James H. Zachary was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the first editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.

Our readers have a right to know why we are starting this new publication. As the editor of Elder's Digest, I have no doubt as to the purpose of this journal. We want to assist the elders of our local churches in spreading the gospel. Readers may want to know what we mean by the gospel. How do I, as the editor, perceive the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The word gospel comes from the Anglo Saxon god-spell, or God's story. The gospel tells the story of a God who became our brother to save us from sin. This amazing truth has a dynamic effect. It caused Bible translator and Protestant Reformer William Tyndale to break forth in ecstasy of praise. To him the gospel signified "good, mery, glad and iofull tydinge, that maketh a marines hert glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce, and leepe for ioye" (prologue to his New Testament).

The Greek word for gospel is euaggelion, generally used to refer to thank offerings made in behalf of good news, but rarely used in secular Greek.

The New Testament authors brought new meaning to euaggelion by using it more than 75 times in the New Testament to mean good news. More than 60 of the 95 uses are by the apostle Paul, whose favorite theme was the gospel of Jesus.

Webster's dictionary defines the gospel as: "Glad tidings . . . good news concerning Christ, the kingdom of God, and salvation. . . . The story or record of Christ's life and doctrines."

The gospel of Jesus, in its broadest sense, includes six major aspects:

1. The story of His life.
2. His teachings.
3. The kingdom of heaven, both internal and external.
4. The salvation of sinners.
5. The destruction of Satan and sin.
6. The establishing of a new sinless society.

The most important aspect of the gospel's relevance to life today is that Jesus provides the solution to every problem that sin has brought upon the human race and the universe.

Two False Gospels

Paul warns us of two false gospels. He uses forceful words to bring the Galatians back to the true gospel. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16).* "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:28).

The Bible tells us that no one can earn salvation by obedience to God's requirements. We gain no merit by obeying the law or any other part of the Bible. Salvation is a gift by grace through the righteousness of the Lord Jesus.

Some add meritorious efforts, hoping to augment the gift. But even the most saintly person can add nothing to the salvation offered us in Jesus.

"The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner's account," states Ellen White in Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 367. Again she says, "Through the righteousness of Christ we shall stand before God pardoned, and as though we had never sinned" (The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, vol. 5, p. 1142).

Our best efforts to be righteous through our own obedience are worthless. For years I was a legalist and believed my efforts earned merit before God. But I had difficulty understanding Isaiah 64:6: "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (NIV).

It was not that I had trouble seeing my sins as filthy rags, but being told that my righteous acts were also filthy rags puzzled me.

Gradually I came to understand the truth about our obedience. Selfishness and pride of heart contaminate all that we do. Our best obedience lacks the purity of Christ's righteousness. For example, while working on my automobile, my hands, clothing, and shoes become covered with grease and dirt. If I attempt to enter the kitchen, my wife will surely call out, "Don't take another step. You will get everything dirty." And so do our attempts at obedience.

Obedience without Christ's righteousness remains futile. We have no righteousness of our own, nor can we ever create it. Christ is the only source of righteousness.

But a misapplication of this teaching leads to the second false gospel. The message of God's grace justifying the sinner by faith leads some to a false confidence that having the white robe of Christ's righteousness─a declaration of righteousness─is the end of the matter. They do not see that the fruits of this declaration─a transformed obedient lifestyle─is important. Some may say it is even impossible to achieve.

James disagrees: "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? . . . faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. . . . But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?" (James 2:14-21).

The Power of the Holy Spirit

The power of the Holy Spirit works in the heart of a person to transform him or her. If we find no indication of transforming power in a person's life, James says, we have a basis for questioning whether that person has genuine faith. The fruit of the Holy Spirit provides evidence of a saving experience with Jesus Christ.

The robe of Christ's righteousness is not intended to cover a person's sins and leave one defeated. With the robe comes the transforming power that renews the believer's life.

The Role of Jesus

The gospel tells the good news of the life and mission of Jesus the Creator. He became a man, lived a sinless life on earth, taught the principles of a godly life, died for all humanity, was resurrected, and ascended on high to mediate our cases before the judgment bar of heaven. Soon He will return to rescue His people and set up a universal kingdom of peace.

