What is the gospel of Jesus?

In 1988 I heard the gospel of Jesus. And I believe I heard it clearly and correctly at the 1988 UBF Lake Geneva Bible conference. A gospel monodrama and the word of God from Matthew 28:6 helped me to change my mind and accept Jesus’ good news: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” (NIV84). The gospel is the grace of God: Jesus Himself; Jesus who died, was buried and who rose again. Now, 24 years later, I have made my way back to this foundational grace. How did I lose this grace? Why did I think I could build a Christian life apart from this grace? Today’s post contains my thoughts on these things.

Sin, Repent, Sin, Repent…

After finding the abundant, effervescent joy of the gospel, I then heard the gospel articulated in a slightly different way. It goes like this: “Repent of your sins and be saved.” I was told that if I didn’t feel the gospel in my heart, then I was just making an intellectual confession in my mind that didn’t count for salvation.

My mind, my emotions and my actions became bound to repenting. I found myself in an endless “reboot” loop… sin, repent, sin, repent, sin, repent. I became so weary and burdened. I felt like Sisyphus! Jesus said his yoke was easy and his burden was light.. yea right! I thought, “We must work hard! We must be strong!” God’s rest? That is just for the weak people who can’t handle real Christian life!

After about 20 years of such holy-soldier living,  I just stopped. I stopped praying. I stopped preparing messages for our house church (I just re-read other people’s messages). I stopped doing everything except the bare minimum. I considered giving up on faith altogether!

The Passion of Christ Movie

What could I do? That was in 2009. Soon after that, I decided to watch Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of Christ. It was my last straw actually. In 2009, I decided that I would watch this movie and decide whether I would call myself a Christian or not.

What happened? I cried through the whole movie! I remembered the grace of forgiveness of sins I found in 1988! And I realized I had exchanged the grace of God for a lie. I had started with the grace of God, but I had built a disciplined life that strayed from that gospel. I had become trapped in legalism.

For the years after 2009, I was not able to articulate what was going on. This week, after three years of searching, I finally was able to explain the false gospel I had come to believe.

Repent of your sins?

Every Christian I’ve ever met agrees that repentance is a necessary part of the gospel of Jesus. I agree. However, where did the “of your sins” come from? When I search the Bible over and over, I find the phrase once and only once. It appears in Isaiah.

Isaiah 59:20: “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD. (NIV84).

Some may say, “Aha! See, you must repent of your sins to be saved!”  I say, let’s see what the Bible has to say. What is the highest authority to interpret the Bible? The Bible is the highest authority. Romans chapter 11 is the best commentary on Isaiah 59.

Romans 11:25-29 “25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” 28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”

The Jewish “Gospel”

After reading and studying commentary on Isaiah 59 and Romans 11, I have concluded that the phrase “repent of your sins” is the Jewish “gospel”, which is not what Jesus proclaimed. The best news Jews under the law can provide is: repent of your sins.  That is your only hope if you live under the law, the first covenant. Those who preach “repent of your sins” will likely become legalists who never find the abundant joy, peace, power, love, holiness or hope that Jesus promised.

The phrase Judaizer referers to someone who promotes the Jewish gospel of “repent of your sins”, binding people to some form of God’s law. That is what I had become. I lost sight of the grace of God and lived as if I was still under law. It is comforting to know however, that according to Romans 11, God still loved me! I did not lose my salvation and find it again (as far as election goes). However, I did live as an enemy of God for many years (as far as the gospel is concerned.)

Let’s see how the Jewish gospel plays out if we put it into Jesus’ words. If “repent” means “repent of your sins”, then we should read Jesus’ words like this:

  • “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  (Luke 5:32)
  • Jewish gospel: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repent for their sins.”
  • “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)
  • Jewish gospel: “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for sins for the forgiveness of sins.”
  • “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
  • Jewish gospel: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent of your sins and believe the good news!”

