Bible Study – The Heart of the Gospel

If you are able to make an hour available for Bible study, I would recommend this very highly. Conducted earlier this morning in Dallas, this study by Dr. Steve Lawson centers on Romans 3:21-26. Before you start watching, I encourage everyone to have note paper and pen ready in order to take notes, as Dr. Lawson outlines “The Heart of the Gospel” under 9 headings. You will find it as the top feature at this link: – again, its wonderful material.

Simul Justus Et Peccator

Joyce Meyer denies she is a sinner.

I’m with Dr. R. C. Sproul on this. Here he explains the essence of the Reformation view of justification and Martin Luther’s latin phrase, “Simul Justus et Peccator.”


Perhaps the formula that Luther used that is most famous and most telling at this point is his formula simul justus et peccator. And if any formula summarizes and captures the essence of the Reformation view, it is this little formula. Simul is the word from which we get the English word simultaneously. Or, it means ‘at the same time.’ Justus is the Latin word for just or righteous. And you all know what et is. Et the past tense of the verb ‘to eat.’ Have you et your dinner? No, you know that’s not what that means. You remember in the death scene of Caesar after he’s been stabbed by Brutus he says, “Et tu, Brute?” Then fall Caesar. And you too Brutus? It simply means and. Peccator means sinner.

And so with this formula Luther was saying, in our justification we are one and the same time righteous or just, and sinners. Now if he would say that we are at the same time and in the same relationship just and sinners that would be a contradiction in terms. But that’s not what he was saying. He was saying from one perspective, in one sense, we are just. In another sense, from a different perspective, we are sinners; and how he defines that is simple. In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God’s scrutiny, we still have sin; we’re still sinners. But, by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous. This is the very heart of the gospel.

Will I be judged in order to get into heaven by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ? If I had to trust in my righteousness to get into heaven, I would completely and utterly despair of any possibility of ever being redeemed. But when we see that the righteousness that is ours by faith is the perfect righteousness of Christ, then we see how glorious is the good news of the gospel. The good news is simply this, I can be reconciled to God, I can be justified by God not on the basis of what I did, but on the basis of what’s been accomplished for me by Christ.

But at the heart of the gospel is a double-imputation. My sin is imputed to Jesus. His righteousness is imputed to me. And in this two-fold transaction we see that God, Who does not negotiate sin, Who doesn’t compromise His own integrity with our salvation, but rather punishes sin fully and really after it has been imputed to Jesus, retains His own righteousness, and so He is both just and the justifier, as the apostle tells us here. So my sin goes to Jesus, His righteousness comes to me in the sight of God.

What Does "Simul Justus et Peccator" Mean? from Ligonier Ministries on Vimeo.

For more on this theme – here is Dr. John MacArthur:

By Design

At the very center of the God’s work of atonement is One called the Lamb of God, who took the place of sinners as the sin-bearing Substitute, absorbing the very real wrath we deserved from a Holy God. And all of this was by design; God saving us from Himself by means of the Redeemer.

Isaiah 53:
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The Gospel & The True Christian

Recording from the conference “Back to the Word of God” at Holmavatn Mission Center in Rogaland, Norway in January, 2014.

Paul Washer:

Paul Washer preaches from 1 Timothy 3:14 – 4:16 about the importance of preaching the gospel. The gospel is the only message that both saves and sanctifies us, and he warns us not to change our focus to something else in the message we proclaim.

Translation into Norwegian by Bjorn Storm Johansen. Recording from meeting at Vigrestad Misjonshus on January 20, 2014.

The gospel should be the main focus of our preaching:

1. The power of the gospel – Romans 1:16

2. Preach the gospel – 1 Tim 3:14 – 4:5

3. God’s holiness and man’s depravity – Romans 3

4. The Gospel of justification and redemption – Rom 3:23,25

5. The power of regeneration – 2 Cor 5:17-18

6. Assurance of Salvation – 1 John 5:13

Distortions of the Gospel

R J Grunewald:

The greatest threat to the Christian Church is not the culture we live in. Despised the ever-present culture-wars, it is not the greatest potential of damage to the Church. Christianity has faced cultures far more hostile to the Christian faith and have experienced exponential growth.

