I used to want a horse. But, somewhere along the way I realized that if I got a horse I would have to feed it and water it. Horses also don’t know brush or train themselves, and they don’t clean up their messes, if you know what I mean. So, if I got a horse I would get more than just a horse, and probably more than I wanted.
I have been guilty, and maybe you have, too, of viewing the Gospel like many of us view horses. I have incorrectly believed and taught that the Gospel was everything that had to do with becoming a Christian, and with the initial steps of Christianity. I didn’t understand very well that the Gospel is not just about what we do and what God does when we become Christians, but it is the good news that is supposed to move the rest of our Christian lives along, as well.
So, I have preached, and heard many others preach, about “obeying the Gospel.” And, every one of those sermons discussed “obeying the Gospel” as if it were a one-time event, the point when one becomes a Christian; what one must do to become a Christian. These sermons often looked at examples of conversion to see what part baptism, repentance, and confessing Jesus as Lord play in the conversion event. We even most often use this phrase in the past tense, asking questions like, “Have you obeyed the Gospel?” as if it is something that is done once and then is complete, as if it is a horse you bought that for some strange reason needed no more attention.
But, that’s not the way the Bible talks about our response to the Gospel. The phrase “obey the Gospel” is used twice in most English translations, and both times “obey” is in the present tense rather than the past tense.
…in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (2Thessalonians 1:8, ESV)
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1Peter 4:17, ESV) (emphasis mine in both quotes)
In other words, obedience to the Gospel is not just about what we must do to become a Christian initially, past tense (although it includes that). Obedience to the Gospel refers to our present, continued, on-going, committed response to the Good News of Jesus Christ. If Christ died and rose for you, then what is the appropriate response now, in the present? An ever-present commitment to obeying the Gospel.