Friday, 20 April 2012

What is the 'good news' of the Gospel? Part1

What is the 'good news' of the Gospel?  How do I find out the answer to this question?  It seems that I have several options:

1. Search the Internet by ‘googling’ ‘What is the Gospel’?

2. Go to church on Sunday.

3. Read any one or all four of the Gospels in the New Testament

1. I have taken the first option and ‘googled’ ‘What is the Gospel?’.   
I have found a consistent set of answers, of which the following ten are a representative selection:

1.      The Gospel is the good news about what God has done to save us from the consequences of our sin.
2.      The Gospel is the singularly most important communication of God to man.  In Jesus, who is God the Son, we have the revelation of God’s love and sacrifice that saves us from God's righteous judgment upon sinners.
3.      The Christian message of good news relates to the saving acts of God, which is solely due to the work of Jesus on the cross and resurrection from the dead which bring reconciliation between people and God.
4.      The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God. He has done for me what I couldn’t possibly do for myself. He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for my sins to save me from the justice and the righteousness of God.
5.      What is the Gospel of Christ? There is not a more important subject to study than the Biblical plan of salvation. The salvation in the Gospel refers to deliverance from damnation in the fires of hell.
6.      ‘Gospel’ means ‘Good News’.  The central truth of the Gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of His Son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will accept it.
7.      The Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks of the good news of salvation that comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ who is the very Son of God in human flesh. This is the good news of deliverance from sin’s penalty, power and presence through the two advents of Christ.
8.      What is the Gospel? It is the message of the good news of salvation offered to mankind by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is a message that encompasses the total plan of God to redeem people from the ravages of sin, death, Satan, and the curse that now covers the earth.
9.      The simple message of the Gospel is that Christ gave us salvation from our sins. He died, was buried, and was raised again the third day according to the Scriptures. Believing the message leads to relationship with God, repentance and baptism, followed by growth.
10.  Christ's Gospel was just that. Good news. Be saved from your sins, most of which dealt with how we treat others and care for each other, and to have faith in Christ and his message.

These 10 answers all state that the central, most important, essential piece of ‘good news’ for us is Salvation.  This Salvation is actually only triggered when God ultimately judges sinners at some time in the future, at the Last Judgment, because it is only at that future point in time that God will save us from   damnation in the fires of hell, which is the consequence of the justice and the righteousness of God on sin.

This Last Judgment has been graphically, and gruesomely portrayed in famous paintings by, amomg others, Michaelangelo, William Blake, and Hieronymus Bosch, and in many Medieval churches….in order to frighten people into becoming believers.
The Inquisition, which began in the 12th century, was described, according to the 1578 handbook for inquisitors, for punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit.

One of the 10 listed definitions above includes the statement that the salvation in the Gospel refers to deliverance from damnation in the fires of hell. This statement is similarly designed, like the Medieval church paintings and the Inquisition, to make others become terrified.  It seems that not much has changed since the Inquisition…except, thankfully, that a refusal to believe is no longer followed by death from burning at the stake.

Surely, this ‘gospel’ of fear cannot be the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If it is, then I want nothing to do with such a vengeful, violent, terrorist 'gospel'. I am reminded of John McEnroe’s comment to a line call at Wimbledon, ‘You can’t be serious!!’

2. Go to church on Sunday.

I have taken the second option and been to church on Sundays to find out What is the Gospel? 

In order to get a representative answer I have attended Roman Catholic, Anglican (AngloCatholic, Evangelical, and others), Methodist, Baptist, United Reform, and Pentecostal Sunday services.
I have received answers with variations on the theme of Salvation, with the  suggestions, from some, that I should give my life to Jesus, and believe that He died, was buried, and was raised again the third day according to the Scriptures. Believing this message leads to relationship with God, repentance and baptism, followed by growth.

The basic message is the same as those that I 'googled'; be saved from the consequences of my sin, and experience relationship with God now, and in Eternal Life after my death.

This message is an outworking, and expansion, of my ‘googled’ option, but leaves me thinking that there must be more to the Gospel than this. 

If this is the Gospel, what was such ‘good news’ for those who listened to Jesus in the first century?…. because this message is, and was, nothing new.

In the Old Testament, salvation from the consequences of my sin, and the experience of a relationship with God now, and in Eternal Life after my death, were all available before the arrival of Jesus. 

For example, the Psalmist is quite clear about his salvation in Psalm 18:
Psalm 18:2  The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:35  You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up,
Psalm 18:46  The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted.

In addition, can we seriously suggest that Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, and many others in the Old Testament, were not saved.  Surely, we are back to McEnroe, ‘You can’t be serious!!’

Secondly, the evidence of Genesis 18 is clear that Abraham had a relationship with God:
The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing,… for I have known him…
Many others had a relationship with God…not least David, who works through his relationship with God in the Psalms, particularly his prayer in Psalm 51:
O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

Thirdly, the hope of Eternal Life was more than a hope for Job; it was a fact:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!  Job 19.25-27

So after my visits to churches on Sundays, and listening to What is the Gospel?
….If that which is preached in the churches was nothing new for those in the first century who listened to Jesus….where do I go for my answer?

I am only left with the third option; 3. Read any one or all four of the Gospels in the New Testament. I will post the first results of this option in the next blog.

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