Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What is the “Gospel”?

Understanding the ‘good news’ in the 21st Century By Patrick Navas (2010) patrick_navas@yahoo.com

The term “gospel” literally means “good news.” In the Christian Scriptures, or New Testament, it is described more fully as “the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43), “the good news about the Christ” (2 Cor. 2:12), “the good news of peace” (Acts 10:36), the “good news” of “salvation” (Eph. 1:13), and “the good news of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). The gospel, accepted as “the word of truth,” is a hopeful, joy-inspiring message for “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people”—revealed by the Creator through prophecy, recorded in sacred Scripture for all generations. It is the joyous news of the Creator’s purpose to “restore all things” through his coming kingdom, and his gracious gift of salvation through faith in Jesus, the long-awaited “Christ” or “Messiah.”—Eph.1:13; 2:8; Col. 1:5; Rev. 14:6; Acts 3:21

It is impossible, though, to truly appreciate the importance of the good news, and its life-giving significance to mankind, without first coming to direct terms with the underlying human and world condition.

The natural world around us, in all the richness of its diversity, is truly marvelous. Even in our modern age, many thoughtful persons agree that it all appears to have been purposefully designed by a supremely powerful and exceedingly wise Creator. Life itself, under the right conditions, can be so beautiful, so pleasurable, so meaningful—almost perfect. There is, in fact, so much beauty, goodness, and potential for goodness in the world—from the sweet harmonies of music, to the enjoyment of wholesome food, to the joyful satisfaction of family life, to the wonder and magnificence of nature (the entire scope of life’s inherent goodness)—it seems almost incredible to think that it all could have come about without purpose or apart from some kind of designing intelligence. It is true, of course, that mainstream science cannot conclusively “prove” or “disprove” the existence of God. But one thing science cannot legitimately claim is that faith in God’s existence is irrational or without logical basis. Although unable to be proven in a strict or traditional “scientific” sense, it is, nevertheless, entirely reasonable to believe in the existence of a Supreme Being who created the world with a purpose, even in the light of modern science. —Rom. 1:20; Psalm 19:1-6; 104:1-30; Prov. 3:19

But life in this world, as experience reveals, is marred so often by sickness, by poverty, by hatred, by injustice, and by senseless episodes of human cruelty. History itself is a testimony to countless wars, untold bloodshed, the violent rise and fall of civilizations, and disturbingly repetitive, terrifying measures of human suffering and adversity. In the midst of so much trouble we often find ourselves struggling to simply survive. Yet, if we can find moments of pleasure and meaning in this life, we still mourn for the evil and suffering in the world around us. And, when forced to reflect on it, we despair the inevitable prospect of sickness and death—the eventuality of the generations before us, a reality we all must eventually face.

In this light it is understandable that humans have often wondered: Is there a God—an invisible, caring, father-like-figure in heaven? Is there a meaning and purpose to our existence in this world? Is it possible that there is some kind of life beyond death? What is the true origin, and what is the ultimate destiny of, humankind? These are the questions only human beings—with our extraordinary intellectual capacities—can, and have, asked, setting us far apart from even the most sophisticated of animals. Yet in the end, as an ancient Scripture soberly reminds us, all—human and animal alike—“go to the same place; both were made from the dust, and to the dust they both return.” —Ecc. 3:20

Genesis, the first of the five books of Moses, is another ancient text yielding credible and unparalleled insights into the history and origin of the human race. It tells of the Creator’s wondrous works, and of his original, loving purpose for the human family—setting the stage for reliable comprehension of our universal human predicament; created, as we were, in “the image of God,” with the innate longing for immortality, yet tragically enslaved to the futility of decay and death. —Gen.1:27; Ecc. 3:11; Rom. 8:21

It was “in the beginning,” according to Scripture, when Jehovah, God, “created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). On the sixth day of the creation event God proceeded to create man “in his own image,” forming him out of the elements of the earth, as he “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”—the day man became “a living soul” (Gen. 1:27; 2:7). The account goes on to describe how the first man, Adam, was created to live in an ideal environment—the Garden of Eden—where all his physical needs would be satisfied. After Jehovah created the first woman, Eve, from the man’s body, He commanded the couple to be fruitful, to multiply, and to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). In their garden home the first humans were permitted to enjoy every blessing created for their joy and benefit, as the Scripture states, God saw that every one of them was “good” (Gen. 1:21, 25). Yet, according to the scriptural record, “the tree of life was in the midst of the garden,” and also, “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” —Gen. 2:9

Consequently, the first humans were given one prohibition from Jehovah, their life-giver: “From every tree of the garden you may eat of freely. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it,” God warned, “for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” —Gen. 2:16

In spite of the Giver of life’s clearly-stated warning, however, the first humans, under satanic influence, partook of the forbidden fruit of the tree. The account explains that “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” —Gen. 3:1-13

They were once naked, without shame. After the trespass, their eyes were opened, becoming conscious of their nakedness and shame, induced by their disobedience, they became afraid. So God cursed the first human couple in their failure to obey His command: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Tragically, the man was expelled from the garden paradise, so that from that point onward he could not “reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and thus live for ever.” —Gen. 3:1-24

