Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What is the gospel?

Gospel is one of those words that we think we understand, until we're asked to explain it.

Most people see the gospel as information about how to go to heaven after death.

Some would define the gospel as

the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provides full and free deliverance from the power and penalty of sin according to the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Others would say it this way:

Believe in God. Repent. Be transformed by the teachings of Jesus. Love God. Jesus' death and resurrection shows that we too will be resurrected if we listen to Jesus.

In any case, we have been too individualistic in our understanding of the gospel. It's all about me. Even those who say that it's all about God, turn it into a private, personal matter.

But a close reading of the New Testament would seem to indicate that the gospel is bigger than that. It's about more than just getting signed up for heaven.

Lesslie Newbigin gives us some helpful clues about the nature of the gospel in his posthumous book, Signs amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History:

I think we have used the word "gospel" without giving as much attention as we need to the question of what exactly we mean by that world. We don't mean Christianity. Christianity is what generations of us have made of the gospel, and we know we have often made a mess of it (p. 113).

The gospel tells the story of what happened when the true light came into the world, the only light, the light that shines on every human being, the light in which things are seen as they are and reality is distinguished from illusion. Those who were confident that they see turn out to be blind, and those who knew that they were blind receive their sight. The light shows up the illusions of human wisdom and godliness and political shrewdness. It overturns human confidence that we can know how and where God is at work in the world. It invites us to believe that the victory of God is achieved in the rejection and shame and suffering of the cross (p. 108).

The specific responsibility which has been given to the church and to nobody else is the responsibility to bear witness to the reality of Jesus' victory (p. 115).

Whatever else we do for people—to come to know Jesus, to love Him, to serve Him, to honor Him, to obey Him—that is the greatest thing that we can do for anyone and it is the specific thing entrusted to us. It must be the center of our missions (p. 115).

The announcing of the good news about the Kingdom is empty verbiage if there is nothing happening to make the news credible (p. 99).

Here are some things we can say about what the gospel and what it is not.

  • The gospel is not about organized religion or about a private, personal faith.
  • The gospel is not just about the eternal destinies of individuals.
  • The gospel is not about recruiting church members.
  • The gospel cannot be reduced to a simple transaction.
  • The gospel cannot be reduced to a theory of the atonement.
  • The gospel cannot be reduced to moral reform.
  • The gospel is good news for all people everywhere.
  • The gospel is both now and "not yet."
  • The gospel is the occasion for great joy.

We need to recapture that joy, or, better yet, let the good news capture our hearts and produce its characteristic joy.

Isn't it remarkable that according to the New Testament the whole thing begins with an enormous explosion of joy? The disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple praising God! It seems to me, the resurrection of Jesus was a kind of nuclear explosion which sent out a radioactive cloud, not lethal but life-giving, and that the mission of the church is simply the continuing communication of that joy—joy in the Lord (p. 121).

May we once again experience the gospel as good news.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

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