The Gospel of Jesus Christ has survived various attacks from diverse quarters. Although persecution was employed to wipe out the Gospel and the Church, I am referring to attacks that attempted to alter the Gospel. Over the centuries, a number of people tried to change the Gospel. Although they appeared to succeed for a while, Providence ensured that the Gospel survived in its pristine glory.
The Apostles and elders of the early Church defended the Gospel against teachers of false doctrines. The “enemies” of the Gospel included the Judaizers, the Gnostics, the Docetists, the Arians, the Nestorians … the list is a long one. Each of these groups or persons attacked a vital aspect of the Gospel. Had they succeeded, the Gospel would have ceased to be the Gospel.
Christians of today may be super-cautious against human attempts to disfigure the Gospel. However, an attempt to undermine the Gospel is going strong for several decades.
Jesus Christ and his atoning death, resurrection, and glorification are central truths of the Gospel. Evangelicals and Pentecostals are ever careful to uphold these truths. They know that the forgiveness of sins they received and the resurrection that they hope for depend on the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, many of them tend to err by limiting the benefit of Jesus’ death and resurrection to “personal salvation.”
The Gospel is not just about “personal salvation.” It is about the Kingdom of God. In many Evangelical and Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches we hear a lot about “personal salvation.” So little or nothing is taught about the Kingdom of God. This lack of appreciation for what Jesus Christ achieved for humanity at the corporate level has plagued the Church from the first century.
Jesus, through his atoning death and resurrection, made it possible for repenting sinners to be forgiven. Through His death on a cross, Jesus defeated and disarmed the devil. What else did Christ achieve through his cross? Let’s hear it from the Apostle Paul:
“He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.” Ephesians 2:15
“One new humanity” in place of “the two?” Yes, Christ created a new humanity through “his flesh,” that is, His death on the cross. This new humanity was to replace “the two” groups that existed until then. Which are “the two” that were replaced by the “one new humanity?” The context of that verse makes it amply clear that “the two” was a reference to Jews and the rest of mankind. The former constituted the “people of God”, a covenant community, while the latter was “far away” from God. (Eph 2:13)
Jesus abolished this Jew-Gentile distinction through his death on a cross. He took repentant sinners from both groups and created a new humanity. This “new humanity” does not give rise to a third group in addition to the two – Jews and Gentiles – that existed until then. Instead, Paul says that Christ created a “new humanity in place of the two” or “out of the two.” This truth is central to the Gospel. Those who fail to understand this fail to understand the doctrine of the Church, which is the new humanity that Christ created.
What does this mean to us? God doesn’t see the world as divided into two groups—Jews and Gentiles. Instead, God sees the world as divided into two new groups: the Church (the new humanity) and those outside the Church! All that matters now is whether a person is inside or outside this “new humanity.” Being a Jew does not afford any benefit in God’s sight today. Similarly, being a non-Jew does not result in a disadvantage. The Jew-Gentile distinction was abolished through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
The world is no longer divided into two groups—Jews and Gentiles. Instead we have the Church and those outside the Church. All that matters now is whether a person is inside or outside this “new humanity.”
The Judaizers of the first century failed to understand this revolutionary change that Christ brought about at the corporate level. In their minds, they were stuck in the old paradigm, thinking that Jews were the “people of God,” and that any one who wished to get saved through Christ should first become a Jew!
The Apostle Paul wrote lengthy epistles (Romans and Galatians) to defend the Gospel against the claims of Judaizers. The Apostle John made it clear that the privilege to be known as “children of God” went to those who received Jesus, as opposed to the Jews, who, even though they were once “His own,” had rejected God’s Messiah.
He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children … –John 1:10-12.
Luke structured his second book Acts of the Apostles in such a way as to show that God accepted all who believed in Christ – Jews, Samaritans, God-fearing Gentiles, and Gentiles – by giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is why Acts records four Pentecost-style outpourings instead of just one outpouring. We find these four accounts in chapters 2, 8, 10, and 19.
We may not have Judaizers in our churches today, but we do have people who think that God has two sets of special people on earth—the Jews and the Church. These are Christians who say that we must support the Jews and their political ambitions in Palestine. They continue to believe that the Jews are God’s special people, as if Christ’s death did not bring about any change in this regard.
If Christ’s death did not erase the Jew-Gentile distinction, how can we say that Christ’s work created a new humanity – the Church? The Church is referred to as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9). It is remarkable that Peter, a former Jew who got swayed by Judaizers for a while, chose to use these special adjectives to describe the Church. These terms were used in the Old Testament for Israel. Peter used these terms to describe the Church.
Paul referred to the Church as the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). At the time of the apostles, only a remnant of three tribes of Israel were left in Palestine—Judah, Benjamin, and Levi. Ten tribes of the northern kingdom, Israel, were lost to Assyrian captivity in 722 BC. Yet, James referred to the Church as the “twelve tribes of Israel” to indicate that the fulness of Israel was now found in the Church (James 1:1). Indeed, Jesus had said to the unbelieving Jews that the kingdom of God would “be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it” (Matt. 21:43). That “people” is the Church.
The teaching regarding the creation of the “new humanity” in Christ is central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, the integrity of the Gospel will be compromised if we put one ethnic group on a pedestal or when we consider an unbelieving Jew to be part of God’s holy people. Those who uphold the old order, by considering the Jews as God’s special people, alongside the Church, are enemies of the Gospel. They are guilty of preaching a different gospel! Therefore, they are worthy of inheriting St. Paul’s double curse, as recorded in Galatians 1:8-9.
But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel
contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to
As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell!
May God grant us the wisdom to return to God’s Word.
Originally published in the newspaper ‘Praise The Almighty’ in August 2010.