In the words “you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” God’s foretold sentence of death was formally pronounced upon humanity. Through the first human act of disobedience—a rejection of faith in their Creator’s wisdom, and a failed attempt at self-determination and independence from their life-giver—the ancestors of the human race forfeited their right to the life graciously given them by God. Hence, the introduction of sin and sin’s corresponding consequence, death, came to the first man, and, consequently, to the first man’s offspring—all future generations of the human family. As Scripture says: “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all had sinned.” It was, according to another biblical text, a case of “one trespass” leading “to condemnation for all men.”
—Rom. 5:12-19

Although the pronouncement in the garden was dismal, and the results disastrous, God did not leave his creation without a ray of hope, as he went on to foretell the coming of a “seed” that would come through the woman—one who would eventually “bruise” the head of the serpent that deceived her, leading to humanity’s ruin.
—Gen. 3:15

The rest of the books forming the modern “Bible” were written over the course of many centuries. Although diverse in scope, in authorship, and in literary form, they are remarkably unified in spirit and in the way they reveal the progressive fulfillment of God’s original pledge to the human race, inextricably linked to his associated promise to the man he called “Abraham,” and to the people of Israel, Abraham’s descendents.

Abraham, as Genesis tells us, was a man who proved faithful to God under test. Thus, as an extension of his original declaration in Genesis, God made the solemn promise to Abraham that “all nations of the earth” would “be blessed” by means of his seed, or offspring. The Hebrew Scriptures—often called the ‘Old Testament’—in fact, combine to form a record of God’s interactions with Abraham’s descendents, those who would eventually constitute the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. —Gen. 22:1-17; Compare Hebrews 11:17-19

The Scriptures go on to trace the history of the Israelites, Abraham’s descendants, from their dramatic deliverance from slavery and following exodus out of Egypt, to Jehovah’s giving of the national law—along with its sacrificial system—through Moses, to Israel’s rise as a great kingdom centered in Jerusalem, to its unfaithfulness and eventual downfall and dispersion among the nations, all the while emphasizing God’s abiding promise to Israel’s King David (Abraham’s descendent); how he would ultimately, being true to His oath, “put one of [David’s] descendants on his throne” and “establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” —Acts 2:30; 2 Sam. 7:12-13; Compare Luke 1:32-33

After many centuries had passed, the foretold seed of Abraham and offspring of David—the true King and Savior of Israel—would arrive to fulfill the prophecy. As Scripture states, it was “in the fullness of time” that “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman.” —Gal. 4:4

From the Law of Moses to the coming of the Messiah

The Law of Moses—along with its ‘ten commandments’—was given by God 430 years after the time of Abraham. But the Mosaic Law, assigned exclusively to Israel as a nation, held only a temporary role in the outworking of God’s purposes (Gal. 3:17; Psalm 147:19-20; Deut. 4:8; Rom. 9:4). The daily animal sacrifices instituted by God, and the annual day of atonement (important features of the Mosaic Law), served as a constant reminder of Israel’s sinful condition, and as a means to impress upon their minds the absolute holiness of their God, Jehovah, and the need to be pure before him (Heb. 10:3; 1 Pet. 1:16; Lev. 10:3; 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7). But rather than functioning as a permanent institution, or as a remedy for the peoples’ sins, in the end the Law served as a means to identify and expose the sin that existed, bringing about “wrath” against all violators of its standards. —Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 5:13, 20; 7:5-13; Compare Ex. 21:12-29
Since it was “but a shadow of the good things to come” and “not the substance,” the covenant of Law would exist only “until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (Heb. 10:1; Col. 2:16, 17; Gal. 3:19). According to the Christian records, the lineal descendant of Abraham and David through the tribe of Judah—Jesus of Nazareth—proved to be the “offspring” of promise through whom God would “bless all nations” of the earth (Matt. 1:1-17; Gal. 3:16). But, as Scripture says, “before this faith came, we were held captive under the Law, imprisoned until the coming faith [of the Messiah] would be revealed.” —Gal. 3:23
The Law of the old covenant functioned, then, as an agent of “condemnation,” exposing Israel’s unfaithfulness to God and to the conditions of their covenant, representing a “curse” from which the Messiah came to redeem God’s people (Gal. 3:13). Although it was “holy,” “righteous,” and “good,” fulfilling the role of a “school master” or “disciplinarian until Christ came,” the Law itself made “nothing perfect” (Rom. 7:12; 1 Tim. 1:8; Gal. 3:24; Heb. 7:18). It was, in the final analysis, a “ministry of death carved in letters on stone”—“the letter” that “kills” in contrast to the “new covenant of the spirit” that “gives life.” —Compare Ex. 21:12-29; 31:14, 15; 35:2; Lev. 20: 9-27; 24:16-21; 2 Cor. 3:6, 7

Because the Law represented a standard the Israelites could not live up to, a debt they were unable to pay, the apostle Peter, himself an Israelite, went so far as to describe it as a “burden” or “yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10; Col. 2:14). As critical as the Law had been to the religious life of Israel, it was, in fact, never the case that a man, apart from faith, would have been justified, or found righteous in God’s sight, by mere outward conformity to the deeds prescribed by it; for, as the apostle Paul stated elsewhere, the Law itself was “not of faith,” but it was “through the law” that came “the knowledge of sin” (Gal. 3:12; Rom. 3:20). That is, the purpose of the Law and its sacrificial system was not to save or liberate the people from their sins, but to make the people conscious of their sins in their transgression of it, preparing them for, and pointing them to, the coming deliverer.