The gospel imparts the good news that Jesus, through His matchless grace, accepts and forgives sinners and counts believers righteous. The gospel goes beyond the judicial act of placing the white robe on a repentant sinner and declaring him or her righteous. The fruits of this act will follow.

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:16, 17). "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified" (Rom. 2:13).

Jesus Saves

As a powerful Saviour, Jesus not only saves us for eternity, but saves us from our sin problems in this world. He takes care of the past damning record of sins through the gift of righteousness by faith, giving the sinner a new direction in life a new birth. The indwelling Holy Spirit transforms the life, freeing us from sin through the power of Jesus (see Rom. 6; Eph. 2:1, 5, 6).

Jesus can transform the life of the vilest sinner. Second Corinthians 5:17 speaks of the sinner becoming a new creature. An old way of living comes to an end.

After Paul clearly states that sinners are saved, not by their own works, but through faith in Jesus, he stresses the new Christlike lifestyle that follows. The Scriptures teach that God writes the principles of His holy law in our hearts (Jer. 31:33).

Ephesians 4:21-24 speaks of being renewed in the spirit of your mind. Ephesians 3:19 tells of the sinner being filled with the fullness of God. Paul appeals that each one "walk worthy of the calling" (Eph. 4:1).

In Galatians 5:22, 24, 25, after Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit he says that genuine Christians have crucifed the lusts of the flesh and live in the Spirit. A new life of obedience in a person who is surrendered to the Lord Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit.

We find the gospel of Jesus taught in Zechariah 3:1-7. This chapter pictures a life-and-death drama of the Lord and Satan battling over Joshua, the high priest. The context suggests that the devil was saying to the Lord, "Look at the sins of your high priest; he ought to burn in the fire."

We can compare this to the first aspect of the gospel. God tells Satan to stop his charges because of what God plans to do for Joshua. "Joshua is a stick that I am pulling out of the fire." Joshua was a sinner worthy of the fire, but God saves sinners!

Joshua was clothed in filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6 makes it clear that these rags represented not only sins, but works of righteousness. Zechariah watches as an angel takes away the filthy rags and places a new garment on the high priest. "Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment" (Zech. 3:4).

Satan could say no more about Joshua, now clothed with the robe of God's making; no accusation could be brought against him (see Rom. 8:1). We find other features of the gospel in Zechariah 3:7. With Joshua dressed in his heaven-made robe, God speaks of two things that will happen.

"Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in My ways, and if you will keep My command . . ." (verse 7). The person who wears the new robe will walk in a new life.

Thus, we cannot divorce sanctification from justification. They are both aspects of righteousness by faith.

We find the final facet of the gospel in the last part of verse 7. The Lord promises Joshua that Joshua will "walk among these who stand here." To walk among the angels is glorification. The justified and sanctified will one day walk with the angels. The ultimate purpose of the gospel is the restoration of sinners back into eternal life in a sinless universe.

John Speaks on the Power of the Gospel

Obviously John the apostle experienced the power of the gospel in his life. We find no hint of legalism or perfectionism in the following description of John's character. "In the life of the disciple John true sanctification is exemplified. . . . Day by day his heart was drawn out to Christ, until he lost sight of self in love for his Master. The power and tenderness, the majesty and meekness, the strength and patience, that he saw in the daily life of the Son of God filled his soul with admiration. He yielded his resentful, ambitious temper to the molding power of Christ, and divine love wrought in him a transformation of character" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 557).

John had nothing to boast about. It was the work of the Holy Spirit that brought new life to him. This process is what we call sanctification and is part of the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

Both the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy testify to God's power not only to declare a sinner holy, but to transform a sinner and give him or her a life of obedience. As Jude 24 promises, He "is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy" (NIV).

Jesus is the answer to our inner battles with our sinful nature. "True obedience comes from the heart, but it is heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us" (The Desire of Ages, p. 668).

Praise God for the gospel of Jesus. It is the complete solution to all of our sin problems.

* Unless otherwise noted, texts in this article are from The New King James Version. Copyright© 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.



James H. Zachary, editor of Elder's Digest, is an associate secretary of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He worked as a teacher for 27 years and was the ministerial secretary of the Far Eastern Division for nine years. He has done evangelism in some 30 countries.

James H. Zachary was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the first editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.