Christians believe that the one living and true God spoke by His Spirit through chosen men to reveal Himself to us. The men through whom God chose to speak wrote down what He said through them, so that we would have a written testimony of Who God is and what God has done. From this written testimony, we learn that God is a Spirit, in and of Himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth (WLC 7). We learn from God’s written testimony that in all His ways, God is perfect in justice and perfect in mercy, freely giving gifts to us and lovingly caring for us beyond what we deserve. We most clearly see God’s free gifts and loving care for us in the glorious gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ. This glorious gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ demands a response, a life lived for Him.
In the beginning, God created all things by speaking them into existence – that is, by the power of His Word. As God’s creatures, we cannot comprehend the unique creative work of our Creator. If we could fathom God’s ways, we would be His equal: a stunningly ridiculous thought! His work in that first week was utterly unique, and He crowned it with His creation of mankind. God endowed the first man and woman – Adam and Eve – with the glory of bearing His image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with His law written in their hearts, and with dominion over the rest of creation (WLC 17). God is a perfectly skilled Creator, and all things were very good.
According to God’s decree in the mysterious and unknowable counsels of His perfect but secret will, a heavenly creature – Satan – rebelled against God and came to earth to tempt Adam and Eve to ruin themselves. He tempted them to follow in his footsteps in rebellion against God. He did this by questioning the truth of God’s law which God had clearly spoken to them and written upon their hearts in that initial state of perfect human well-being and peace. Eve succumbed to the temptation of doing that which God forbade, and Adam likewise rebelled against God’s rule by following his wife into transgression of God’s explicit command. Adam regarded his own judgment (as the representative head of humanity) as better than God’s judgment to advance human well-being. Adam was horribly, totally, and tragically wrong.
Being perfect in justice, God punished Adam’s sin by cursing all of creation with death, entropy, and painful conflict in every relation. Being perfect in holiness, God banished Adam and Eve from fellowship with Him, exiling them from His life-giving presence. The human condition after Adam’s rebellion is one of ignorance of God’s goodness, unrighteousness according to God’s standard, and miserable profanity of life. Before God cast Adam and Eve out from before His face, however, He revealed to them the intents of His heart for the good of mankind. He promised to crush their tempter, and to do so through a descendent of Eve. The rest of God’s written testimony tells the story of His victory over Satan through the promised descendent of Eve, and of His reversal of the curse effecting mankind’s ignorance, unrighteousness, and profanity of life. In short, the remainder of God’s written testimony unfolds His intent to redeem mankind from the curse and its effects, as far as they may be found.
We divide God’s written testimony into 66 books under two familiar headings: Old Testament and New Testament. There is fundamental continuity between the Old and New Testaments, though there is also progress in God’s self-revelation from Old to New. In the Old Testament, the description of God and His promised victor anticipates (i.e. typifies) His fuller revelation in the New Testament. By God’s written testimony in the Old Testament, we learn that God has graciously entered into successive and cascading covenants with specific men and nations. By these covenants, He promised to rescue and defend a people – a worshipping covenant community – for His own glory. Just as He had made all things for His own glory, He pledged in the Old Testament to make a new creation for His own glory.
In the New Testament, God more clearly reveals Himself as one God in three Persons, and three Persons in one God. These three Persons share the same divine substance or essence (and power), but They are personally distinguishable by their unique relations to Each Other and to Their creation. To know the one true and living God is to know the Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Triune God is making a new creation – a worshipping covenant community – for God the Father, through God the Son, by God the Spirit.
The New Testament tells us that the eternally begotten – not made – Son of God stepped down from heavenly glory and into history, humbly (and humiliatingly) taking on human flesh. As a man, He was given the name Jesus, for He came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Jesus assumed the title of Christ, for He is Lord and King of God’s covenant community (Luke 1:32-33). As the promised descendent of Eve, Jesus restored man’s knowledge in fellowship with God, earned perfect righteousness for those united to Him by faith, and grants renewed holiness of life by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He makes known to us the will of God for our salvation (WSC 24). He rescues us from all His and our enemies, defeating them and defending us (WSC 26). He intercedes with God on our behalf (WSC 25) as one intimately familiar with our woeful condition as men living in a world cursed with death, entropy, and painful conflict. He satisfied the perfect justice of God by suffering a cursed death on the cross (WSC 25) as the representative head of God’s covenant community, united to Christ through divinely given faith. He rose again from the dead, reversing the curse and giving hope to all those of us united to Him through faith, that we would follow Him in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
At this point, it is appropriate to rehearse what God has given to man. God’s free gifts to man – His gifts of grace – are expressions of the essence of the gospel: His free grace in Christ Jesus. In the original creation, God gave man the gift of image-bearing: original knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. From that point forward, He gave man the gift of clear revelation (spoken, imaged, or written) about Himself and His works. When mankind ruined the image, God gave the gift of a promised victory over all His and our enemies. He gave the gift of successive and cascading covenants which find their ultimate fulfillment in His greatest gift: His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16). In Christ, God gave man the gifts of renewed heart-knowledge of God through spiritual rebirth (regeneration) and fellowship with God (union with Christ), reconstituted righteousness (justification) before God, and renewed holiness of life through the indwelling Holy Spirit (sanctification). The glorious gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ is that God has made provision for cursed and spiritually dead men to be reconciled to Him in renewed spiritual life, to know Him as good, and to be welcomed into His presence as His sons (adoption). As sons of God, our hope is to be conformed perfectly to the image of Christ in glory (glorification), just as we are being conformed progressively to His image in our present daily lives.
A final brief word needs to be said about the Christian life as an expression of the gospel. If the glorious gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ Jesus is about man’s restored fellowship with God, then the expression of that gospel must have an element of fellowship woven into it. God has made clear in His written testimony that His intent has always been to create for Himself a worshipping community of people in covenant with Him. He wants a society of people, and not merely individual persons. Toward that end, He gathers together His people into a church, united under the banner of Christ, and drawn out of every tribe, nation, people, and tongue. God’s worshipping covenant community will endure everlastingly, filled with the joy and delight of experienced union with Christ through divinely given faith. Membership in this community is a gift, expressing the glorious gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ as much as all other spiritual gifts. To be given Christ as a gift is to be given His church as a gift. To receive Christ as a gift is to receive His church as a gift. In fact, Christ’s church is the crown of God’s new creation, being His new humanity with Christ Himself as its representative head. The very existence of the church is an expression of God’s saving grace in Christ Jesus, for His own glory.
The glorious gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ has at its core God’s free gifts and loving care for us as His worshipping covenant community. The Triune God – perfectly holy, just, good, and true – freely gives gifts to us and lovingly cares for us beyond what we deserve. On his own merits, man deserves to perish everlastingly in the torment of alienation from God’s goodness. God would be altogether just in consigning us to the flames of hellfire for all eternity. But, He purposed to give life to a people bearing His Name. The message of God’s gracious gift of life is the gospel. In fact, the gospel itself is a gift that instructs us in living to and with God the Father, through God the Son, by God the Spirit. The proper response to the glorious gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ is gratitude, thankfulness, and worshipful praise as children of God in His covenant community.