Although he came “not to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them,” the sacrificial death of the Messiah resulted in the end of the “written code” as the means of governing God’s people (Matt. 5:17; Jer. 31:31-33; Heb. 8:10; 10:16). That is why Paul wrote to the early believers in the Messiah: “But now we are released [‘discharged,’ RSV] from the Law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom. 7:6). This is, likewise, why the Messiah himself is referred to as “the end of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” —Rom. 10:4

That is to say, rather than establishing righteousness through “works of Law,” God, in his undeserved kindness, declares righteous those who live by faith in God’s promise and in the Messiah who fulfills it. It is, as it was with Abraham, a case of “crediting” one with “righteousness” because of “listening to God’s voice” and “exercising faith” in God’s revealed word of truth (Rom. 4:1-22; Gal. 4:21-25). The righteous, according to Scripture, “will live by faith,” since, “without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” —Gal. 3:11; Heb. 11:6.

Although they “fall short of the glory of God” in Adam, those exercising faith are, like Abraham, justified before God the righteous judge (Rom 3:23-26). Whether born from Abraham’s bloodline or not, those having faith are the true children of Abraham, and of God, in Christ Jesus, through the good news (Gal. 3:7, 26). That is why, “Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the good news beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” —Gal. 3:8-9

Since all—both Jew and Gentile alike—were “under sin,” all stood equally condemned because of sin and under the sentence of death (Rom. 3:9; 9:32). At the right time, God would bring about his purpose to terminate the condemning effect of Law and to emancipate the human race from the bondage of sin through the one who would, by faith, fulfill all that was necessary and righteous in God’s sight—Jesus of Nazareth, his own Son (Matt. 3:17; Deut. 6:5; Mark 12:29-31; Matt. 22:40). As the Scripture says, “For God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.” Indeed, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” —Rom. 8:1-4; John 3:16-17

According to the combined testimony of the New Testament writings, it is through his very own Son that God brings about his intention to bless all nations—blessings dependent not on Law but on God’s gracious promise, made effective by faith (Rom. 4:13-16). As the Gospel of John states, “the Law was given through Moses” while “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”—“grace,” in the form of God’s gift of his Son, “truth” in the fullness of the revelation of God’s purpose in his Son, “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the good news.” —John 1:17; 2 Tim. 1:10

In the fullness of his faith, God’s Son was the only man to lead a perfectly sinless life, in unfailing obedience to the will of his Father. Although blameless before God and men, he was, nevertheless, treated as a sinner and, in the end, condemned to death as a blasphemer and criminal by his enemies. Yet the death of the Messiah was, as the apostle Peter put it, “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”—since it constituted, in God’s eyes, a “propitiatory sacrifice” for “the sins of the whole world.” —Acts 2:23; 1 John 2:2
That the Messiah’s sacrificial death was according to God’s “definite plan” is verified in the writings of Isaiah, who wrote long before the event, that the Messiah would be “wounded for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities”—how “he bore the sin of many,” and how “Jehovah has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” This harmonizes with the Messiah’s own revelation of himself; namely, that he came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” —Mark 10:45; Matt. 20:28; Compare 2 Pet. 2:22-24

As prophesied, the Messiah “was manifested to take away sins.” He was “without sin.” Yet, out of his faithfulness to God and love for humankind, “he poured out his soul unto death.” He was “like a lamb led to a slaughter,” voluntarily laying down his perfect life as “the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” —1 John 3:5; Heb. 4:15; John 1:29; 10:17-18; Isaiah 53:5-12

However, in fulfillment of the prophetic utterance, and in harmony with eyewitness testimony, three days later, God, as promised, raised Jesus to life and, a short time after, exalted him to his right hand in “the heavenly places,” powerfully marking him out as his Son and as the chosen object of our faith (1 Cor. 15:3-6; Rom. 1:4; Eph. 1:20; Luke 1:2; Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39, 41). Ever since, “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all [Jews and non-Jews] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” —Rom. 3:21-26; 4:25

Though once condemned by Law and conscience as sinners, believers, of every nation, are “declared righteous” in the eyes of God through faith in God’s Messiah, Jesus. Those who were “once alienated,” “dead in trespasses and sins,” “without hope and without God in the world,” are now “brought near,” “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” with eternal life in view (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:1-13; 2 Cor. 5:18-21). By the grace of God, the sacrifice of the “spotless and unblemished lamb” effectively empties the Law and its corresponding fear of punishment of its condemning power. That is why Paul could write to believers in the first century:

“…when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with [Christ], when he forgave us all our offenses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the stake.” —1 Pet. 1:19; Col. 2:13, 14; Compare Eph. 2:11-22

