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Our Guide to Lent

Is it a type of music? Something religious people say? An old saying? Or is it something that could change everything?

 

‘I will rejoice, in the simple gospel

                                 – United Pursuit.

The Gospel is Good News

I once heard it said the Gospel is as straightforward or as complex as you want it to be. To understand the intricacies and mystery of the beautiful exchange of our brokenness for God’s glory is a tall order.

God is unfathomable yet knowable. He is vast and yet close. He is all-powerful yet gentle.

There are unreachable and graspable concepts about God, and the Gospel carries that same dichotomy. That is to say; it is both simple and complex. One of those beautiful mysteries of the Bible is in studying and rehearing the Gospel, we can realise new intricacies to understand God just as much as when we first heard it.


Pause for a minute and leave a reply at the end of this post.

Have a go at coming up with a simple explanation of the Gospel. What are the key things we need to have in mind? 


Where does the term ‘Good News’ come from?

εαγγέλιον (euangelion: pronounced ‘you-ang-el-ee-on’) is the word for Gospel in the original Greek. It simply means ‘good news’. It’s also where we get the word evangelism. Evangelists spread this good news – they are ‘good newsers’.

The Gospel of Mark, chapter 1 starts with ‘ρχ το εαγγελίου ησο χριστο.’ which translates as ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ’. This is not any old good news, such as hearing about tax relief or a favourable team score; this is the good news of Jesus Christ. So the question is, ‘what is the good news?’. 

A simple answer is that the four books in the New Testament written about this good news amount to what the Gospel is. The Gospel is; therefore, simply the news contained within these good news books!

Easy, right? 

 

But What, Exactly, Is The News?

There are three theological, sometimes confusing terms used; Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification, and they are often the three hallmarks of the Gospel. First, you have been justified in accepting the good news of Jesus; it is ‘just as if I never sinned’. Second, you are sanctified and forgiven and washed clean of your sins. Third, you are glorified in that you have hope and a secure place in an eternal kingdom that exists in holiness, peace and complete fullness with the Lord.

The whole process of the good news is not just heard but experienced and is often thought of in various ways. Some can consider it a point (or moment) of realisation and acceptance, a series of points, or an overlapping or continuous process with distinguishable milestones.

 

At What Point Do You Receive The Good News?

The further question is, at what point does acceptance of this good news begin to change things in your life? 

How does someone receive the good news of Jesus in the first place? Does it happen when you say a prayer? Should you expect something? Is there an experience? Is there evidence of change? Do you get a certificate? How much do you need to understand to be saved? 

This simple Gospel suddenly feels much more complex.

If we dig deeper, the Gospel is actually the story of salvation, which is the big story of the entire Bible. It begins in Genesis with sin and destruction. Then, moving through the Bible, the need for salvation is highlighted and evidenced by God’s law as described in the Old Testament (also known as the Hebrew Testament) and standards of moral goodness.

Romans 3:23 says, ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’.

Because God is the definition of goodness, anything outside His goodness falls short. Therefore we have all sinned because God’s standard is unattainable for humans living under the curse of Sin. In Romans 6:23, the writer of these words, the Apostle Paul, tells us that the consequence of Sin is death. We understand this to be talking in particular about eternal death or a kind of second death.

It’s not a great outcome if you are a human being!

When Jesus enters the scene in the Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament), our sin is paid for with the most expensive and valuable thing known to humanity, a person’s life. A life sacrificed and laid down for us. This is what Jesus did, and because of who He was, it allowed us to accept and receive forgiveness for our sins. We enter into salvation when we accept, trust, and invite this gift of forgiveness and submit our lives to be changed by the entire ensemble of what takes place through that acceptance. 

When we receive this good news, and we will define precisely what we mean by receiving later on, there is no going back. At least, not if it is a genuine acceptance. It changes you in such a way that it would be like going back to eating cereal after trying a 30-day matured slow-cooked steak (or veg broth if you prefer) – you can do it, but you know there is something better out there.

So perhaps the Gospel is an experience and something we hear and accept as true. When we receive the good news of Jesus, it has become known as ‘getting saved’ in recent years.

 

Getting Saved

Question: If God wants people to be saved, does God not get what God wants? And, from what are they saved?

 

A continuous assumption repeatedly appears over the centuries – if God is love and wants people to be saved, does God not get what God wants?

Rob Bell wrote a profound and polarising (at least in Christian terms) book called ‘Love Wins’. If you have read it, you will have -no doubt- already formed your opinions, and if you haven’t, don’t worry about it. Feel free to do so, by all means, but I’ll give you the short version to save time.

