What the Gospel isn’t

Our English word “Gospel” when used as a noun, originated from a combination of Middle English words according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Middle English, from Old English gōdspel (translation of Late Latin evangelium), from gōd good + spell tale

English speakers commonly and correctly understand the word “gospel” to be defined as “good news”, but almost always specifically “good news” about Jesus Christ our Lord. At least that is the consensus meaning, but a careful observer will soon discover that there are many, many ideas about what the true “Gospel” is. I think it might be useful to be aware of what the “gospel” is not.

The whole of the New Testament is not the “Gospel”

I know people who insist that the complete New Testament is the gospel and that every rule in it must be carefully obeyed for a person to go to heaven. Of course just a moment’s consideration will cause one to conclude that such an idea is silly and impossible at the same time.

The New Testament is very important because in it we learn the good news about Jesus and how his living and dying impacted an ancient people and how we who love Jesus are to live in relationship with him and others who follow Him. Of course there is more, much more, but it isn’t all “gospel” or “good news”. There are warnings about perishing, about hell, and about the wrath of God, none of which is good news. It’s true news but not good news.

Doing more good things than bad things in your life will cause God to treat you more favorably in the end.

Such thinking is quite common, even among so-called “Christians” but is not “gospel” and completely untrue. The truth about this idea is that only one infraction of God’s law makes one guilty of it all and deserving of God’s punishment. You see, God doesn’t grade on the curve, each person stands alone before God and each will be judged by the man Jesus Christ, not by good works vs. evil works.

God will surely approve of me if I reform myself morally and start going to church.

Wrong! A dead man does not need reform of character, his only need is Life! If you are not a faith follower of Jesus, the Bible teaches that you are spiritually dead and a child of wrath by nature. The reason you make any admission that you might need to change the way you live is that you know much of your life is wrong. The reason you keep doing the wrong thing is because it is your nature to live that way. You must have a new nature, one like God’s own nature, and clean living and church attendance will not do the trick.

If I am baptized I will go to heaven.

You should, you must, but baptism is not the “Gospel”. Rather, it is one response to it. Remember this truth. Only God’s children are going to be in eternity with Him. No religious activity, no amount of self-denial, no accumulation of good works, no promises made, no public declaration will make someone who isn’t a son or daughter, a son or daughter. People only become sons and daughters by birth or adoption. Jesus said, “You must be born again“. A person can only have what he needs to be accepted by God with a new beginning. Only by depending on Christ alone, by trusting him and his promises can a person be made new.

What is the “Gospel”?

The most often quoted Bible passage used to answer this question is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-13. The essence of the passage is captured in part of verse 3 and verse 4.

that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures

The good news about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the “Gospel”, or at a minimum, a part of it. But what does it mean? I know I can’t fully answer that question but a summary follows.

Mankind is sinful and ungodly, but, God loves ungodly sinners! God’s justice demands that sinners who have offended a holy God be punished. God’s mercy declares that though sinners deserve punishment, they will not be punished. God’s holiness demands that all who are His must be perfect in character as He is perfect. God’s grace declares that sinners will be counted as perfect by God’s decree.

How can a holy God accept a sinful person and still be holy? And how can a just God not punish wickedness and sin and remain just? Every sinner deserves to have God’s wrath, not his mercy. And everyone who falls short of moral perfection deserves to be treated as a fallen person, not as holy. Can God still be holy and accept unholy people as His own children?

There is GOOD NEWS!

God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and in his living before man and God he was morally flawless. He completely satisfied every demand of God’s written code, no good was left undone and he was never guilty. He lived the life God wanted from each of us and we would not, and could not,  give it. God always wanted people to take him at his word and do what he wanted, but he never got what he wanted until Jesus Christ lived his life for us and for God.

Christ willingly offered his body as a sacrifice and a substitute for sinners and died on a cross as a vile offender of God’s law. He who had no sin took upon himself our combined sins and died for us. He fully satisfied the demands of the law as he lived for us and suffered all of its penalties when he died for us. God’s demand for perfect faith and obedience had been met and God’s demand that sin be punished had been fulfilled. So Jesus cried from the cross with his last breath “It is finished!” In his body sinful man had been reconciled to God. Salvation was complete.

Then, just as promised, Jesus arose from the grave after three days defeating death, hell, the grave, and the devil. He arose in victory never to die again making the gracious offer of forgiveness of sins and eternal life to “whosoever” would come to him in simple trust and depend only upon him.

It is very good news that in the person and work of Jesus God has already accomplished everything needed for you and me to be in a relationship with him as Father. Our love response is to have a change of mind about the course of our lives and go His way and not our way. We are called to demonstrate our faith in Him by telling others we are following him and by reenacting his death, burial, and resurrection in the waters of baptism.

God promises to those who will only take him at his word and put their whole confidence in Jesus, forgiveness of all sins, eternal life, and a future in his presence with all the saints in bodies like the body of Jesus. This is indeed GOOD NEWS!

God has made a gracious offer to a flawed people with a perfect remedy for their common condition. The work and worth of Jesus is all you need. Trust him!

The resurrection of Jesus, Why?

The reason Jesus came to earth, born of woman but with no human father was because you needed the cycle of sin and death to be broken.

The reason Jesus lived a perfect holy life is because when you stand before God you will need a perfect holy life to be acceptable.

The reason Jesus died the death of a sinner and suffered the wrath of God against sin was because He didn’t want you to have to.

The reason Jesus rose from death to immortality was because you would need to be immortal to be able to enjoy life with God in eternity.

