The Key to Understanding the Gospel

Just as the Rosetta Stone was the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphic writing,
so the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the key to understanding the gospel.

©1999 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.
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Resurrection: The Key to Understanding the Gospel

    The ancient Egyptians had a form of picture writing which later researchers called hieroglyphics. The word itself is Greek and means "sacred" or "priestly carving."

    For decades, centuries, for over a millennium (c. 500 A.D. to 1822 A.D.) no one could decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphic writings. They thought it was a secret code of the priests and that the "key" for understanding was lost forever.

    Then in 1799 some of Napoleon's soldiers found what was called "The Rosetta Stone" near the mouth of the Nile River. This stone had the same inscription written in three different languages: Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian demotic, and Greek. It still took 23 years, until 1822 when the Frenchman, Francois Champollion, discovered the "key" to unlock the mysterious symbols and translate the hieroglyphic script.

    The gospel is like hieroglyphics to many people today; somewhat like a "sacred carving" that no one can understand. For years and years people have known about the gospel, paid homage to the gospel, celebrated the gospel, but they have often not understood what it meant. It is as if the gospel is a secret code of the priests, and the "key" to understanding has been lost.

    It is time that we find the Resurrection stone, and discover the "key" to unlock these religious mysteries, to interpret the gospel as it was intended. The resurrection is a far more important discovery for mankind than the Rosetta Stone was to Egyptologists. The resurrection is the "key" to understanding the gospel and its import for all peoples.

    There are many Biblical concepts and words that are just hieroglyphic symbols, just obscure religious carvings in "Christian religion" today. Their meaning, for the most part, has been lost for centuries, for over a millennium. The "key" to understanding these important Biblical truths is a proper perspective of the resurrection.

    The concept of resurrection must first be decoded. The resurrection is not just an historical event, not just a theological truth. The resurrection is a living, personal reality in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "I AM the resurrection and the life." (John 11:25)

    Jesus was indeed raised from the dead historically on that "first day of the week." The theological significance of "life out of death" and eventual bodily resurrection is truly important. The present significance of the resurrection is recognized when Christians understand that the risen Lord Jesus ascended to heaven and the very resurrection-life of Jesus was poured out on Pentecost to dwell in the spirits of Christian people. That spiritual reality, the indwelling of the living Lord Jesus, the dynamic function of His resurrection-life in and through our lives, is the essence of the gospel. Jesus, the "resurrection and the life," is living out His resurrection-life in us, the Christ-life expressed in the Christian.

    Many of the "things of God" remain hieroglyphics to many Christian people because the reality of the resurrection-life of Jesus is not applied to Biblical truth. What we will do in this study is to take a list of some of the "things of God" from Scripture (not exhaustive), and note how they remain hieroglyphic symbols until we understand them in the light of the dynamic resurrection-life of Jesus.

Image of God

    The interpretation of the "image of God" remains in hieroglyphic symbol for many Christian expositors. A study of the commentators and systematic theologians can produce a list of over 25 different explanations (physical stature, trichotomy, spirituality, intelligence, emotion, volition, personality, moral ability, masculinity, eternality, creativity, etc.)

    From a perspective of the dynamic of Christ's resurrection-life, we have the "key" to understand that "Christ is the image of God." (Col. 1:15; II Cor. 4:4). Jesus Christ by His resurrection-life in the Christian allows the invisible character of God to be made visible in the behavior of man unto the glory of God. When we become a Christian we are restored with the possibility of bearing the image of God (Gen. 1:27; Col. 3:10), because Jesus Christ, the "image of God" is the One who makes God visible. The character of God is imaged, visaged, in our behavior as the risen Lord Jesus lives out His life through us.

Life of God

    So often the life of God remains a hieroglyphic carving for it is viewed with a separated concept whereby God is "Wholly Other," or the life of God is something we come into contact with after we die physically; or the life of God is an ideal that we strive for here on earth.

    Jesus said, "I AM the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25); "I AM the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). "Just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son to have life in Himself." (John 5:26). "In Him was life and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). The risen Lord Jesus is the life of God having come to live in us and to empower His character to be lived out through us. "The life of Jesus manifested in our mortal flesh" (II Cor. 4:10,11). "Christ is our life" (Col. 3:4). The resurrection is the "key" to understanding how the life of Jesus functions in us day by day and moment by moment as Christians.

