Have We Forgotten the Gospel?

by Penni L Smith on August 26, 2015

Open bibleI’m very concerned that many Christians do not know what the gospel is. This destroys the good news (the actual meaning of gospel), making our invitation worthless, and our message downright damaging.

Whether you are a believer or not, please read this.  If you are a believer, ask yourself if you are conveying the true gospel message when you speak and act.  If you are not a believer, please read this so you know the truth, and know that any condemnation you may have experienced is not representative of the God who loves you so very much and wants you to know him.

The Essence of the Gospel

It would have been nice if Paul had just written up a nice summary of the gospel. Somewhere in Romans perhaps. But the bible has no summary of it. Instead, we glean the gospel from the totality of New Testament. So here is a brief overview.

We are separated from God by our sin. We cannot, of our own power, live lives that are pleasing to God. Unlike what many believe, our salvation does not come from our good deeds outweighing our bad.  The good things we do are befouled and self-centered, and our bad is far worse than we imagine.

That’s what distinguishes the Christian faith. Every other faith teaches that if you do certain things diligently, you will be acceptable to God. God says you can never become acceptable by your deeds, but you are loved and accepted through Jesus.

Jesus, God in human flesh, was the only human to lead a sinless life. He alone, therefore, was able to endure God’s wrath (a cleansing–not punishing–force) to abolish the power of sin and death. We don’t have to keep God’s laws or otherwise perform for our salvation–we simply have to accept the gift Jesus has given us. Once we have done so, we have the Holy Spirit, and a relationship with God. That relationship will transform us, if we let it. Still, we will struggle with our sinful flesh all our lives. We will overcome some things totally, but others we will not. The work of transformation is entirely done by God. Our part is to yield to him and cooperate with his work, not to rely on our own efforts.

We strive to obey God not because we have to perform, or do the right things, or be a good Christian. We strive to obey God because we love him, and want to please him. Also, we recognize that he alone has ultimate wisdom, and knows what is best for us.  So we know that living according to his desires will be the best thing, even when it feels like painful self-denial, and a death to our own desires.

Why This is Good News

It should be obvious why this is good news. We don’t have to perform. In fact, we can’t. We cannot keep the law of God. We cannot live good lives. You can verify this on your own–do you live up to your own expectations? Do you truly at all times live the way you want to live? Of course you don’t. You lose your temper, say things you wish you hadn’t, act unkindly even to your dearest loved one. But because of Jesus, we don’t have to perform. We don’t have to fix ourselves, or measure up to some standard. We are accepted as we are. Then, as we surrender ourselves to him, he changes us. We can, of course, resist that. Too many believers rely on their own efforts, or resist what God does ask of them, and they stagnate and change little.

It’s very good news that we can have a relationship with God and be transformed by his love, getting off the performance treadmill.

The Bad News We Present

Remember, this should be our message: God loves you and accepts you just the way you are. He longs for you to have a relationship with him, and you can, simply by accepting his gift (confessing with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, per Romans 10:9). Then he will begin the process of healing you from the ravages of sin, transforming you with his love as you yield to him.

Unfortunately, this is not the message we give our culture. Instead, what too many hear is this: You are unacceptable, unworthy of love and respect. God condemns you. Give up your evil ways. Then, maybe, God will accept you, and we might care about you and treat you as a decent human.

We have it backward, people! All people hear from some so-called believers is judgment and condemnation, and a call to change their ways–just the opposite of the message they should be receiving.

Worse than that, what we ask is impossible! Our gospel says that we are powerless over sin without the Holy Spirit. We want people to stop sinning before they have the power to do so. How ridiculous! (Note that this does not mean that people cannot change or improve on their own–some can, in some areas of their lives, but they are dealing with a deep handicap. To insist that people change to be acceptable to God is to ask them to do the very thing we say they cannot do.)

It is true that love sometimes requires speaking hard truth, and that never feels pleasant or loving. But that should only occur in the midst of an established relationship of love and respect, not in waving signs and shouting at strangers.

We say that we “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Yes, God does that, but we really can’t. Though that may be the truth of our attitude and intentions, the hate comes across much more strongly than the love, especially if the sin we are hating is something that feels like a key part of a person’s identity.

What we need to do is love people. Love them deeply. Love them as they are. Accept them as they are. Treat them with all the dignity and respect that any human being should receive, no matter what they have done, no matter what they are doing. And then invite them to know a God who loves them beyond anything they could imagine.

Invite. Welcome. Don’t force. Don’t threaten. Don’t condemn. Don’t judge. Love.

You do not have to condone their sin. You may express your concern when asked, but don’t make it the cornerstone of your interaction with a person. Loving a sinner does not mean that sin is acceptable. Ask God, who loves far more than we do.

Remember that it is the Holy Spirit–not us–who is tasked with convicting the world of sin.

But…But…

What about all the times in the bible where it says to repent? Doesn’t that mean people have to give up their sin first? By no means. If we did so, we would be doing something to earn our salvation, which we cannot do. We do not have to do anything but receive God’s gift of salvation.

Repent means to “turn” or to “change one’s mind.” When we come to God, we turn to him. And we do change our minds, maybe not about a specific sin, but about our lives in general. So, in essence, when we accept God’s gift, repentance is part of what happens internally. It doesn’t mean becoming acceptable beforehand.

And if you look at the New Testament, you will see that the command to repent is only in the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation. No epistle mentions it as a requirement.

In Conclusion

I have been so dismayed watching the news this year. Too often, I hear words of condemnation from people calling themselves Christians. It grieves me deeply.

That’s why I had to write this here, now. This isn’t material that would go in this blog normally. It really belongs on another of my websites, but that one is still in development. I will move this post then. But I couldn’t hold back any longer.

We’ve got to get the gospel right.  We need to understand it, and to “conduct [our]selves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  (Philippians 1:27, NASB95)

How lightly we take God’s commands! We want others to repent, but we don’t want to obey God and love. We want to judge and condemn, contrary to what Jesus says.

If people really knew the gospel, they’d find it so hard to resist. Some who do know it will not believe it, because they feel they have to do something to earn salvation. Receiving it free seems wrong somehow. Very, very sad.  Yet that is their choice.

Others fear what it would cost them to turn to God.  They are willing to trade eternal life and joy in God’s presence for dubious pleasures on earth.

But too many people don’t know the gospel at all. Ask them about Christianity, and they’ll tell you that it is about keeping a lot of rules, when that is the very opposite of the truth. Ask what they think of Christians, and they’ll likely talk about how judgmental and condemning they are.

In John 13, Jesus said people would know his disciples by their love for one another (that doesn’t just mean disciples loving other disciples). That is to be our mark. The love of God should flow through us to others. No one should be more loving than followers of Jesus. If people aren’t seeing love as our most distinct trait, than something is seriously wrong.

And that something wrong starts with misunderstanding the gospel.

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