The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord was the Creator God loving you.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
1 Corinthians 15:3-7

How will we respond to God’s gracious gift of love? I recommend you take it.

grace driven,

Good News…The War is Over!

A few years ago my wife and I had the pleasure of an extended vacation on the beautiful island of Guam. Guam is the home of Anderson AFB, a large Navy base, and I hear soon, a Marine outpost.

One day we took a day to drive around the island, to meet some native people, sample some native table fare, and see the breath-taking scenery that appears in every direction. As we drove though the countryside, a road side sign caught my attention.

I immediately remembered the story of Shoichi Yokoi, a Japanese soldier who lived for almost 30 years in a cave eating nuts, fruits, rats, snails, etc., and wearing clothing made from tree bark. Mr. Yokoi was imprisoned by his own fears and lack of accurate information. At the end of WWII when the U.S. forces defeated the Japanese and took control of Guam they dropped leaflets saying the hostilities had ended, the Japanese had surrendered, and every Japanese soldier was free to lay down his arms and come out of hiding, the war was over!

Mr. Yokoi believed the leaflets to be American propaganda and was convinced that every Japanese fighting man would live by the Imperial pledge “Never surrender alive”. He was convinced the war was not over, and even if it was he would not surrender. He was discovered by two farmers as he was fishing in the Talofofo River in 1972 and was soon returned to his homeland with a hero’s welcome.

Today as I listened to our preacher talk about the priority of the gospel, (“good news”) I thought of this poor man who had lived in self-imposed slavery because he had not believed the good news when he heard it. I also thought of the tens of millions who have not heard the good news about Jesus and what he has done for them.

As ambassadors of Jesus we are to announce the “good news” far and wide. You see, many people don’t know the war is over. They are not aware that they have been reconciled to God by the death of Jesus. And, most of them don’t understand that they have offended God so that until and unless they believe the good news and appropriate that reconciliation for themselves they stand condemned.

What good news it is to announce that Jesus has set the sinner free! He has borne their sins, died in their place, and offers eternal life and an eternity with Him to all who will believe.

Unfortunately, some will hear the news and refuse to believe it. Some will believe it and receive great blessing by God’s grace. Still others will believe it and yet live in fear that the war is not really over.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)

19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:19-21)

Good News…The War is Over !


What Would Jesus Do?

Not to long ago most church youth groups had 20 somethings in baggy jeans with obligatory holes in the knees, faded t-shirts, unruly hair, at least one ear adorned with a piercing, and a plastic bracelet on one wrist or a leather anklet with beads that had the letters “W W J D”. “Christian” fads come and go like the hula hoop. The “What would Jesus Do” trinkets adorned the shelves of every Christian book store in America for about a decade and you can still see them with regularity.

Some how there is the idea that imitating Jesus in a given situation makes you “cool”, or perhaps even viewed by Jesus in a more favorable way. For some reason I never considered a “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker on a rusty Ford Falcon to be the marker of a mature Christian.

I’m not saying Jesus wasn’t a radical. I mean, he for sure was swimming upstream in his society. The church folks were not very fond of his way of doing things. Both the gospels of Mark and Luke record a snippet of Jesus’ unconventional ministry model.

“And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them,”Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous,but sinners.” (Mark 2:16,17)

“And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them,“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:30-32)

You claim to be clergy and hang with the dregs of society? Hardly!” The religious people kept missing the point. They just didn’t understand why Jesus didn’t conform to the church going people. Both his message and his audience, his motives and his mission, were completely at odds with conventional wisdom.

Aren’t you glad we are not like the Pharisees? We know who the sinners are and we are going after them. They live on the south side of town in the high crime area. We take food to them once a month and have a ministry to help them shake their addictions and find jobs. And by golly we tell every one of them about Jesus!

That is commendable, good for us! But I have a question. What about that family who shows up at church every Sunday dressed to the nines?  He owns two small businesses, pays a mortgage of $2200 a month on a sprawling rancher, and she volunteers at the homeless shelter twice a month. Are they being made to feel comfortable? Have they been told that if they acknowledge some facts about Jesus, are baptized and work on some behavior modification they will have fellowship with God and get to go to heaven?

Or, have they been warned that their sins have offended a holy God and that they are dead men walking who are the objects of God’s sure wrath against sin? Have we been honest about their critical state and announced the good news that Christ has atoned for their sins and commands them to repent and receive him and live only for him at any cost?

What would Jesus do? Well, he would be honest with people. He would tell people there is a cure for their sickness but he would also tell them they are terminally ill. A driver who doesn’t know the bridge is out up ahead is not likely to slow down. If you care about people you put up a warning sign, “Stop! Bridge out Ahead!”

Christianity is not an alternative lifestyle, it is not a religious experience to make your life happy. The gospel of Jesus is the announcement that you can escape certain death, you don’t have to perish, you don’t have to suffer the wrath of an angry God against sin. The gospel is not good news to anyone who is not aware of the bad news.

What would Jesus do? He would love people enough to tell them the truth. He would warn them to repent from the sham of better morality, church membership, and religious ritual, and trust his saving atonement to make them new, to free them from the bondage of Satan, and to live in freedom as children of the God of heaven, safe and secure in His marvelous grace.

It is good and right to give people the message of John 3:16. But we must press on them the weight of John 3:18 “…but whoever does not believe is condemned already…”. Are there those we shake hands with every week who are condemned and don’t know it?

What would Jesus do?