As I continue various dialogues, both privately and publicly, I find confusion about the gospel. What is it? How do we preach it? What effect does it have? Who can receive it? For years I just ignored these questions, proudly thinking that I knew the answers.
How could I not know what the gospel is? That’s how I used to think.
Here is how one Christian recently answered the question: How do you preach the gospel? I find it to be a good summary of the most common Christian response these days. Whatever topic is being discussed, this explanation is overwhelmingly the current thought process about the gospel:
1) Tell them God loves them
2) Tell them everybody sins and the sins need to be paid for. When they claim they don’t sin, you point them to God’s word to see His definition of sin. When they accept this and acknowledge that they are sinners, you can move on.
3) Tell them only Jesus can pay for sins
4) Tell them all they have to do is accept salvation and believe that God is true.
Remember Lot’s Wife! (or hogwash!)
The gospel cry in our generation has become: Remember Lot’s wife! Repent of your sins, then you’ll receive grace! Stop sinning or you’re going to hell! We’re sinners too, but we try to avoid sin. We are all sinners, but Christians don’t want to sin. They say, “We’re not perfect, we’re just forgiven.” They claim to have found the grace of God yet fearfully submit to the law like a hamster on a treadmill. The gospel becomes merely a crutch or safety net to make up the difference between our sin and God’s holy standard.
We end up with an articulation of the gospel that says: “When we accept Jesus Christ’s help we can feel peace in this life and return to our Heavenly Father after we die.” The gospel has become a moral mandate. And we have over 30,000 denominations expressing their tribe’s version of that moral mandate. There is no longer any significant distinction between the Mormon articulation of the gospel and the Christian articulation of the gospel. We have simply created multiple expressions of moralism and legalism.
It’s no wonder the world sees through all this and cries “hogwash!”
I once “preached” the gospel in the same way. A few years ago, however, I came to realize that such a presentation of the gospel is not authentic and not what we find in the Bible (though bits and pieces of those words are indeed in the Bible.) Such thoughts about the gospel of Jesus don’t produce the effervescent, abundant, all-surpassing joy, faith, hope, love, peace, justice and holiness that satisfies the soul of humanity. The best we can do with such a gospel is to smile half-heartedly and timidly do our duty in the Lord’s service as best we can. Or perhaps we can puff up our chest and thunder out judgmental and condemning messages calling for moral conformance.
This is my gospel
From a Biblical standpoint, we don’t have to look very far in the text to find the clear definition of the gospel:
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.”
(2 Timothy 2:8-9 NIV84)
A more common, more detailed version is here:
“1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. ”
(1 Corinthians 15:1-5 NIV84)
Clearly the gospel of Jesus stands on two pillars:
1. Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets!
2. Jesus died but came back to life!
So the basic articulation of the gospel (the “good news”) of Jesus Christ is this:
Jesus is the promised Christ who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets through his birth, life, death and resurrection.
Do you realize how profound that statement is? Do you realize what made the Jewish Pharisees SO furiously angry? Do you understand why preaching this gospel in today’s generation will invoke the SAME anger?
I am now coming to a very clear definition and understanding of the gospel, and it is amazing!
A good overview of basic facts about the gospel is here: http://www.godonthe.net/evidence/gospels.htm