 The Power of the Gospel

Appreciating the inter-relation between 'doctrine' and practice will result in our seeing through the fallacy that because someone's deeds are good, therefore it doesn't matter too much about their doctrine. The spiritual fruit which God seeks is that which is brought forth by the seed of His word, the Gospel. To really understand the basic Gospel with one's heart is to bring forth fruit, to be converted. True wisdom is justified by the works she brings forth (Mt. 11:19). This is why true conversion involves understanding and perceiving, and not merely hearing doctrinal truth (Mt. 13:15). True understanding is a seeking for God, a doing good; hence those who sin have no true knowledge as they ought to have, whatever their theoretical understanding (Ps. 14:2-4). But we can nominally believe the Gospel, 'understand' it in an intellectual sense, and bring forth no fruit to perfection (Mt. 13:15 cp. 23)- not perceiving the power of the Gospel. False prophets bring forth bad fruit; the nature of the teaching therefore affects the nature of the fruit (Mt. 7:16). False teaching [which isn’t the same as genuine intellectual failure] therefore elicits a bad way of life (2 Pet. 2:1,2); and the false prophets of the latter days will result in iniquity abounding (Mt. 24:11). This is why teaching does matter. Without faith- which comes from holding the Faith- it is impossible to please God. True righteousness is the fruit of the Spirit; the result of the word of the Gospel working within us, the result of the Spirit of Christ which God has sent forth into the hearts of His people. Many outside of the Faith appear to in fact be far more righteous than most of us, in terms of 'good works'. But these good works are an outcome of their natural personality type; this is how they are. But God has sent His Son to the sick who need a doctor, to those imprisoned by their own natures, to the tragically blind. Through the power of the basic Gospel doctrines which comprise the One Faith, we have the power to change.

The seed is the word (Lk. 8:11); and " the word" doesn't necessarily mean the whole Bible (although the whole Bible is of course inspired). The phrase specifically means the word of the power of the Gospel, by which we were ushered into spiritual being. And this is what brings forth fruit, through our 'patient' and continued response to it. We were born again, " not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God...and this is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you" (1 Pet. 1:23,25). Time and again the New Testament uses " the word of God" or " the word of the Lord (Jesus)" as shorthand for the preaching of the basic Gospel. This is the seed, this is the source of new life, this is what can lead to new character and behaviour in us. James speaks of being " doers of the word" (1:22,25), using the same word as in the parable of the sower, there translated 'to bring forth fruit'. Note that " the word of God" in the NT often refers specifically to the Gospel. James foresaw the possibility of hearing the word of the Gospel but not doing it, not bringing forth what those basic doctrines imply. He foresees how we can admire it as a vain man seeing his reflection in a mirror. We are not to be " forgetful hearers" of the word of the basics, the " implanted word" (1:21 RV- another reference to the sower parable). We aren't to learn the Gospel and then forget those doctrines. We are to be doers of them.

Paul could say that " the preaching of the cross is (unto us which are saved) the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). Not 'it was when we were baptized'; the power of that basic Gospel lasts all our lives. To the Romans likewise: " I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ (i.e. I don't apologize for preaching the same old things): for it is the power of God unto salvation...for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith (i.e. faith gets built up and up by that basic Gospel)" (1:18). The Galatians needed to keep on 'obeying the Truth' as they had done at baptism (Gal. 3:1); conversion is an ever ongoing process (cp. Lk. 22:32). It is " the faith which is in Christ" , the basic Gospel, which progressively opens up the Scriptures and enables them to make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). " Repent ye and believe the Gospel" might seem to be in the wrong order- for surely belief of the Gospel comes before repentance. And so it does. But the point is, life after conversion is a life of believing the basic Gospel which led us to conversion and repentance in the first place. Thus Rom. 6 teaches that we were once servants of sin...and we expect the sentence to conclude: 'But now you are servants of righteousness'. But it doesn't. We were once servants of sin but now we have obeyed the form of doctrine delivered to us...and are therefore servants of righteousness. The service of righteousness is a result of accepting " that form of doctrine" , perhaps referring to an early catechism or statement of faith taught to baptismal candidates, summarizing the power of the Gospel (1).

The impact of true teachings must not, therefore, merely be that we receive a buzz of intellectual satisfaction that we have rightly expounded a Greek or Hebrew phrase or set of sentences. Those truths lead to true action in practice, if we truly believe them. Also, there is a negative attached to all truths; if something is true, then therefore other things or ways of life are not true. There are several Bible passages which bring out this dualism.

" God is light

and in Him there is no darkness" (1 Jn. 1:5)

" God is faithful

and there is no unrighteousness in him" (Dt. 32:4)

" God is righteous

and there is no unrighteousness in him" (Ps. 92:16)

It is therefore quite valid to understand that a set of true doctrines by their very nature give rise to a set of untrue ones, to be rejected. But more personally relevant for each one of us, each truth we perceive leads to not only things we should do, but things we should not.

First Principles Only A Beginning

We must not see the learning of the basic doctrines and baptism as an end rather than a beginning. It is a tragedy if a man dies knowing and appreciating little more than he did at his baptism. Sunday School Christianity isn't the stuff of the Kingdom of God. We must go on unto perfection. " Let us cease to speak of the first principles of Christ, and press on unto full growth" (Heb. 6:1 RV). It almost implies that the Hebrews were so busy talking about the first principles that they had omitted to use them as the springboard to growth. The phrase " first principles of the oracles of God" (Heb. 5:12)) is better rendered in the RV mg. " the beginning of the oracles…" . The truth we learn and teach before baptism is but a springboard so much further. The writer seems to perceive the tendency to forever be digging up the foundations to make sure they are still there; for he says: " Wherefore let us cease to speak of the first principles of Christ, and press on…" (Heb. 6:1 RV). Sadly, as he goes on to say, he does have to speak to those particular readers of those basics again, but in a healthy spiritual life this shouldn't be the case. They should have used those basic doctrines to lead them further in following the example of He who was also " made perfect" , who reached 'perfection'. As He was " made perfect" (5:9), so we should strive to go on unto a like 'perfection' (5:14; 6:1). The inspired writer doesn't balk at the height of this calling, unattained as it has been by us all. But it is the lofty height towards which the power of the Gospel can propel us.

The processes of change and transformation described in this book will not occur immediately in the life of the believer. It takes time for our minds to metabolize the new realities of the Gospel. We have to be honest enough and free enough with our thinking to give these new ideas, this new wine of the Gospel, a chance to work. Otherwise we will have merely accepted one set of beliefs in place of another. The doctrines of the Truth lead to a holistic transformation of our being and personalities, if we respond to that web of teaching and implied behaviour appropriately. Important as the individual doctrines are, we must let them all work together in our lives. It is possible to over-define and over-categorize our doctrines to the point that we lose something of the totality of the experience of God, His Son and His word the Bible. It's rather like watching a breathtaking sunset, and having some guy next to you who insists on labelling all the colours and shades of colours, and then starts loudly debating with himself about the difference between purple, magenta and deep red. The overall experience is shattered by the definitions and the debate over them.


(1) Alfred Nicholls makes a good case for this in Documents Of The Faith, (Birmingham: CMPA, 1989) p. 204.

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