Law of God

    The Law of God is considered by many to be but behavioral regulations carved in stone, as indeed they were on the tablets given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Codes of conduct full of "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots," obedient adherence to which all men are expected to conform -- this is the moralizing and ethical expectation that religion projects concerning the Law.

    Understanding the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ allows us to decipher the meaning of the Law symbol. The Law has been written in our hearts and upon our minds" (Heb. 8:10; 10:16), because the living Lord Jesus is the One who is the expression of the character of God, and He is the dynamic to express such in our behavior by the grace of God. Thus he fulfills both the essential and the functional purposes of the law. Jesus Christ is the living Torah in every Christian. He is the Law-giver and the Law-keeper. The regulatory concepts of the law are annulled. Jesus Christ is the end of the Law (Rom. 10:4), the fulfillment of the Law (Matt. 5:17). Christians are "no longer under the Law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14,15).

Will of God

    The meaning of the "will of God" is often imbedded in precise expectations that God has pre-determined exacting plans for each individual; that there is a plotted course prescribed for every action of our lives. Many people spend much of their time mulling over every detail in their lives trying to figure out the meaning of "God's will" for their lives -- much like the Egyptologists who tried to figure out the meaning of the hieroglyphics year after year for centuries.

    The "will of God" is not a prescription; it is a Person. The will of God is Jesus Christ, restored to dwell in the spirits of created mankind and allowed to live out His live and character in our behavior, by the grace activity of His resurrection-life. The will of God is to be filled with the Spirit of Christ (Eph. 5:17,18). The resurrection-life of Jesus is the "will of God" for every Christian.

Israel of God

    Just as hieroglyphics were pictures with a meaning, in like manner God used pictorial representation to explain what He intended. One of God's pictorial preliminaries was the nation of Israel. As a physical people and nation they represented the spiritual peoples who would receive the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ; people who had striven with God and surrendered to God and in whom God now rules (Gen. 32:28; 35:10). Thus it is that Christians are now the "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16), though not descended from physical Israel (Rom. 9:6). Christ rules as risen Lord in the lives of the holy nation (I Peter 2:9) of Christian Israel, that is all Christians who have received His resurrection-life by faith and are living by faith.

Kingdom of God

    The "kingdom of God" is another figure that God used to pre-figure His intent. The Jews conceived of the kingdom of God as a nationalistic kingdom with a Jewish king in the realm of Palestine. There are still Zionist expectations in Judeo-Christian religion today, focusing on a futuristic physical millennial kingdom in Palestine.

    Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36); the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). The resurrection is the "key" to ascertain the spiritual intent of the kingdom of God. To Nicodemus, Jesus explained that "unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5), for Christians are "born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (I Peter 1:23). By the indwelling of the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ "we reign in life through Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17) as Jesus, the "King of Kings" reigns in the kingdom of our hearts in "righteousness, peace and joy" (Rom. 14:17).

People of God

    God's desires for a "people of God" is often misrepresented by factors of racism, nationalism and religion. The "people of God" are not a privileged few chosen by arbitrary selection with exclusivistic rights concerning which they can boast with pompous pride. The Hebrew people of the old covenant were called the "people of God" merely as a pictorial pre-figuring to point to the spiritual reality of the "people of God" in Jesus Christ, i.e. to Christians. Hosea explained this so graphically by naming his son Lo-ammi meaning "not My people" (Hosea 1:9; 2:23), to which Paul refers in identifying Christians as the "people of God" (Rom. 9:25,26). Ezekiel (Ezek. 37:23,27) and Jeremiah (Jere. 31:1,33) both prophesied of the time of fulfillment when by the resurrection of Jesus the life of God would be restored to men and they would be the "people of God" in Jesus Christ. Paul (II Cor. 6:16); Titus 2:14), Peter (I Peter 2:9,10) and the writer to the Hebrews (Heb. 8:10) all refer to this intended understanding of the "people of God," the people who live by the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ.

Love of God

    The "love of God" is often depicted in such metaphorical figuration as to be covered in syrupy sentimentalism. Yes, "God is love" (I John 4:8,16), but this does not override His justice or even His wrath. God's love is not just an introductory compassion that moved Him to "so love the world and give His only begotten Son" (John 3:16) in order to redeem man and get man "off the hook."

