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What is the “Everlasting Gospel”?
Festschrift for Jack Blanco, by Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D. ©2004

John the Revelator tells us that a movement would arise sometime before the end of the world, before Jesus returns, “having the “everlasting gospel”[1] to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come” (Revelation 14:6,7).[2] Those who respond to this gospel” are described in verse 12 as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”[3]

This “everlasting gospel” focuses on (1) God to whom worship and obedience are due and on (2) a people who “give glory to Him” during the time of His judgment.

Why is this emphasis on the ”everlasting gospel” so timely, so important, so necessary?  Apparently there is something about the “gospel” that had been muted or muddled for some time, requiring this special heavenly intervention to set matters right, especially at this foretold time of “His judgment.”

 A brief overview of church history for the past 2000 years highlights the remarkable confusion regarding the gospel that has existed since the early centuries.  Where would one go during the Protestant Reformation to find the “everlasting gospel”?  With whom should we agree—Luther or Calvin or Zwingli, or the Anabaptists, or the Papacy when it comes to what is involved in the plan of salvation?  In the nineteenth century, would we agree with Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Baptists? 

Most Protestants and Catholics would agree that Jesus died for our sins. But this common agreement, in itself, did (and does) not seem to spell out a common understanding of the gospel.  What seems to be going on here? If the gospel is more than telling the story of Christ’s death, what is that something more?  And why was an end-time correction needed in order for God to get His final message across to seekers of truth.  The question seems to stare us in the face: What is so helpful, so unambiguous, about the “everlasting gospel” that tells the truth about God and prepares a people for His coming?

One of my favorite gospel songs is, “Because He Lives.” Its message is comforting.  But the first stanza, true as it is, gives only part of the gospel, “He lived and died to buy my pardon.” However, another one of my favorite hymns, “Rock of Ages,” emphasizes the full gospel in its first stanza, “Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power.”

All of which leads to the question, Is the gospel primarily forgiveness (pardon)?  Or is there more?

One of the several ways to define the “everlasting gospel” would be to ask four questions: Why did Jesus die?  Why did He come to earth?  Why does misunderstanding faith create limited gospels? And, what is the purpose, or goal, of the gospel?    

Why did Jesus die?

"[Jesus] gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).  Here, as in so many other biblical themes, the ellipse of truth[4] kicks in.  Jesus died (1) to redeem us and (2) to purify His special people for good works.

A inspired writer amplified Paul’s good news: “How could He give you any stronger evidence of His love than He gave when He died for you on Calvary’s cross?  He died that you might have power to break with Satan, that you might cast off his hellish shackles, and be delivered from his power.  Jesus paid your ransom with His own blood, and shall He have died for you in vain?”[5]

Notice the ellipse of truth again: He died that (1) we might have” power” over Satan as well as (2) that the “ransom” should be paid by His blood.  As the hymn put it, cleansed from “its guilt and power.”

All this is surely good news!  The “everlasting gospel” flows out of this elliptical gift of grace.  To ignore either foci of the ellipse is to proclaim a limited, inadequate gospel. Throughout Paul’s letters, especially Romans, we hear the full-orbed gospel.  Paul never tires of emphasizing how we are both “justified by His blood” and (2) “set free from sin and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Romans 5:9, 6:22).

The pity throughout Christian history is that various groups have concentrated on one focus of the ellipse of truth, or the other.  Mighty clashes have originated by well-meaning leaders who focused either on Christ’s gift of grace in terms of Sacrifice or on His gift of grace in terms of Example.  Both are right in what they emphasize, but dead wrong in what they omit.  We often call these groups, the Objectivists and the Subjectivists.  At the risk of over- generalizing, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists would tend to be Objectivists and Quakers, Pentecostals, and Methodists would tend to be Subjectivists.

The history of Christianity has been an oscillation, a see-saw, between prevailing sentiments of the Objectivists and the inevitable reaction of the Subjectivists.  The Objectivists emphasize the objectivity of truth and the Subjectivists, its subjectivity.  The Objectivists tend to emphasize unduly God’s sovereignty and irresistible grace; the result is most often a focus on doctrine and compliance with external requirements.  For Objectivists, the primary purpose of grace becomes the gift of pardon (certainly a gift we all need and are eternally grateful for) but not also a gift that goes on to transform the sinner’s life as also a part of the plan of salvation.  As some say, grace is God’s amazing objective gift, not linked to any subjectivity within the believer’s experience.  The question remains: is there something more that also is done in and through the believer.[6] 

Subjectivists react to what seems to be the Objectivist’s little regard for experience, reason and feeling in the human response to Christ’s atonement. However, Subjectivists often over stress experience and reason as the test of truth.  In doing so, God’s authority and His revelation is often minimized.  Grace then tends to be defined in terms of warm feelings and  “what seems right for me.”  Many modern gospel hymns emphasize this subjective response to God’s grace, such as my earlier reference to “He Lives.”  But in so doing, the biblical emphasis on “doing” the will of God (Matt. 7:21-29) is strangely muted—the ten commandments, for example, often becomes only great advice.