The questions we are left with when we preach the Jewish gospel are these: How much sin do we repent of before God will forgive us? What sins specifically do I need repent of in order to qualify for the Redeemer to visit me? Is the good news Jesus taught the same good news the Jews taught?

The Jewish gospel has a place in God’s redemptive plan, as Romans 11:26 and Isaiah 59:20 clearly declare: “And so all Israel will be saved.” But Apostle Paul’s point is that the Jewish gospel is not the gospel Jesus declared. The Jewish gospel does have meaning for Jews, but the Jewish gospel is an enemy of Jesus’ gospel, which is for the entire world, Jews and Gentiles.

Jeremiah summarizes my point very clearly:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.  33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.  34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

How to identify Jesus’ gospel

The gospel of Jesus is not about repentance of sins. The gospel of Jesus is about forgiveness of sins. It is clear to all of us (I hope) that our sins and iniquities separate us from God. How can we be restored? How can we be rid of these sins which burden us day in and day out? Jesus’ answer is: I forgive you.

Perhaps the best Scripture to distinguish between the Jewish gospel and Jesus’ gospel the famous “yoke” passage:

Matthew 11:25-30 “25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The Jewish gospel (and all forms of it) is burdensome. It is heavy. Jesus’ gospel is easy and light! Never could I understood this when I believed the Jewish gospel.

Do we need to repent?

Yes! We do need to repent! Clearly and repeatedly Scripture says “repent”.  But do we repent of something, repent for something or what? If we do not understand the meaning of “repent”, we are in danger of becoming bound to legalism and an upside-down gospel that leads to burden, despair and despondency. We must understand repentance if we are to understand the gospel of Jesus.

Here is Luke 5:32 in Greek: http://www.greeknewtestament.com/B42C005.htm#V32

The Greek word “metanoia” means “a change of mind“. Many will rightly say, then, that Jesus certainly came to bring about more than just a change of mind! This is correct. Jesus did (and does) want to bring out far more than just a new viewpoint. Jesus clearly wants a transformed life: thoughts, feelings, actions– all of our being in fact. And Jesus clearly wants us to stop sinning and come back to our senses.

We all know (hopefully) that we cannot change ourselves or change others. Every wife discovers that she cannot change her husband. But what can we change? Our mind. Can we free ourselves of sin? No. Can we live a holy life by our own repentance? No.

Jesus’ gospel (which is light and easy) is that you repent (change your mind) and accept His forgiveness for your sins. To repent is to accept the free gift of God. The life-altering, effervescent, transformational, Spirit-induced change then begins from the inside out!  When we repent and accept Jesus’ forgiveness for sins, we are free.

Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

In our weakness, we find God’s strength to begin working with God and His Spirit to transform our life. This partnership with God only works if we hold firmly to His grace and His power.

When we change our minds and accept that there is nothing I can do to make God love me or qualify for God’s forgiveness, we find joy! When we repent and accept that God loves me in spite of any sin I did or will do, we find peace! And we then become filled with an exuberant joy and desire to help others see God’s grace and also repent!

In contrast, the Jewish gospel is an outside-in gospel that leads to death and selfish introversion, and completely updside-down from Jesus’ gospel which leads to life.

Let’s look at the verses above again, and correctly this time:

  • “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  (Luke 5:32)
  • Jesus’ gospel: “I have not come to call the those who are free of sins, but sinners to change their minds and accept my forgiveness.”
  • “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)
  • Jesus’ gospel: “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of changing people’s minds to accept the forgiveness of sins.”
  • “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
  • Jesus’ gospel: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Change your mind and believe the good news!”

Good news

The bad news is that there is nothing you can do to repent of your sins enough to find God’s forgiveness. The good news is not that you have to live an endless cycle of sin/repent/sin/repent that stores up guilt and bitterness in your heart. The good news is that you just need to change your mind and accept the free gift of God that cost Jesus everything: the forgiveness of your sins.


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