The Gospel: A Battle Motif?

What do we mean when we say gospel? Words do not speak for themselves they are interpreted and the baggage we carry effects how we understand their meaning. This is why context is so important. Context defines the word, it reveals the sense in which the term is being used.

In Christian circles we have a tendency of throwing words out in dialogue anticipating that our audience has the same understanding that we do. This is especially true when we speak the same language (i.e. English/Christianese), but we are committing a grave error when we refuse to take the time explaining what we mean when we say what we say.

The term gospel in its simplest form means “good-news.”

You got an “A” on your last assignment in class, or you received a raise in your hourly rate at work and you tell others about it…that is an example of sharing the gospel with others. You’ve told people the good-news of events in your life. Obviously, I am using the word “gospel” in a very generic sense, but I hope you get the gist at what I am driving at. The word “gospel” only has the meaning we assign to it.[1]

Well, when a Christian says gospel what is meant?

Some may point their audience to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV 1611). Or another may refer to 1Cor 15:1-4: “Now I would remind your, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (ESV).[2]

To be sure those are specific elements of the gospel of God, of Jesus Christ the Son, but they only provide a small portion of the gospel in light of biblical teaching. The gospel of Jesus (his life, death and resurrection) is the crown jewel to be sure, for there is no one greater, no one more precious, no one more significant that Jesus of Nazareth—the Living Word that put-on flesh and tabernacle among us (John 1.14) in order to save His people from their sins (Matt 1.21). To make use of another analogy, this gospel of Jesus is the sharpened tip of the arrow fired by God the Father and carried along by God the Holy Spirit; for this gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1.16b). And yet, this is not a complete explanation of the gospel.

Contrary to popular opinion the gospel is not limited to Jesus of Nazareth[3], nor the first four books of the New Testament, nor the entire N. T. canon; for, the gospel is found throughout the entirety of God’s Word. Both covenants, new and old, contain all the essential elements of the gospel of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). From the very first verse when we are told “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1.1), to the very last portion of the book of Revelation “He who testifies to these things say, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22.20-21) encases the entirety of the gospel.

The gospel is the good-news of God starting from creation to consummation. But even after I have said all of that and many heads are found shaking in agreement if I were to ask you to define the gospel would you be able? A truncated version of it I have heard on countless occasions, but a deeper understanding of all it entails is often found wanting.

What makes the gospel of Jesus truly good-news? What is promised in Scripture from beginning to end? That God has created a special people, a peculiar people to be His prized possession for all eternity, and to them He has given the great gifts of His love. Life with Him and an inheritance that is imperishable (see 1Pet 1.3-5).

Salvation in Christ is offered in the gospel. His life for ours that is the crown jewel of this/his precious work. Yet, this is not salvation merely from hell, nor is it limited to the gift of heaven, but an entirely new life.

  • “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in the flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2.13-18; also see 4.16-24).

A brief summary of this text reveals to the reader that the wall of separation has been demolished between the Jew and Greek (cf. v. 12) and between God and man for in Christ’s atoning sacrifice “the dividing wall of hostility” is no more having been killed (v.14, 16; also see Rom 8.7-8; Col 1.20-21).[4] The former ordinances (ceremonial observances/laws) are removed as Christ’s life has been given as the perfect substitute nullifying the need for them any longer (v.15a; cf. Heb 7-10). Through Christ peace has been granted to all former covenant breakers (both Jew/Gentile) enabling them to be covenant-keepers as citizens of the kingdom of Christ under His headship (see vv. 19-22; cf. Isa 9.6-7; Col 1.13-22).

The gospel of God, of Christ…is the gospel of the kingdom. All four of the gospels (synoptics and Johannine) reveal this fact. Before Jesus began his earthly ministry, the forerunner known as the Baptist named John the son of a Levite preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3.2). The Lord’s message was the same, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1.15). As well as that of the apostles/disciples of Christ after His ascension: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24.14). Evidence that this is practiced by the disciples of the Lord (this includes more than just the twelve) is summed up in this statement recorded for us in Acts 17:7 where antagonists to the gospel were found complaining, “…and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

A Battle Motif?

What I would like present to you is that the gospel is in reality a battle motif. That is to say, when Jesus stepped into history as the second (last) Adam he did so as the chief representative of God and man. After his anointing in the Jordan River by John, he is immediately driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested for 40 days; the start of war.

Satan comes probably anticipating the same sort of results with Jesus that he had enjoyed with Adam[5], but to his chagrin he fails. In what comes as a precursor to the smashing of his head when Jesus is crucified (a bruising of his heel; cf. Gen 3.15; John 12.31), the man from Nazareth demonstrates dominion[6] subduing the earth and all that is in it (cf. Gen 1.28)[7] including even demonic forces that have their mouths shut and are effectively driven off wherever Christ Jesus marches (cf. Luke 4.33-36; Mark 5.1-13).

