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What Sort of Culture Should the Gospel Create?

The Report of the Gospel

You could have heard a pin drop.

Peter had the crowds rapt attention. Of course he did! This crowd, several thousand strong, had just witnessed these twelve Jewish men speaking in a variety of local and regional languages, all at the same time.

Peter, who just weeks before had publicly denied any connection to Jesus, stepped to the front and proclaimed the good news. Far from being drunk at 9am, the crowd was witnessing the long-awaited outpouring of the Holy Spirit because Jesus has been raised from the dead as the Savior of the whole world, the Forgiver of sins.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain,” Peter concludes, “that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36; possibly only my emphasis, but probably not).

The Response to the Gospel

Luke tells us that the crowd is “cut to the heart” by this news (37). They understand both aspects of the gospel: that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord and Savior, and that they are either directly or indirectly culpable in His crucifixion. 

So they ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (37). The question is an evangelist’s dream, and Peter is ready with a response: repent, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Turn away from the life of rejecting Jesus, publicly profess your turning in baptism, and receive the gift of God’s presence with His people - the very gift the crowd was watching on display!

The effect was incredible. “There were added that day about three thousand souls” (41). What a response! The first Spirit-filled proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus sparked a small revival.

The Whole Story?

But here’s the thing: most gospel presentations stop here, with the individual response to the gospel. And most then conclude with the promise of heaven after death. Which is an amazing promise! 

But what about the meantime? What sort of effect should the gospel have on a group of people who are gathered around it? Just like the summer rains cause the grass in my yard to turn green again, what sort of effect should we expect among a people marked by repentance and faith?

We can go to famous passages, like the fruit of the Spirit, to discuss the shape taken by individual transformation, but I’m interested in the culture of a community founded upon the proclamation of, and appropriate response to, the gospel. 

That’s what Luke describes next.

The Result of the Gospel

This group of people, repentant and baptized, newly filled with the Holy Spirit, becomes a distinct community. It has certain attributes to it, like any community has. These attributes are directly linked to the gospel itself. The straight line that begins at gospel proclamation and runs through repentance ends in gospel culture.

That’s where my mind has set up camp this year. What attributes should our church have if the gospel is correctly proclaimed and repentance fills the air?

According to Acts 2, gospel culture begins with a resilient devotion, a commitment to prevail in a set of behaviors whatever headwinds we might face. The devotion of the early church was to apostolic teaching, fellowship, shared meals, prayer, radical generosity, and grateful simplicity. This community went far beyond church gatherings to homes, vocations, and dinner tables. 

Gospel culture infused the whole life of the believer.

Looking Ahead

Over the course of this year, I’ll explore each of those devotions, plus some other aspects to the passage. But worth noting is the absence of a discipleship strategy or process. 

Instead, this culture was marked by what church historian Alan Kreider calls a “patient ferment” within the early church, a process of growth that “was not susceptible to human control, and its pace could not be sped up. But in the ferment there was a bubbling energy…that had immense potential” (3).

With the right ingredients and the right environment, the gospel will produce a community of people who love each other as Christ loved them first; which, after all, is how we’re supposed to be known anyway (John 13:34-35).
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