Why is Jesus the gospel and therefore the true treasure of the church? Because he’s done everything I cannot do to save me! He’s God; I’m not. He was a perfectly obedient man to God’s commands; I’m not. He died an unjust death that I might be justly acquitted by God; I’d hardly die for another. He rose again to newness of life; I couldn’t do that with all the money in the world. What is the gospel? Jesus!
“The True Treasure of the Church is the most holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
This was the sixty-second of Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses of 1517. Five hundred years later it is a thesis we still need to embrace for ourselves daily as believers and weekly as preachers and congregations. It’s still a thesis we must assert against all works-centric religion.
One of the places in Scripture where we see the gospel on display in such a powerful way is Romans. Luther said Romans was “the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”1
Romans was written by Paul, the savage persecutor turned bondservant of Christ Jesus, that is, one who “belonged to” Jesus Christ. Even before calling himself apostle, that is, one sent out by Christ himself as an ambassador, he calls himself servant (Rom. 1:1). How different is Paul from the pope, who gives lip service to being “servant of the servants of God” all the while claiming to be “the representative of Christ on earth”? How different is Paul from those charlatans today who run around calling themselves “apostle” or “bishop” or “prophet” with their bodyguards, with their entourage, with their designer suits—all the while pasturing themselves on their sheep? Paul was formerly a Pharisee, that is, one set apart from the Israelites as a cut above the rest in terms of external obedience to the law (Phil. 3:5–6), but later he was “set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). This gospel is the true treasure of the church for several reasons according to Paul in Romans 1.
It Is Centered in Jesus Christ
You may think Christianity is right-wing politics. But this is cultural Christianity. You may think the gospel is loving God; loving neighbor; doing unto others as you would have them do to you; feeding the homeless. But these are not the gospel—the good news of God to sinners. These are the fruits and results of the gospel. What is the gospel? And why is it the true treasure of the church? It is centered in Jesus Christ. The gospel that Paul was set apart for and that the prophets promised long ago is “concerning [God’s] Son” (Rom. 1:3). John Calvin therefore said, “The whole Gospel is contained in Christ.”2
As Christians we talk a lot about the gospel in such impersonal, third-person ways. “The gospel saves.” “It’s the gospel that sanctifies.” “He’s a gospel preacher.” But what do we mean by these statements? We get closer to the truth when we speak of the gospel as being the good news about Jesus Christ. But Paul says here that the gospel is Jesus Christ. As he says elsewhere, it is “him we proclaim” (Col. 1:28). “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard?” (Rom. 10:14). “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor. 1:20).
Why is Jesus Christ the gospel? Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:3–4). Paul makes this interesting contrast between “flesh” and “Spirit” not between what is physical and immaterial or between Jesus’ humanity and divinity, but to speak of two phases of his life. As the eternal Son of God he came down and took to himself true humanity being “descended from” the ancient Jewish line of king “David according to the flesh.” This is what we call in theological terms his state of humiliation. But in his being raised “according to the Spirit of holiness he was declared to be the Son of God in power.” This is what we call his state of exaltation. That word declared is used for appointing. As the Son of God in human flesh he was appointed to an authority he did not have in his humiliation; he was appointed to the place of power as “the Son of God in power.” That’s his title now! In Philippians 2 we read of this humiliation and exaltation:
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him. (Phil. 2:6–9)