Updated: Apr 20, 2021
Taught Sunday, January 11th 2021 | Sr. High Venture | Mitchell Leach
Is God the Father, a cosmic child abuser? Did Jesus need to die? Could God have simply forgiven the sins of the whole world? If we answer yes to the last question then we must answer yes to the first. So it begs us to answer the second question. Why did Jesus need to die? (Maybe not the most understandable question, but a good one) by what cosmic mechanism are we saved?
This is what we are covering in this four week series. We are going to answer the question "what actually is the gospel?" We will do this by unpacking the Romans 3:21-16.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
If you ask people what the gospel is you will get a wide variety of answers. Even within evangelical churches. Greg Gilbert, the pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, and author of several books including the commentary in the ESV Story of Redemption Bible, listed some examples in his other book What is the Gospel?
"The good news is, God wants to show you his incredible favor. He wants to fill your life with "new wine," but are you willing to get rid of your old wineskins? Will you start thinking bigger? Will you enlarge your vision and get rid of those old negative mind-sets that hold you back?"
"The good news is that God’s face will always be turned toward you, regardless of what you have done, where you have been, or how many mistakes you’ve made. He loves you and 1st turned in your direction looking for you.
The gospel itself refers to the proclamation that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is the one, true, and only Lord of the world."
Is the good news simply that God loves me, and that I need to start thinking more positively? Is it that Jesus is a really good example who can teach me to live a loving and compassionate life? It might have something to do with sin and forgiveness. Apparently some Christians think this good news has something to do with Jesus' death. Others apparently don’t.
I think Greg hits this right on the head.
When figuring out what something is, it can be helpful to look at it in the negative first. So in this article we will ask and answer the Big Question; "what isn't the gospel?"
The karma gospel asserts that if you are obedient to God you will receive blessing. In other words the good news of this gospel is that you can determine how God treats you based on how good or bad you act.
While this sounds like a health and wealth gospel (which it can be found in), this is a little more nuanced, and I have met bible believing, Jesus loving Christians who have unfortunately believed this.
If you have ever looked at a bad circumstance that you were in and thought, 'if I wouldn't have been in this situtation if I wouldn't have (fill in the blank with an ongoing, or "really bad" sin)' then you have come to believe this as well. Don't get me wrong, God can and does punish us with bad situations because of our sin, but the solution to get out of those bad situations isn't less sin.
No matter how much sin you cut out of your life, God doesn't pay you back with blessings. God's arm isn't that easily twistable.
The truth is, the idea of karma isn't found in Christianity. Karma really is the opposite of the gospel. You might even call this the "Santa Claus" gospel, because you are promised good things for good behavior. Where the gospel found in the Bible says, you are loved by a great Father who gives you good things even though you, yourself are bad.
The karma gospel's rational leads us right into the prosperity gospel. The good news of this gospel promises that God's will is for you to be happy, healthy, wealthy, and that you would have every desire of your heart. Many others have written far better on the prosperity gospel. If you want better information I suggest you watch, American Gospel; Christ Alone, or read https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/5-books-read-prosperity-gospel/
So I will give a brief summery here.
The prosperity gospel is one that you can actually find in the Bible, (if you make an effort to miss the general arc of scripture, and pull out select verses here and there). A great example of this would be Jeremiah 29:11. "11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
Doesn't that just sound like God wants what I want? We aren't going to dig into the lengthy discussion on how to best interpret this, but it is worth noting that this verse wasn't directed at one person, and how it looses its full meaning out of context.
God isn't here to grant our every wish. God isn't a genie, but rather He is a loving Father, (and praise God for that). To quote "God holds the key of all unknown" by Joseph Parker,
God holds the key of all unknown,
And I am glad;
If other hands should hold the key,
Or if He trusted it to me,
I might be sad.
I am so glad the God of the Bible doesn't grant my every wish, but is all knowing and sovereign and works all things for the ultimate good.
In the end, God desires holiness not happiness.
Social Justice Gospel
This gospel claims that the good news of God is that He wants to aid the poor and oppressed through involvement in political and civic affairs. In this gospel, God, has turned His ability to set all wrongs right over to us humans. We are the ones who should and can ultimately bring justice to the oppressed and poor.
Let me say this now. I love social justice, because it is a scriptural command. In fact when Jesus explains how he will determine who are His people, He uses social justice as the measuring stick. So, let's not toss this aside, social justice is a big deal.
But it isn't the ultimate big deal. We have to look at the end goal of this so called good news. If the social justice gospel could do what it wanted to do we would see no more oppressed people, no more poor people, no more sick, and just governments in every corner of the world. While this sounds great, it does very little for a person spiritual needs.
People who believe this gospel will quote James 2:15–17, "15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." While we cannot neglect people's urgent physical need, this verse is also not advocating to not make a person's spiritual need the most important need they have.
It is a sad fact that most churches either do social justice well or guard theology well. It is rare to find a church that does both.
The gospel transforms us to love our neighbor as ourself, not the other way around.
Unity / Equality Gospel
The good news of this gospel is that everyone lives in harmony with each other and each person can be whatever they desire to be. The basis of this gospel is to be kind to one another. While kindness is definitely not something Christians should be against. Kindness will not be an end in itself.
When this gospel goes unchecked we see people make statements like we saw the Representative from Kentucky make earlier this month.
Again, Unity isn't bad. Equality isn't bad. They are good biblical ideal.
"I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment." 1 Corinthians 1:10
But they will never be good enough news to say this is the gospel. The end goal of this gospel is that no one's feelings are hurt. In this gospel people value emotions over truth. That can become devastatingly dangerous. Imagine if that were how parents acted toward their child. The absurdity that I would let my child only eat sweets because they didn't want to eat spaghetti, or allow my child to watch movie after movie, rather than go outside or read a book together, is just that, and absurdity.
When we prioritize people's feelings over truth, rather than being loving and correcting, we become harmful to the people we are trying to love. When people say, "I think I can worship the God of the bible from the teachings of Buddha." We must lovingly correct them, so they don't do something spiritually dangerous.
When this gospel goes to its furthest conclusion we are left with no one being wrong, and therefore no one being right. It is with this logic that this gospel has justified all kinds of things that the Bible calls sin.
When everyone does what is right in their own eyes, horrible injustice and evil happen. If you don't believe me read the book of Judges. It is literally the theme of the whole book.
The karma gospel says, be good be blessed. The prosperity gospel says, you should have what you want. The social justice gospel says, you can make right all the wrongs on earth. The equality / unity gospel says, people shouldn’t be offended.
What do all four "gospels" have in common? They are all focused on us. So take this away, and remember it.
The Gospel is not about us.
The gospel is about God. Sure the good news of Jesus's death burial and resurrection is for us. God's salvation is for humans, but it isn't about humans. It is about God, and the love He has within Himself as a trinitarian God.
God doesn't exist so we can manipulate Him in to doing what we thing is best. Did we really think that God is that dumb, or are we that arrogant and prideful to believe that we are that smart? Can you imagine the infinite God of the bible, on His throne, looking down to see me giving to the poor and then having His arm twisted into doing my will rather than His? That is the stuff of Greek and Roman mythology, not biblical theology.
God exist to bring glory to Himself. So that should be our goal as well. Glorify God.