To believe the Gospel means to believe the full measure of salvation as the early church did. But it also means repentance and the sacrifice of self for the zeal of revealing the coming of Christ to both the church and the world.
and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
John the Baptist is such a larger-than-life character who leaps of the page and stirs us with a boldness and passion we may even envy. His zeal for the kingdom of God was all-consuming. How many of us would go around in camel skins, eating locusts and honey, and challenging the world to confront their sinfulness? It’s even more remarkable when we consider his background. Christ’s mother Mary and John’s mother Elizabeth were cousins. Both John and Jesus were born through divine miraculous interventions. John was conceived when Elizabeth and Zechariah were already well into old-age, a miracle baby destined for the prophetic purposes of God. Both his parents were of Levitical ancestry. He could have settled for the worldly privilege of serving as a Levite with all the comforts this brought. Yet he gave everything up for his passionate purpose to call all to believe the Gospel.
Believe the Gospel is an eternal call.
The entire history of mankind is focused on the cross and the Gospel message it fulfils. The Old Testament points to it through the many prophecies and the types and symbolic references to Christ and salvation. The New Testament unfolds the Gospel, teaches us the full relevance and power of the cross, and reveals Jesus as both the suffering servant and conquering king. The Word of God in its entirety echoes with a single message – believe the Gospel. There are, of course, two necessary parts to this call. We must also repent, something that is also taught the whole way through the Old Testament with the various sacrifices and atonements demanded of the people of God. This is fulfilled in the cross, where Jesus was put to death as the perfect sacrifice on behalf of mankind. We can never separate repentance from the Gospel message.
It occurred to me, though, as I read this through earlier, that to believe the Gospel we must also believe in our sinfulness and guilt. We cannot fully believe in Christ’s work on the cross unless we believe that our sin and punishment demanded the sacrifice He was willing to make. This was the message built throughout the Old Testament. Mankind could not do it. A saviour was needed. Every sacrifice had to be continually repeated because they were temporary and their power lasted only a prescribed period. Every illustration pointed to the single truth that a miracle of grace was required – a miracle God Himself provided in the form of His Son. The call to believe the Gospel is an eternal call woven into the very fabric of our history. It’s the motif that infuses every situation with the hope of an eternal solution to an otherwise eternal problem.
Our call to non-believers is to believe the Gospel.
This is the heart of the Great Commission given to each one of us and never retracted or cancelled. Thankfully, we’re not called to the prophetic purpose as John was, but it’s no less imperative. We may not be called to give up all and don camel skins, but we should at least desire some of the zeal of this man of God who pointed the way to Jesus. In honesty, many churches have scant regard for the call to believe the Gospel. We have our missions and our crusades, but a lot of the time, it’s about filling seats rather than making disciples. We want people to ‘join the club’ rather than live the full measure of the Gospel. This is the reason why so many churches preach comfortable Christianity – prosperity and name-it-and-claim-it, unlimited blessings, and how God loves us so unconditionally He doesn’t want to change us.
The call to believe the Gospel is one with eternal implications. It’s not a matter of making a ‘profession’ of faith to gain entry into the ‘promised land’ or God’s perpetual blessings. Jesus Himself said He would separate the wheat from the tares and the sheep from the goats. He also said that He would turn away many who even did miracles in His name. This means these people are in the church. They could be sitting beside us. They could even be us. Salvation through the Gospel requires real repentance. It means really believing in our inherent sinfulness and that Christ alone is the way. Worshiping with words is easy. Worshiping with the heart requires humility and a genuine surrender to our only saviour. We fail those Jesus sends us to bring in and make disciples of if we don’t lead them to believe the full Gospel without compromise.
To believe the Gospel is relevant even to believers.
It’s all too easy to slide into the place of complacency. We’re saved, filled with the Spirit…and home free. Aren’t we? In a sense, this is true. To be born again is an historical spiritual fact. It happened and cannot be repeated unless we reject it and God and fall away completely, then return. John may have called people to a future event, but his words resound with an eternal power and relevance. Every single believer must continue to believe the Gospel. We cannot believe today and then carry on as we were, trusting in the ‘unconditional’ love of God which ‘automagically’ forgive our sin without repentance or surrender to His lordship. Every single day, we must reaffirm our believe through repentance where it is needed and thanksgiving for the blood and broken body of Jesus. It is only in believing the Gospel that we keep our eyes on Christ.
We must understand that the original Greek contained both a finite and infinite meaning to saved. We have been saved, are saved, and are continually being saved. The ‘have been’ is the historical event. To say we ‘are saved’ is what happens each time we reaffirm our belief in the Gospel and repent. It applies to each daily moment of reaffirmation. The ‘continually being saved’ is the ongoing eternal process of salvation as it is outworked in our lives when we continue to believe the Gospel. We would do well if, morning and evening, we recalled the words of John and responded with thanksgiving. His prophetic purpose was to point to Jesus. Every Word of God is eternal and is there for our good. John’s words aren’t frozen in time. They are as relevant today because they remind us to fix our eyes on Christ.
