Friday, May 19, 2006

The Gospel

Archpriest Nikolai Deputatov.

Knowledge of God is only possible through experience of Him. But there is no necessity to prove that the sun shines and the stars twinkle at night. So it is with God — His being and perfection is felt by all, except those who are spiritually blind. It is a great joy to the whole world that "the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world" (1 John 4:14).

The Gospel contains the joyous news of the coming into the world of God the Word, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of all, even the most ingrained sinners. Apostle Paul called his preaching "the Gospel" because it promises to give many blessings, reconciliation with God, defeat of the devil, forgiveness of sins, resurrection from the dead, eternal life and the attainment of the Kingdom of Heaven (St. Theodorite).

There have been many religious and philosophical teachings, but not a single one of them could have been called ‘the Gospel’ because it did not renew human life, it did not give healing to humbled hearts and it did not create a true freedom — freedom from sin. In the wider understanding, the name ‘Gospel’ can be used for all the books of the New Testament. Clement of Rome calls Apostle Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians a Gospel. Apostle Paul writes: "according to my gospel." If the letters of Apostle Paul are gospels, then the same could be said of the letters of Apostle Peter. Origen clearly explains why all the books of the New Testament can be called gospels.

"The gospel is that which confirms and strengthens faith in the coming of Christ and His second coming and brings Him into our souls, that desire to accept the divine Word of God, Which is before the doors, knocking and wanting to come in" (exegesis on the Gospel of John).

The Gospel of Christ (Rom1:16), the Gospel of God (2 Cor. 9:7; Thess. 2:2-9) the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14) salvation (Ephes. 6:15) or reconciliation with God, the Gospel of God’s blessing (Acts 20:24). Whoever rejects the authenticity of the Gospels openly rejects the evident truth and does not give credence to the historical Church Tradition which attests to their apostolic origin. With regard to the heralds of the Gospel, the faithful are not slaves: "We" says the Apostle- "do not have your faith" (2 Cor. 1:24). Faith is a matter of free will, if you want to believe, do so, if not, then one is free to disbelieve (Bishop Theophan). The heralds of the Gospel are only partakers of the joy of believers. Their task is to maintain steadfastness of the faith and in this way, contribute to the joy that faith brings.

Christ’s teaching is straightforward and clear to all. It is only hidden from those who are blinded by their own wisdom and have become spiritually dead (2 Corinth 3:4). Similar to a fragrance, Christ’s teaching spreads everywhere. To some it gives life, others it mortifies as it reveals their inner decay, their total religious and moral perversion (2 Cor. 2:15-16). "The doors to God’s mysteries do not open to non-believers, and their light does not illuminate them. It keeps them in darkness, ‘the god of this age’ (the devil) does not allow God’s light to shine within them" (Bishop Theophan).

The Gospel is only a part of the wider oral apostolic tradition. Misled are those who regard the Holy Scriptures as the only source of the Christian faith and reject the Tradition of the Church. The Church, under the grace of the Holy Spirit, primarily and unfalteringly preserves even the apostolic tradition that did not become part of the Holy Scriptures. The purpose of the Gospel is not to present the Lord’s life and works in complete entirety and in a strict chronological order, as is the function of historical works. "It is written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing, you may have life in His name" (John 20:31). The purpose of the Gospels is not so much a historical one, but rather a salvific one — to show that Christ is the Son of God, Savior and Redeemer of the world. In keeping with this purpose, the Gospel writers, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, relate only those aspects of the Lord’s life that are most revealing of Him as the Savior, Who reconciles us with God.

Christianity gave new meaning to our being and radically changed our relationship with God, gave us a new blessed life, and has led us into the Church — into this paradise and heavenly realm on earth. The Law did not renew or give rebirth to man, although it in itself was holy and just (Rom 7:12) but it revives the grace in him. Nothing can be more comforting than the words: "You are no longer a slave, but a son, and since you are a son, you are God’s heir in Jesus Christ" (Gal 4:7). Being adopted by God to sonship is the highest blessing bestowed by Christianity. We are led by Christ into a new blessed life and have become with Him, newly created creatures (2 Corinth 5:17).

The message of the Gospel attracts everyone with its divine power and simplicity. Correct understanding of the Gospel, universal and of pan-ecclesiastical oneness, is imperative and deviating from this understanding, inevitably goes hand-in-hand with illogical reasoning. In the Gospel we can find answers to all the questions of our spiritual nature. It is the beginning that transforms our life, transforms our innermost being, gradually, without catastrophes or breaks. It gives a true freedom — freedom of the spirit. It gives a true wealth — spiritual wealth. It lifts our thoughts and feelings to the eternal, the heavenly, the divine and teaches us how to act, so that God’s heavenly Kingdom can descend upon us. Life according to the Gospel, is life in Christ, full of the joy of the Holy Spirit. This joy, is a joy that calls us to do good works, to toil and labor and accept a spiritual challenge. This is unceasing service to God and one’s fellow human beings in the Church. As a reward, the Gospel promises that we shall be eternally with Christ God our Savior in His eternal Kingdom.

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