Misunderstanding Faith

The fundamental misunderstanding of faith is perhaps the core reason for the multiplicity of Christian churches.  When New Testament faith is misunderstood we have not only a limited gospel but also wide variances in the interpretation of almost every other biblical doctrine. 

Part of the confusion over the meaning of faith in English is that we don’t have a verb form for “faith.” We do for most nouns, such as the swimmer swims, the hunter hunts, the runner runs, etc. But it is awkward to say, the faithful person faiths!  In the Greek, the language of the New Testament, we have no problem!  The noun is pistis and the verb, pisteuin. Unfortunately pistis becomes “faith” and pisteuin to “believe.”    The same awkwardness happened to fides and credere in Latin and foi and croire in French.  Why this strange disconnect between noun and verb? This all happened because translators thought of faith as primarily a mental act.

When one recites John 3:16 in English, for example, this disconnect is obvious and has led many into a very limited gospel: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The verb, “believes” should be translated, “have faith.” That goes for about every instance where “believe” is noted in the New Testament when it refers to a person’s response to God. To miss this point is to misunderstand dozens of N.T. texts such as Hebrews 3:19: “So we see that they [the Israelites] could not enter in because of unbelief.” “Unbelief” should have been translated, “lack of faith,” a totally different direction of thinking.

In general, faith describes the mental process by which we believe something on the basis of evidence or authority.  We place value on that evidence and act accordingly.  Its value or worth depends upon the quality of person or concept that evokes conviction and commitment.  It follows then that faith in error will not produce the fruit of truth no matter how sincere a person may be!  That is why White wrote: “Faith is the medium through which truth or error finds a lodging place in the mind.  It is by the same act of mind that truth or error is received, but it makes a decided difference whether we believe the Word of God or the sayings of men.”[7]

Biblical faith is unique and specific.  It describes the person we choose to believe, trust, and obey—and that person is God.  This principle is vital—the object of faith determines its value. Therefore, it is very important that what or whom we have faith in, is really the truth and worth our confidence!

Biblical faith involves the intellect, the will, and commitment. But it is none of these in themselves. Biblical faith is simply the man or woman saying, “Yes” to whatever God has said and wherever He wants to lead.  Why?  Because men and women of faith know that God is worth believing, worth trusting, worth obeying.  Further, they have learned assurance by personally believing, trusting, and obeying God.[8]

Such faith transforms men and women.  It is more than an intellectual experience, more than an emotional high and warm, fuzzy feelings.  Faith is more than believing—it is a happening.  A new power, a new principle of action, takes over a person’s life.[9]

Now we can easily see why faith is the only condition for salvation.  It drives Paul’s classic formula of salvation: “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) But because faith has been misunderstood since the first century A.D., we can better understand why Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Methodists have a difficult time explaining this text to each other.

Paul is telling us that salvation is not by grace alone or faith alone.  Salvation is not all God’s work nor is it all man’s. The ellipse of salvation-truth with its two foci—grace and faith—must not be manhandled to fit someone’s notion of salvation.  Overemphasizing one focus in the ellipse of salvation-truth diminishes the other and destroys the integrity of truth.  We would have “another gospel.”

Paul is simply saying that faith is the condition that makes salvation possible.  Faith is not the cause—grace is.  Although faith does not possess merit in itself, the absence of faith frustrates grace.  Grace is whatever God has done, is doing, and will do for men and women.  Our human minds cannot fathom what it all means. But in God’s great plan to restore everything damaged by sin, God looks for our response to His grace.