Why a battle motif? Why label the gospel in such a light? Why call Christ’s gospel, which the gospel of the kingdom—His Kingdom—a battle motif? Because that is the thematic scheme we see presented in the gospels. True, the Gospel According to Matthew is often seen as the one that emphasizes Jesus’ kingship in the line of David, but the reality is that all four gospels demonstrate that Jesus is Sovereign over the creation to which He was sent. He is the only one capable of binding the strongman and saving His people from their bondage. The salvation He offers is not just salvation from hell, but salvation from sin. Not just personal sin, but sin that has marred creation since the Fall in the garden.

Therefore, when Jesus says to the Jews in John 8, “If you will abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (vv. 31-32). He is stating a total renewal of fallen mankind, for the ones who faithfully abide in His Word. Salvation from being a slave to sin, which is salvation from wrong thinking (i.e. being renewed in your mind according to godly wisdom, not earthly wisdom), from wrong speaking and acting (i.e. glorifying God with our words and actions through righteous/holy living; loving our neighbors as ourselves).

As Jesus told Pilate, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18.36-37). Jesus entered history as the rightful king and He established His sovereign authority over all of creation. His people, those who have been born again and by having done so have gained access to his kingdom (see John 3), are likewise charged to serve Him.

As king, he waged war against the forces of darkness. He addressed sinners, demons, and the ills that plague creation in individuals and societies, and He expects His children to do the same. The Lord waged war against sin and its effects and He leaves no room for neutrality for those who profess His Name.

The Battle Begins in Our Hearts

Of course, this war/battle first starts within individual hearts, but logically and naturally branches beyond personal aspirations to creational aspirations (all of creation). The gospel brings life and victory. As the old hymn goes, “Sing it, shout it, all day long! Victory unto the Lord now and forever!” We are at war with everything false posited against our Lord and Savior, and the gospel is the sweet-smelling victory to those who are being saved, but an unsavory scent of death to those who are perishing.

I suppose my encouragement to my brethren at this point is this: leave no stone uncovered, but expose all to the light of our Lord. Start first with your own life, but in turn address wrong with the truth wherever it may be found.  


[1] I’m not insinuating that the gospel means different things for different people in a biblical sense. The gospel is defined biblically as God’s good-news. The gospel then is not subjective to man’s thoughts, but is submissive to God’s thoughts. Our definition must be shown to be drawn from Scripture, not our own personal whims.

[2] Henceforth, all Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[3] I want to be clear here. Jesus is the essence of the living gospel. There is no gospel without him! Although, I hate when people say (even though I do not doubt they are well-meaning enough) that we need to live the gospel. The gospel is propositional truth. You cannot live a propositional truth, although such truth will affect the way one lives their lives. This is the gospel applied, but it is not the gospel—living or otherwise. With Jesus, I suppose one might call him a living embodiment of all the gospel entails, as His life was a sinless anomaly humanly speaking. He embodied the fullness of God the Father in fleshly form (cf. Eph 1.23; Col 1.19; 2.9), and through Him God revealed perfectly what He expects of His creation (meaning man; Heb 1:3).  

[4] It is of paramount importance that we recognize at this point that the wall of hostility revealed in fallen man is two-fold. On the first our lives are really dead things. In order for us to be in right relationship with God another life must be substituted for our own. In the past (O.T.), the ceremonial laws of sacrifice were given to the children of Israel (Jacob) as a means of demonstrating this need, for without another’s lifeblood the person in question remains dead in trespasses and sins (something Paul discussed earlier in Eph 2.1-3). On the second our lives before Christ are in hostility to our Creator. Before the Holy Spirit’s intervention into our lives we are the natural enemies of God (cf. Rom 5.10), what the same apostle quoted above noted previously in Romans 8:7-8 is how this position of man plays out in normative life: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. That who are in the flesh cannot please God” (italics added).

[5] Satan in the garden usurped Adam’s position as head over earthly creation. He was in a sense enthroned as a mock king, but the promise given in Gen 3:15 marked a time in history when his usurping butt would be effectively kicked off the throne. The would be king would be dethroned by the one true king, the rightful king, the one labeled “King of kings and Lord of lords,” the one that all other lesser creatures are forced to bow down to and pay homage. It is not coincidental that Psalm 110 is quoted more in the N.T. than any other passage in reference to Jesus, nor should we be surprised that that apostles appeal to Psalm 2 in Acts 4:24-30 as proof that God would hear their prayer and bless their efforts.

[6] Kings by nature rule for that is their role (lot) in life. Adam was created as a son of God and therefore a prince (mighty chief) over created things on this earth. As God’s representative, he was presented with the special privilege of glorifying His maker. In this, he failed the task set before him, but where he failed the last Adam did not. He, unlike the former, was the perfect representative of God—reflecting His glory at every point of contact in creation; and of man—demonstrating what true human living was to look like in loving God and loving neighbor in all righteousness.

[7] This includes creatures of the sea (Luke 5.4-7; John 21.5-8), the elements of the air (Mark 4.37-41), of water—turning water into wine (John 2.3-11), and even tiny creeping microorganisms, including our DNA in order to heal lepers, the blind, the lame and the dead raising them from their graves (cf. Matt 11.5). There are actually a plethora of verses that testify to these mighty deeds of our Lord