It’s really no wonder that a great big chunk of the world thinks that the message of Christianity is the same message as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, that is: Be excellent to one another! (That survey takin’ fool, Barna, says around 54% think, ‘be good’ is what gets you in good with the Heavenly gatekeeper). When I heard the message of the gospel in church, it was always intermixed with the message of not doing bad.
So, What’s the Gospel?
Horton has said that you can’t live the gospel, because it’s an announcement. I can’t live out the message that Jody loves Nathan, or the news that Al Miller passed away, or that there’s been a spill on aisle 3. But those messages are important to Nathan, Al’s wife, and the guy in charge of the mop. In a similar way, the message of the gospel is news that announces a change–the news that Jesus died for his enemies (us) and we can be set free of our bondage to sin, our guilt, and be reunited in relationship with our Creator by his kindness alone.
It’s the news that Christ has come, not a list of right and wrong.
A Nasty Mixed Drink
We get those two mixed up a lot. The law of God reveals God’s character and who he desires we Christians to be (and causes us to be by his Holy Spirit). That law is good and right, but it’s not the Good News. The two of those together is a nasty mixed drink that waters down both. Yet that’s what we’re out there giving the world. God loves you, so, get right, or get left, we say. The not-so-subtle implication is that yeah, Jesus died and all, but you gotta put a little skin in the game before you get that gift.
And that’s a lie. A big one.
The message isn’t the law. The message is Jesus for sinners.
The message isn’t do better and God will like you, it’s God’s righteousness for the unrighteous.
Of First Importance
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Pauls says this: “Now brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, and in which you stand firm. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”
Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension for the ungodly is the message with which we have been entrusted.
When we let that message go—when we imply that the message is anything other than Christ dying for our sins; the message of peace between God and man—we’ve accomplished nothing but confusing non-Christians and corrupting the gospel. Any old religion can tell you to be more moral. Anyone with half a decent heart can point out all your flaws. But only the gospel can tell us that, in spite of our deep sin, God offers us peace through Christ.