Wednesday, 20 September 2017

What does it mean to “Obey the Gospel”? (Part 1)

     The phrase “obey the gospel” occurs only three times in the NT, all in reference to those who do not obey the gospel (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17; cp. Heb. 4:2, 6). In the positive sense, comparable expressions include “obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7) and “you have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (Rom. 6:17).1 Moreover, the Bible has much to say about both the gospel and obedience. What, then, does the concept of obeying the gospel entail?

I. What it means to those who have not obeyed the gospel:

     The noun euaggélion, often translated “gospel,” essentially means “good news” or “glad tidings” (occurring 76 times in the Greek NT). The verbal euaggelí (occurring 54 times) simply means to “proclaim good news” or “announce glad tidings.” The angel Gabriel ‘announced good news’ [euaggelí] to Zacharias (Luke 1:19). When Jesus was born, an angel ‘brought glad tidings’ [euaggelí] to a group of shepherds, a message of great joy to all (Luke 2:10). John the baptizer ‘preached good news’ [euaggelí] to the people (Luke 3:18). When Jesus began his public ministry, he proclaimed the ‘good news’ [euaggélion] of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35).
     Mark opens his inspired record with these words: “[the] beginning of the gospel [euaggélion] of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (1:1). Mark’s rapid-fire historical account points to the earthly ministry of Jesus (briefly prefaced by OT prophecy and John’s preparatory mission) as the commencement of the gospel story (1:2-9). In contrast, the apostle John goes all the way back to the beginning of time (1:1-3) and then transitions into the testimony of John the baptizer as a prelude to Christ’s ministry. Luke takes us back to Adam (3:38) in connection with Jesus’ genealogy and incarnation, while Matthew starts with Abraham (1:1-2) as a focal point of Christ’s lineage and fulfilled prophecy. Collectively these four Gospels mark just the beginning of the gospel narrative, while the book of Acts continues the story for another three decades (see Acts 1:1).
     The gospel is a universal message to be shared with the entire world (Matt. 24:14; 26:13; Mark 16:15; cf. Acts 1:8). This necessarily involves both proclaimers and recipients. When the early Christians scattered from Jerusalem, they went everywhere ‘proclaiming good news’ [euaggelí] of the word (Acts 8:1-4). The book of Acts provides a historical record of these early evangelizers and how their audiences received and responded to the divine message. While many rejected the gospel outright,2 many others were receptive to it.3

The Desired Response

     Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy describe the coming judgment of Christ as follows: “in a fire of flame inflicting vengeance on those not knowing God and those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8). While the term “gospel” means “good news,” apparently an obedient response is required in order for it to actually be good news (cf. Rom. 10:16; Heb. 4:2, 6; 1 Pet. 4:17). There were a number in Thessalonica who “did not accept [déchomai] the love of the truth in order for them to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10). Conversely, others “hearing [akoē] [the] word of God … accepted [déchomai] … [the] word of God, which also is working in you, the believing [ones]” (1 Thess. 2:13).4
     Two key terms describe their positive response: “hearing” [akoē] and “accepting” [déchomai].5 The latter conveys the idea of grasping and welcoming (cf. 1 Thess. 1:6; also Luke 8:13; Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; Jas. 1:21), therefore “hearing” involves more than just receiving audible sounds (cf. Matt. 13:13-17; Jas. 1:22-25). It necessarily includes listening, understanding, accepting, and heeding.
     Elsewhere this is expressed as akoēs písteōs (“hearing of faith”) (Gal. 3:2, 5). Unfortunately, the significance of this phrase is all but lost in English translation. The sense is much clearer in light of the parallel idiom in Rom. 1:5 and 16:26, hupakoēn písteōs (“obedience of faith”). Both akoē and hupakoē [hupó -“by” + akoē -“hearing” = to give ear, hearken, obey] reflect the Hebrew sense of shema, a “responsive hearing” (cf. Ex. 24:7; Deut. 31:11-13; Rom. 10:16-17). The idiomatic expressions “hearing” and “hearing of faith” are clearly allusions to receptive and responsive hearing, viz., obedient faith (cf. Heb. 4:2, 6).6


     Sin separates the sinner from God (Isa. 59:1-2; 1 John 1:5-6), and all accountable humans (other than Christ) have sinned (Rom. 3:10, 23; 1 John 1:10). The gospel of Jesus Christ is “good news” because it reveals God’s plan of redemption for lost humanity. However, the gospel is only good news to those who obey (Rom. 6:16-18).7 This particularly involves receptive and responsive hearing (Acts 2:22, 37), believing and confessing Jesus (Acts 2:36-37; 8:12, 35-37), turning away from sin (Acts 2:38a; 3:19), immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38b, 41; 22:16), and continued faithfulness (Acts 2:42; 14:22).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Acts 4:1-3, 18; 5:13, 17-18, 28, 33, 40; 6:9; 7:51-59; 9:23, 29; 12:1-4; 13:6-10, 45-46, 50; 14:2, 4a, 5, 19; 17:5-9, 13, 32a; 18:6, 12; 19:9, 23; 20:3; 21:27-28; 22:22; 26:28; 28:24b.
     3 Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 8:6-13, 36-39; 9:18, 35, 42; 10:33; 11:21-24; 12:24; 13:12, 42-44, 48-49; 14:1, 4b, 21; 15:3; 16:14-15, 30-34; 17:4, 11-12, 34; 18:8, 19-21, 24-28; 19:1-5, 18-20; 21:20; 28:24a.
     4 The message they had received and continued to embrace, having been variously designated the “gospel” (1 Thess. 1:5; 2:4), “the word” (1:6), “the word of the Lord” (1:8; 4:15), and “the gospel of God” (2:2, 8, 9), is twice referenced here as “the word of God.”
     5 The term paralambánō (to “take hold of” or “receive”) is another important description of how the gospel ought to be responded to (see 1 Cor. 15:1; Gal. 1:9; Phil. 4:9; Col. 2:6; 4:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess. 3:6; Heb. 12:28).
     6 On the noun akoé (“hearing”), see Rom. 10:17; Gal. 3:2, 5; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 5:11. On the verb akoúō (“hear”), see Acts 2:11, 22, 37; 3:22-23; 4:4; 8:6; 10:22, 33, 44; 13:7, 44; 14:9; 15:7; 16:14; 18:8; 19:5, 10.
     7 See also Matt. 7:21-27; 12:50; Luke 8:15; John 3:36[ASV]; 8:31-36; 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10, 14; Rom. 2:8; 10:16-17; Heb. 3:18; 4:6, 11; 5:8-9; Jas. 1:21-25; 2:17-26
11; 1 John 2:3-5.

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