Entire lifetimes of study on the nature and comprehensiveness of the gospel fall short of its beauty and significance, but we want to offer a simple snapshot. The apostle Paul clearly stated that the gospel brings salvation and is the core message of the Christian faith on which we stand. How does the gospel bring salvation?
The apostle Paul explains why the gospel brings salvation in what most theologians believe to be the central verses in the book of Romans:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith. (Rom. 1:16–17)
In the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed. The snapshot of the gospel is God’s righteousness freely given to us.
God is infinitely more holy and pure than can ever be imagined, and surpassingly so. As Jonathan ￼Edwards stated, “All things else, with regard to worthiness, importance, and excellence, are perfectly as nothing in comparison to him.” His righteousness is beyond our ability to fathom.
Because God is righteous, He demands righteousness. Without perfection and holiness we are unable to be with Him, unable to receive eternal life. No matter what spiritual advice we follow, because of our sin, we are incapable of making ourselves worthy to approach Him. In fact, even our good deeds fall woefully short of His holiness. Even our goodness is filthy rags compared to His perfection (Isa. 64:6).
As a young monk, Martin Luther hated Romans 1:17 because of the phrase, “God’s righteousness.” He dreaded the phrase because he knew no matter how hard he tried he could not attain the righteousness of God. At a young age Luther attempted to earn God’s righteousness. He legislated his own morality with rules, regulations, and religious advice. And he grew increasingly more frustrated because the laws he set for himself and the strenuous religious pursuits never delivered righteousness to him. His attempts only increased his understanding of his sinfulness and his hatred for “God’s righteousness” because he knew it was farther from his grasp than when he first began.
But God in His great mercy used Romans 1:17 to bring the truth of the gospel to Luther’s heart. After studying the verse day and night, Luther was awakened to the beauty of the gospel:
At last, by the mercy of God, mediating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words. There I began to understand the righteousness of God is righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith. . . . Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.
God requires righteousness; and in His grace, through the sacrifice of Jesus, He freely gives it to all who repent and trust Him. Our righteous God gives His righteousness in exchange for the sinfulness of sinful people. Because of his understanding of this incredible truth, Luther coined the theological phrase that should melt our hearts—“a blessed exchange.”
Faith unites the soul with Christ as a spouse with her husband. Everything which Christ has becomes the property of the believing soul; everything which the soul has becomes the property of the Christ. Christ possesses all blessings and eternal life: they are thenceforward the property of the soul. The soul has all the iniquities and sins: they become thenceforward the property of Christ. It is then a blessed exchange commences.
Adapted from Transformational Discipleship (B&H Publishing Group, 2012)