Paul understood this grace-faith ellipse.  His writings show the danger of making two competing circles out of one ellipse.  But the history of the Christian church shows that Paul’s counsel has been misinterpreted.  Two groups arose, each one emphasizing one side of the ellipse at the expense of the other.  We call them either antinomians (God’s grace trumps God’s law) or legalists who believe that even worthy acts in some way either earn God’s love and approval or helps to secure the assurance of salvation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out plainly against these two perennial theological errors that exist whenever Christians misunderstand the gospel, that is, the New Testament relationship between grace and faith: “The truth is that so long as we hold both sides of the proposition together they contain nothing inconsistent with the right belief, but as soon as one is divorced from the other, it is bound to prove a stumbling block. ‘Only those who believe [have faith] obey’ is what we say to that part of a believer’s soul which obeys, and ‘only those who obey believe [have faith]’ is what we say to that part of the soul of the obedience which believes.  If the first half of the proposition stands alone, the believer is exposed to the dangers of cheap grace, which is another word for damnation.  If the second half stands alone, the believer is exposed to the danger of salvation through works, which is also another word for damnation.”[10]

In many ways biblical writers recognized the ellipse of salvation-truth.  Paul said it clearly: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  And John: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

In other words, grace comes with two hands providing pardon (mercy) and power.  Faith extends its empty hands and gets exactly what it needs, the grace of forgiveness, on one hand, and the grace to empower the life to overcome hereditary and cultivated tendencies to sin, on the other.  We are not describing two kinds of faith any more than two sides of a sheet of paper become two separate pieces.

 This is why faith embraces all that a responsible person does in responding to God’s grace.  God gave all created beings the freedom of choice.  All created beings are free to respond to His biddings or to go off listening to a different drummer.  A responsible person is “able to respond;” and never unresponsible.  Irresponsible yes, but that is a human choice, the downside of “faith.”

After saying all this, we must emphasize that faith is not an end in itself.  It is more than a passive response to God’s grace.  Paul was clear: “Faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). The end of all God’s plans for us is that we change our self-centered lives in every respect and become truly loving, to Him and everyone else we meet daily.  Faith is the path, spontaneous love is the goal.

Understanding the meaning of faith and its goal helps us to sort out the deep crevices between various church groups.  The Great Controversy Theme keeps the ellipse of salvation-truth in the core of every theological discussion. God, who has watched the seeds of sin bearing bitter fruit, does not play word-games with men and women.  The conflict has always been from the beginning— faith or rebellion, obedience or disobedience, love or self-centeredness.  Thus, every key biblical word must be understood in the light of the purpose of the gospel.

For instance, note how “forgiveness” takes on a larger meaning when considered from the standpoint of the Great Controversy Theme: “Forgiveness has a broader meaning than many suppose. . . . God's forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart. David had the true conception of forgiveness when he prayed, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.’ Psalm 51:10.”[11]

Also, “To be pardoned in the way that Christ pardons, is not only to be forgiven, but to be renewed in the spirit of our mind. The Lord says, ‘A new heart will I give unto thee.’ . . .Without the transforming process which can come alone through divine power, the original propensities to sin are left in the heart in all their strength, to forge new chains, to impose a slavery that can never be broken by human power. But men can never enter heaven with their old tastes, inclinations, idols, ideas, and theories. Heaven would be no place of joy to them; for everything would be in collision with their tastes, appetites, and inclinations, and painfully opposed to their natural and cultivated traits of character.” [12]

All this highlights the reasons why Jesus came to earth. For example, “God loved the world so dearly that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever would accept Him might have power to live His righteous life. Christ proved that it is possible for man to lay hold by faith on the power of God. He showed that the sinner, by repentance and the exercise of faith in the righteousness of Christ, can be reconciled to God, and become a partaker of the divine nature, overcoming the corruption that is in the world through lust.”13

Does all this add to the urgency of those living in the end times?  Without doubt!  We have looked earlier at Revelation 14:12 where John describes God’s loyalists in the end time—they have learned how to endure tough times (KJV, NKJV, “patience” but “endurance” more accurate), they have found that the “faith of Jesus” makes commandment-keeping a joy and a privilege.  The faith of Jesus is the mirror side of commandment keeping.  How could one divide our Lord’s faith and His commandment keeping?  And that is one way of looking at the purpose of the gospel—“The gospel of Christ is the law exemplified in character.”14

Why Jesus Came

When we understand New Testament faith, then we can better understand why Jesus came to Planet Earth.  Matthew notes that our Lord was called Jesus, “for He will save His people from their sins” (1:21). John wrote that “the purpose of the Son of God was . . . that He might destroy the works of the devil “ (1 John 3:8); Jesus said that He came that “they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). And further, hours before Calvary, He affirmed one of His reasons for coming to earth: “I have glorified You on the earth, I finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4 

But Jesus was not yet finished in that magnificent prayer of John 17.  For many reasons He then emphasized how His coming would benefit His believers: “Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth. As You have sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (verses 17, 18).

