"THE GROWING GOSPEL"
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)
July 14, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
Indeed in the whole world [the Gospel] is bearing fruit and growing--as it does also among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.
Colossians 1:6 (ESV)
There's an expression some Christians use from time to time that really concerns me. Every once in a while I will hear well-meaning Christians talk about "doing the Gospel." I'm sure they are using this expression with the very best of intentions, but it causes me concern because it reflects a very serious and even dangerous confusion of Law and Gospel. I trust that what these people mean is that Christians should live in a way that confirms rather than contradicts the Good News of Jesus Christ, but that's not really what they're saying. The Gospel, please bear in mind, is what saves us. If it were possible for us to "do the Gospel," then we would be able to save ourselves. And so when Christians tell others to "do the Gospel" they are in fact telling those people to save themselves. And when they claim to be "doing the Gospel" they are ascribing to themselves something that only Jesus can do--and in fact has done--perfectly.
Those of you who have had confirmation classes with me might remember (I hope) that, in a word, the Law of God says to us: "Do," while the Gospel says to us: "Done." What the Law tells us that we have to do in order to be saved the Gospel tells us has been done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of the Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself announced that the Gospel was completed when He declared from the cross: "It is finished!" (John 19:30). This was not a frustrating cry of resignation but rather a victorious shout of triumph, so that at least one Biblical translation renders it: "It is accomplished!" (John 19:30 JB). In the original this statement is one word: tetelestai. We are told that in ancient times this word was used on business receipts with the meaning: "Paid in full." The importance of Jesus' resurrection is that it is God's acceptance of His Son's perfect completion of everything that had to be done for sinners like you or me to be saved. But even though the Gospel is completed and therefore cannot be added to in any way, it is still a living and active Gospel, which Paul makes very clear to us in the passage before us this morning.
One way in which we can tell that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is living and active is that, as the text says, "Indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit." The reason why the Gospel is to be preached in all the world is that this Gospel is the means through which the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in the hearts of lost sinners. Granted, the Gospel comes to people through both Word and Sacrament, but it is nevertheless the same Gospel. This is the Gospel that converts people, forgives their sins, and assures them of everlasting life. In another of his New Testament letters Paul explains this: "How, then," he writes, "will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Romans 10:14, 15). The fruit that the Gospel of Jesus Christ bears in the world is sinners repenting and turning in faith to their Savior to receive His grace. We are not always able to personally see that fruit, but the Lord assures us that the preaching of the Gospel always bears fruit.
In addition to this, the Gospel also continues to bear fruit in the lives of those who the Holy Spirit has already converted. This fruit of the Gospel is good works. We Lutherans are often accused of having an indifferent attitude toward good works, and it is perhaps true that many among us have misinterpreted the glorious doctrine of justification by grace through faith in such a way that they have the false idea that good works are an optional thing for the believer. That's simply not true. Scripture makes it clear that on the day of judgment our works will provide the evidence of whether or not we are true believers in the Savior. The politicians and historians call this "legacy," and even the Word of God says: "'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord . . . for their deeds follow them" (Revelation 14:13). And what are these good works? The catechism defines them in this way: "In God's sight a good work is everything that a child of God does, speaks, or thinks in faith according to the Ten Commandments, for the glory of God, and for the benefit of his or her neighbor" (Small Catechism, p. 150). These works are defined by the Law, but they are motivated and carried out by the power of the Gospel.
The text before us speaks of another way in which we can tell that the Gospel is living and active: "Indeed in the whole world," we are told, the Gospel "is . . . growing." When we say that the Gospel is growing, we have to make sure we understand that we are not talking about the content of the Gospel changing in any way. A half-century ago, when the so-called "social gospel" was having a significant impact on Protestantism, liberal theologians spoke of the Gospel "growing" by redefining the Gospel to mean: "anything that brings good news to a bad situation." They abandoned the teaching of sinners being saved from death and hell by the sacrifice of Christ as being an archaic and medieval notion and in its place they addressed only the physical needs and social injustices that they saw around them, claiming that in so doing they were in fact preaching the Gospel of Christ. But the Gospel that we are to preach today is no different than it ever was. It is the simple message that the Son of God who lived, died, and rose again in perfect fulfillment of God's Law has thereby redeemed those who deserve to go to hell and has assured them of heaven instead as a free gift of His grace.
When Paul and we speak of the Gospel of Christ growing, we are talking about this unchanging Gospel being proclaimed and heard by more people and in more ways than ever before. The printed word, telegraph, radio, television, the internet--all these and more--represent the ways in which the Gospel has grown by being heard by more sinners--sinners who need to hear it before they find themselves face to face with the perfect Judge. The more that the means of grace are in use, the more the Gospel grows, because these means are how the Spirit of God turns the hearts of sinners and gives to them the forgiveness of sins and the sure hope of heaven in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a very specific message--a message that has not and cannot ever change because, if it did, its power to save sinners would be compromised. But this Gospel of Christ is not a stagnant or lifeless thing. On the contrary, the Gospel can grow--even among us. It grows when we share it with others--especially with those who have not yet heard it. It grows when it moves us to do good works in thanksgiving to God and as a testimony to unbelievers. It grows when believers come to a fuller understanding and appreciation of who Jesus is and what He has done for them. By the power of the Holy Spirit this growth of the Gospel is evident among us to strengthen us in the faith and to equip us for sharing it so that it may grow even more and be a blessing not only to us but to all for whom the Savior lived, died, and rose again.
May the Lord bless your hearing of His Word, using it to accomplish in you those things for which He gave it. May you be enriched and strengthened in faith that you may leave here today to go out into our world armed with the whole armor of God, prepared to be able ambassadors of your Savior Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.