The greatest threat to the Christian Church is not those on the outside of the Church, it’s those on the inside.

On the inside of the Church, wolves creep in and twist, misuse, and abandon God’s Word. The insiders use the right words, but use them the wrong ways. They make people feel motivated, but they mix and mingle words in a way that doesn’t point people to the work of Jesus. They muddy the waters of law and grace and leave people confused at best, condemned at worst.

Because this threat comes often from within the Church, it can be incredibly difficult to detect. Teachers with Bible’s in their hands, good intentions, and a large following will inspire and motivate, all the while failing to give people what they need the most.

I want to highlight three of what I’d suggest are the most prevalent and foundational distortions of the Gospel. They aren’t the only distortions, but they are incredibly dangerous and have many other distortions that build upon them.

Distortions of the Gospel


Legalism elevates the rules and ignores the Gospel. It’s an abandonment of God’s Two Words for a self-righteous preference for One Word (Law). It focuses on behavior and obedience and minimizes the possibility of failure to obey. Often for the legalist, grace is a past event but not a present reality. Grace got them in, but it’s their effort that keeps them in and progresses them along the way. For the legalist, assurance is always found in good behavior. Instead of an objective act – like the cross – they look to their own devotion, obedience, and commitment.

Legalism creates a dishonest church.

Because legalism requires that we behave in order to belong, we learn to create a facade of holiness. If obedience is how we are accepted by God or your church family, we figure out how to keep the mess hidden.

Consider these words from psychologist Henry Cloud:

“It is interesting to compare a legalistic church with a good AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] group. In the church, it is culturally unacceptable to have problems; that is called being sinful. In the AA group, it is culturally unacceptable to be perfect; that is called denial. In one setting people look better but get worse, and in the other, they look worse but get better.”

Does the Church have a problem with denial?

Grace frees you to put down your masks. Jesus frees you to be the mess that you are. He frees you to stop pretending you’re good enough and trust him to be the one that is good enough.


Lawlessness is the opposite end of the pendulum. Where legalism elevates the law and dismisses grace, lawlessness elevates grace and dismisses the law. The problem with this distortion of course is what we lose when we lose the law.

The primary function of the Law is to expose us. It reveals that we’re far worse than we thought. Sin is the problem. But if you lose the law, you’re also eliminating an awareness of this problem. And if you are not exposed to your sin, what is the need for a Savior?

The danger with lawlessness is that the lawless will wax poetic about grace, love, and acceptance but never get beyond a hypothetical concept of sin and grace. And that’s a problem. If we only hypothetically know of sin, we only experience a hypothetical forgiveness. If we aren’t willing to call sin a sin, we want look for a real, flesh and blood forgiveness.


Unlike the previous two, this distortion maintains both Law and Gospel, but mixes, mingles, and confuses the two.

Glawspel is when people are giving the commands of God, revealing our sin and calling it grace. This distortion is dangerous because it leads to confusion and despair. We despair as grace is always out of reach and full of burdens.

For example, you could hear a preacher say, “Grace demands that give up whatever is getting in the way of following Jesus.” Or, “Grace requires that you let go of your idols and hold on to Jesus.”

These could sound good if you weren’t listening closely. But think about it, they are impossible statements. And they do nothing but pull us away from the work of grace. Jesus makes demands, he has requirements and rules. He might even tell us to get rid of our idols, but it’s still the Law.

The Law and the Gospel don’t do the same thing; let’s keep our categories straight.

Grace doesn’t make demands, it only gives. And grace always gives to people who can’t meet the demands.

This is why Paul writes:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” – Galatians 1:6-7
A distortion of the Gospel is no Gospel at all. Don’t settle for a mediocre Gospel that burdens and doesn’t ever deliver. Jesus gives what no other ‘gospel’ gives: grace and peace.

