Did Jesus and Paul Preach the Same Gospel?

This question has been on the minds of many evangelicals in recent years. In considering the question, I found this passage from Michael Horton’s new book, The Gospel Commission, very helpful and insightful:

Pitting Jesus (and the kingdom motif) against Paul (and the emphasis on personal salvation) used to be a hobby of liberal Protestants. Alfred Loissy, a liberal Roman Catholic writer, once quipped that Jesus announced a kingdom, but instead it was a church that came. So on one side is Jesus, with his invitation to humanity to participate in his kingdom by bringing peace and justice, and on the other side is Paul who spoke instead of the church and personal salvation by belonging to it…

Besides revealing a seriously deficient view of Scripture, this contrast between Jesus and Paul rests on a misunderstanding of our Lord’s teaching concerning the kingdom. Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom is identical to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel of justification. Contracting the kingdom with the church is another way of saying that the main point of Jesus’s commission consists of our social action rather than in the public ministry of the Word and sacrament. In other words, it’s another way of saying that we are building the kingdom rather than receiving it; that the kingdom of God’s redeeming grace is actually a kingdom of our redeeming works.

Jesus’s message of the kingdom as the forgiveness of sins and the dawning of the new creation was inseparable from his promise to build his church and to give his apostles the keys of the kingdom through the ministry of preaching, sacrament, and discipline. This motif of the kingdom was hardly lost in the apostolic era. It was this gospel of the kingdom that Peter and the other apostles proclaimed immediately after Jesus’s ascension (Acts 2:14-36; 3:12-16; 17:2-3). And this aws also the heart of Paul’s message (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

If the preaching of the gospel, no less than the miracles, is the sign that the kingdom has come, Paul’s message and ministry can only serve as confirmation of the kingdom’s arrival.

Michael Horton, The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples, pp. 75-76

Give Your Amen to Jesus

There is an unfortunate tendency when it comes to interpreting John 3:16. John says, “whoever believes in him” will not perish. Some people think that “believing in” Jesus means nothing more than giving assent. They hang their hopes for heaven on this slender reed: “Sure, I believe in Jesus.” They mean that they believe that He exists and agree with at least some of what the Bible says about Him. But the biblical teaching about Jesus means practically nothing to them. They “believe in” Jesus in much the same way a child “believes in” Santa Claus. It is the particular legend or story with which they were brought up.

But John means much more than this when he writes that whoever “believes in” Jesus Christ will not perish. In his outstanding study of John’s Gospel, C. H. Dodd points out that this Greek construction translates a common Hebrew phrase in the Old Testament that employs a form of amen, a word that signifies something that is firmly held or established. Isaiah used it in his famous statement to King Ahaz: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (Isa. 7:9b). Therefore, when John says “whoever believes in him,” he is speaking of those who give their “Amen” to Jesus, embracing Him as a trustworthy Savior and committing themselves to Him.

Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Kindle Edition, location 1108)

Self is the Poise of the Unrenewed Heart

To keep the heart, necessarily supposes a previous work of regeneration, which has set the heart right, by giving it a new spiritual inclination, for as long as the heart it not set right by grace as to in habitual frame, no means can keep it right with God. Self is the poise of the unrenewed heart, which biases and moves it in all its designs and actions; and as long as it is so, it is impossible that any external means should keep it with God.

Man, originally, was of one constant, uniform frame of spirit, held one straight and even course; not one thought or faculty was disordered: his mind had a perfect knowledge of the requirements of God, his will a perfect compliance therewith; all his appetites and powers stood in a most obedient subordination.