In the light of these texts, we can better appreciate the following insight: “Jesus came to bring moral power to combine with human effort, and in no case are His followers to allow themselves to lose sight of Christ, who is their example in all things. . . . Jesus presents the truth before His children that they may look upon it, and by beholding it, may become changed, being transformed by His grace from transgression to obedience, from impurity to purity, from sin to heart-holiness and righteousness of life.”15

Thus Jesus came, not only to die the sinner’s death, but to live the sinner’s transformed life, not only to be his Sacrifice but also his Example. He came not only to reveal the truth about God but also to reveal the truth about what men and women can be through His saving grace.

The purpose of the gospel

Again, the ellipse of truth helps us to wrap together our Lord’s twin purposes imbedded in (1) Christ’s mission to earth, (2) why He died, and (3) the purpose of the gospel.  The purpose of the gospel  is to make all this plain. The “everlasting gospel” in the end-times restores the New Testament gospel in its wholeness, in its integrity.  It explains God’s plan to save men and women in such a way that their presence in the new earth would not jeopardize again the well-being and security of the universe.

Thus the gospel is not limited to the good news of His pardon and forgiveness. It presents the ellipse of truth that reveals the integrity of God’s grace as including His forgiveness and His power to transform.  This gospel ellipse is revealed beautifully in Hebrews as “mercy” and “grace to help”: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).  John expressed the same good news as “forgiveness” and “cleansing”: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The “everlasting gospel” adds much more to limited gospels that focus only on one half of the gospel ellipse. “The religion of Christ means more than the forgiveness of sin; it means taking away our sins, and filling the vacuum with the graces of the Holy Spirit.  It . . . means a heart emptied of self. . . . The glory, the fulness, the completeness of the gospel plan is fulfilled in the life.”16

So (listening again to Revelation 14), the “everlasting gospel” will get a fair and full hearing in the end-times. Limited gospels that ridicule adherence to God’s expressed will as being legalism and thus outside of the gospel will appear inadequate under the clarifying searchlight of the “everlasting gospel”.  Limited gospels that cry “legalism” at any attempt to embrace faithful obedience will be seen as contrary to the message of New Testament grace (Acts 5:31,32; 6:7; 24:24, 25; 26:20; Romans 1:5, 16; 16:26).

According to John, those who respond to the wonderful truths in the “everlasting gospel” are described as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev.14:12).  If the works of Satan (which Jesus came to destroy) are embraced in the word, “sin,” and if the “essence of sin is to allow ourselves to become a contradiction of God’s will,”17 then those who respond to the “everlasting gospel” are most grateful for God’s will to be made very evident in their lives.

Thus, in the days when the “everlasting gospel” is heard again with New Testament precision and passion, Paul’s constant refrain in all his epistles will be heard again: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.  Prove yourselves.  Do you not know yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians. 13:5).  Only God’s magnificent grace can keep the vision of Christ’s sacrifice ever before the committed Christian. Only His marvelous grace can keep His powerful sustaining power fresh daily as the Christian counts up the many reasons to be grateful for the “double cure.”  Only God’s grace can “qualify” the redeemed to be safe to save. Only God’s grace can prepare a people described in Revelation 14:12—a people who truly guard well “the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”

[1]Echonta euaggelion aionion.  Only here in the Bible is aionion connected with euaggelion.


[2]ώρα (“hour”) refers to a time when something will take place, here referring to the time for “His judgment.”  In the context of the great controversy theme that pervades the Book of Revelation, the basic issue is over the fairness of God and His laws whom Satan has resisted and made “war” against (Rev. 12). Throughout human history Satan has been charging that God is severe, exacting, unfair and arbitrary.  And God has been telling His side of the conflict through His messengers (prophets) and finally, most forcefully, shown through an incarnated member of the Godhead, Jesus Christ. Humanity must see that God is not the kind of person Satan has made Him out to be. The contrast between Satan’s charges and God’s loving and just ways must be clearly seen so that thinking beings may make an intelligence choice, especially in the end-times when Christ’s second advent will end probation for that last generation. 

During the time of “His judgment” events in heaven and on earth are bringing the controversy to its close. Soon intelligent beings will sing: “Great and Marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty!  Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints!” “You are righteous, O Lord,” “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments.” (Rev. 15:3, 16:7; 19:1,2).  This kind of judgment about God by intelligent beings is exactly what God has been patiently waiting for.  These declarations are made after the character and judgments of God had been examined and found worth trusting.  The controversy is ended when intelligent beings, wherever in the universe, join in the declaration that God has been transparently fair and merciful in His dealings with rebellious beings.  Further God will be declared just in His judgments regarding the redeemed because those whom He has chosen to live forever will have settled in their heads and hearts whom they will serve, so settled they could never be moved to think and do otherwise.  They had demonstrated before unfallen intelligences that they would be safe to save and that God’s judgment about them has been “true and righteous.”