Assured by God’s “blotting out” of the legal record that opposed them, believers are set free to exercise the kind of “faith that expresses itself through love,” as they stand not under the condemnation of Law but under the blessing of God’s grace and loving-kindness (Rom. 614; Gal. 5:6; Eph. 2:5). “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” wrote the apostle, “for the law of the spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1-4). Just as Jesus himself had promised: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” —John 5:4

The book of Acts records examples of the good news as it was first preached by the Messiah’s closest followers. In line with the prophecy, the apostles declared how it was from “[King David’s] posterity” that “God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised…Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”

(Acts 13:23; 38-39). The apostle Peter went further when he declared: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” —Acts 10:34-43

The gospel of peace

The Christian message is, therefore, the “good news” about “peace” and “reconciliation” with God. Though once estranged from the Creator by their sinful and unholy condition, believers are now, through faith in Christ and the cleansing power of his blood, at peace with God, brought near to Him as beloved children of a father (Rom 8:15; Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:1-3). “Therefore,” wrote the apostle Paul, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” —Rom. 5:1-2

Elsewhere, Paul wrote in the same spirit regarding his purpose as a minister of the good news:

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” —2 Cor. 5:18-20

This was the call of the gospel in the first century; it remains unchanged in the twenty first. Because God is a being of utter holiness, purity and goodness—“in him there is no darkness at all”—humans defiled by sin must be purified before entering the necessary, life-giving union with him. This God has effected through the blood of his Son Jesus which “cleanses us from all sin.” —1 John 1:5, 7; Eph. 5:27; Col. 1:22; 1 Pet. 1:15, 16; Rev. 4:8

The Kingdom of God

The promise of God’s kingdom was spoken of by the prophets of Israel and confirmed in the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. The “good news of the kingdom,” in fact, lies at the very heart of the Messianic message. It is a message about a kingdom that “will crush and put an end” to all imperfect human kingdoms and governmental systems (Dan. 2:44). The message about the kingdom is “good news” since it heralds a coming age ruled by “the righteous one,” Jesus the Messiah (Compare 1 Cor. 15:25-28). He will rule, unfailingly, as the prophet foretold, in the “spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of Jehovah. And his delight shall be in the fear of Jehovah. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” —Isaiah 11:1-5

The kingdom of God under “the Prince of Peace” will be righteous. It will bring about the relief and lasting peace humankind has long struggled to establish through its own governing agencies. The prophet Isaiah described it vividly as an age when the “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox…They shall not hurt or destroy in all [God’s] holy mountain; for the earth”—under the kingdom of God and Christ—“shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea.” —Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:6-9

The current state of human affairs is marked by racial barriers, social fragmentation, tribal warfare, political division, international conflict (with the accompanying nuclear threat of ‘mutually assured destruction’), economic inequities, financial crises, false doctrine, religious strife, and ignorance of God. But the kingdom of God will peacefully and effectively unify every tribe, nation and tongue on earth in the spirit of brotherly love under the worship and true knowledge of Jah, the true God and Creator of all (Rev. 21:22-27; 22:1-3). Unlike the ruling institutions of a corrupted human race, the righteous rule of God is, and will be, “an everlasting dominion,” a kingdom “that will not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). That is why the disciples of God’s Son pray, “Our Father in heaven…let your kingdom come, let your will be done, in heaven and on earth…” —Matt. 6:9-13

Thus, as the true remedy to man’s disobedience and resulting alienation from his Creator, the kingdom of God becomes the means by which God’s will for humankind, indeed, for “heaven and earth,” is fully executed. It is the instrument through which God’s sovereignty is fully, lovingly, and wisely, expressed—the scheme whereby sinners are reconciled to God and paradise restored in a “new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to [God’s] promise” (2 Pet. 3:13; Isaiah 66:22; Rev. 21:1). This is a description of “life in the age to come,” in the kingdom of God, which promises blessings that “no eye has seen nor ear heard,” “an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure”—an everlasting inheritance “prepared by God for those who love him.” —2 Cor. 4:17; 1 Cor. 2:9

In the promise of the gospel, believers look hopefully to this coming era when God will be “making all things new,” a time when it will be truly said…

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore. The former things have passed away.” —Rev. 21:1-7

This is the Christian hope—the hope of eternal life in “the kingdom of God.”

Repentance and the Baptismal Command

The call to repentance is essential to the “good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Matt. 3:2, 11; Luke 13:5; Acts 8:12; 20:21; 25:20). It refers to a complete change in the heart of a believer. It is spoken of in Scripture as a “repentance that leads to life” and a “repentance that leads to salvation.” —Acts 11:18; 2 Cor. 7:10

Repentance has been expressed by God’s servants in the past by a “broken spirit” and a “humbled heart” which God will “not despise” (Ps. 51:17). To repent, then, is to change the inner life of the mind, resulting in a turning away from sin and a devotion to that which is righteous in the Creator’s sight (Compare 1 Pet. 2:24). The true spirit of repentance was expressed well in the writings of Isaiah, when God’s word was declared thus to the wayward people of Israel:

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause…” —Isaiah 1:16, 17; Compare Col. 3:5-11.

