“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying “in you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Gal. 3:8)
There have been many occasions when I have been approached by strangers on the street handing out tracks that have, in their view, the best synopsis of the gospel. Oddly enough, they all have different summaries that emphasize God’s love, God’s wrath, Christ’s return, or Christ’s death but neglect other aspects of the gospel that are equally important. But what if these reductions are not really the gospel in a nutshell and simply necessary parts of the story? The gospel according to Abraham is the gospel “in a nutshell” or in seed form. It is both simple and far-reaching in terms of its application to every culture and nation of the world and is the backdrop of the New Testament’s understanding of what the gospel is. In addition, it provides the correct framework for how to interpret Jesus Christ’s person and work.
Paul, in Galatians 3:8, quotes God’s word to Abraham in Genesis 12, “in you shall all the nations be blessed”. This, Paul says, is the gospel preached to Abraham. This seems like even more of a reduction of the gospel than what’s written on your average gospel track. At first glance, it would seem this way, but to understand how this would be the gospel in a nutshell we need to understand that this was the Old Testament gospel which meant that it was the gospel that we know today in promise form. This was the gospel in seed form but it simply had not sprouted and flowered in Christ yet. And since the promise to Abraham is the seed of the gospel in the Old Testament, the sprouting and eventual flower we know today as the gospel message must always maintain this same essence as being a blessing to the nations when we interpret Christ’s person and work. But how is Christ’s person and work going to bring blessing to the nations?
In short, by redeeming three key areas of life marred by the rebellion of man against God. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promises Abraham (Abram at the time) three things: Land, Seed, and Blessing. Each of these three perspectives of life on earth were marred by Adam’s rebellion. Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden, the land of blessing, the human race was corrupted by sin, and the relational and blessed favor of God had been lost. These three components are the object of Christ’s redemption but on a much larger scale than Abram himself had anticipated. God promised Abram the land of Canaan which is right around where the garden of Eden had been located (the epicenter of God’s presence). God promised Abram a miraculous son who would become a great nation as numerous as the stars and who would also inhabit this land. And God promised Abram his favor as the true source of blessing. So you have a people, in a land, in fellowship with God. Fast forward to the New Covenant, Jesus (the offspring of Abraham) defeats sin, death, and Satan in the city of Jerusalem (Eden/Canaan) by dying and is resurrected in victory as the King of the World and the head of the new humanity. Jesus is the miraculous seed of Abraham through whom a great nation from all nations has come by faith in him. Last, Jesus is both God and man who gives us the blessing of the indwelling Spirit at Pentecost, restoring the blessed favor of God and eternal life on earth, sealed by his resurrection.
In the face of the widespread corruption of mankind in Genesis 1-11, the Abrahamic gospel in Genesis 12 was a sigh of relief and was certainly good news. God intends blessing for the world. In the New Covenant, Jesus is the fulfillment and conduit of this blessing. If you don’t believe in him you put yourself outside of God’s blessing, receive exile from the earth, and fall deeper and deeper into your own corruption. Essentially, you get estrangement from God, de-creation, and eternal death. If you believe in Jesus you get God’s favor, inherit the earth, and acceptance in a family of people united by love for God and one another. You receive redemption, re-creation, and life eternal.
Too often our presentation of the gospel is catered to an American setting with all its implicit biases. If your gospel presentation doesn’t address the bad news of man’s fallen relationship to God, one another, and the earth and God’s grace in Christ to redeem these three relationships then your gospel is more than likely reduced to favor your own cultural context and not the nations. As Americans, we love to emphasize our individual salvation to the neglect of our corporate salvation in the new humanity in the church. We like to emphasize the reception of blessing to the neglect of our mission to be a blessing in every sphere of life. We like to pine away for rest from our work in heaven when our inheritance and home is this earth renewed and filled with joyful workers. If we were to send missionaries out with a gospel catered to an American context I’m afraid people of other nations will be found wanting in terms of how the gospel is good news as it pertains to political oppression, famine, one’s family or tribe, etc. The resurrection of Jesus was not only the first fruit of our individual resurrections it was a first fruit of the immortal quality of the entire creation. In the gospel according to Abraham, all nations and the entire creation are under the scope of God’s redemptive work both through the mission of the church and the providential activity of God’s Spirit in all things. For, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) The gospel according to Abraham confronts every culture’s biases because it is all-encompassing but it will equally bless all nations under the one King, Jesus Christ.