Wendy Anne Clark (C) 2020
And Jesus said to His followers, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all creation.”
Proclaim the gospel, literally, “the good news.” What is the gospel? What is this good news?
I used to think that when Christians, pastors, teachers in the Church, those who identify themselves as Christ followers used the word “gospel” that we were using the word the way the Bible uses it.
The Apostle Paul warned us about people who would come and preach a false gospel, but somehow I wasn’t picturing those people rising up in accepted churches or within my circle of friends. Without actively thinking about it, I suppose I pictured them being more “fringe” and even more obvious.
But lately I hear and read a form of “gospel” being preached that looks on the surface to be the gospel of the Bible, but is not.
Last week I listened to a preacher who said, “This is the true gospel,” and then he quoted this verse:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because He has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This is Scripture, and this is true. Jesus read this passage out of Isaiah while preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, and then He sat down and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Although the people of His hometown didn’t understand the fullness of what Jesus was saying about Himself, they understood that He was speaking with authority about the Scriptures and establishing Himself as sent by God, and they were offended by His message.
The pastor that I heard referred to this passage as “the gospel” then went on to talk about social justice and the need to care for the poor, free the prisoners, and lift up the oppressed. All of his examples were limited to this physical world and this temporary life, but is that what Jesus was talking about, and is that what Jesus focused on in his three years of ministry?
When Jesus multiplied the bread and the fish for the crowd, they then followed Him. Jesus recognized that they were looking for Him to keep on providing their physical food, but He refocused their attention off of the physical and onto the spiritual:
“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.”
Why did Jesus talk about “signs”? Signs of what? What were they missing in what Jesus was saying?
Why didn’t Jesus fight against the Roman government, declare all of the slaves to be set free, establish funds for the poor and the orphans and the widows?
It wasn’t because He didn’t care about doing these things or because God the Father does not care about these things; the Bible clearly promotes doing all of these things. It was because this is not the focus of the gospel and not what we are to go and preach.
How do I state that with confidence? Because I use the Bible to understand what the Bible means. Many people are saying that for us to come to understanding about what the Bible really means, we must read a particular book or watch a particular movie, but the Bible tells us what the Bible means, and the Bible clearly states what the gospel is.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”
Paul says that the gospel brings salvation. What kind of salvation? He explains more in his letter to the Church in Corinth.
I Corinthians 15;1-4
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . . “
Paul is not talking about being saved in the physical world, but being saved from our sins–spiritual salvation.
But if you aren’t willing to take Paul’s word for it, Jesus said it too:
Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Jesus tells us what the gospel is that is to be preached to all nations, “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
After Jesus rises from the dead, lives among the disciples teaching them for another 40 days, He ascends into heaven, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, and they go out in obedience and begin to preach the gospel. What do they preach?
Here’s the first recorded sermon we have of Peter preaching the gospel:
“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
“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.”
And verse 36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
Jesus had referred to the “signs” that the people of God were supposed to recognize, the “signs” pointing to the promised Messiah.
Here’s what happens after the people hear Peter’s sermon:
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
“Peter replied, ‘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.’”
So in the very first sermon we have of Peter preaching the gospel, he does not talk about how to treat the poor or widows or orphans. He does not talk about standing up for the oppressed. When the people ask him what they should do in response to what Peter has told them, Peter talks about repentance and sins and Jesus.
The Bible tells us over and over why Jesus came:
I John 4:9-10
“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
But does it matter that this is what the word “gospel” means? The pastor I listened to was trying to stir people to do good things, so does it matter that he identified and described the gospel message incorrectly?
What about what James writes, isn’t he saying that the gospel is to do good things?
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Go back and read everything that James writes. He is not writing to define the gospel message or to explain how one is saved. He is clearly writing about how what we do demonstrates what is in our hearts and is evidence of who we really are and what we truly believe. When he writes, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14), he is not arguing that it is our works that save us, only that it is our works that flow out of a true salvation.
We are not saved by our works. I know this because the Apostle Paul in explaining salvation writes this:
“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Notice the order that Paul explains to the Christians in Ephesus: salvation by faith through Jesus, which results in works.
Paul uses this same order in writing to the Christians in Rome:
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”
The gospel we are to preach is salvation from our sin, not because loving others, serving others, and caring for others is unimportant, but because those things flow out of our salvation and do not produce salvation.
Salvation according to the Bible is not some collective thing that occurs as people in a society promote justice and do loving and kind acts. Salvation is for individuals who will confess their sins, repent, and trust Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross in their place for the forgiveness of their sins.
When one person believes and confesses and turns to Jesus to be Savior and Lord, in a single moment that person is transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light. In a single moment, that person is declared righteous before God. In a single moment, that person becomes a child of God, belongs to the family of God, and is part of the Body of Christ. All of these things happen before that person ever shows a change of behavior or does anything “good.”
In that same moment the process of sanctification begins, but it continues for a lifetime. Sanctification is a refining, purifying, aligning to the truth and to the heart of God. But Sanctification cannot happen without personal confession (agreeing with what God says is sin) and personal repentance (turning away from sin and back toward God).
Sanctification cannot happen collectively, and man’s attempt to sanctify self, can never result in salvation. And we can’t come up with our own ideas and rules about salvation and then live by them and hope to be saved.
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
The Apostle Paul takes the use of the word “gospel” very seriously:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”
I have been troubled by what looks like Christians who came to Christ by grace and through faith, but are now preaching a false gospel of works to purify and make holy. Only the blood of Jesus purifies and makes holy.
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 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.
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The gospel, the good news, is this: Though we were all born as enemies of God, God Himself loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins in our place so that we could be reconciled to God, make peace with God, and live in relationship with Him.
We are all invited. But each one of us must individually respond in faith and accept the gift that we have been offered. There is nothing that we can do to earn or deserve this gift, and God is not waiting for us to do anything but to believe and respond in faith.
Everything good that God has for us and everything that we are called to do in obedience to His commands, will flow out of our willingness to “be reconciled to God” and to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.