To believe the Gospel means all of the Gospel.
Sadly, the pure Gospel is becoming something of a rarity. We need only look at the book of Acts to see that the power of the Gospel has diminished. The doctrines of men and demons have infiltrated the church to the point where even the elect of God will be deceived. People chase after signs and wonders for their own sake and lack discernment to see which are truly of God and which are not. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for signs and wonders. I desire to see the power and glory of God manifest as it was in the early church. In fact, I believe absolutely that these must take place. But the determining factor is always the preaching of the Gospel. This truth has led to the misunderstanding that these are only for non-believers. The tragic truth, however, is that much of the church today needs evangelising.
By this I mean preaching and teaching the full Gospel. All those goats and tares and false prophets need to be brought to a place where they believe the full Gospel. That’s the one which talks of sin and repentance as much as it talks about the love and grace of God. It’s the Gospel that doesn’t tiptoe around judgment but reveals the full authority and power of Jesus. Christ’s death wasn’t a warm and fuzzy moment. It was an agonizing, beautiful, terrible, and brutal moment of total surrender and victory. The early church believed the Gospel – all of it. That was why they were so consumed by zeal for the kingdom and God’s purposes. It’s why signs, wonders, and miracles were ‘daily bread’ rather than isolated incidents. In these end times, believers need to believe the Gospel more than ever before.
To believe the Gospel requires honesty.
If we examine the full measure of the Gospel, we cannot help but be awed by the magnitude of God’s provision. He has poured His intrinsic nature – the great I AM – into it. Salvation is the limitless, immeasurable, powerful, and irresistible God Himself made manifest in our lives. This alone is reason enough to believe the Gospel. But to believe in what comes after the cross we must also believe in what comes before – the absolute, undeniable truth that all our righteousness is as filthy rags. Self is that part of us that continually looks for excuses or justification as to why we’re not to blame. Yet the Bible is very clear. We are where we are through our choices, responses, reactions, and decisions. We maybe don’t choose what is thrown at us, but we do choose what to do with it.
For those who have endured hurt and abuse, this may be an unpalatable truth. Let me hasten to assure you that I have come from a place of utter darkness and despair. I have endured things no one should ever have to live through. While my pain is different to yours, the truth remains that my choices determined what these did to me. I speak from experience and with compassion when I say this. None of what we go through alters the truth that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. To believe the Gospel is to believe in our own human frailty. It is also to believe that we need Jesus not only to heal, deliver, and restore us but also to cleanse us from our sin. Our suffering can never absolve us from our sin and its consequences.
I believe the Gospel – but which one?
These are the questions today’s verse raises up as a challenge to every believer. Do we believe the Gospel the early church did? If so, why are our churches devoid of the real, life-changing fruit manifest by those early disciples and apostles? Do we believe the Gospel of comfortable Christianity which enables us to members of the ‘holy huddle’ to which God ‘owes’ fulfilment of all His promises? John’s words carry the same truth – repent and believe the Gospel. If we’re suffering with illness or torment, perhaps it’s because we’ve lost sight of the limitless provision in salvation. God never promised us an easy time of it. But He did promise us victory in Christ if we only believe. It’s easy to explain away God’s ‘failure to answer prayer’ with platitudes that it isn’t His will or our faith isn’t strong enough. Yet the Gospel provides for every need.
I believe with everything in me that this is the role of the remnant that God is raising up in these end times. He is challenging His people to believe the Gospel with passion and zeal, like John. His desire is to see believers take hold of the full measure of His kingdom and believe the Gospel – all of it, including repentance and humility. The call today is strong. Each of us is John, warning of the coming of Christ. We cannot do it effectively unless we embrace the full revelation of salvation and the message of the Gospel in its entirety. If we desire to see the power and glory of God revealed, this is what it requires. Jesus Himself asked whether He would see real faith when He returned. Faith is rooted in the full truth of the Gospel.
To believe the Gospel means surrender of self.
We cannot fully believe the Gospel while self retains a foothold. This is because self is entirely against the things of God. If we truly believe, repentance and humility will manifest in genuine surrender. It is only when we believe the full measure of our frailty and our need for Christ in all things that we can take hold of the truth of the Gospel of Christ. Thankfully, God knows our weaknesses and has already made provision through Christ in us. What we cannot do, He can and will – willingly and without reservation. But He will only work on what we surrender to Him. If we hold fast, He will simply wait. Our prayer should daily be to believe the Gospel with the zeal and fervency of John who saw the coming of Jesus so clearly his only passion was to speak his prophetic purpose.
Lord, stir us up and release in us a passion and zeal for Your kingdom. Release in us the power of the truth that Christ is coming soon. Help us to yield, to push past the limitations of self and sin to the place of surrender. Above all, give us a fresh revelation of the full measure of the Gospel. Release Your Spirit in greater measure to enable us to obey Your command, as John did, to preach the Gospel and live the Gospel so the world would know that Jesus is real and is coming soon.