We hear so many definitions for “gospel” that it gets confusing. It’s the first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It’s the Good News, a message, the evangel of Christ. All these are true, but they don’t define the content of the gospel. Yes, it’s a message of good news, but what news does it bring?
Isn’t the gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”? Or, “Whosoever believeth in me shall have eternal life”? Surely it must be, “Jesus is the Son of God who came to die for our sins so we can be forgiven”.
These, however, are doctrines, commonly called today “essentials of the Christian faith” but confused with the gospel. There are many doctrines—virgin birth, resurrection, atonement, the fall of man, justification, and dozens more. But there’s only one gospel.
Why is this distinction important? Because doctrines don’t save people; gospel does. Doctrines are supplemental wisdom about God’s nature, actions, or disposition toward man, but not the gospel itself.
Here’s the actual gospel message Jesus proclaimed and manifested (paraphrased):
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the Law, which I have come to fulfill and model for you. But unless you get past the ‘righteousness’ of the scribes and Pharisees, you’ll never enter the kingdom.” (Mat. 4:17, Mat. 5:17-20, Luk. 10:25-28)
Is that the gospel you know? I’ve been a Christian for four decades and it sure was news to me! The first thing I noticed is how backwards it is from everything I learned. The second thing is how surprisingly simple it is compared to the complicated definitions we normally hear.
The essence of the gospel is, first of all, the present, near-by availability of the kingdom of heaven at hand. Secondly, it’s an instruction on how to enter and engage its power to redeem everyday lives—two simple commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mat. 22:37-40)
Obviously, each element of his message (heaven at hand, love God/self/neighbor, surpass Pharisee righteousness) needs further clarification. But there it is, the core content of God’s good news of the kingdom as announced through Christ—the essentials he identified, contrary to religious experts of his day and our day. It isn’t merely a program of social reform or behavior modification. Neither is it a threat or a demand. It’s an opportunity, an offer, a personal call to life and well-being with God—not after we die, but while we live.
“As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’… (Mat.10:7)
“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.” (Mat. 13:19)
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mat. 6:33)
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?” (Luk. 6:46)
Though the gospel message is simple, the modern-day twist tangles us up because atonement and forgiveness of sin aren’t the gospel. Those are important but supplemental doctrines, which pardon sin to accomplish a greater goal. The greater goal is to reconcile mankind (Jews and Gentiles) back to God’s actual character and nature. The purpose is to restore joint rulership between man and God, as originally bestowed on Adam and Eve, so that God can trust mankind to govern the creation safely with Him.
Reconciliation is more than just getting along with God. It means becoming increasingly like Him. Thus, as each person seeks and finds personal fulfillment through his own adventure with God (implementing command #1), neighbor love unavoidably spreads “like yeast that works its way through an entire batch of dough” (command #2). When we follow the sequence Jesus directed, we become unfailingly reconciled to God, and it’s safe for us to govern.
Once we see God’s grand vision for the world, well beyond the righteousness of experts, scribes, and Pharisees, our Savior’s good news gives purpose and direction relevant to life rather than death. And God’s over-arching “mystery” of the marriage of Jews and Gentiles—of Adam and Eve, of mankind to God and one another—finally makes sense.
“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jhn. 17:22-23)
© Rhonda Hernandez and RGHernandezPen, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Rhonda Hernandez and RGHernandezPen with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.