Dr. R.C. Sproul ended the conference with a message called Back to Basics. What are the Basics? Dr. Sproul read from Romans 1:1-7. Paul calls himself a slave and notes that he is called for a particular task, that of proclaiming the "gospel of God". The construction "of" is possessive -- Paul has been set apart for a gospel that is God's gospel. It is His gospel, and He will judge us by how we handle His gospel.
What is the gospel not? It is not "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life". That may or may not be true, but it is not the gospel. It is not "God gives you meaning for life". That is certainly true, but it is not the gospel. Even our personal testimonies (as helpful as they might be to our friends and relatives) are not the gospel.
The "gospel" is the "evangel", and the prefix of "evangel" is "eu" which means good (as in "euphemism"). The root of the word "angel" or "messenger" has the idea of "message". So the "evangel" is the "good news."
A THREE-FOLD PROGRESSION OF THE WORD "GOSPEL"
1. In the old days, villages had watch towers in which they could see, from a distance, the approaching of a messenger. And messengers would bring news from the battlefield. Those in the watch tower could tell from the gait of the messenger whether the battle had been won or lost. That's why they said, "How lovely on the mountain are the feet of him who brings good tidings!"
2. But there is another sense in which Jesus and His contemporaries used this word "gospel". To them, it was the gospel of the kingdom of God. The gospel was the good news of the arrival of the kingdom of God, in the form of the crown Prince, who was on the scene, and on His way to His ascension as the King of King and Lord of Lords.
3. Then there was another shift in the epistles from the Kingdom in general to the King in particular. It now became known as the gospel of Jesus Christ - the good news of His person and work of salvation for all who believe on Him.
The first expression of the gospel came on the flip side of an announcement of judgment (Gen. 3:14-15). The servant receives a word of condemnation in the same breadth in which He expresses a promise for the redemption of His people.
Years later, we see the fulfillment of Gen 3:14-15 in Luke 1:28-35, when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced that she would conceive and give birth to the Son of God. Later, the angels also bore witness to the gospel (Luke 2:10-13).
THE OBJECTIVE ELEMENTS OF THE GOSPEL
God's gospel is why Paul was set apart. The gospel of God has both objective and subjective elements. Objectively, the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, being born under the law, as a human, living a perfect life (by the aid of the Holy Spirit), AND giving His life as a substitutionary sacrifice for others.
At the very heart of the gospel of God is the active obedience of Jesus Christ. It is not just about the death of Jesus Christ. He was born under the law, and it was necessary for Jesus to fulfill all righteousness (hence the baptism of Jesus by John). Jesus lived a perfect life, and then gave His life to satisfy the demands of God's righteousness. In His death, He expiates our sins, and propitiates God's wrath.
But it does not stop there. If you stop there, you have a dead Savior. No, by the power of the Holy Spirit He was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and promises to return to consummate His kingdom.
THE SUBJECTIVE ELEMENTS OF THE GOSPEL
Look at the Protestant Reformation - the battle of the 16th century wasn't so much about the Pope, or the function of Mary, or praying to the saints, or holy water, or even confession. The issue was: What must I do to be saved? How are the benefits of the work of Christ appropriated to us? How does that objective (historical) activity subjectively change or benefit me?
Paul's answer to this question is that we are justified by faith alone. Catholicism has always taught that justification is by faith, and by grace. But the word on which the Catholic church choked to death was alone. The very moment one believes in Jesus, they possess a righteousness that is perfect -- right now. Not because it is inherent (in you) -- no, but because it is imputed to you. It is a righteousness that is "extra nos" (apart from us). And it is appropriated to us by faith alone.
This matter was so important that Paul said that if anyone declared another gospel "let him be anathema." You cannot improve upon it! My seat in heaven is secured because my Savior has already saved me. I am being sanctified, and am not yet glorified. But my Savior has won my righteousness.
Without sola fide, you don't have a gospel. And without imputation, you don't have sola fide. The gospel is all about Jesus Christ, His person and His work. And a fine, wonderful gospel it is.