Essay / Theology

The Deep Things of God: The Gospel

Let’s go inside of the place Paul takes us in First Corinthians 2: secret wisdom only available through a Spirit who searches the deep things of God; a knowledge of God’s ways that is only possible if you have the mind of the Messiah. How far in to the deep things of God does this revelation through the Son and the Spirit go?

It’s sort of like asking how much does God love us?

The indicator of how much God loves us is how much he gave to accomplish our salvation. Paul drives this point home as the climax of his far-ranging argument in Romans 8, grounding Christian hope and assurance in the fact that since God has already given his own Son, it obviously follows that nothing is too great for God to give. Dwight L. Moody, sometimes called “Mr. Evangelical,” preached frequently on this theme, and one of his last sermons was on the text of Romans 8:

Now Paul puts some questions. ‘Who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also give us freely all things?’ (verse 32). When God the Father gave Christ, the Son of His bosom, He literally gave up all that heaven had. He gave the richest jewel that heaven possessed. And if He has given us His Son, is there anything too great for us to ask? If a man should give me a diamond worth one hundred thousand dollars, I think I would make bold to ask him for a little piece of brown paper to carry it away in. If the Lord has given me the Son of His bosom, I can ask for anything. How shall He not freely give us all things?

When we consider the gospel of salvation in Christ, we are not dealing with the outer fringes of God’s ways, but with the very core and center of who God is. God is not trifling with us in the gospel, but opening up in the most intimate way his very heart. Of course God remains incomprehensible, mysterious, and far above all created things in a way that is not at all diminished by the way he makes himself lavishly available to fallen humanity in the economy of salvation. But his infinite transcendence over all created things cannot be construed as any kind of reserve or standoffishness. The Father’s giving of the Son renders the idea of a standoffish God impossible. Having sent servants already, God takes the ultimate step and reaches out to his people by sending an agent more dear and intimate to himself: “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.”

The Puritan pastor Thomas Goodwin brought all of these insights together tersely when he said that “the things of the gospel are depths —the things of the gospel…are the deep things of God.” Goodwin loved to ponder the many ways in which the gospel was a mystery. He noted that this gospel was the thing into which prophets “inquired and searched diligently,” and that angels “longed to look into” its content. But beyond this, Goodwin said, it was a mystery in the sense that God himself considered it uniquely precious, because it “lay (as I may so speak) at the bottom of his heart, the great secrets, which he esteemed such even from everlasting.” Here in First Corinthians, er, Paul puts great emphasis on how profound, secret, and inaccessible to human understanding the blessings of the gospel are. What has been made known to us in the gospel is “what God has prepared for those who love him,” and far from being conformable to human wisdom, it is something which

no eye has seen,
nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,

words which most Christians probably associate with heaven, but which Paul clearly intends with reference to the present revelation of the gospel. If this divine wisdom has now been handed over to us in the gospel, it is by miracle, because these are things whose origins lie so deep within the heart of God that only God can know them. The mystery of the gospel is locked up inside of God, and can only be communicated by someone who is God. Paul underlines this three different ways:

We speak God’s wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory

To us God has revealed them through the Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. Who knows the mind of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.

Who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

The predestining Father determined this mystery; and the depth-searching Spirit has access to these depths because he is as intimate with God as my spirit is with me. The analogy is not absolute here: In my case, my spirit is not another person. Another contrast is that the human spirit doesn’t actually always know what’s in your heart. We don’t have the kind of perfect self-knowledge that God has of himself. Our capacity for self-deception is pretty impressive, as you may have had occasion to experience in your life. Not so with God.

But that same Spirit has revealed them to us, and we therefore have come into harmony with the mind of Christ, the one who knows the mind of the Lord.

We can set aside for a moment the Trinitarian character of that answer, the threefoldness. Just note that the Spirit and Christ have brought out into the open a mystery which has its natural home at the center of God’s heart, at the depth of his life. This opened secret is the gospel. It has such a profound and divine character that even to make it known, God must give himself over for its revelation. He gives himself to us in the Son and the Spirit. That revelatory self-giving is perfectly in line with the content of the thing revealed, which is that God gives himself to us to be our salvation.

This is where things line up so well with the Old Testament again, where God doesn’t say, “I’ll make some salvation and send it to you in a package,” but instead says “I will BE your salvation.” And the Psalmist says, “The Lord my God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Not, “he built my salvation” or “he delegated my salvation,” or “he caused my salvation to come about,” but that Yahweh himself put himself forward as the salvation of his people. That unfolds in the New Testament when we see the giving of the Son and the Spirit in the gospel. He does not dispense blessings, but himself.

This is salvation by God’s self-giving. That’s pretty high-falutin’ theologizing, even if you leave the Trinitarian part out of it. But it’s also immediately relevant to our lives.

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