The term gospel literally means good news. Any news worthy of the label good must report events that make life significantly better.
Having led spiritual discussion groups on college campuses for nearly 20 years, I am convinced most people, religious and secular, instinctively misunderstand the essential nature of the Christian gospel. They believe it is primarily about following good advice in order to live righteously before God and man. While the gospel does (secondarily) help us to live well, its foundation is not built upon what we can do for God, but what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. The gospel is history and declares the benefits given to those who stop relying on themselves and instead rely on Jesus.
- It is good news morally. Dr. Tim Keller explains, “Jesus lived the life we should live to save us from the life we have lived.” This is really good news when we are honest enough to admit that we don’t live up to our own standards of morality, let alone God’s standards. This news frees us from being tempted to deny our moral failures, or minimize them, in order to feel okay about ourselves. Neither are we paralyzed with shame because Jesus has covered it. In love, Jesus exchanged places with us. On the cross, He absorbed the cost of our moral failings and granted us the benefits of His moral perfection. As the apostle Paul said, “For our sake, [God] made [Jesus], who knew no sin, to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- It is good news spiritually. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). All man-made religion gives good advice on how to barter with God. It offers religious systems and rituals that somehow enable us to pay down our spiritual debt and earn God’s benefits. Such religious traditions assume we each retain a sufficient amount of spiritual capital with which to barter with God. But the Bible describes the human condition as spiritually impoverished and that changes things. Real need removes any confidence a person might otherwise have in him/herself. The poor in spirit recognize that their spiritual bankruptcy makes them unable to bargain with God. They bring nothing to the table. The gospel is good news for those incapable of paying off their debt because Jesus has offered to pay that debt in full. Even more, Jesus has covered all the expenses for living in His Kingdom. This is really good news for those who accept it. It removes all insecurity. There is no need to barter with God anymore because He is already satisfied.
- It is good news physically. When John the baptist sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the promised Messiah or not; Jesus answered, “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). Jesus did not simply forgive people their moral failings and make them spiritually rich toward God. He healed bodily diseases and defeated death. His goal was to restore every part of creation that had been broken by the fall. It is nonsense to view Jesus’ power over sickness and death as good advice. But as good news, it changes everything.
The core of human religion is good advice, but the foundation of Christianity is good news. There is a world of difference between the two!