Confession – I think I have never fully understood what ‘the gospel’ really means.
Let me explain.
A couple months ago I was going through some hard times. Depressed and feeling distant from God, I opened my Bible to the Book of Romans. I wanted to remind myself of the key message of Christianity – the gospel – and hopefully find happiness again.
The gospel is described in the Bible with such joy, such passion.
This is supposed to be the “most glorious and majestic and thrilling message that mankind has ever heard”.
Yet, my heart remained hard as I read.
“What am I missing here?” I thought.
Hungry to find out, I stumbled across a famous sermon on Romans from 1955 by medical doctor/pastor Martyn Lloyd Jones. There, I came across a line he spoke that changed everything:
“It is again to misunderstand the gospel to think of it solely as an announcement that our sins are going to be forgiven. There are abundant statements of that in the Old Testament documents. It is not that. That is not the Good News… We tend to reduce it simply to forgiveness. Concerned, chiefly, as so many of us are, about escaping the punishment of hell… We have not seen the good news in its height and its depth, in its breadth and its length – we miss the greatness of it all.“
I was floored.
I have always thought I knew the gospel inside out – that it was mainly about Jesus Christ forgiving our sins through his sacrifice on the cross. That’s what Easter’s about, right?
But author John Eldredge also argued this “reduced” gospel: “That is not Christianity. There is more. A lot more. And that more is what most of us have been longing for most our our lives…The Cross was never meant to be the only or even central symbol of Christianity.” (Waking the Dead).
“Could I have really gone this many years with an incomplete understanding of the gospel?” I thought.
Thus began my search for what the Bible really had to say about the meaning of the gospel.
WHAT IS THE GOSPEL
The word ‘gospel’ comes from euangelion in Greek which literally translates as “good news”.
Romans 1:16 defines the gospel as:
“the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”
So the gospel is the news that the world changed two thousand years ago when a powerful salvation came into the world through Jesus Christ.
At its simplest, salvation means “to save”.
Yes, God saves us from our past (forgiveness of sins).
Yes, God saves us from the future (saved from hell to heaven).
Many Christians stop there (just look at the top results when you Google “what is the gospel?”). But what about the present? What about the daily grind of everyday people, where people are crying out for God?
I began to discover that there is so much more to salvation then “simply forgiveness” and to think of it that way is to miss the entirety of its greatness; that which makes it truly good news.
A GOSPEL OF TRANSFORMATION
The good news of the gospel is that God has also made a new way (Mark 1:15) to save us in the present day during our everyday problems.
The Good News is that God’s supernatural “power that brings salvation” is also the power to give us a new life.
A transformed life.
A new life.
Life to the fullest.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
As I searched the Bible – I began to realise that this power to transform the way we live life in the present is the under-emphasised part of the gospel, despite there being numerous verses about it:
2 Corinthians 5:17-18
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
A BROKEN WORLD
This offer of a new life is what so many people are crying out for.
People all over the world want to change themselves. New Year’s resolutions, self improvement blogs/books, motivational counseling. But ultimately, man is stuck in his ways.
We look upon the world and see that we are all the same. We are all trapped in the brokenness of our circumstances. We are trapped in addictions. We are trapped in maladaptive behaviors and coping mechanisms that hurt the people we love. We are trapped in the rat race, the mediocrity, the mundanity, the meaninglessness of it all. We are trapped by our emotions, unable to forgive the ones who have hurt us, unable to love the unlovable. Our hearts are cold to the suffering of this world. We search for self-improvement but are trapped in our inability to really transform the behaviors ingrained in us. We are trapped by our pride, our self centredness, our hypocrisy. One glance at the evening news confirms this. When a man honestly reflects on his life, he sees this.
And how powerless we are to fix this.
Can a doctors really change the self destructive behaviour of a patient?
Can a government really change the brokenness of its people?
Can an army change the hearts and minds of the masses?
Can a man transform the darkness of the emotions within him? Can he really change himself?
