Thursday, February 26, 2015

What's the good news?

The word "gospel" means "good news". In Christianity, we believe in, study, proclaim, and celebrate the gospel. But although it is good news, that doesn't mean the opposite is true: just because something could be considered "good news" doesn't mean it is the gospel, or related to the gospel.

That's where I think we get stuck sometimes. We assume that if it's good news for us, it must be something God wants, too - maybe that it's part of even God's will, and God's priority, and God's purpose for our lives.

For instance, it might be good news - great news - to hear that your kid got straight A's, or that you're getting a raise or promotion at work, or that your car doesn't need major repairs after all. It might be good news that it won't rain on your wedding day, or that everyone will make it to the family reunion, or that there's enough butter left in the fridge so you don't have to make a trip to the store. But none of these have much of anything to do with the "good news" that is the Christian gospel.

Last week I wrote about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is one research team's attempt to boil down the religious views of the average American teenager into one coherent set of beliefs. MTD makes this very mistake, placing people and their desires and happiness at the center of the universe and using God as a supernatural help to attain human success and comfort.

So, what is this Christian "gospel"?

1. It is the good news about Jesus Christ (see Mark 1:1).

2. It is spiritual in nature; it deals with spiritual things and spiritual relationships. Paul said he became a "father" to the Corinthians "through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15).

3. It has the force of truth, and its essence is worth contending for (Galatians 2:5).

4. It brings people who are "out", "in"; it shows no favoritism; it is for everyone (Ephesians 3:6).

5. It's the answer to a mystery: how could God bring sinners into his adopted family? (Eph. 3:6, 6:19)

6. It is tied to a mission (Philippians 1:12).

7. Because it's a shared mission, the gospel promotes and requires unity (Philippians 1:27).

8. It is the message that through the death of Jesus, God has made a way for sinful, broken people to be reconciled to himself (Colossians 1:21-23).

9. It is the overcoming and defeat of death, and the attainment of immortality (2 Timothy 1:8-11).

10. Paul was imprisoned for it (Philemon 1:10-14).

The gospel is life-changing and life-giving. And, in many ways, it is unbelievable. Which is why we have to fight for it, and not let it be diminished by all of the other "good news" we look forward to hearing. Those things might be good news, but they're not the good news. In coming weeks I'll detail some messages that get offered as substitutes for the real good news.