top of page

If the Gospel was like an ikea manual

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

Who gets to define “the gospel?” Since the early church fathers and mothers began putting ink to parchment, we have copious volumes written on the gospel of Christ and His Kingdom. Truly, I am grateful that there are so many theological works out there by so many great (and even some not-so-great) authors. The gospel is not exactly easy to define (see my last post) but I have a list below of some of my favorite works that I would recommend to you for further study into this question of defining the gospel. The scope of this blog does not allow us a deep dive, but the authors and books I’ve included are being used by the Lord to root out the distortions of our personal gospels and continues to point us back to True North.

Now that I’ve provided my caveat for why this blog will not cover an exhaustive investigation into the gospel of Christ, there is a need to stake some essentials as we continue our journey towards a theology of intimacy. So, let's take a quick look at five gospel truths:

1. The Triune God is the origin and initiator of the gospel

2. The gospel is primary

3. The gospel is about bonds and separation

4. The gospel is relational

5. The gospel is the already but not yet

I know that some of these seem big, huge, and weighty, but stick with me and I hope to navigate our little canoe successfully through this ocean of theology.

1. The Triune God is the origin and initiator of the gospel

To tackle this first one, we need to define some terms. Trinitarian theology has been one of the sticky wickets since the people of God first attempted to put words to it. We spent the first 500 years or so of the early church focusing on the Trinity and how we understand it. It is the basis for our most fundamental creeds in Christianity. And even with all this history, modern scholars, pastors, and theologians often get themselves into hot water when attempting to communicate something meaningful about the Trinity.

With that in mind, let’s start by sticking to the basics. When we refer to the Triune God we are affirming the three-in-one mystery of Father, Son, & Holy Spirit as evidenced in Scripture.[1] The Trinity is the timeless, omnipresent, Alpha and Omega, never ending, personhood of God. The Trinity is the great "us" of Genesis 1:26 who also shows up in Matthew 3 at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. This Triune God is how we have known, experienced, and understood our human relationship to the Divine. And since God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit have been in existence together before creation, the Triune God is the foundation for the origins of the story of God and Christ’s Kingdom.

Dr. Robert Leighton helps us locate the origins of the gospel in the Trinity:

“Before there was time, or place, or any creature, GOD, the blessed Trinity was in Himself, and as the Prophet speaks, inhabiting Eternity, completely happy in Himself: but intending to manifest and communicate His goodness, He gave being to the world, and to time with it; made all to set forth His goodness, and the most excellent of His creatures to contemplate and enjoy it.”[2]

The gospel did not begin with the early ministry of Christ. The good news of God's love and justice began before creation in “[t]he inner life that God lives, in the happy land of the Trinity above all worlds."[3] The story of God in Scripture is a story of the Trinity interacting with humanity and all creation in an outpouring of love, justice, and redemption. Any attempts to understand the gospel without locating its origin in the Trinity, is missing a big piece of the gospel.

2. The gospel is primary

Regardless of how your tradition understood evangelism, discipleship, the "age of accountability," baptism, or catechesis, the common belief upheld in the tradition of Christianity is that we are all born with a need for God. Theological studies on original sin or the problem of evil all point towards a primary brokenness at the very beginning of our humanity. Essentially, we are known by God and created with care and intention in our mothers' womb (Ps 139:13). All of humanity can claim the identity of being image bearers of God (Gen 1:27). Yet, bound up in this blessing is also a fallen reality (Rom 3:23, 5:12). So, from the very beginning of life, we are a part of the reality which makes the gospel good news. The gospel is not just for adults, or teens, or those with a certain intellectual capacity. Our need for a Savior begins in the womb and therefore, all are invited and intended for relationship with the Triune God so that the shalom of the Kingdom is a possibility for all.[4] It is not just for those in a certain denomination. It is not just for those of a certain nationality, ethnicity, or place in history. The need for God, and therefore access to the saving, transformative love of Christ, is a condition and reality we all share as humans.

3. The gospel is about bonds and separation

As I explained above, our human condition gives us both a connection to God (as image bearers and recipients of common grace) and distance from God (sin as an inherited condition that breeds sinful behavior). The good news of the gospel is not simply a religious creed or set of behaviors. The gospel is about the re-connection of God to humanity. It is about restoring relationship, where isolation is replaced with connection and access. The temple veil is the picture of this gospel reality. Christ's death on the cross rends the very tapestries set up to separate humans from the presence of God in the Holy of Holies (Matt 27:51). When we enter into relationship with Christ, there is still a reality where we can be lured back into a false imprisonment of sin and perceived separation. Even with full access to the Triune God through the power of the Holy Spirit and Union with Christ, there is a journey of sanctification that grows us into living fully into the reality of the gospel. So, the sanctifying journey of the people of God involves a regular attention to the binary tension between freedom and false slavery; connection, or false separation.

4. The gospel is relational

At the risk of belaboring my point, the saving truth of the gospel of Christ is not a set of religious regulations, nor is it simply behavior modification. The reality of the gospel is evidenced in our behavior but is because of an ongoing transformation that is rooted in our being in relationship with God. The restored connection and relationship with God invites us to a process where we learn from and submit to the work of the Holy Spirit within us. As Paul relays in many of his letters, the results of relationship with God are that we "may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God." (Col 1:9-10)

Learning from God comes from being with God, hearing from God, worshiping God, and recognizing God's presence in our lives. As a result, our lives transform and we begin to live as people who are shaped by the love of God in Christ (1 John 3:18-20). Our lives are the evidence that we know God and that God is working closely and powerfully in and through us. The gospel is not an academic or superficial process where the transformation of our behavior and posture is shaped by the acquisition of facts or best practices. It is not a system whereby we gain the ability to earn our spiritual enlightenment. It is first, foremost, and ultimately a relational, indwelling, lived connection with Christ.