Change must come from within. Even then, even the strongest self-discipline can only go so far.
HOPE FOR TODAY
But there is a way to change. The Good News is that God did a new thing in the world through Christ – he offered the power to be completely changed permanently. God so loved the world and desired relationship with us, that he sent his only Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins. But he did not stop there. He offers us the Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out. With God in us, we are no longer slaves to every evil inclination of our hearts, but we live a completely changed life. The Good news is that God transforms us so drastically, that he decides to take up residence in our hearts forever. God is with us forever. Our body becomes a temple of God. And the Holy Spirit lives in this temple forever.
The Good News is that God has made a way through Jesus Christ for us to be saved in the present – the power to save us from the current brokenness and addictions of our lives today.
Jesus’ death on the cross marked the atonement for our sins. But it is meaningless without the resurrection (1 Corinthians 14:15). What good is it to be forgiven from sin, but still remain stuck in our old ways without a way to live a transformed life for God? When God resurrected Jesus Christ from death – he showed the world that impossible is nothing.
God loves mankind. But mankind has turned away from him. The Good News is that God has made a way for us to make peace with God and live a new life – the life we were meant to live. The Good News is that we can become changed people. We can become transformed people. Our hearts can be changed. We can be born again and start life anew.
A NEW LIFE, WALKING WITH GOD
The Good news is that God can transform us so that we no longer live for ourselves, but instead are saved to live life to the fullest. We are brought into a state and condition in which we live to glorify God. He is the centre of our life, the centre of our conversation. We are Brought into a state where we have relationship with God, and walk and talk with him, rather than living a life apart from him. Brought into a state where we are no longer slaves to our weaknesses, but instead live to glorify God!
2 Corinthians 5:15 says:
15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
This is what makes Christianity such very good news.
Real life. The power of God to restore you.
The Good news is that the Father sent his Son not just to forgive us, but to give us eternal life, to restore us and transform us, that we would enjoy life to the fullest and live a life in relationship with God.
We are transformed, and find the person we were truly meant to be. We find our identify, we find our purpose, we learn to love the person God has made us to be. “We are saved by his life when we find that we are able to live the way we’ve always known we should live.”
Yes, we continue to struggle with sin at times. (Romans 7) Yes, we continue to have hardships in life. But we continue to have hope of steadily transforming throughout our life, as we continue to grow into our salvation (1 Peter 2:2, Psalm 84:7 2 Corinthians 3:18)
The Good News is that that power of the resurrection, the power to transform death into life, brokenness into restoration, is available to everyone as a free gift.
Reader, this is not all theory. Why do I say so?
Because radical transformation is what God did in my life in 2010. I had simply never connected that transformation with the definition of the gospel. Indeed, my life is a testimony that the gospel is more then simply a message that we are forgiven.
It is also a message that the power of God has been poured out to transform our way of living. No addiction, no brokenness, no darkness within us is so severe that it cannot be restored by the power of God (Ephesians 3:20). And with that, comes the antidote to depression: unceasing hope. Hope for continual transformation in this life on earth as I become more and more like Christ, not by my own strength, but by his power working in me.
RESTORING A CLICHED GOSPEL
This Easter, many in the western world are asking “why should I care about the gospel?”
The answer: it is the supernatural “power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” Anyone and everyone. History testifies to this.
Alcoholics and drug addicts are reformed (Bill Wilson, Andrew Chan).
Murderers become peace lovers (Karla Faye Tucker, Nicky Cruz, Paul the Apostle, Moses).
Prideful and power hungry men become humble servants (Chuck Colson, Zacchaeus the Tax Collector).
People suffering from depression find joy (Lecrae Moore, Augustine of Hippo).
Seekers find their identify (C.S Lewis, John Newton).
Ordinary men become courageous (Fishermen Peter and John, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wang Zhiming).
In a world where people are realising the limits of mankind’s ability to improve itself – this is something worth caring about.