Man, by the apostasy, is become a most disordered and rebellious creature, opposing his Maker, as the First Cause, by self-dependence; as the Chief Good, by self-love; as the Highest Lord, by self-will; and as the Last End, by self-seeking. Thus he is quite disordered, and all his actions are irregular. But by regeneration the disordered soul is set right; this great change being, as the Scripture expresses it, the renovation of the soul after the image of God, in which self-dependence is removed by faith; self-love, by the love of God; self-will, by subjection and obedience to the will of God; and self-seeking by self-denial. The darkened understanding is illuminated, the refractory will sweetly subdued, the rebellious appetite gradually conquered. Thus the soul which sin had universally depraved, is by grace restored. This being pre-supposed, it will not be difficult to apprehend what it is to keep the heart, which is nothing but the constant care and diligence of such a renewed man to preserve his soul in that holy frame to which grace has raised it. For though grace has, in a great measure, rectified the soul, and given it an habitual heavenly temper; yet sin often actually discomposes it again; so that even a gracious heart is like a musical instrument, which though it be exactly tuned, a small matter brings it out of tune again; yea, hang it aside but a little, and it will need setting again before another lesson can be played upon it. If gracious hearts are in a desirable frame in one duty, yet how dull, dead, and disordered when they come to another! Therefore every duty needs a particular preparation of the heart. ” If thou prepare thine heart and stretch out thine hands toward him,” To keep the heart then, is carefully to preserve it from sin, which disorders it; and maintain that spiritual frame which fits it for a life of communion with God.

John Flavel, On Keeping the Heart (Kindle Edition, location 75)

The Children of the Law and The Children of the Gospel

The children of the Law will always persecute the children of the Gospel. This is our daily experience. Our opponents tell us that everything was at peace before the Gospel was revived by us. Since then the whole world has been upset. People blame us and the Gospel for everything, for the disobedience of subjects to their rulers, for wars, plagues, and famines, for revolutions, and every other evil that can be imagined. No wonder our opponents think they are doing God a favor by hating and persecuting us. Ishmael will persecute Isaac.

We invite our opponents to tell us what good things attended the preaching of the Gospel by the apostles. Did not the destruction of Jerusalem follow on the heels of the Gospel? And how about the overthrow of the Roman Empire? Did not the whole world seethe with unrest as the Gospel was preached in the whole world? We do not say that the Gospel instigated these upheavals. The iniquity of man did it.

Our opponents blame our doctrine for the present turmoil. But ours is a doctrine of grace and peace. It does not stir up trouble. Trouble starts when the people, the nations and their rulers of the earth rage and take counsel together against the Lord, and against His anointed. (Psalm 2.) But all their counsels shall be brought to naught. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2:4.) Let them cry out against us as much as they like. We know that they are the cause of all their own troubles.

As long as we preach Christ and confess Him to be our Savior, we must be content to be called vicious trouble makers. These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, so said the Jews of Paul and Silas. (Acts 17:6, 7.) Of Paul they said: We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. The Gentiles uttered similar complaints: These men do exceedingly trouble our city.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 2586)

Let the Law, Sin, and the Devil Cry Out Against Us

The fact that the Spirit of Christ in our hearts cries unto God and makes intercession for us with groanings should reassure us greatly. However, there are many factors that prevent such full reassurance on our part. We are born in sin. To doubt the good will of God is an inborn suspicion of God with all of us. Besides, the devil, our adversary, goeth about seeking to devour us by roaring: God is angry at you and is going to destroy you forever. In all these difficulties we have only one support, the Gospel of Christ. To hold on to it, that is the trick. Christ cannot be perceived with the senses. We cannot see Him. The heart does not feel His helpful presence. Especially in times of trials a Christian feels the power of sin, the infirmity of his flesh, the goading darts of the devil, the agues of death, the scowl and judgment of God. All these things cry out against us. The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us. In the midst of the clamor the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts: Abba, Father. And this little cry of the Spirit transcends the hullabaloo of the Law, sin, death, and the devil, and finds a hearing with God.

The Spirit cries in us because of our weakness. Because of our infirmity the Holy Ghost is sent forth into our hearts to pray for us according to the will of God and to assure us of the grace of God.

Let the Law, sin, and the devil cry out against us until their outcry fills heaven and earth. The Spirit of God outcries them all. Our feeble groans, Abba, Father, will be heard of God sooner than the combined racket of hell, sin, and the Law.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 2125)

Only If A Substitute is Provided

Can the penalty of sin resting upon all mankind be remitted? Plainly not, if God is to remain God. That penalty of sin was ordained in the law of God, and the law of God was no mere arbitrary and changeable arrangement but an expression of the nature of God Himself. If the penalty of sin were remitted, God would become unrighteous, and that God will not become unrighteous is the most certain thing that can possibly be conceived.

How then can sinful men be saved? In one way only. Only if a substitute is provided who shall pay for them the just penalty of God’s law.