    By the resurrection we understand that the love of God is received, experienced and expressed only by the indwelling presence of the risen Lord Jesus. "The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:5). The "love of God surpasses knowledge" (Eph. 3:19) and "nothing is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:39). "If we love one another, God abides in us" (I John 4:12) and the love of God expressed through us is the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22). The active love of God in the Christian is but the functioning of the resurrection-life of Jesus in us.

Word of God

    The "Word of God" is another concept often remaining in obscure textualization within Christian religion today. Some interpret "Word of God" to be God's decrees and pronouncements. Others explain that it is a law or principle that God employed for expressed creativity. The predominant theory is that the "Word of God" is the written text of the Bible.

    Once again, the "key" to understanding the "Word of God" is only through the recognition of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the "Word of God!" "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). By His resurrection Jesus became the ever-living Word, to express the divine resurrection-life in Christians. Christians are people who have "received the Word of God" (Acts 11:1; I Thess. 2:13), i.e. Jesus; who have been "born again through the living and active Word of God" (I Peter 1:23), and in whom the "word of God abides" (I John 2:14) and is "living and active" (Heb. 4:12). Jesus Christ, the risen and living "Word of God," expresses the life of God in us by His resurrection-life.

Gospel of God

    Even the concept of "gospel" is encrypted in the creeds and codes of religion. The historical narrative of Jesus' incarnated life are referred to as "gospels," and for some that is the entire meaning of "gospel." For other the "gospel" is but a "salvation recipe" or the compilation of definitive doctrines dogmatically determined with theological precision to comprise an orthodox belief-system. Thus some have referred to "the gospel according to Jesus" or the apostles or others (cf. John MacArthur).

    The gospel is Jesus! Jesus is the "good news"! The gospel is the good news of the dynamic life of the risen Lord Jesus restored to indwell man and function in man unto the glory of God. Christians are "called through the gospel" (II Thess. 2:14), "begotten through the gospel" (I Cor. 4:15); they "participate in the gospel" (Phil. 1:5); they share in "the hope of the gospel" (Col. 1:23). The gospel is the "gospel of Christ" (Rom. 15:19; II Cor. 10:14; Phil. 1:23; II Thess. 1:8). The resurrection is the "key" to understanding the gospel as the dynamic of the life of the risen Lord Jesus. That is the only "good news" there is for man.

Salvation of God

    When the significance of something so crucial as salvation is suppressed in the symbolism of religion, it is a sad indictment upon those who are supposed to be interpreters and expositors. Salvation is often cast as a commodity, an eternal life package, a ticket to heaven; some"thing" that can be found, dispensed, acquired, that one can "get" or "possess." Salvation is portrayed as a fire-insurance policy making one safe from hell, a political liberation making one safe from oppressors, a new-thought pattern making one safe from erroneous thinking.

    Jesus is the Savior! Jesus is salvation! Jesus is "the source of eternal salvation" (Heb. 5:9). There is "salvation in no other name" (Acts 4:12). The "salvation of God" is made available to all men in Christ (Luke 3:6; Acts 28:28). "For by grace are we saved through faith" (Eph. 2:5,8). The salvation which is in Christ (II Tim. 2:10) is revealed only by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Salvation is the process whereby the Savior makes us safe from spiritual abuse, misuse and dysfunction in order to function as intended by the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ. Salvation must never be disconnected from the on-going work of the Savior, from the "saving life of Christ" (Rom. 5:10).

Blessing of God

    The "blessing of God" has been obscured by those who think only of "counting their many blessings" of material things and pleasant situations, by those who interpret God's "blessing" as numerically calculable results, productivity and miracles, and by those who feel that God's "blessing" is a subjective sensation, a tickle of emotional excitement.

    In the old covenant there was much reference to blessings and curses (cf. Deut. 28), but they were but typological indicators that Jesus Christ would take upon Himself the curses and become to us all the blessings of God. Peter explains that "God raised up His Son and sent Him to bless" us (Acts 3:26), and that because Jesus is the seed of Abraham, "by whom all the families of the earth are blessed" (Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:14). "God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1:3). We have "the fullness of the blessing of Christ" (Rom. 15:29). The resurrection-life of Jesus Christ is God's "good word" (eu-logia), blessing and God's activity in us.

Truth of God

    "What is truth?" asked Pilate (John 18:38), and many have been trying to find the clue to sorting-out truth ever since. The "truth of God" is often left encoded in propositional truth statements. Truth is regarded as logical accuracy of sentential statements in accord with the evidence available. Thus men regard their premises, their precepts, their principles as truth.

