The God of the Gospel

Posted On September 15, 2017

Who is the God of the Gospel? One of the most important truths that the church has always confessed is that our God is triune. There are three persons in the Godhead—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—and these three persons are one God (cf. WSC 6). As we turn to 1 Thessalonians 1:1­–10, we see all three persons of the Godhead active in and through the gospel. We see that the word of the gospel comes from a loving Father, is about the victorious Son, and is applied by the power of the Spirit. Our triune God is the God of the gospel who works powerfully in the church.

Let’s first look at how the gospel is from our loving Father. In 1 Thessalonians 1:2–3, Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians and mentions them in his prayers, particularly recalling their “work that stems from faith, labor that stems from love, and steadfastness that stems from hope.”  Faith, love, and hope are all gifts from God, our loving Father. That is why, in the very next verse, Paul calls believers “brothers loved by God” (1:4). But believers are not only loved by God, they are also “chosen” by God. You and I know that we don’t deserve to be loved by God, and we definitely don’t earn the right to be chosen for salvation. Romans 9:11 explains how God set His electing love on us before we were born and “had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.” Ephesians 1:5 states, “In love [God] predestined us,” which happened outside of time in eternity past. God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). And guess what? That is precisely how we can be assured that His love will never cease. Geerhardus Vos said, “The best proof that [God] will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.” Let’s take a moment to let that quote sink in. The God who is not bound by time, the God who has neither beginning nor end, is the same God who chose His people in Christ before time began. His love, which has no beginning, will have no end. Friends, family members, and even spouses may sadly “fall out of love with you,” but God’s love will never fail His people.

But how does Paul know the Thessalonians are loved and chosen by God? How does he know they are part of God’s elect? Paul provides the answer in 1 Thessalonians 1:5: “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” Notice that Paul writes “our gospel came to you.” The verb “came” is in the passive voice, as in “I was hit by the ball” (someone else is doing the action of verb). That “someone” is not Paul per se, but God. This is called a divine passive. Paul wants to highlight the fact that the gospel comes not from him, but from God. To be sure, it is spoken by Paul, but it is not a word of Paul. It is the very Word of God. This becomes even clearer when you look over at 1 Thessalonians 2, where Paul, again and again, calls his message “the gospel of God” (2:2, 4, 8, 9). He even explicitly thanks God that when they “received the word of God, which [they] heard from [the apostles], [they] accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13). This means that when we hear the Word of God preached in our churches, we are confronted by God Himself. If we disregard what is said, we disregard God. As one Puritan put it, “If I oppose the Word I oppose my Lord when he is most near.” But if we embrace what is said, we embrace our Lord when He is most near. God draws near to us through the gospel. This should change the way we think about church, and it should change the way we think about God. Our loving Father comforts us with the promises of the gospel. The next two blog posts will look at how the gospel centers on the victorious Son and is powerfully applied by the Holy Spirit.

Dr. David Briones is professor of New Testament at Reformation Bible College.