A few years ago I was chatting to a fellow pastor in the parking lot of a local congregation. We were having a tough time discipling people, and especially motivating people to “evangelise”. I remember saying to him “I know the Gospel is supposed to be Good News, but it sure doesn’t seem like it, no wonder it is such a tough sell. If only we could discover what made it so good to those early Christians, I am sure we couldn’t stop people witnessing.”
So much has changed for since that conversation. I no longer like to even talk about “evangelising” or “witnessing” as I find that those terms have lost their meaning and have become the way we justify our pushing a religious agenda onto people. However, since then my view of the Gospel has also changed, it’s gotten bigger, much bigger, and I am more excited about the Gospel than ever before, which is what I would like to share with you today.
(Disclaimer: I am going to try and draw stark contrasts between my old and new understanding of the Gospel, to show the difference. Sometimes we dismiss the Gospel as “The Basics” and we can act like there is nothing there left to learn. I am using the contrasts to try and avoid this.)
So let me outline the “regular” gospel. It starts in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve sin. God can’t look on sin and so kicks them out of his holy presence and the Garden of Eden. Then we skip the Old Testament, or maybe we learn from it that we need a perfect sacrifice, and pick up the story with Jesus birth. Jesus is born of a virgin so that we know he is divine, and then we kind of tread water while he grows up. Once he starts his ministry he does miracles to convince others he is divine. Eventually we get to the climax of the story where Jesus does in fact die for ours sins on the cross. Lastly he rises from the dead as one last sign that is in fact divine.
Then it is our job as Christians to convince to tell someone this good news. We start out in Gen 3 or Rom 3, take your pick, and we try to convince them that they are sinners. Once we have them convinced that they are sinners and that God can’t look at them because of their sin, we are ready to move onto the next step. Prove that Jesus was divine. We share the story above and sometimes we turn to a popular book on apologetics to bolster our argument. Once we have the person convinced we are ready to lead them in the “sinners prayer”. If they prayer the prayer, we say they are “saved” and are “going to heaven” when they die.
That was my experience of the “gospel”, though in abbreviated form, for over 30 years. Instead of pulling out points from that presentation that I disagree with let me just briefly share how the Gospel has grown larger and more exciting for me. Hopefully the differences will speak for themselves.
I would start with Col 1 and Eph 1, where before the beginning we meet a God who is awe-inspiringly good, and who out of love creates a world where he can share this divine communion and expand the love that is shared by his trinity of being. He creates the world and all that is in it and calls it very good. Then sin enters into the world and every part of creation is affected. Humans become less than human as they start to kill, steal and destroy creation and each other.
God in his love and wisdom is not scared of our sin, he is saddened by how it is ravishing those he loves, and so in a plan to redeem, restore and heal all he has made he makes a covenant with Abraham, saying that he wishes to bless Abraham and his descendants, and that through them all nations will be blessed. He forms the Jewish people to be his torch bearers in a dark world. However they are no better than the other nations and because they keep breaking their side of the covenant, the blessing they were supposed to be will never materialise. But all is not lost.
The Messiah, Jesus the Nazarene, the one the Jews thought would save them, arrives as the Faithful Israelite. The one who faithfully keeps the covenant and the means by which all nations will be blessed. It is through his life that we see a new way to be truly human, and how to participate in his Kingdom, the New Creation. His death on the cross is the ransom for all peoples of every nation. Not only that but it is here that he exhausts all the power of sin, death and evil, rising victoriously over them.
Jesus, like the Garden of Eden, holds humanity and the divine image together in perfect harmony. His life on earth as I said showed us a new way to be truly human. It was the coming of the Kingdom and with it the participation in this New Creation that Jesus life illustrates and invites us into. This is not an invitation into a future spiritual dimension we wait for. Though not perfect in the present, we are invited to taste, to practice and to incarnate the New Creation here and now. In doing so every nation on earth will be blessed.
This to me is the Gospel, but it is bigger and even better than that.
Sorry it was so long. I hope that was worth it. As always I would love to hear your comments and if you enjoyed this piece I would love if you subscribed to my blog.