Centuries after the prophet Isaiah, following the ascension of the Messiah, Peter proclaimed first to the Jews how “God raised up his servant [Jesus] and sent him to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.”
—Acts 3:26

Eventually, Paul too would openly teach that God, through the proclamation of the gospel, “commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” —Acts 17:30-31

All the prophets and apostles agree that a time will come for the judgment of the world (Dan. 7:22; Matt. 12:36; 2 Pet. 2:9). That is why Peter also declared to his countrymen:

“Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.” —Acts 3:19-21

Along with “repentance” the command to “be baptized,” or “immersed” in water, represents the believer’s acceptance of, and faith in, the good news (Acts 2:41). Because water is an agent of cleansing and purification, the repentant are commanded to be immersed in it as “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (Acts 10:48; 1 Pet. 3:21). Upon the symbolic “burial” of the “old man,” believers rise from the baptismal waters to a new life in union with Christ. This is why the apostle Paul wrote to a community of the faithful in the city of Rome: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in a newness of life.” —Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 3:9

True repentance, followed by, or symbolized in, immersion, represents an acknowledgement of sin and the need for God’s forgiveness. To those who were already believers, the apostle John wrote: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But, wrote the apostle, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” —1 John 1:8, 9

We can rejoice therefore through the “grace in which we stand,” assured that the blood of God’s Son continually “cleanses us” from every trace of impurity—confident that the one “who confesses and forsakes [transgressions] will obtain mercy” (Rom. 5:2; 1 John 1:7; Prov. 28:13). Thus the call of the gospel is still:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.” —Acts 2:38; Compare Matt. 28:19.

It is through the “hearing with faith” leading to heartfelt “repentance” that believers receive the empowering, life-giving spirit of God imparted through the gospel. And because the sins of the faithful are “forgiven on account of [Jesus’] name,” believers “perfected in love” have not fear but “confidence for the day of judgment,” knowing that the Son of God “died for all,” so that, in the true spirit of repentance, “those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” —Gal. 3:2; 1 John 2:12; 4:17; 2 Cor. 5:14-15

The Resurrection and the Promise of Eternal Life

The resurrection of God’s Son assures the future, universal defeat of death, the enemy of all men. It is essential to the good news, the foundation of the Christian hope. That is why Paul was compelled to write to the early believers of Corinth:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the good news I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”
—1 Cor. 15:1-5

According to the good news, Christ’s victory over death assures our own victory through a promised resurrection of life “at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:24). The resurrection was—and remains—the true hope for the faithful. As the apostle Paul reasoned: “If Christ has not been raised” then our “faith is futile and [we] are still in [our] sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Since death makes each man but “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” without the hope of life rooted in the resurrection, we might as well, as the apostle put it, “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (James 4:14; 1 Cor. 15:32). This is the reality of our mortal condition—apart from “the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.” —2 Tim. 1:1

“But the fact is,” wrote Paul, “Christ has been raised from the dead.” This means “he has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again” (1 Cor. 15:20, NLT). That is, although the certainty of death awaits all, a “resurrection of life” awaits all those who have “done good” in harmony with God’s will on the “last day” (John 5:29; 6:40). Therefore, if “the spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in [us],” we live in genuine hope before the shadow of death, since “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to [our] mortal bodies also, through his spirit that dwells in [us].”
—Rom. 8:11

Jesus himself spoke with authority concerning the resurrection to his disciples when he said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out…” —John 5:25-29

As God has purposed, the Lord Jesus will “reign as king until [God] has put all enemies underneath his feet. As the last enemy, death, is to be brought to nothing” (1 Cor. 15:26). As we live in expectation of his glorious second appearance, and the destruction of God’s enemies, we are instructed by our Lord to “strive to enter the narrow door” of life—knowing that “the world is passing away, along with its desire” but that “those who do the will of God live for ever” (Luke 13:24; 1 John 2:17; Compare Matt. 7:21-27; 24:13; Rom 2:6-11; Heb. 9:28). That is, if we continue “walking in the light, as [God] Himself is in the light” and if what we “have heard from the beginning abides” in us, then we will “abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what He Himself has promised us, eternal life.” —1 John 2:24-25

In a world dominated by sin, death, and “the god of this age,” the light of the gospel dispels the darkness of deception, ignorance, and the hopelessness of death (2 Cor. 4:4; John 8:12). It is through our union with Christ that we are “delivered from the dominion of darkness” by the power of the truth, as the Son of God declared,

“If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

And further…

“I have come as a light into this world, in order that everyone putting faith in me might not remain in the darkness.” —Col. 1:13; John 8:31, 32; 12:46

Effectively freed from “the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19) and from the crippling “fear of death” (Heb. 2:15), Christians rejoice in the Messiah’s light and in the life-giving power of the good news, since, as the apostle declared without shame, “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 2:5). And, in the full assurance of faith, we wait for “the redemption of our bodies” as we “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” —Rom. 8:23; 1 Pet. 1:13

God’s Will Expressed in the “Greatest Commandments”