The Bible teaches that such a substitute has a matter of fact been provided. The substitute is Jesus Christ. The law’s demands of penalty must be satisfied. There is no escaping that. But Jesus Christ satisfied those demands for us when He died instead of us on the cross.

J Gresham Machen, The Doctrine of the Atonement: Three Lectures (Kindle Edition)

Fully, Finally, Unquestionably, and Irrevocably Vindicated

The grotto of Gethsemane, where it is believed that Jesus was arrested following Judas' betrayal. Photo by Gary Hardman

If Christ had remained dead like any other “savior” or “teacher” or “prophet,” his death would have meant nothing more than yours or mine. Death’s waves would have closed over him just as they do over every other human life, every claim he made would have sunk into nothingness, and humanity would still be without hope of being saved from sin. But when breath entered his resurrected lungs again, when resurrection life electrified his glorified body, everything Jesus claimed was fully, finally, unquestionably, and irrevocably vindicated. Paul exults in Romans 8 over Jesus’ resurrection and what it means for believers:

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom. 8:33–34)

What an amazing thought—that the man Jesus now sits in splendor at the right hand of his Father in heaven, reigning as the King of the universe! Not only so, but he is even now interceding for his people, even as we await his final and glorious return.

Greg Gilbert, What Is the Gospel? (p. 68)

We Do Not Preach For the Praise Of Princes

No man can say that we are seeking the favor and praise of men with our doctrine. We teach that all men are naturally depraved. We condemn man’s free will, his strength, wisdom, and righteousness. We say that we obtain grace by the free mercy of God alone for Christ’s sake. This is no preaching to please men. This sort of preaching procures for us the hatred and disfavor of the world, persecutions, excommunications, murders, and curses.

Can’t you see that I seek no man’s favor by my doctrine? asks Paul. If I were anxious for the favor of men I would flatter them. But what do I do? I condemn their works. I teach things only that I have been commanded to teach from above. For that I bring down upon my head the wrath of Jews and Gentiles. My doctrine must be right. It must be divine. Any other doctrine cannot be better than mine. Any other doctrine must be false and wicked.

With Paul we boldly pronounce a curse upon every doctrine that does not agree with ours. We do not preach for the praise of men, or the favor of princes. We preach for the favor of God alone whose grace and mercy we proclaim. Whosoever teaches a gospel contrary to ours, or different from ours, let us be bold to say that he is sent of the devil.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 397)

Alistair Begg: From a Foreigner to King Jesus #TGC11

Alistair Begg spoke next on preaching Christ from the Book of Ruth (Ruth 1-4).

The audio is available for download here. Video footage can be viewed below:

A few of my notes follow:


What makes Ruth sparkle so much is the background in which it’s set. The time of the Judges at the very least was a time of instability. But in that you see God at work through a wealthy man, foreign worker, and a thrice bereaved widow.

Who could ever imagine that Naomi’s predicament would lead first to the conversion of her daughter-in-law, the birth of David and ultimately the coming of Christ.

How can we effectively preach Christ from these chapters? Learning to do this is the journey of a lifetime. But our listeners should be able to follow the progress of our thought that leads them to Jesus, especially in the Old Testament narrative. We come to the text with certain assumptions, [among them]:

  1. God has provided both the record of redemption and the interpretation in Holy Scripture.
  2. The proper Christian use of the Old Testament is an urgent need.
  3. We will be helped if we read the Bible from back to front. It will be easier to find the tributaries if we start at the mouth of the river and move our way back from there.
  4. The message of Ruth cannot be understood without the coming of Jesus.
  5. The Old Testament Scriptures can and should mean more to us than they did to the people of the Old Testament for we live in light of their Christian fulfillment.
  6. The genre of the text should determine the way in which we illustrate the coming of Christ. The way in which the story is crafted is so wonderful in that it gives the sense that there is something more to this if we’ll just read further.

