The gospel is the announcement of the rule and reign of Christ in three equally important and essential acts:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
Modern gospel formulations typically stress the first act and either go soft or quiet or queasy on the latter two. They either fail to mention those two acts altogether (i.e., “Christ died for your sins, and if you believe that, your afterlife will go down much more smoothly”) or they subvert them to the first act (i.e., “Christ died for your sins; his resurrection proves it; and he’s gonna come back and be jolly decent to you if you believe it”).
But the latter two proclamations are far more than just struts and supports for the first. They are essential elements of the good news in their own right. When we fail to give them equal emphasis to the first in our evangelism, we end up with misshapen Christians living out a misshapen Christianity.
- “Christ is risen” reminds us that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to him. We can be set free from the sins that entangle us, not just forgiven for our entanglement. And we can move and act boldly without fear of those who can harm the body. It is this present earth, not only a future heaven, that Christ holds in his hands.
- “Christ will come again” reminds us that the remainder of our lives is to be devoted to preparing for his return. His return influences whether we marry, what job we do, how we do it, the kind of holy lives we live, and the content of the conversations we have. The wellspring of action for the Christian is not “I’m forgiven” but rather “Behold! He is coming soon!”
- Leave out or subvert the proclamation of Christ’s present reign and you get forgiven but woefully anemic Christians who continue to submit their bodies to sin even as they assure themselves that this is simply proof of God’s amazing grace that we need do nothing to earn our salvation.
- Leave out or subvert the proclamation of Christ’s return and you get Christians whose earthly hopes, dreams, goals and visions are virtually indistinguishable from their non-Christian counterparts. Worse, you get Christians who are ill-prepared for the acceleration of persecution that the Scriptures warn will attend the coming of the end of the present age.
That is why Paul insists in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that the gospel is always to be proclaimed “according to the Scriptures.” Absent a robust, tripartite proclamation that puts equal emphasis on each 1/3rd of the gospel–“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”–we leave even those who receive our truncated message trapped until death as forgiven sinners in an endless evil age.