According to Scripture, God, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” is not only “light” but “love” (Rom. 15:6; Col. 1:3; 1 John 4:8). The apostle John bore witness to God’s love when he wrote: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” John concluded: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
—1 John 4:9-12

This is the testimony of a chosen apostle, an authentic witness of “the word of life” that “became flesh” in the man Jesus Christ. —John 1:14; 1 John 1:1-3

The apostles’ instructions were in accord with the teachings of their Master. For instance, when a certain scribe asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord [Heb. Jehovah; Deut. 6:4] our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

According to Jesus—“the author and finisher of our faith”—“Everything in the Law and the prophets”, in fact, “hangs on these two commandments.” —Deut. 6:4; Heb. 12:2; Mark 12:29-31; Matt. 22:40

In addition to loving God whom we recognize as “one” (the only ‘numerical’ formula given for God in Scripture ), what matters most in his eyes is that we “love one another.” The apostle John even said, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and yet hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot be loving God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: that whoever loves God must love his brother also.” According to the apostle, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.” Yet, the apostle wrote, in stark contrast, “Whoever does not love abides in death.” —1 John 4:19-21; Compare 1 John 3:13-18; James 1:27

If our love is genuine, consisting “not in word or in speech” but “in truth and in action,” then “we will know that we are of the truth and will reassure our hearts before him; whenever our hearts condemn us, for God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.” And, as the apostle went on to say: “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God, and whatever we ask of Him we shall receive, because we keep His commandments and live the kind of life that He wants. His commandments are these: that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another as He has told us to.” In fulfilling the all-important command to “love one another,” we always abide “in the light” and in the true knowledge of God, knowing that “whoever keeps His commandments lives in God and God lives in him” (1 John 3:18-24). That is why “faith, hope, and love abide,” wrote Paul, “these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
—1 Cor. 13:13

Jesus of Nazareth, the Promised Messiah

Although controversy still rages in religious circles regarding the true identity of Jesus, in the first century, the original, foundational truth of the gospel was that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited “Christ” or “Messiah”—God’s “beloved” and “anointed” Son. The sense of the term Messiah (‘anointed one’) is brought out in Jesus’ own words regarding himself as “the one whom the Father consecrated and sent forth into the world,” and, perhaps, when God himself testified of Jesus during his baptism, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” He is, according to Scripture, the one whom God “sent” and the one on whom God, the Father, has “set his seal.” —Acts 4:27; John 10:36; Matt. 3:16; John 3:34; 5:30; 7:29; 6:27

Faith in, and confession of, Jesus as “the Christ” is essential, the true foundation of Christian faith; so much that the faith itself was, in the minds’ of the apostles, directly tied to one’s being “born of God”—a truth delivered by way of direct revelation from the Father. This is demonstrated in Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus pointedly asked his disciples, “who do you say that I am?”—to which the disciple Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In turn, Jesus responded, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” —Matt. 16:13-18

In perfect harmony, at the end of his Gospel account, the apostle John summarized the purpose of his own writings in this way:

“These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in his name.” —John 20:31

Unlike the doctrinal formulations of the historic “creeds,” the disclosure of Jesus’ identity as “the Christ” and “Son of God” is neither an interpretation nor a theological inference, but a divinely-revealed truth upon which the gospel stands. This is the true article of the Christian faith, resting not on the traditions of men but on the testimony of God himself. As the apostle John wrote in his first epistle:

“If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is surely greater; for this is the testimony of God, that He has borne witness to His Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. He who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne to His Son.” —1 John 5:9-10

The apostle likewise assured those whom he was writing to in the first century:

“…everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” —1 John 5:1-5

The children of God are not identified by conformity to a humanly-devised tradition, but, as the apostle wrote, by believing that Jesus is “the Christ” and because they “practice righteousness” (1 John 3:4-10). And because “the righteousness of God is revealed” in the gospel, those “who hunger and thirst after righteousness” find their fill in the words of “the righteous one,” God’s Son (Rom. 1:17; Matt. 5:6; Acts 3:14; 1 John 2:1), who imparts in believers confidence that his message was truly from God, as he made clear:

“My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me. If anyone's will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.” —John 7:16-17

That is to say, the words of the Messiah are trustworthy and righteous, for he has “not spoken on [his] own authority, but the Father who sent [him] has Himself given [him] a commandment—what to say and what to speak,” the commandment that leads to “eternal life.”
—John 12:49-50
The apostle John bore witness to the same hope, based on the same sure foundation:

“And we ourselves have seen and do testify that the Father has sent His Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” —1 John 4:14, 15

In spite of the theological formulations of early “church” councils and traditional creeds, the life that Jesus has in himself, as God’s Son, was “granted” to him by one who is “greater” than himself—his Father—and he himself lives “because of” him (John 5:36; 6:57; 14:28). He is, as Scripture says, “the image of the invisible God,” “the reflection of [God’s] glory” and “the exact representation of His very being” (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:2, 3). He is “the apostle and high priest of our confession”—the “one mediator between God and men.” —Heb. 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:5
These are descriptions that reflect the true, divinely-revealed role and identity of Jesus, the Messiah. Unfortunately, the so-called “orthodox” or “mainline” church institutions have, in a multitude of ways, defected from the original letter, and spirit, of Scripture—requiring the confession of doctrine and language that go beyond what is revealed there. As pervasive as they have proven to be historically, however, institution-based creedal formulas that go beyond the Scripture’s own language are unnecessary and often misleading. Because the Scriptures themselves are “able to make [one] wise unto salvation,” and because they spell the truth out with sufficient clarity on these matters, “the man of God” is under no obligation to recognize the authority of any other source (See for example: 1 Cor. 8:6; John 17:3; 1 Tim. 2:5; Deut. 6:4; 2 Tim. 3:14-18).

