If the Gospel Is Good News, What Is It About?
I am glad it is not “the sky is falling” news
That was my question at one point in my life: I believed that God will forgive me and take me to heaven after I die if I accept the gospel message.
I also knew that I am supposed to share this message with others. One day, I asked myself. I genuinely believe this and tell it, but is this all that is?
The escapist gospel
I could not think of anything other than John 3:16. God loves us, we are sinners, He paid the price for our sins, so whoever believes in Him will go to heaven after they die.
Some would point to the Four Spiritual Laws. A few others would point to God’s love and forgiveness. That is nice, but it is not news; it is more like a piece of how-to information or advice.
I am sure you heard the story, Henny — Penny: The sky is falling. The escapist gospel is no different. The sky is falling; let us run for our soul. I don’t know what Henny-Penny thought the king would do, but the escapist thinks the king will take them out of this world.
One of the backstories for this version of the gospel is that the good world God has created is like a sinking ship. The only thing that God wants me to do is to save myself and others from drowning.
So the sole purpose in life is to believe and evangelize. A well-noted evangelist once said, “The only purpose in life is to go to heaven and take as many people as possible with me.”
Is this gospel (euangelion) a piece of information/advice about how to go to heaven after I die? Great, then, why aren’t believers excited about dying? Why do we ask God to protect us from death when real life is after death?
It looks like we are neither excited to die nor live life abundantly. Because this gospel has almost nothing to relate to my education, romance, marriage, business, governance, etc.
Eventually, this escapist gospel may not thrive long in one’s life. It goes dormant and comes to life now and then when there is a pandemic, earthquakes, wars, etc. It goes dormant because it does not make sense for the rest of my life. That is why Christian charlatans need to keep bringing new ideas to keep people engaged.
The ‘same old thing’ gospel
So what do I do now? I split my life into two separate parts: the gospel part and the secular part. The gospel/sacred part, is purely spiritual, church, evangelism, heaven stuff. Whereas the secular part is the remaining stuff like education, job, possessions, etc., which I eventually lost interest in.
As Jesus said, you cannot serve two masters; many cannot keep up with these separate parts of life. They ignore one of them. “Oh, it is the same old thing” mindset.
A few may look to the Bible to guide them in life’s challenges to succeed in the secular part of life. Unfortunately, a sacred, secular mindset does not offer much help, so we turn to pragmatic ways. For example, to worldly people accumulating wealth is an important goal. We, too, make it our goal and assume it as God’s blessing instead of offering everything to God and following him.
These lazy escapist gospel believers who do not study the Word become legalistic or therapeutic Christians who use God for therapy. Others turn out to become atheists, haters of the church, Christianity, and even God.
Since this gospel barely influences my intellectual, imaginative, financial, professional, social, family, sexual life, I either isolate myself from the secular world or mix with it.
I may accept that Jesus is the true God, become a church member, do ministry, and even share the same gospel and yet miss my purpose in Christ. James reminds us about this.
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:19-20 ESV).
This is because of Henny-Penny’s escapist gospel, which holds no water. What a tragedy.
So what then is the good news about?
In chapters 40 and 52 (CEB), Prophet Isaiah mentions the word ‘gospel’ in Messianic terms:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace (Shalom), who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ The voice of your watchmen — they lift up their voice; together, they sing for joy; for eye to eye, they see the return of the LORD to Zion.”
These messengers are runners who run from the battlefield to deliver the news of victory to His people. They run across mountains, rivers, etc., to bring good tidings at the earliest. That is why the prophet praises their feet. Then the watchmen here are those who usually are on the walls of the city keeping watch. Seeing the messenger from afar, and with joy, they shout or blow the horn to inform the people.
What gospel did the messenger publish? He said to Zion, “Your God reigns.” In Isaiah’s context, the “good tidings” is about the inauguration of the messianic reign, the new creation. It is news, not advice, or a concept. It is news that the enemy is defeated, and now your God reigns over all the earth.
