What the Gospel is (and isn’t)

When I started Revolutionary Faith two years ago, I knew I would face some blowback at some point. I knew that some would accuse me of liberalism and that others would claim I was twisting scriptures and preaching a false gospel. You can’t poke holes in the sacred monoliths of fundamentalism and American evangelicalism without someone coming down with a case of hot head.

Well, it’s finally happening.

But what I find fascinating is that the people accusing me of presenting a false gospel cannot correctly articulate the gospel themselves. I mean, it’s a bit like someone pointing at my car and saying, “Your cow is broken.” True, but only if that thing they were pointing at were a cow. The first rule of critique is, if you’re going to claim that something is wrong, you must first have a clear understanding of what that something is.

So today, I’m going to help my critics by defining what the gospel is…and isn’t.

What it isn’t

– Being pro-life is not the gospel.

– Voting Republican (or Democrat) is not the gospel. Putting a Christian in the White House: not the gospel, either.

– Telling gay people that homosexuality is a sin is not the gospel. Pointing out sin in general is not the gospel.

– Marriage is not the gospel, even when it is heterosexual and complementarian. It’s just not. (I’m looking at you, Southern Baptist Convention.)

– Homeschooling your kids? Not the gospel. Sorry.

– True Love Waits, the Purity Movement and abstinence teachings don’t have a thing to do with the gospel. In many cases, they are anti-gospel. (Future post coming on that one.)

– Hellfire theology: also not the gospel.

– Abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes, questionable TV shows, revealing clothing and tattoos is not the gospel.

– Going to church every Sunday is not the gospel.

– Traditional family values…not the gospel. Not at all.

Now that everyone is thoroughly unnerved, here’s what the gospel really is:

What it is

The gospel is succinctly summed up in John 3:16-17:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Peter preached the first gospel message on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. […]

“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. […] Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (verses 22-24, 29-33, 36, 38-39).

The gospel is that mankind stood condemned under the Law. Jesus, the prophesied Messiah, the Word made flesh, came to earth to fulfill the Law and, through his death and resurrection, provided forgiveness of sins and freed us from all condemnation. This salvation and the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit is available to ANYONE who believes in Jesus as the Son of God. And this provision was made because God loves humanity and wishes to free us from the curse of death and draw us to Himself for eternity.

If this is not the message that is being presented to sinners, it is not the gospel. A person can point out sin all day long. He or she can warn of the judgment and death that sin brings. He or she can convince a person to stop indulging behaviors that the Bible calls sin. But without preaching the gospel (i.e., “good news”) of Christ’s love, redemption and resurrection – without the sinner accepting Jesus as Savior – it is a pointless exercise. It is a glorified form of life-coaching. It is Law. It is dead.

The gospel is what we need to be saved. Voting Republican (or Democrat) won’t save anyone. Banning abortion and gay marriage won’t save anyone. Convincing teens to stop having sex won’t save anyone. Only one thing saves: believing in Jesus Christ for redemption.

Now, if this is the gospel I’m twisting, feel free to call me out.

10 responses to “What the Gospel is (and isn’t)

  1. Well my dear, you are bound to have flung the cat amongst the pigeons with this little gem. I wonder how many of the people who quote the Law (referencing any issue you like!) remember when Jesus said you cannot put new wine into old wineskins? The Gospels are where I spend my time in the Scriptures. Even the Epistles are not as rich nor as enigmatic as the four Gospels – and there is a wealth to proclaim!

  2. Curious how Jesus would handle the issue of voting. I’m quite certain he’d find flaws within both major political parties, but I can’t see him starting his own Jesus Party either.

  3. April, I believe that what you call the gospel is not what Jesus himself preached. He talked about the coming kingdom of heaven and at the last supper He instituded a new covenant between God and man. I feel that worship of one who made himself a servant is a misdirection of attention from the message to the messenger. We are at the point of actualization of His message, but the churches are still preaching the messenger. Somewhat similar to first century Judaism looking in the wrong direction. If you accept Revelation as gospel as being canonical, the next person on stage is God.He is coming soon and Jesus will turn His authority over to Him, that God may be all in all.

  4. In general, as a lover of the Word and of Jesus, I applaud what you wrote above and I am grateful to find others who will engage in meaningful exegesis (funny that exegesis rhymes with Jesus) while setting aside human dogma. The only quibble I’d mention is this: the entire point of Jesus’s teachings was not really what Peter taught; indeed, Peter was perhaps the slowest to receive the deeper, gnostic teachings of Jesus (some of which made it into John, thank goodness).

    The deeper teachings of Jesus were revealed only to those disciples and family members who were ready to receive it: John, Mark (Jesus’s son), Mary (Jesus’s wife), Judas, Thomas, and Barnabas. Unfortunately we don’t have the gospels that record all these teachings included in the Bible that was created as the orthodox Word by political fiat–but some of these gospels have been found and more will be uncovered in the next twenty-five years, or so I predict.

    All the same, John and the other Synoptic Gospels reveal (as you aptly observe) some of the deeper teachings, which go to the fact that we don’t need to walk through any church door to find the Lord. He exists within us–all we need to do is poor out the old wine, so to speak, and the new wine, or the Water of Life will enter us. This is the spiritual rebirth that Jesus alluded to and it is the meaning of eating the bread and drinking the blood of Jesus–through his Word, we receive spiritual nourishment. This is a deep and beautiful teaching . . . as was Jesus, and as is my Lord.

    Bless you and thank you for seeking the truth, for in seeking we shall find, and in finding, we shall be free.

    E.L. Farris

  5. Pingback: Still Not Listening: A Response to Chelsen Vicari | Revolutionary Faith