The Lordship of Jesus Christ

In the Christian Scriptures Jesus is dignified with the status of “Lord” because of the all-encompassing authority given to him by God; as Jesus declared to his disciples after the resurrection: “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18; Compare Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22; Psalm 110:1; John 17:2; Rev. 2:27). Jesus was a faithful servant of God who lived a perfectly obedient life to the point of an agonizing death—“for this reason God has so highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name…” (Acts 3:26; Isaiah 52:13; Phil. 2:8-11). Because of his enduring faithfulness as “the only begotten of the Father,” God has not only “seated him at His right hand” but “has placed all things under his feet,” appointing him “to be head over everything for the congregation” of God’s people (John 1:14; Eph. 1:20-22); as Peter gave assurance to the house of Israel:

“God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” —Acts 2:36

This is the testimony of the apostles, who, throughout their public ministry, continually drew attention to the Messiah’s resurrection and God-given Lordship as essential to the good news of salvation:

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” —Rom. 10:9

Scripturally, however, to honor Jesus as “Lord” is not to conflate him with the “one God, the Father,” who is “one,” but to recognize the authority that his Father, God, has vested in him. That is why our obedience to, and confession of, Jesus as the exalted, Messianic “Lord” always resounds “to the glory of God the Father.” —Phil. 2:11; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; Deut. 6:4; Compare John 5:22-23; 12:26

The dangers of “another gospel”

“…the good news that was proclaimed by me was not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
—The apostle Paul, Galatians 1:11-12, NRSV

The good news preached by Jesus and his apostles is the same one Christians accept and live by today—requiring no additions, refinements, or alterations (Gal. 1:6-9). As it was in the first century, Christians today continue “devoting themselves to the apostles’ doctrine”—“sound doctrine” that is, thankfully, preserved for us in scriptural form to this day. —Tit. 1:9; 2:1; Acts 2:42; 2 Tim. 3:14-18

The apostles were well aware of the human tendency to corrupt and suppress the truth of the message they were entrusted with (Acts 20:29-32). They knew that, through various agencies, Satan falsely presented himself as “an angel of light,” and that his servants would “disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness.” They knew that the enemy deliberately worked to “blind the minds of unbelievers,” and of false teachers who would “secretly bring in destructive divisions” just as they would “distort the gospel of Christ.” That is why the apostles wrote much to address the threat of a “different gospel,” admonishing Christians to “examine everything carefully,” and to “not believe every spirit” but to “test the spirits to see whether they are of God,” since “many false prophets” and “deceivers have gone out into the world.” —2 Cor. 4:4; 11:14; 2 Pet. 2:1;1 John 4:1; 2 John 7; 1 Thess. 5:21; Gal. 1:7; 2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6

The spirit of this “different gospel”—“something beyond what [the apostles] declared to [the 1st century Christians] as good news”—has manifested itself in various ways throughout history (Gal. 1:8). In the first century some wanted to suppress the liberating power of the gospel through the re-imposition of Jewish laws (Acts 15:5; Gal. 3:10-29). Others became infected by, and tried to infect others with, the spirit that said Jesus “did not come in the flesh”—the “spirit of the antichrist.” —1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7

Historically, the spirit of “another gospel” has appeared in the form of various ecclesiastical dogmas and unscriptural creeds—enforced often through the unwarranted and excessive elevation of human authority, at the expense of true knowledge of God and genuine Christian freedom. The original good news, however, did not and does not now require systematization into a certain number of theological “points” expressed in the complex and unscriptural language of “philosophy,” “theology,” or “metaphysics.” Nor is the prospect of human salvation, in any way, tied to the acceptance of post-biblical creeds, the determinations of “church councils,” or the self-assumed authority of various church “hierarchies.”

