And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed. (Galatians 3:8 ESV)
Christians often talk about “the Gospel.” It should be the center of our lives and the focus of our study. The Gospel is a well of living water that we can never fully search the depths of. We often try to simplify the Gospel message to share it with others or to give the main point. There is nothing wrong with doing this, even Paul simplified the message into the Abrahamic Promise in the above verse.
What is the Gospel?
When asked “what is the Gospel” Christians will respond in a myriad of ways. I recently asked our small congregation this question. The answers varied from things like, “Jesus died on the cross to take away our sin,” to “God so loved the world, He gave His only Son…” and “Jesus is the living Word.” These answers are not wrong. They are the finale of the Gospel message. I have asked many people what the Gospel message is, and to date, no one has ever responded with Paul’s explanation, “the Gospel is, ‘in your seed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” Yet, this is exactly how Paul defines the Gospel.
What I think many believers have lost in the modern Church’s telling of the Gospel story is the covenant element. Paul’s conversion brought about a radical reinterpretation of the Abrahamic promise. When I began to pull on the thread of covenantal terms and imagery within the Bible, I began to realize that the Gospel message is all about covenant.
In the beginning, Man (I.e., Adam and Eve) were living in a covenant relationship with God. The reformers call the relationship in the garden of Eden a “covenant of works.” What this means is that Adam and Eve were in a special relationship with God that had some terms. If Adam and Eve didn’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would remain in perfect harmony with God. But, if they did eat the fruit, they would no longer be able to stay in this relationship.
It is called the “covenant of works” because the relationship (or covenant) was based on works that Adam and Eve would either do or not do.
We cannot talk about the Gospel without telling the bad part of the story. Many modern Churches only want to give the “Good News” of the Gospel. But the Good News is not good unless you have the bad part as well. The fact is, Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit. This not only brought sin and death into the world, it actually changed humankind. Humans now have a sin nature; we are no longer able to live in perfect harmony with God. God is infinitely holy (Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8) and cannot be in covenant relationship with something unholy (Psalm 5:4).
This is the bad news but beginning in Genesis 3 we are given the hope of coming back into covenant relationship with the Lord.
The Seed and the Covenant
God gives the promise of the “Seed” in Gen. 3:15. The seed would come and deal with the sin problem overcoming death and bringing those who believed back into covenant relationship with the Almighty. This promise is expanded in Gen. 22:18 when Abraham is told “in your seed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” David is told that the seed would come through his line:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your seed after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12–13)
By the time we get to the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) Paul uses Abraham as the model of being saved by faith in the Messiah:
How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believes without being circumcised so that righteousness would be counted to them as well (Romans 4:10–11)
Paul notes that Abraham was justified through faith and this is what made him to be seen as not guilty before God. It is only after that that Abraham received the sign of circumcision. This points to the Mosaic covenant that sets the people of God apart as sanctified unto God.
The Covenants and the Gospel
- The promise of the “seed” to Abraham is a part of the Abrahamic covenant.
- The Promise of the Messiah through the line of David is called the Davidic Covenant.
- Abraham believes in God’s promise of the coming Messiah and becomes part of the New Covenant.
- Once justified, we as believers are sanctified unto God through the Mosaic Covenant.
None of these covenants can be taken away or there is a major piece of the story missing. What’s more, Paul is able to use the Abrahamic Promise as shorthand for the entire story. Paul is looking at the entire story and viewing how all the nations will be blessed through the seed of Abraham. He sees the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the Messiah that takes away the sin of the world.
The story of the Gospel is the story of all of the covenants being put together to see the risen Lord redeem His people from the curse of the law and bring them back into covenant relationship with Him.
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