5. The gospel is the "already but not yet"

When we acknowledge and accept this gospel and live as people who are submitting to the relational force of the Holy Spirit in their lives, we learn that we are a part of Christ's Kingdom. This Kingdom (a central and reoccurring theme of Jesus' earthly ministry) is the way we learn about God's intended redemption of all things. God's Kingdom is His reign of love, justice, shalom, and righteousness. It is about the final conquering of all evil. When Jesus came as Christ incarnate to die on a cross and rise from the grave, He brought in the inauguration of His Kingdom on earth. We pray this in the Lord's prayer when we ask to see this Kingdom here in our earthly lives. It is a key, but sometimes overlooked, reality of the gospel whereby our relationship with God allows us to be agents of God's Kingdom in the world.

Through the power of Christ-in-us we are gifted uniquely to bring God's shalom to our communities. When we live lives of justice, love, compassion, forgiveness, righteousness, and equity, we participate in what is called foretastes of the Kingdom. They are not a full eradication of evil or sin, but they highlight the final work of God's restoration by giving us a glimpse into what it looks like here, in our lifetime. It means that while the work of Christ is finished in His death and resurrection, the full realization of this restoration is still yet to come. So, we live in the "already but not yet" where we can experience and spread shalom while also recognizing that the full restoration has not happened yet and so we are living in a world still tainted by sin and brokenness. All is not right with the world, but Christ has come, and we can participate in that restorative process here and now.

I recently put together a piece of furniture from IKEA. What I love and hate about the instruction manuals is that there are no words – only pictures. This is both helpful and unhelpful as I came to find out. On one hand, it simplified the whole process. But on the other hand, if I happened to take the pictures for granted in their attention to detail, I missed some important warnings related to minutia aspects of the construction. In the end, we were able to do a pretty impressive assembly that only took up a third of our entire Saturday. But those two drawers weren’t going to build themselves (pins gold start to her own shirt).

I hope what I have done in this post has not been the IKEA manual version of the gospel. And I hope you excuse any reduction I may have attempted in order to keep the content moving. In an effort to present a foundation for what we will continue to refer to as "the gospel," I hope that this has explained some key points for mutual understanding. This is important because the excerpts to come will seek to demonstrate how the gospel informs our intimate relationships and how the gospel has been conspicuously absent from our modern canon of Christian content on intimacy. In the footnotes, I have attempted to explain terms and list sources that can clear up any questions you might still have about the gospel and how it has been understood in Christian tradition. I do hope you dive into some of them as the saints who came before me are much more skilled than I in communicating these timeless truths to the church.

With that, let us now turn to the topic of intimacy and how we understand it in our lives.

Great Resources About the Gospel:

Clark, Elliot. Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land. Deerfield, Illinois, The Gospel Coalition, 2019.

Harper, Lisa Sharon, and Walter Brueggemann. The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right. WaterBrook, 2016.

Jones, Beth Felker. Practicing Christian Doctrine: An Introduction to Thinking and Living Theologically. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2014.

McKnight, Scot, and N. T. Wright and Dallas Willard. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016.

Treat, Jeremy R., and Michael Horton. The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2014.

Wakabayashi, Allen M. Kingdom Come: How Jesus Wants to Change the World. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2003.

Williams, Rowan. Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2016.

———. Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

Wright, N.T. Simply Christian. New York, NY: Harper One, 2010.

Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic, 2010.

[1] Genesis 1:26; 3:22; Isaiah 6:3, 8; 11:2, 3; 42:1; 48:16; 61:1-3; 63:9, 10; Matthew 1:18, 20; 3:11, 16; 12:18, 28; 28:19; Mark 1:8; Luke 1:35; 3:16, 22; 4:1, 14, 18; John 1:32, 33; 3:34, 35; 7:39; 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26; 16:7, 13-15; 20:22; Acts 1:2, 4, 5; 2:33; 10:36-38; Romans 1:3, 4; 8:9-11, 26, 27; 1 Corinthians 2:10, 11; 6:19; 8:6; 12:3-6; 2 Corinthians 1:21, 22; 3:17; 5:5; 13:14; Galatians 4:4, 6; Philippians 1:19; Colossians 2:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14, 16; 1 Timothy 3:16; Titus 3:4-6; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:2; 3:18; 1 John 5:6, 7; Revelation 4:8

[2] Dr Robert Leighton, A Practical Commentary Upon the First Epistle of St. Peter (Palala Press, 2016), 137. [3] Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God (Second Edition): How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 86. [4] If you are unfamiliar with this term/concept, here is a wonderful summary from Cornelius Plantinga Jr.: “It’s the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in fruitfulness, justice, and delight. … In the Bible, ‘shalom’ means universal flourishing and delight, each created thing a wonder, each created person a source of joy. Reigning over it all is the earth’s Creator and Savior—the one who opens doors and opens hearts and speaks welcome to children. Shalom includes healthy external relations among people, creation, and God, but also the healthy internal relations that sponsor the healthy external relations.” Educating for Shalom (79).

26 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page