    The "truth of God" is personified in Jesus Christ, who said, "I AM the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). "Truth is in Jesus" (Eph. 4:21); He is "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). It is by the availability of the resurrection-life of Jesus that what Jesus promised is made real in our lives: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32), later explaining that "the Son shall set you free" (John 8:36). Jesus, as the living Word is truth (John 17:17). The Spirit of Christ is the truth of God (I John 5:7). The resurrection reality of the risen and living Lord Jesus is the "truth of God" that He wants all men to know and experience.

Power of God

    The "power of God" is often concealed in the machinations of Christian religion. The hierarchical powers of ecclesiasticism exercise their authority and control in strong-arm tactics of coercion. Other religionists develop a "power-theology" that stereotypes God in demonstrations of miraculous power-manifestations. The word of God to Zerubbabel was, "'Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6). Jesus told the Sadducean religionists, "you do not understand the scriptures or the power of God" (Matt. 22:29).
    Jesus was "declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4). "Christ is the power of God" (I Cor. 1:24). When the risen Lord Jesus dwells in us, we have "the surpassing greatness of the power of God" (II Cor. 4:7), "working in us" (Eph.. 3:20). The "power of Christ dwells in us" (II Cor. 12:9). The "gift of grace is given to us according to the working of His power" (Eph. 3:7), and we are "strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man" (Eph. 3:18). That is why Paul desired to know "the power of His resurrection" (Phil. 3:10). The resurrection reveals the power of God.

Grace of God

    Oh the tragedy of allowing the "grace of God" to remain statically chiseled in the hieroglyphic forms of religion. Grace is often depicted as merely the "undeserved favor of God," nothing more than the graciousness, mercy or pity of God. Yes, that is the extent of the understanding of grace in the old covenant, because the Hebrew language did not even have a word that corresponded with the New Testament concept of "grace." Yet Christian religion has allowed grace to remain solidified and static as merely the "threshold factor" of redemptive grace, as typified in the acrostic: God's Redemption At Christ's Expense.

    It is in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that we see that grace is the dynamic activity of God in the life of the risen Lord Jesus. "Grace is realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17); the "grace of God was given to us in Christ Jesus" (I Cor. 1:4); "grace was freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6). "The grace of God has appeared (in Jesus Christ), bringing salvation to all men" (Titus 2:11). We have an identity as "Christians", participating in the resurrection-life of Jesus, only by the grace of God (I Cor. 15:10). The Christian life, the life of the risen Lord Jesus lived out in us, is only lived by the dynamic of God's grace. As Christians we do not want to nullify such (Gal. 2:21), but to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:43) which is ever sufficient (II Cor. 12:9), and that to the very end (Rev. 22:21). The grace of the resurrection-life of Jesus is the essence of the Christian gospel.

Church of God

    The understanding of the "church of God" is often hidden in false impressions. Some view it as a building, others as a "worship experience" or a meeting, others as a social grouping of like-minded ideologues, and still others as a political institution.

    The resurrection of Jesus Christ defines the "church of God" as those who are "called out" to be all God intends them to be by His activity of resurrection-life in and through them. Jesus Christ is the "head of the Body, the church" (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18,24). The church is the "Body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12), the collective expression of the life of the risen Lord Jesus, the resurrection community, the "church of the living God" (I Tim. 3:15). The world is supposed to see the out-working of the life of Jesus Christ on earth today as the resurrection-life of Jesus functions in the interpersonal relationships of Christian peoples.

    These are but a few of the "things of God," the significance of which are only explained and interpreted by the dynamic of the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ. We could go on to decode the concepts of the righteousness of God, the wisdom of God, the peace of God, the glory of God, the city of God, the way of God, the covenant of God, the house of God, the temple of God, the holiness of God, the sovereignty of God and many more. The "deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:10-KJV) which remain so mysterious, hidden, concealed and unintelligible in Christian religion, must be decoded and deciphered by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    The realization of the resurrection is the "key" that unlocks the revelation of God from the hieroglyphics of religious terminology. The resurrection reveals that the message of God made available by God's grace and written down so many centuries ago is that Jesus Christ is "the summing up of all spiritual things" (Eph. 1:10). Everything that God has to give is made available in the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ.

    The gospel is not a series of encoded pictograms of doctrinal truth obfuscating what God intended to express. The gospel is Jesus Christ, "the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25). Christianity is Christ!