[3]τηροûντες (present participle) suggests that these commandment-keepers are making a life habit of loyalty to the will of God, especially under conditions that call for ύπομονη (endurance).        

[4]An ellipse is oval-shaped with two foci, a circle has one focus, or center. To move the place of either one of an ellipse’s foci immediately destroys the ellipse.  To move one focus further away from the other makes the ellipse into a “hot-dog” shape.  The closer one focus moves to another, the more the ellipse becomes like a circle.  The point here is that to overemphasize one focus, pushing it further from the other destroys the ellipse—the truth of the ellipse no longer exists.  In philosophy or theology, when objective truth (one focus) is over-emphasized at the expense of subjective truth (the ellipse’s second focus), or vice versa, we lose the ellipse of truth.  Over-emphasizing  one focus and rejecting (or minimizing ) the other leads to heresy (i.e. a partial understanding of truth). The ellipse of truth in any area of thought, whether in theology, philosophy, law, music, education, etc., must be understood in the form of an ellipse, rather than a circle; an ellipse always has two foci, the circle has one.  This means that truth is the sum total of its object and subjective elements, the two foci in the ellipse. Biblical truth unites (for one example) the two circles of revelation and human response within the ellipse of salvation.  Some call this interchange the objective, external Word meeting the subjective response of a person who says, “This truth is for me.”  In other words, when someone appeals to the Bible as “truth” without an equal emphasis on personal response rooted in relevance and personal meaning, we know that the ellipse of truth has become two circles.

Even as water cannot be divided between hydrogen and oxygen and remain water, so the objective and subjective elements of salvation cannot be divided and yet remain “salvation truth.”  All the divisions between various churches within Christianity, and between Christianity and other world religions, occur when the ellipse is ignored.   For example, an overemphasis on objective justification tends to lead to human passivity, with faith becoming primarily a matter of mental assent to revelation.  This often leads to a careless use of such phrases as “Jesus paid it all.”  Or, “the atonement was completed on the cross,” etc.  But an overemphasis on subjective sanctification leads to feeling and reason as the test of faith.  This often leads a person to minimize the primary authority of God and to make predominant such words, as “It’s not truth for me unless I feel it or until it makes sense to me.” Faith thus tends to be measured in emotional terms, depending on how much one “feels” about their religious experience.   Again, an overemphasis on objective justification tends to make imputed righteousness the most important element in one’s salvation as if oxygen is the most important element in water.  An overemphasis on subjective sanctification (imparted righteousness) tends to make human performance the basis of salvation, as if hydrogen is the most important element in water.  See the author’s Messenger of the Lord (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1998), 204, 206, 260, 440, and 573. 


[5]Ellen G. White, The Youth’s Instructor, March 2, 1893.  In a letter to Elder and Mrs. Stephen Haskell, Nov. 28, 1898, she wrote: “God has given Himself to die for us, that He might purify us from all iniquity.  The Lord will carry on this work of perfection for us if we will allow ourselves to be controlled by Him.  He carries on this work for our good and His own name’s glory.”—Manuscript Releases, vol. 4, 348.

[6]White, Steps to Christ, 62, 63— “He died for us, and now He offers to take our sins and give us His righteousness. If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ's character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned.  More than this, Christ changes the heart. He abides in your heart by faith. You are to maintain this connection with Christ by faith and the continual surrender of your will to Him; and so long as you do this, He will work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. So you may say, ‘The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ Galatians 2:20. . . . Then with Christ working in you, you will manifest the same spirit and do the same good works,—works of righteousness, obedience.

So we have nothing in ourselves of which to boast. We have no ground for self‑exaltation. Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us.”

[7] White Selected Messages, bk. 1, 346.

[8] White, The Ministry of Healing, 461.

[9] See White, Christ’s Object Lessons, 24, 96-98.

[10] The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1959), 58.

11White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 114.

12White, Review and Herald, August 19, 1890.

13 White, Selected Messages, bk. 1, 223.

14White, Selected Messages, bk. 2, 108.

15White, Selected Messages. bk. 1, 262.
16 White, Christ’s Object Lessons, 419, 420.
17White, Manuscript Releases, vol 5, 348.



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