Three charcoal sketches:

  1. Three women on the road to somewhere. It starts out with three women on the road back to Judah. The backdrop is one of poor choices and judgment. And on this road, we see Ruth’s conversion. When Orpah turns and goes back to Moab and Ruth stays, what motivates it? She believed. God does not believe for us. We believe. And Ruth believed. She entered through the narrow gate.
  2. The title of a man. At this point, the author introduces a new character, Boaz. In chapter 2, Ruth has been learning the Law of God, and she knows that God provides for the poor. “Let me go into the fields,” she says, “behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” The word “favor” points us in the direction we need to go. And it so happened that she found herself in the field of Boaz who happens to be of the clan of Elimelech. And a short while later, we see Naomi up to her tricks. “Did you know that Boaz is our kinsmen redeemer…?” Boaz as the redeemer has the right to intervene in the circumstances of Naomi and Ruth. He has the right, the prerogative, to take on their needs and all their troubles, to take them on and bear them as if they were his very own. Paul points us to the mystery of Christ and the Church, where He takes on the troubles and needs of His bride, and makes them His own.
  3. Look at that little bundle. We might want to talk about the birth of David’s grandfather or that the hills where they stood and it would be where the shepherds would stand and hear angels sing at the coming of Christ; and we might focus on the images of grain and punch right through to Luke 15, where we see that fellow who says, “In my Father’s house there is bread to spare, and yet I go hungry. I shall arise and go to him.” These nudges are to point us to the provision of God. The author keeps pointing out that Ruth was a Moabitess, and that she was naturally excluded from the covenant. But God in His mercy, extended His blessing and brought her into covenant with Himself.

Dispensing Grace And Peace

That Christ is very God is apparent in that Paul ascribes to Him divine powers equally with the Father, as for instance, the power to dispense grace and peace. This Jesus could not do unless He were God.

To bestow peace and grace lies in the province of God, who alone can create these blessings. The angels cannot. The apostles could only distribute these blessings by the preaching of the Gospel. In attributing to Christ the divine power of creating and giving grace, peace, everlasting life, righteousness, and forgiveness of sins, the conclusion is inevitable that Christ is truly God. Similarly, St. John concludes from the works attributed to the Father and the Son that they are divinely One. Hence, the gifts which we receive from the Father and from the Son are one and the same. Otherwise Paul should have written: Grace from God the Father, and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ. In combining them he ascribes them equally to the Father and the Son. I stress this on account of the many errors emanating from the sects.

The Arians were sharp fellows. Admitting that Christ had two natures, and that He is called very God of very God, they were yet able to deny His divinity. The Arians took Christ for a noble and perfect creature, superior even to the angels, because by Him God created heaven and earth. Mohammed also speaks highly of Christ. But all their praise is mere palaver to deceive men. Paul’s language is different. To paraphrase him: You are established in this belief that Christ is very God because He gives grace and peace, gifts which only God can create and bestow.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 171)

The Call Is Not To Be Taken Lightly

The call is not to be taken lightly. For a person to possess knowledge is not enough. He must be sure that he is properly called. Those who operate without a proper call seek no good purpose. God does not bless their labors. They may be good preachers, but they do [not] edify. Many of the fanatics of our day pronounce words of faith, but they bear no good fruit, because their purpose is to turn men to their perverse opinions. On the other hand, those who have a divine call must suffer a good deal of opposition in order that they may become fortified against the running attacks of the devil and the world.

This is our comfort in the ministry, that ours is a divine office to which we have been divinely called. Reversely, what an awful thing it must be for the conscience if one is not properly called. It spoils one’s best work. When I was a young man I thought Paul was making too much of his call. I did not understand his purpose. I did not then realize the importance of the ministry. I knew nothing of the doctrine of faith because we were taught sophistry instead of certainty, and nobody understood spiritual boasting. We exalt our calling, not to gain glory among men, or money, or satisfaction, or favor, but because people need to be assured that the words we speak are the words of God. This is no sinful pride. It is holy pride.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 87)

Speaking Mysteriously of Mysteries

One of the common features of Jesus’ teaching ministry was his use of parables, stories that illustrated spiritual and moral lessons. One of the things that’s particularly worth noting is the “why” of His use of parables.

Today, in some circles, it’s very fashionable to speak and write in very ambiguous terms. To “embrace the mystery” of Christianity and leave things kind of… mysterious.

But is that the point of teaching? Was that what Jesus was doing when He taught in parables?

