What are the ways the gospel of Jesus is expressed?
I believe there are three critical dimensions of the gospel, clearly seen in the totality of scripture, which are essential if the message we speak and the lives we live are to faithfully reflect our allegiance to Jesus. These three dimensions are like the legs of a three–legged stool; if one leg is missing, the integrity of the stool is inevitably compromised.
The First Dimension: The Gospel in Word
Historic Christian orthodoxy has always been characterized by people who are men and women of “the book.” Such an emphasis has been particularly central to that part of the Christian movement with which I personally identify—the Protestant tradition rooted in the Reformation throughout which Sola Scriptura was one of the distinguishing characteristics. It is at the heart of the great evangelical movements of the 20th century, which we find today expressed across many cultures and many lands as a truly global phenomenon.
The good news of Jesus from this perspective is centered in the truth claims of the Bible. All that is necessary for life and ministry is based on the authority and sufficiency of scripture. At the very center of these truth claims is the historical Jesus and the reality of his resurrection from the dead. As Lesslie Newbigin so succinctly states, “ ... when the message of the Kingdom is divorced from the Person of Jesus, it becomes a programme or an ideology, but not a gospel.”
For those who are rooted firmly in ecclesiastical traditions that approach the gospel from this dimension, doctrine is paramount. For them, dogmatics help define reality, and their epistemological approach is evidential and propositional. The gospel in word also means that whatever Jesus says is important. It is trustworthy and, along with the totality of scripture, infallible. The gospel in word embraces an appreciation of apologetics. The gospel is true, and it is rationally defensible.
Historically and contemporaneously, this tradition expresses itself through creeds, and the commitment of followers is determined by what one believes. Conversion is accomplished by a volitional commitment to the incarnate Word who is known through the written word and revealed through propositional claims of truth.
The Second Dimension: The Gospel in Deed
However, the good news that Jesus came to proclaim was a combination of word and action. For example, we see in the opening chapters of the book of Mark that Jesus came “proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.” But the way that was demonstrated, according to the surrounding text, was as much or more through his actions as it was through his words. We see Jesus demonstrating his good news by deeds. And it is not only what Jesus values, but whom Jesus values that is equally important.
Perhaps one of the better apologetics for the gospel in deed is the book of James. True faith is validated by how one lives, how one loves, and how one behaves. The gospel is lived out. It is expressed in action. Similarly, in the book of I John, the tests of true faith are not just theological, but social and moral. These are themes that are consistent with all of scripture.
The gospel in deed means that as followers of Jesus, we are compelled to focus on the real issues of our time where the Kingdom of God invades and touches the realities of earth. It is where the power of the risen Christ has as much relevance “on earth as it is in heaven.” Thus, a commitment to the gospel in deed means that those who follow Jesus share his commitment to the poor and the downtrodden. It means we are keenly aware of social injustice. It means we stand against evil in whatever forms it is expressed, be it individual, social, or institutional.
Foundational to an understanding of the good news in deed is an understanding of the fallen nature of creation—that the fall was not just individual and psychological. Rather, the fall has affected every aspect of the created order, producing sociological and ecological alienation as well. The good news of Jesus, made effectual by his death and resurrection, is that he intends to redeem every aspect of his fallen world and reconcile it to himself. The call to those who follow him is also a call to join him in this purpose.
The Third Dimension: The Gospel in Power
The third dimension of the gospel is power. By power, I am referring to the presence of the Holy Spirit evidenced by supernatural manifestations. Certainly, the real presence of the Spirit is effectual as the gospel is proclaimed in word and deed. But the manifest presence of the Spirit reveals a reality of God’s presence in ways that are qualitatively and quantitatively beyond the Spirit’s anointing on word and deed.
The gospel in power includes what are commonly known as signs and wonders with which the pages of the New Testament are replete. They are the supernatural signs of the Kingdom that Jesus states clearly in John 14:12 his followers will do with even greater scope and results than he did during his earthly presence.
The gospel in power includes healing, both emotional and physical. It includes dealing with the demonic and deliverance from the very real powers of evil. The gospel in power has a rich history throughout the Christian tradition whether it be the more recent Pentecostal, Charismatic, or thirdwave movements of the 20th century, or the countless other movements throughout the history of the Church where supernatural and mystical expressions were as normal as physical life and breath.
The necessity of this dimension of the gospel has often been better understood and seen by those who have ministered in cultures other than the West, where the compartmentalization between natural and supernatural does not exist. Even today, it is almost universal for Muslims who decide to become followers of Jesus to experience the wooing presence of Jesus or angelic beings in dreams or visions. And in the increasingly secularized and postmodern West, the good news of Jesus is increasingly impotent without authentic and appropriate expression of this oft-neglected dimension.
When All 3 Come Together
When the gospel is expressed in all three dimensions, we move toward the restoration of all things under the Kingdom rule of Jesus, whose redemptive purpose is to reconcile all creation with the triune God.
Without these three dimensions, the gospel that we believe, speak, and live is not fully the gospel. It is truncated. Distorted. Impotent. However, when a holistic gospel is lived out in all three dimensions, the synergy is transformational, both personally and communally.
This is an excerpt from CRM President Sam Metcalf’s booklet, Word, Deed, Power: The Three Dimensions of the Gospel. Download the full booklet to hear more on this topic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sam Metcalf has served as the president of CRM-US since 1985. His passion for leadership development, discipleship, and the spread of the good news of Jesus around the world has led CRM into over 85 countries and a variety of innovative ministry models contributing to contemporary movements of the gospel. He and his wife, Patty, are based in Fullerton, CA. They have two adult children and five grandchildren.