For some, the Gospel of the New Testament is completely different from the doctrine of the New Testament. Because of this supposed difference some have concluded such things as: Fellowship is to be based on Gospel but not doctrine; the Gospel is for non-Christians and doctrine is for Christians; preachers are to preach the Gospel, and therefore a preacher cannot be hired by a congregation of the church for him to preach in that place regularly; a preacher is to preach the Gospel and “leave everyone else alone” by staying away from doctrines upon which men differ; withdrawing fellowship should not be done because of doctrinal differences, etc. We have all seen these ideas advocated and practiced. Because of the importance of understanding these terms, I want to briefly consider the legitimacy of this distinction.
First, the facts and foundation of the Gospel are the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-2). These facts must be believed in order for a person to be saved. Without believing that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day, man will remain lost because he will die in his sins (John 8:24). But the Gospel is not just those facts. In describing the second coming of Christ (when He comes to judge all humanity), Paul indicated that those who “obey not the gospel” will be lost (2 Thess. 1:9). The Gospel facts cannot be obeyed, but the commands of the Gospel must be obeyed. The commands to be obeyed in the Gospel are revealed in Romans 6:3-6:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life…Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
The process of a believer repenting of sins (Acts 17:30) and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins portrays the death and burial of Christ. When that person rises from the watery grave of baptism, the resurrection of Christ is portrayed in symbol. Rising to walk in newness of life indicates continued faithful obedience. The Gospel includes facts, but the Gospel is also something which must be obeyed by man in order to be saved!
Second, doctrine simply means teaching and is sometimes so translated. We read of the early Christians continuing steadfastly in the “apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). The apostles’ doctrine would be a reference to what the apostles taught. The apostles were given their message by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13).
During the first century that message (the apostles’ doctrine) was spoken orally; now the New Testament is that same message (the apostles’ doctrine) in written form (Eph. 3:3-5). Christians today must continue in the apostles’ doctrine. We must teach what they taught. What they taught had to do with the obligations of Christians and non-Christians. The apostles’ doctrine is not just about the responsibilities of Christians in remaining faithful, but also about non-Christians and their obligations in order to be saved. The apostles’ doctrine is the entirety of the New Testament. The New Testament speaks of “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Sound (healthy) doctrine is the New Testament without alterations of any kind.
Gospel and Doctrine
Third, in the New Testament the Gospel is not only directed toward non-Christians and in the New Testament Doctrine is not exclusively for Christians. The Gospel is preached to Christians according to Romans 1:15-16; the Gospel in Mark 16:15-16 is to be taught to non-Christians. The Christian must obey the Gospel or be lost (2 Thess. 1:8-9); so must non-Christians. In the New Testament Doctrine is directed toward Christians (Titus 1:9) and Doctrine is directed toward non-Christians (Acts 5:25; 13:12). The non-Christian will be lost without obeying the Doctrine (Rom. 6:16-17); the Christian who rejects the Doctrine will also be lost (2 John 9-11; Titus 1:9-11). Christians will be saved by the Doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Clearly there is no difference in the New Testament between the Gospel of Christ and the Doctrine of Christ! No legitimate distinction can be made. Both terms refer to the same body of teaching. This same body of information is also called the Faith, the Truth, the Way, the Law of Christ, the Word.
It Does Matter
There is only one Gospel that saves (Gal. 1:6-9; Rom. 1:16); it is the same as the Doctrine of Christ (2 John 9-11). Deviations from that Doctrine (the Gospel) break our fellowship with God. We must not fellowship those who are not in fellowship with God. It does matter what we teach and practice on doctrinal matters! The message of Jesus, the apostles’ doctrine, must be taught to others in its purity (2 Tim. 2:2). We will all ultimately give an account to God of our lives based on the standard of the Gospel, the Word (John 12:48). The doctrine that we believe and practice must be the Doctrine of Christ, the Gospel of Christ!