Take a look at Matthew 13:10-17 for a second:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

In the beginning of this passage, Jesus’ disciples asked that very question. They said to Jesus, “why do you speak to them [the crowds who came to see Jesus] in parables?”

They wanted to know: Why did He not speak plainly to the crowds? Why was He so mysterious?

And Jesus answered. “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

So here’s what He says: Jesus tells them, “I speak in parables because the truth of the kingdom of heaven is not theirs to know. They think they see the truth of My kingdom, but they don’t. They think they understand, but they can’t. If they did, they might turn and repent.”

His parables had a two-fold effect:

  1. They hardened the hearts of some who heard
  2. They caused others to seek out Jesus to ask Him what He meant

The interesting thing is that when people came to Him and asked Him to explain, as the disciples did, He was happy to oblige. Indeed, every time they asked by His disciples what He meant, He patiently explained. Jesus was never mysterious for the sake of being mysterious. He didn’t speak in riddles and vagaries to create a mystique. As I wrote last week, God is not a beat poet.

Jesus’ parables were not meant to be a stumbling block for His disciples; all things were revealed to them by Him. Similarly, the role of the Christian teacher is to patiently explain all that has been revealed with gentleness and humility. If we are going to follow Jesus’ example in teaching, we ought to be careful to not embrace mystery for the sake of being mysterious.

A Sickbed Often Teaches More Than A Sermon

Luther said that he could never rightly understand some of the Psalms, till he was in affliction. Affliction teaches what sin is. In the word preached, we hear what a dreadful thing sin is, that it is both defiling and damning, but we fear it no more than a painted lion; therefore God lets loose affliction, and then we feel sin bitter in the fruit of it. A sick-bed often teaches more than a sermon. We can best see the ugly visage of sin in the glass of affliction. Affliction teaches us to know ourselves. In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves. God makes us know affliction, that we may better know ourselves. We see that corruption in our hearts in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there. Water in the glass looks clear, but set it on the fire, and the scum boils up. In prosperity, a man seems to be humble and thankful, the water looks clear; but set this man a little on the fire of affliction, and the scum boils up — much impatience and unbelief appear. “Oh,” says a Christian, “I never thought I had such a bad heart, as now I see I have; I never thought my corruptions had been so strong, and my graces so weak.

Thomas Watson, A Divine Cordial (Kindle Edition, location 220)

So, What is Universalism, Anyway?

In all the discussion of the eternality of hell ignited by a certain book,  the term universalism has been thrown around a lot, as has another question:

What exactly is universalism, anyway?

I’m reading (and listening to) John Piper’s Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved; there, Piper provides a very thoughtful description of universalism from his personal experience reading the works of George MacDonald and Madeleine L’Engle:

Since my college days, I had read three novels by George MacDonald: Phantastes, Lilith, and Sir Gibbie. I enjoyed them. I had also read a lot of C. S. Lewis and benefited immeasurably from the way he experienced the world and put that experience into writing.

I knew that Lewis loved MacDonald and commended him highly… Largely because of this remarkable advocacy by Lewis, I think, George MacDonald continues to have a significant following among American evangelicals. I certainly was among the number who was drawn to him. Then I picked up Rolland Hein’s edition of Creation in Christ, a collection of MacDonald’s sermons. To my great sorrow, I read these words: “From all the copies of Jonathan Edwards’ portrait of God, however faded by time, however softened by the use of less glaring pigments, I turn with loathing.”

Those are strong words spoken about the God I had come to see in the Bible and to love. I read further and saw a profound rejection of the substitutionary atonement of Christ: “There must be an atonement, a making up, a bringing together—an atonement which, I say, cannot be made except by the man who has sinned.” And since only the man who has sinned can atone for his own sin (without a substitute), that is what hell is for.

MacDonald is a universalist not in denying the existence of hell, but in believing that the purpose of hell is to bring people to repentance and purity no matter how long it takes. “I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem His children.” And all humans are his children. If hell went on forever, he says, God would be defeated. “God is triumphantly defeated, I say, throughout the hell of His vengeance. Although against evil, it is but the vain and wasted cruelty of a tyrant.”

I mention George MacDonald as an example of a universalist not only because of my personal encounter with him but also because he represents the popular, thoughtful, artistic side of Christianity which continues to shape the way so many people think. [Read more...]