The Meaning of “Gospel”

The following excerpt is taken from R.C. Sproul’s commentary on Romans, published by Crossway.

Sproul_blog2The gospel is the possession of Jesus, but, even more, Jesus is the heart of the content of the gospel.

We use it so glibly in the church today. Preachers say they preach the gospel, but if we listen to them preach Sunday after Sunday, we hear very little gospel in what they are preaching. The term gospel has become a nickname for preaching anything rather than something with definitive content. The word for “gospel” is the word euangelion. It has that prefix eu-, which comes into English in a variety of words. We talk about euphonics or euphonious music, which refers to something that sounds good. We talk about a eulogy, which is a good word pronounced about someone at his funeral service. The prefix eu- refers to something good or pleasant. The word angelos or angelion is the word for “message.” Angels are messengers, and an angelos is one who delivers a message.

This word euangelion, which means “good message” or “good news,” has a rich background in the Old Testament. There, the basic meaning of the term gospel was simply an announcement of a good message. If a doctor came to examine a sick person and afterward declared that the problem was nothing serious, that was gospel or good news. In ancient days when soldiers went out to battle, people waited breathlessly for a report from the battlefield about the outcome. Once the outcome was known, marathon runners dashed back to give the report. That is why Isaiah wrote, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” (Isa. 52:7). The watchman in the watchtower would look as far as the eye could see into the distance. Finally, he would see the dust moving as the runner sped back to the city to give the report of the battle. The watchmen were trained to tell by the way the runner’s legs were churning whether the news was good or bad. If the runner was doing the survival shuffle, it indicated a grim report, but if his legs were flying and the dust was kicking up, that meant good news. That is the concept of gospel in its most rudimentary sense.

When we come to the New Testament, we find three distinct ways in which the term gospel is used. First, we have four books in the New Testament that we call Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These books are biographical portraits of Jesus. Gospel in this sense describes a particular form of literature. During the earthly ministry of Jesus, the term gospel was linked not particularly with the person of Jesus but with the kingdom of God. John the Baptist is introduced as one who comes preaching the gospel, and his message is “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2).

Jesus did the same in his parables, proclaiming, “the kingdom of God is like . . .” On the lips of Jesus, the gospel was about the dramatic moment in history when, through the long-awaited Messiah, the kingdom of God had broken through in time and space. The good news was the good news of the kingdom. By the time the epistles were written, particularly the Pauline epistles, the term gospel had taken on a new shade of understanding. It had become the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gospel had a clear content to it. At the heart of this gospel was the announcement of who Jesus was and what he had accomplished in his lifetime.

If we give our testimony to our neighbors, saying, “I became a Christian last year. I gave my heart to Jesus,” we are bearing witness about Jesus, but we are not telling them the gospel, because the gospel is not about us. The gospel is about Jesus—what he did, his life of perfect obedience, his atoning death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven, and his outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church. We call those crucial elements the objective aspects of the New Testament gospel of Christ.

In addition to the person and work of Jesus, there is also in the New Testament use of the term gospel the question of how the benefits accomplished by the objective work of Jesus are subjectively appropriated to the believer. First, there is the question of who Jesus was and what he did. Second is the question of how that benefits you and me. That is why Paul conjoins the objective account of the person and work of Jesus (particularly to the Galatians) with the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which is essential to the gospel. In preaching the gospel we preach about Jesus, and we preach about how we are brought into a saving relationship with him.

The gospel is under attack in the church today. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get the gospel right and to understand both the objective aspect of the person and work of Jesus and the subjective dimension of how we benefit from that by faith alone.

Recently, a Protestant seminary professor, supposedly evangelical, was quoted to me as having said that the doctrine of imputation—by which our sins are transferred to Christ on the cross and his righteousness is transferred to us by faith—is of human invention and has nothing to do with the gospel. I wanted to weep when I heard that. It just underscored how delicate the preservation of the gospel is in our day and how careful the church has to be in every age to guard that precious good news that comes to us from God.