Written by Bob Schindler, Executive Director of CEDE Partners – an Initiative of CEDE Sports
My answer to that question today is different than it would have been 20 years ago.
At that time, we were in the midst of planting a church that had as one of its desires to see half of the growth in the church coming from the conversion of non-believers. (We were young and naive, not realizing at the time what an radical desire that was.) In the face of that desire, we were intentional and relational in our approach to outreach. While we didn’t say it explicitly, we said by our actions – “The gospel is for non-believers.” – in answer to the question.
This implicit answer impacted us in ways we didn’t realize then but do more now. For instance, when I read Romans 1:16 – “For I am not of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes; first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” I only saw this verse in the context of evangelism. That means the salvation that the verse speaks of related only to the salvation from one’s sin that unbelievers experience when they believe. I actually read the verse without realizing it like this – “it (the gospel) is the power of God that brings salvation to every one who believed (past tense).” I even memorized this verse to help compel me to share the gospel with those non-believers for that salvation.
At the same time in that church, we were committed to the discipleship of those who had believed in that gospel – both new and long-term believers. We tried to be just as intentional in our approach to that discipleship as we were in our outreach. In that discipleship, we emphasized small groups, interaction with the Scripture, authenticity, serving, worship, as well as other “spiritual disciplines.” However, I don’t think I saw the gospel as a central component of that discipleship. While I didn’t say it explicitly, again by my actions, my answer to the question was – “The gospel isn’t for believers; just for non-believers.”
Today I see things very differently. It began as I looked more closely at the Scriptures, specifically those that spoke of the gospel. Going back to Romans 1:16, I noticed the tense of the verb “believes” is not past but present. In looking more closely at the verse, I realized Paul was saying the power of God is experienced as a person presently believes in the gospel – not as a one time past event but a present ongoing belief. This was a radical revelation.
I began to understand that the salvation Paul is speaking of here in Romans 1:16 is not just a salvation from my sins in the past but an ongoing salvation from my sins in the present, something all of us as believers need – DESPARATELY. I saw that the way we experience the power of God for that salvation is through the gospel.
Paul reiterates this idea in 1Corinthians 15:1,2 – “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” Paul is writing to his friends and fellow believers in Corinth. At the end of the letter, he concludes by saying, “Now, brothers.” I noticed he clearly addresses believers not non-believers. He then says, “I want to remind you of the gospel.” Paul saw that remembering the gospel was essential to believers.
Why? Paul further explains – “By this gospel you are saved.” The ESV says “By this gospel you are being saved.” The verb, saved, is present. Once again pointing to the present impact of the gospel in a believer’s life.
Paul goes on to say this present salvation is experienced “if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” This present salvation isn’t just a given. It is experienced as we believe presently in the gospel. That is why Paul wants to remind them of this gospel. Their present salvation was at stake. Not their future salvation from the penalty of sin but their present salvation from the power of sin.
Otherwise, Paul says, we believe in vain. The vanity or emptiness of our belief that Paul is speaking of here is not that we lose our eternal salvation but that we aren’t experiencing the present effect God designed for the gospel to have in believers’ lives.
So I saw, and hope you see, the gospel is not just for nonbelievers. It is something for believers. Author Jerry Bridges speaks about this idea when he says; “I preach the gospel to myself every day.” I would even go further as to say I want to preach the gospel to myself throughout the day – for as I believe that gospel, the power of God flows into my life to save me in all the ways I need saving.
Who is the Gospel for? It is for you and me and all others who need the power of God in their lives today.