To summarise, Bell cites various verses that mention hell and a plethora more that talk of God’s faithfulness, love and mercy. He argues that God doesn’t necessarily get what God wants because of the freedom of love. In this much, I agree, but the book leans us towards rejection of love and temporal punishment that can leave you thinking that everyone will be saved – eventually. The book opens quoting John 3:16,’ For God so loved the world…’ but misses the latter part of the verse.


Leave a reply at the end of this post; why do you think we need a saviour? What are we being saved from?


 

Why Do We Need Saving?

John 3:16 does not only talk about God’s love but a perishing for humanity; the verse continues to say, ‘So that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish’. 

I encourage you to read it in full to get the whole context of John 3:1-21

There is a prerequisite in John 3:16 that there needs to be a belief in Jesus, and we should note there is a perishing of some kind as an alternative. John 3:16 is a conditional clause. In other words, the sentence has an implication for our lives. Whatever we do with part ‘a’ affects part ‘b’. 

πόληται (apoleitai: pronounced app-oh-lay-tie) Is the word used for ‘perish’. It appears 92 times throughout scripture and, in every occurrence, conveys the idea of total destruction (however you imagine that). When something is ‘πόληται…ed’ it isn’t broken. It is destroyed. So when Jesus is telling us that God desires that none should perish, there is an apparent sense that there is the possibility that we can perish. “I have been sent for you to believe in me (thing A), so that if you believe, you will not perish (thing B).

It’s worth being very clear here about the nature of eternal life. All too often, there are ideas about it being a symbolic transformation of the mind, and in that, a new sense of life is found for us here and now. And in many ways, it is, but when Jesus talks about resurrection, paradise and eternal life, these are both physical and spiritual concepts. Although Jesus’ teaching contained many parables, His ideas also had many literal implications.

What I mean by that is that they are not lovely ideas for personality transformation. Jesus belonged to an order of Rabbis that believed, preached and held to the concept of a bodily, post-death resurrection. The Gospel writers talk of and show us a physical resurrection in which there is a never-ending age of existence in glory and perfection beyond what we see now. We cannot fully comprehend a plain of existence in which we are removed from our known natural state of being, so we have descriptions that help us understand what it might be like. And these will always fall short. But make no mistake, the writers of the Gospels and Jesus Himself mean to tell us that bodily resurrection is physical, tangible and something we can one day experience. 

Yes, our hearts and minds are renewed and reborn, but we take on a new form within ourselves that leads to a physical future and everlasting change. 

If all that exists is here and now, then I don’t need a saviour. If we imagine that good and evil are social constructs and not absolute moral laws, then there is no eternity, and our existence is coincidental, so we ought to relax.

But if that is not true, that there is more to life than what we immediately perceive, then our existence, morality and potential eternal existence are of the utmost importance.

To be saved, there must be something from which we are saved. I believe, on balance, that we perceive good and evil because we are a part of those spiritual substances. C.S Lewis noted that if there was no eternity or substance to good and evil then there is no reason why we should be able to conceive of it. 

In accepting these truths, we learn the significance of a true and literal resurrection and, in the same sense, an actual and literal consequence of what we do with the Gospel.

As we see in the Gospel of John, Jesus seemed to believe in a literal kingdom and a literal consequence of being outside that kingdom. The same disciples that later affirmed Paul and taught that we can, one day, experience a bodily resurrection seem to have a literal approach to resurrection, and the Gospel means for us to understand it literally.

The heartbeat of the Gospel is the saving of our souls. There is no need or purpose for the death and sacrifice of Jesus if there is no payment to be made. The payment is not necessary if there is nothing to pay for. If there is no consequence and perishing, there is no risk and no need for Jesus. Furthermore, there is no need for hope of resurrection because there is nothing to lose or be rescued from. 

Paul writes it like this:

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if, in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Many things in the Bible should be understood as poetry, allegory, hyperbole, hymns, songs, and wisdom sayings… the Gospel is not among them. Instead, it is considered a historical account, believed to reveal actual eventualities for our existence and has very little use for us if it is just a great analogy.

 

The Gospel is good news and is simple and yet, complex. It is also something that demands a response when heard and understood. That response can be one of acceptance, rejection or ignorance, but we all respond to it one way or another.

The final question on understanding the Gospel is, are you ready to accept it, and how might that happen? Tap here to find out.

KEY VERSES: Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, John 3:1-21, 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
Bible references are taken from the NIV
Feature photo Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

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