When you hear me say that we are in a series of messages on the thirty-year theological trademarks of Bethlehem, don’t think niche branding. Don’t think “thirty-year exclusives.” I don’t even like the word distinctives. It seems to connote a desire to be doctrinally different from others.
Our mindset is exactly the opposite. We’re suspicious of being different from the historic teachings of the church. The last thing we want to preach is new doctrines exclusive to us. When we say “trademarks,” we mean truths that are defining and shaping and precious. We don’t mean views that we’ve come up with and that set us off from the rest of the church of Christ. We don’t want to be set off. We want to be arm in arm with millions of faithful followers of God’s word. Truth does divide. But it also unites. And it is the uniting power of truth that we delight in most.
So, we are always testing our interpretations of the Bible by looking back into church history. If we can’t find our interpretations there, we would be very slow to preach them in this pulpit. Cults and sects are born in the minds of leaders who crave to be different. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, the Unification Church, Christian Science — these were born in the minds of teachers who wanted new revelations and interpretations, and found them. They were restless with the limitation of the Bible and its historic understandings.
There is a lot of healthy and warranted warning these days about historical hero worship. Warnings about inordinate and uncritical admiration and imitation of historical teachers like Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, the Puritans, Edwards, Wesley, Spurgeon, Barth, Chesterton, Lewis, etc. But we should be careful not to overdo this criticism. People with great historical heroes tend not to think of themselves as heroes. They’re too busy learning from them. Which means that, for all its dangers, admiring a great line of historical heroes will at least keep you from starting a sect.
Wise Foundations and Deep Roots
Our instincts are much more in that direction. Our thirty-year theological trademarks are not new, they are not distinctive to us, they are not a niche, they are not exclusives, they are not eccentric. They all have wide foundations in the Bible and deep roots in the history of God’s people. And if any of them ever deserved to be guarded from the distortion of novelty, it is today’s trademark; namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“God paid the price of his Son to give us the prize of himself.”
My title is “God in Christ: The Price and the Prize of the Gospel,” which means, God in Christ is the price and the prize of the Gospel. The prize of the gospel is the Person who paid the price, God in Christ. In other words, the gospel is the good news that God in Christ paid the price of suffering, so that we could have the prize of enjoying him forever. God paid the price of his Son to give us the prize of himself.
To unfold the meaning of this and to show how biblical it is, I think it will be helpful to take three snapshots of the sermon title from three different places. One from Romans 5. One from church history. And one from 1 Corinthians 15.
Price and Prize in Romans 5
Keep in mind that the word “gospel” means good news — in this case, God’s good news for the world. What is the price and the prize of that good news according to Romans 5? Here’s the price in Romans 5:6–8:
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The price of the gospel is the death of Christ. Verse 6: “Christ died for the ungodly.” Verse 8: “Christ died for us.” God loved us while we were sinners and paid a price so that we might have an infinite prize. That price was the death of his Son. And what was the prize that he bought for us when he paid that price? Verses 9–11:
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
What did God purchase for us by the price of his Son? Verse 9: “We have now been justified by his blood.” And more. Verse 9b: Because of that justification, we will be saved by him from wrath. What do we need to be saved from? The wrath of God. “Much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (verse 9). But is that the highest, best, fullest, most satisfying prize of the gospel?
“The gospel is not a myth. It is an event. And without the event, there is no gospel.”
No. Verse 11 begins with another “much more.” Verse 10 ends: “We shall be saved by his life.” And verse 11 takes it up a level: More than that: We rejoice in God. That is the final and highest good of the good news. There is not another “much more” after that. There is only Paul’s saying again how we got there. Verse 11b: “through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
The end of the gospel is “we rejoice in God.” The highest, fullest, deepest, sweetest good of the gospel is God himself, enjoyed by his redeemed people. Hence, the title of this message: “God in Christ: The Price and the Prize of the Gospel.” God in Christ became the price (Romans 5:6–8), and God in Christ became the prize (Romans 5:11). The gospel is the good news that God bought for us the everlasting enjoyment of God. That’s what I mean when I say “God is the gospel.”
Price and Prize in Church History
The second snapshot of our sermon title is from church history. For five hundred years, Protestant Christians have summed up the gospel in terms of the five “solas,” which is Latin for “only” or “alone.” And all I do in giving you this summary is add one that is implicit in the others. So, in these historical forms, I would define the gospel like this:
As revealed with final authority in Scripture alone
the gospel is the good news that
by faith alone
through grace alone
on the basis of Christ alone
for the glory of God alone
sinners have full and final joy in God alone.
