What are you all about? If you are a church leader, what is your church all about? If you had to give a one-word answer, what would you say?
As Paul begins his letter to the Romans, he writes that he has been called to be an apostle, “set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). In other words, all of Paul’s life and ministry revolves around the gospel. That’s Paul’s “what-am-I-all-about-in-a-nutshell” word (see Rom. 1:16-17, too). To Paul, the gospel isn’t simply some piece of “helpful” information he throws to people on his missionary journeys, as if it’s a pill they swallow or a membership they sign up for to get eternal life. Paul’s whole existence is centered on the gospel, so it is gospel he’s going to give to saints that they might be more like Jesus and to unbelievers that they might come to Jesus (see Rom. 1:15).
Why is his focus on the gospel? First, God promised the gospel in the Hebrew Scriptures (Rom. 1:2). Paul, like the other New Testament authors, read the Old Testament “christologically,” that is, the Old Testament promised and foreshadowed Christ’s incarnation, redemption, and restoration. The gospel does not exist in a vacuum–it is grounded in the history of God’s people Israel.
Second, the gospel does not just promise Jesus, it reveals who Jesus is and what he has done. Jesus’ life and work is the content of the gospel. As it has been said before, he is the gospel. In Romans 1:3-5, Paul’s writes that Jesus is revealed in the prophets (the Old Testament) as the Son of David and the Son of God. He is the One who has ushered in the new creation through his resurrection and the one who has given us grace and the mission to make disciples of all nations.
Discipleship, mission, sacraments, doctrine, and other things are vital to our lives as Christians. But none of them can be the main thing. The gospel gives unity, meaning, and purpose to all those things. In his book, Center Church, Tim Keller writes, “Because the gospel is endlessly rich, it can handle the burden of being the one ‘main thing’ of a church” (37). Would that it be so for our churches and our own lives!