For a long time much work in the academic world was spent in an effort to recover the original essence of the early preaching of the apostolic gospel (i.e. kerygma). The late British Professor C. H. Dodd (1884-1973) is a classic example of this endeavor and perhaps one of its significant contributors. While at times Dodd makes significant objectionable hard line distinctions (e.g. “teaching” vs. “preaching”), it may be said that his work to recover the outline and thrust of apostolic proclamation of the gospel message is a valuable contribution (Apostolic Preaching. New York: Harper, 1937).
It is likewise an admirable and essential goal, since, as the apostle Paul affirms, the gospel ”is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1.16 ESV). We need to consider the idea of recovering the original response to the apostolic message.
The importance for there to be a recovery of “how” people responded to the Gospel message is found in the next line of Paul’s thought in Romans. The apostle Paul would continue this line of thought by saying:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Rom. 1.18 ESV)
Salvation as understood from reading through Romans 1-3 is actuated by the reception of the Gospel in light of the fact that all people (Jew and Gentile) have transgressed God’s law and are sinners; and therefore, are under the wrath of God.
Humanity is both in need of an Divine “unveiling” (i.e. the meaning of “revealed”) and a solution to this man-induced tension between humanity and their Creator (Rom. 1.16-17). The preaching of the gospel is designed to accomplishes this task, where penitent sinners are to respond with an “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1.5, 16.26).
Despite a theological tendency among some Bible students, that there is nothing you can do to respond to God, a major theme that runs through Romans is that a person must respond to God with a faith that is obedient in order to “obtain” salvation.
We recall again the words of Paul in Romans. When he reminds the Christians in Rome of their conversion, he underscores this very point:
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Rom. 6.16-18 ESV, eph. added)
Paul is very explicit here. “You” refers to the Christians in Rome in their pre-Christian status – namely, as “slaves of sin”. This slave status changed when they demonstrated to ”have become obedient from the heart” to the preaching and teaching of the gospel message (i.e. “the standard of teaching”/”the pattern of teaching”; cf. tupos). And when obedience is rendered to the gospel message, an obedient life of righteousness (“slaves of righteousness”) will be evident.
The Gospel message is therefore the content of the teaching which penitent believers are to obey in order to experience this freedom – a salvation from sin slavery. This echoes quite clearly the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John (8.31-36). The two contexts are complimentary.
A Question of How to Obey
The words of the apostle Paul should dispel any notion that “obedience” is foreign to the redemptive “process”. It certainly is; consequently, here is an important question: If there is a standardized gospel message (“a pattern”) to which a penitent believer is to obey in order to be set free from sin-slavery (salvation), can we detect from the New Testament how a penitent believer is to obey from the heart? In other words, can we learn from the New Testament how individuals who wished to be saved from God’s judgment obeyed the gospel? The answer is “yes”.
To answer this question we must focus attention upon those instances where the gospel message is preached, and observe how penitent believers respond. This would be regarded as primary material. Secondary material would be where New Testament writers allude to the conversion process – this is typically done in the letters when the moral implications of conversion are enforced.
The New Testament document demonstrating most clearly occasions when the gospel is preached and a penitent believer responds is the Book of Acts (see chart below).
The book of Acts recounts the continued labors of Jesus through the ministry of the apostolic circle empowered by the Holy Spirit. Acts 2 recounts the apostolic preaching which ushered in the new era of the resurrected Christ (Matt. 16.18; Mark 9.1; Acts 1.6-8, 2.4; Dan. 2.44-45).
When the Jews had heard the preaching of the works of God, and were convicted in their hearts about their responsibility in the crucifixion of Jesus, whom God has appointed as the Christ, they asked the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” They wanted to know how to be saved. Before you assume anything read the next piece.
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- Dodd, Charles H. The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments. New York: Harper, 1937. For Dodd “the preaching” (1 Cor. 1.21) signifies the message which is preached; consequently, Dodd focuses upon recovering the language, content, and thrust of this redemptive preaching by isolating New Testament passages and brief phrases which provide this datum. Some of Dodd’s hardline distinctions have been criticized. H. C. Brown, Jr., H. Gordon Clinard, Jesse J. Northcutt, and Al Fasol in Steps to the Sermon (Rev. ed. Nashville: B&H, 1996), point out that, “there is not so much a sharp distinction between the gospel content and teaching as there is a vital dependent relationship” (17). Jack P. Lewis rejects Dodd’s meaning of “preaching” all together (Leadership Questions Confronting the Church. Nashville: Christian Communication, 1985; 57).
- Vine, William E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. 2 volumes. Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson, 1984; 2.251. Regarding “standard of teaching” in the ESV, it may be regarded as ”standardized teaching”, and it is necessary to point out that the word translated “standard” is tupos and it basically means “the representation or pattern” of anything. We could translate tupos as it stands along side “teaching” (didache) as the “the boiler plate teaching”, or “the mold of teaching”, and even as “the pattern of teaching”; hence, Paul is referring to a standardized teaching which produced standardized results. The results are emancipation from slavery to sin to a life of freedom, living as a servant of righteousness. You can read the entry online here under the English term “form” (“‘Ensample’: #1. 5179 – tupos“).