Contrary to what has at times been claimed, true Christian faith has never been contingent upon “organizational” membership, institutional approval, or the acceptance of certain “end-time” dates or chronological formulas based on human interpretations of prophecy and apocalyptic literature. The true Christian gospel, or “good news,” is the original one declared by Jesus and his apostles in Scripture—the “everlasting good news” (Rev. 14:6). The authentic Christian life is characterized by a living faith in Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God,” who surrendered his life for sinners, and was raised to life by the power of God (Mark 8:29; John 11:27; James 2:14-18). It is accompanied by a lasting recognition of the Messiah’s God-given Lordship, and by a life-long devotion to “the only true God”—the Father of Jesus—who must be worshiped “in spirit and in truth” (John 17:3; 4:24). The identifying mark of true Christianity is neither organizational loyalty nor man-made creedal confession, but love of God and love of neighbor—a love that can be practiced in all contexts, in all places, at all times. It is a faith based not on superstition, blind credulity, or group conformity, but on “reason,” “knowledge,” “understanding,” “sober judgment,” and “soundness of mind”—made clear to the world by “the open statement of the truth.” —Acts 17:2; 18:4; 19:8; 26:25; Prov. 1:7; 10:14;13:16; Luke 1:77; Rom. 15:14; 2 Cor. 2:5; 4:6; 6:6; Col. 2:2; Psalm 119:104; Col. 1:9; James 3:13;1 John 5:20; Rom. 12:3; Gal.5:6; 2 Cor. 4:2

The Challenge of Christian Unity in the 21st Century

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” —Ephesians 4:4-6

On the last night of his earthly life, Jesus prayed fervently for the unity of his disciples—that they would all be “one,” or completely unified, just as he and his Father are (John 17:20-33; 10: 30). Yet, sadly, the destructive spirit of division quickly manifested itself in the very time in which the apostles of Jesus lived (Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 3:1-7; 11:18; Tit. 3:10; Jude 1:19). The apostles themselves labored intensely to combat the sectarian spirit and to preserve the undefiled doctrines of their Master. But discord, strife, false prophets, and false teachings, quietly, yet inevitably, spread like a cancer among the early congregations. Yet a moment’s consideration of the current religious landscape—2000 years after the fact—reveals that professing Christians are now irreconcilably divided into, literally, thousands of sects, denominations, and religious organizations. This can make for a bewildering situation for anyone trying to be faithful to Christ’s teaching yet desirous of the faith-building Christian fellowship spoken of in Scripture (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35). The scenario becomes even more difficult when religious leaders inspire guilt or fear among prospective disciples, insisting that loyalty to their self-assigned authority, adherence to a humanly-fabricated creed, or conformity to a contrived list of regulations and ecclesiastical policies, is—in addition to a living faith in Christ—the true way to salvation. Corruptions of these kinds can be subtle but they are rampant. They are often signaled by an unnecessary emphasis on unbiblical language, by an unwarranted dogmatism over unclear, interpretive, scriptural matters, by an unjustified insistence on a believer’s dependence on an “institution” or “organization” for salvation, and in an overall failure to build faith in “the word of truth” in the form of “the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”
These factors can make it difficult for Christians to give full support to many—if not most—of the modern religious establishments. But in spite of the challenges that exist, and the divisiveness that often prevails, believers can still—after the pattern of the apostles and first-century Christians—assemble together in private homes to experience the fullness of Christian fellowship (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phm. 1:2). This can take place, of course, in a variety of places, like a park, a backyard, at the beach, or in a building—wherever at least “two or three are gathered in [Jesus’] name,” since he promises to be “in the midst of them” (Matt.18:20). The people of God do not meet, however, because of social or authoritarian pressures, to avoid punishment, or to fulfill a legalistic requirement, but to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds,” and to “encourage one another” in the “most holy faith” as we “see the day drawing near.” —Jude 1:20; Heb. 10:24-25

Together, believers partake of two common elements: bread—representing the Lord’s body, “which is given for you”—and “the cup of the Lord,” containing “the fruit of the vine,”—representing “the new covenant in [his] blood.” This serves as a fitting expression of faith in the life the Messiah gave as “a ransom for all,” and is practiced, as the Messiah instructed, “in remembrance” of him; for “as often as [believers] eat this bread and drink the cup” they “keep proclaiming the death of the Lord until he arrives.” —Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-26
Although imperfections will inevitably arise in any gathering of Christians, a powerful force for unity can be found in a focus on “the more excellent way,” “the greatest commandment(s),” and in an unfailing recognition of Christ’s exclusive, God-given status as Lord and Master of the Christian community—strengthened by an enduring, conscious commitment not to go beyond the original Christian faith as expressed in Scripture. —Mark 12:28-31; 1 Cor. 12:31; 13:1-13

Now that the Scriptures have become so widely available (a relatively recent development), simply reading them with others (apart from ‘institutional’ or ‘denominational’ supervision), in private homes or the like, can make for a profound source of spiritual refreshment and faith-strengthening fellowship (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 3:14-18). Through prayerful study and meditation, we can ensure that “the word of Christ dwell[s] in [us] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God.” —Col. 3:16; Compare Eph. 5:19

Even in this divisive age, a genuine oneness of mind can be achieved when we remember that, as his disciples, we have “one teacher,” Christ himself, and that we “are all brothers”—using our gifts not to express superiority or dominance over others, but to “serve one another in love” (Matt. 23:8; John 13:13, 14; Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:10). With these principles in mind, both truth and freedom can prevail, in the understanding that all have access to the grace of God, as the Lord’s true people, not by conformity to a man-made creed or institution, but through faith in “the holy one of God,” Jesus, who alone has “the sayings of everlasting life”—for it is “through him” that we have “access in one spirit to the Father.” —John 6:68-69; Rom. 5:2; Eph. 2:18; 3:12; 1 Tim. 2:5