All these affirmations are grounded in the Bible.
Scripture alone is the final authority for revealing and defining the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:9): “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” The apostolic delivery of the gospel is final and decisive.
By faith alone (Romans 3:28): “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Faith plus nothing is the way we receive the gift of justification.
Through grace alone (Ephesians 2:5, 8–9): “When we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved. . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
On the basis of Christ alone (Hebrews 7:27): “[Christ] has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (see also Hebrews 9:12; 10:10). Once for all and decisively. Nothing can be added to the work of Christ to cover our sins, and that work cannot be repeated.
For the glory of God alone (Ephesians 1:5–6): “[God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ . . . [literally] to the praise of the glory of his grace.” God saved us in such a way that there would be no human boasting (Ephesians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 1:26–31), but all would show his glory.
Full and final joy in God alone (Psalm 16:11; 73:25–26): “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
This is the gospel as millions of Christians have thought about it for centuries, and we are happy to link arms with this great Reformation heritage: “God in Christ: The Price and the Prize of the Gospel.”
Six Indispensable Elements of the Gospel
The third snapshot of our sermon title comes from 1 Corinthians 15. What I see here is that the gospel has six elements or six aspects, five of which are explicit in the text and one of which is implicit. Verses 1–4:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
Here we see six elements of the gospel. If any of these six was missing, there would be no gospel.
1. The gospel is a divine plan.
Verse 3b: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” That is, in accordance with the Scriptures written hundreds of years before he died. Which means, the gospel was planned by God long before it took place.
2. The gospel is a historical event.
Verse 3b: “Christ died.” The gospel is not mythology. It is not mere ideas or feelings. It is an event. And without the event, there is no gospel.
3. The gospel is the divine achievements through that event and that death — things God accomplished in the death of Jesus long before we ever existed.
Verse 3b: “Christ died for our sins.” “For our sins” means, this death had design in it. It was meant to accomplish something. It accomplished the covering of our sins (Colossians 2:14), the removal of God’s wrath (Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:13), the purchase of eternal life (John 3:16). These are objective achievements of the work of Christ before they are applied to anyone.
4. The gospel is a free offer of Christ for faith.
Verses 1–2: “The gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.” The good news of God’s achievements in Christ become ours by faith, by believing, by receiving. Not by giving a performance or by deserving or working. What God has done is free to all who will have it. It is received by faith. Without the free offer of Christ for faith, there would be no gospel.
5. The gospel is an application to believers of what God achieved in the death of Jesus.
So, when we believe, we are forgiven of our sins (Acts 10:43); we are justified (Romans 5:1); we receive eternal life (John 3:16) and dozens of other benefits (which is why I wrote a book called Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die). The gospel is the powerful personal application to us of what God achieved for us on the cross.
6. The gospel is the enjoyment of fellowship with God himself.
This truth is implicit in the word “gospel,” good news. If you ask, What is the highest, deepest, most satisfying, all-encompassing good of the good news? the answer is, God himself known and enjoyed by his redeemed people. This point is made explicit in 1 Peter 3:18: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” All the other gifts of the gospel exist to make this one possible.
“The prize of the gospel is the Person who paid the price.”
We are forgiven so that our guilt does not keep us away from God. We are justified so that our condemnation does not keep us away from God. We are given eternal life now, with new bodies in the resurrection, so that we have the capacities for enjoying God to the fullest. Test your heart. Why do you want forgiveness? Why do you want to be justified? Why do you want eternal life? Is the decisive answer, “Because I want to enjoy God”?
In summary, then, God in Christ is the price and the prize of the gospel. The prize of the gospel is the Person who paid the price. The gospel-love God gives is ultimately the gift of himself. This is what we were made for. This is what we lost in our sin. This is what Christ came to restore. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
All Good in God
I offer this to you on behalf of Christ. Indeed I urge you to receive it. It’s free. All it takes is for you to see the beauty of Christ, and receive him as your Treasure and your Lord and your Savior. This is what it means to believe the gospel. To give you one final enticement, I will read the most beautiful description I have ever read of what I mean by saying that God is the gospel and that the love of God is the gift of himself. It comes from Jonathan Edwards in 1731, when he was 28:
The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honor and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world.
The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the ‘river of the water of life’ that runs, and the tree of life that grows, ‘in the midst of the paradise of God.’ The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.