It is about God’s glorious kingdom that has come to us and an invitation to enter it by ordering our lives according to the king’s will.
Now here is a more accurate back story. In the beginning, God created all things. He created man in His image and likeness to rule over his creation on His behalf and worship Him. But man wanted to reject God and wanted to become his own god. This broke God’s heart. He sent them out of the garden, but yet He still loved them. Sin separated man and all creation from God.
Though He sent them out to their desire, He wanted to restore them to Himself. He knows that they were deceived by the enemy and will perish forever if He doesn’t redeem them from slavery.
One day, God became man and came to His fallen creation, which is under the enemy’s captivity. By offering Himself as a sacrifice, and through His resurrection, He triumphed over the enemy and liberated His enslaved man and all creation.
Gospel is about God becoming king.
Who triumphed over death,
Who judged the world,
Who redeemed his people,
Who is establishing his kingdom,
Who is reigning in righteousness and justice,
Who is making all things new,
Who will return to restore Shalom
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19, ESV).
What should I do to enter this kingdom?
This is the kingdom the king is inviting us to repent and enter. It is not an intellectual concept or just about your personal forgiveness and a promise of heaven after you die. It is about God’s kingdom coming to earth as it is in heaven to restore Shalom.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10, ESV).
N.T. Wright says:
“Something has happened due to which the world is a different place.” (Simply Good News)
Now we have to order our lives in accordance with the fact that Christ is the king.
Jesus becoming the Lord of all my life, means walking in the way of Christ in my relationships, education, business, marriage, finances, community, etc. The kingdom is where the king is obeyed, where His will is done.
Life in the new order
The earliest Christians were called the people of The Way. They understood that following Jesus is primarily a way of life in the present. Taking up the yoke of Christ and learning from him. A new way of living under the lordship of Christ in every aspect of human experience.
To the people of The Way, the way was based on Jesus’s teaching recorded in Mark 12:28–34, ESV:
“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Prophet Isaiah writes:
“A voice cries: In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40, ESV).
That voice, who is John the Baptist, comes announcing the kingdom in the wilderness, saying:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, ESV)
It means to change one’s mind or purpose in accordance with the will of God. The command is to turn to the Way of Christ, just as Moses also commanded in Deuteronomy 10.
If the response to the gospel is about entering the kingdom of God and keeping his ways, then evangelism is about teaching the way of the Lord through discipleship, not passing the information. We ought to show the world what it looks like when God is reigning. We should be boldly saying, “watch us and see what the reign looks like.”
Through our words and deeds, let us put the way of our Lord on display in this dark world. You may be a businessman, teacher, artist, janitor, mayor, economist, pastor, home maker; whoever you are, you can disciple the world around you by teaching and showing Christ in your life.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:17–20, ESV).
It seems like the church in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had a deeper understanding of the gospel than today’s church. We can see evidence of their work. Robert Woodberry, Tom Holand, and Vishal Mangalwadi wrote about how the church made disciples of all nations.
How come we were misguided to believe that the gospel is just information about going to heaven and evangelism nothing more than a sales lead? This distorted gospel made us paranoid about “second coming” and the need to evangelize the world quickly by our strength. Haven’t we reduced the gospel to a simple formula or one-liner to fit the above agenda? Consequently, evangelism has become more about numbers, personal brands, and ministries than discipleship.
The voice in the wilderness is still crying. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Dear Christian, have you entered the kingdom? Are you excited to walk in the paths of righteousness and justice?
India is fed up with our sales pitch evangelism and hypocritical faith. Let us proclaim the way of our Lord from our rooftops and observe it in our private homes also, then our country will see the light in us and come to it.
“In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” (Zachariah 8:23, ESV).
For further reading and watching: Gospel is not about ‘going to heaven’, I thought it was God’s mission, I don’t need a ticket to heaven, please!, The king, the priest and the garden, Israel at Sinai — The first great commission, Crucifixion — The coronation of a king, Confronting the empire.