Most of us probably have great confidence in our understanding of the gospel. We can immediately recite or find several proof texts on this doctrine. But as with every other doctrine set forth in the Bible, there is no one passage that contains all the teaching on the topic. One such passage that is probably not in the front of our minds when we think about the gospel is found in Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians: “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (1:5). This invaluable verse mentions four essential elements that attend both the declaration and the reception of the good news that Christ died to save sinners.
1. The gospel comes in word. When Paul declares that the gospel does not come “in word only,” he is not deprecating the value of the preached word. On the contrary, he is beginning with what is absolutely essential and should be obvious, namely that the gospel is not some nebulous and undefined feeling or sense. It is grounded in concrete words and in declarative statements that can be precisely understood. Furthermore, it is fixed by the inalterable meanings of those words. Paul and others present the gospel as set forth definitively in the Word of God; those who are saved have understood and believed the concrete truths set forth. The Word of God sets forth a gospel that is concrete, objective, understandable, and believable.
2. The gospel comes in power. The aphorism “The pen is mightier than the sword” suggests the power of the written word to change opinions and behavior, even the course of history. But the power that works such changes is a natural power: the natural ability of words to affect how we think and, consequently, what we do. The power contained in the gospel is a supernatural power; elsewhere Paul calls it “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). The power in the words of the gospel does not enable a man to change himself; the power in the gospel words transforms hearts and minds. When delivered by a godly man, the words of the gospel come with the power of the authority and purpose of God, and they are received with the understanding and conviction that these words are the living truth of God.
3. The gospel comes in the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks here of something more definitive and permanent than the sign gifts. For when the gospel of the grace of God is preached, the Holy Spirit of God has the liberty to emphasize, to “amen,” and to impart the living truth of those words to the hearts of those with whom He is dealing. It is not merely the weight of the words themselves that bring conviction but the Spirit of God working in concert with those words. The Spirit opens the mouth, so to speak, of the messenger of the gospel message, but He also opens the ears of the recipients of the message. There is and must be a supernatural imparting of the truth for the gospel to take hold in a person’s heart.
4. The gospel comes in much assurance. The Greek could also be translated as “entire confidence.” The gospel is not a hope-so, maybe-so salvation. Those who declare it declare it with the conviction of their own personal experience of its transformative power and by the assurance of the Holy Spirit who aids them in their preaching. And it is received the same way—in much assurance. Believers may be diffident, hesitant, or unsure about almost everything else, but they will affirm with certainty that they have been saved according to the gospel because the indwelling Spirit gives an absolute confidence in the work that God has wrought through Christ on their behalf. These four elements always attend the true preaching and the genuine reception of the gospel. Nothing more is needed, but nothing less is required. And notice that men must declare but all the power and work belong to God.
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