Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
1:27 (cont.) – God has declared us as citizens of the gospel. So then, what is the gospel? Noted here, it is ‘of Christ’ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-7). If one understands Christ, he understands the gospel. The gospel and Jesus Christ are inseparable. The fullness of who Christ is, is what the gospel is in its fullness. We will not see the effectiveness of the gospel in our lives without the fullness of Christ as revealed in the Scripture. As there are many falsified pictures of Jesus – the merely human Jesus, the mere exorcist, the mere apocalyptic prophet, the mere healer, etc. – so then there are many falsified pictures of the gospel. If we feel the lacking of the gospel in our lives, it is only a pointer to the lacking of the true Jesus in our hearts. Underneath that, it is the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ. News is primarily to be told, shared, and delivered. The gospel is a message, a truth-claim, and most important, it is a message about God and what He has done, not what we can do or have done. The word ‘gospel’ is thrown around quite a bit, and despite the true blessing that can be, it has conversely served to damage the true signification of the term. The Gospel is the truth concerning what Jesus Christ has done in reference to His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The aspects of man’s depravity and need of Jesus having done that is necessarily coupled to that news, along with man’s response – i.e., repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38) – but the message of Jesus is the ‘gospel.’ Without being too zealous in the search for profundity, it will be sufficient to say that we are citizens of the gospel by having faith in Jesus Christ.
Spurgeon notes it well: the legalist begs you to work that you may attain a meritorious righteousness of your own. Gospel ethics are quite different. Salvation is according faith in Christ, and those who have such faith are called to holiness – to make your actions conformable to your declared position and inherited citizenship. You are ethically called according to who you have already been declared to be – i.e., a citizen of the gospel. Gospel ethics seek what it may reasonably expect to receive – i.e., a conduct worthy of that gospel that saved you.
Remember, the apostle is speaking to believers. He is not speaking to the world, saying that they ought to obey the moral structure of Christianity. That would be unattainable for them, and it would absolutely forsake the noted progression of God’s salvation. Jesus died while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). He died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). Ethical adherence is not a prerequisite to the gospel, and it would be robbery to God’s glory if we propose such a route. Now, I am not asserting that we as the children of God do not exult in the holiness of God, which is displayed in the ethical structures of His church and commands. Yes, show the unbeliever that their values are ultimately a devaluation of God’s perfect goodness, and do it with boldness. However, ‘fixing’ those ethical failings are subsequent to the gospel reigning in their hearts. We have a prime opportunity to discuss gospel ethics in our culture today. The Church is often criticized for what they stand against more than what that stand for – e.g., gay rights, women’s rights (abortion), etc. These topics should absolutely be talked about in the church, and the church should be on the forefront of upholding the biblical definition of marriage and the inherent God-given value of life. What the church has not been good at, however, is supporting these ethics with a gospel foundation.