What is the Gospel? According to Webster’s Dictionary, the gospel is defined as “the message concerning Christ, the kingdom of God, and salvation.” In Scripture we find that “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” Mark 1: 14-15 (NKJV). A translation of the same verse in the New Revised Standard Version states, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Thus, the gospel can also be translated as “good news.” But, what is this good news?
Previously, my answer would have been: “The good news is that Jesus came to earth and died on the cross for my sins.” Many Christians would add, “…thereby insuring eternal life for everyone who believes in Jesus.” While both of these statements are true, there is much more to the message of Jesus—or the gospel. One writer has even said that we skip an entire portion of Jesus’ life in the Apostle’s Creed going from his Virgin birth to his suffering under Pontius Pilate. We even do this in our celebrations. Most Protestant churches only celebrate Christmas and Easter. The other liturgical events that celebrate events in the Bible and in Jesus life as well as the saints are often ignored and ultimately forgotten. If we do this with remembrances of Christ’s life then we will certainly do it with his message.
In his book “The Lost Message of Jesus,” Steve Chalke states that the “core of Jesus’ life-transforming, though often deeply misunderstood, message is this: The Kingdom, the in-breaking shalom of God, is available now to everyone through me”
(16). This kingdom, as the above Scriptures say, is the kingdom of God. In “The Divine Conspiracy,” Dallas Willard says that the kingdom of God is where God’s effective rule is allowed. It may or may not be in the hearts of people, or in earthly systems such as politics and economics, but it pervades the physical world. “Everyone and everything that obeys God and the actions of his will, whether by nature or by choice, is within the kingdom” (33). The good news that Jesus brought was that this kingdom is available to everyone, including those excluded by the present religious system and/or society at large. Thus, the Beatitudes found in Matthew and Luke portray that those who are poor, meek, persecuted and basically downtrodden are blessed in the eyes of God. He has not forgotten them. Quite the contrary, they are among the ones he greatly loves.
Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus demonstrated what life in the kingdom would be like. In Matthew 11: 5, Jesus describes his mission to the disciples of John the Baptist: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (NRSV). In Luke 4:18, Christ also speaks about freeing those who are oppressed. With certainty, we can say that the people in this world are oppressed because we live in a sin cursed world. The actions of Jesus freed people from this basic oppression and also from the results of that oppression such as sickness, demon possession, and death. As disciples, we who are freed from the world’s oppression by the indwelling of Christ can spread that same freedom to others by sharing the gospel message and by caring for people’s needs.
Willard describes two sides to the gospel in the American church: the right and the left. The right tends to lean toward getting one’s sins forgiven and the left leans toward eradicating all societal ills. What both groups have in common is that they fail to lay practical groundwork for the gospel to effect transformation in the lives of believers (50). In the past, I leaned heavily toward the right, but knew that followers of Christ were to have an effect on society. I also knew that the gospel of Christ should change my behavior, should “help me get my junk in order” as the Rev. Dana Hicks so eloquently puts it, and should help me change my surroundings in a positive manner. Before hearing this sermon, I desired a middle ground but did not know how to articulate it. I have never heard a preacher say, as Hicks did, that we could fix the “kingdom of earth” if we decide to.
What Jesus’ actions show me is that we reach people spiritually by meeting their temporal needs. In order to live life in the kingdom, Jesus’ followers are called to help people physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are to act as Jesus would if he were us so that people will see a God who cares about his creation (Willard, 310). Brian McLaren defined this approach in “Generous Orthodoxy” by stating that we are “to be and make disciples of Jesus Christ in authentic community for the good of the world” (117). I believe that in the two Sunday discussion groups that I lead, a balance is being achieved. The second group, or the evening group, is comprised of long time Christians. We welcome each other, challenge each other and grow together. The first group, or the morning group, is made up of people who are in various stages of their faith journey. In this group we also welcome each other, challenge each other and grow together, thereby reflecting what McLaren wrote in “A Generous Orthodoxy”: “Those who want to become Christians (whether through our proclamation or demonstration), we welcome. Those who don’t, we love and serve, joining God in seeking their good, their blessing, their shalom” (McLaren, 119).
One of the challenges of being a disciple, or follower of Christ, is doing what he did. How did Jesus bring the kingdom to others? Is doing what Jesus did a realistic expectation in twenty-first century America where the instantaneous healing of lepers and the blind is uncommon? No one I know has ever turned water into wine and no one has been healed of an ailment simply by touching the hem of any of my garments. So how do we bring the kingdom of God to our sphere of influence? The answer is to do what Jesus did in the manner in which I have been enabled by the Holy Spirit. I may not be able to heal a blind person, but I can pray for that person and help them with what is needed. Who knows? By helping people we are bringing the healing power of God into their lives through love. God may even lead us to pray for that person and a physical miracle might occur.
Until that happens, my understanding of the gospel can be lived out in my local church through my discussion group. This year we have taken on a ministry project for Christmas. The local primary school needs books for a long standing program that reaches children in poverty-stricken families. Free books are given to any child who wants them. They do not have to be returned like library books. They can be taken home and read and reread. In this way, the school helps children who do not own their own books and also improves their fluency in reading. Because of the success of this project the school has run out of books to give away and since Christians have historically been active in educating the young, I thought that this was one way we could help. As our group discussed the project, we recognized that while our church is very active in world missions we sometimes forget to actively seek ways in which to minister locally. As a result, we have decided to support local groups and intend to have several missional projects throughout the year.
Another way to live out the gospel is to take time to listen to other people. The best way I have found to show Christ’s love is to ask God to heighten my senses to the people around me, to arouse compassion. It is so easy to go about the day taking care of personal business, work, the family, schoolwork, and miss small opportunities to make a big difference in someone’s life. It can start with family members by greeting them pleasantly in the morning and telling them that they are being prayed for or that they are loved. It can be extended to treating people with kindness and respect, by looking at them when they speak and trying to pick up on body language so that I might guess how they really feel. It can grow to treating rude and obnoxious people with kindness. In my job, carrying on the work of Christ can mean that I do my best to write fair and accurate articles without exploiting someone’s pain for my own benefit.
As I grow and learn more about what it means to be a disciple of Christ, I pray that God will give me the wisdom to teach others to also become disciples. As a teacher, I must be careful to try to apply my lessons to everyday life so that the truths in the Bible will become practical to my students. I hope to make the Scriptures practical so that there is no incongruence between what my students read and their actions.
Of course all of the teaching in the world, no matter how good it is, cannot make someone’s decision about whether or not to be a disciple. Hopefully, though, through my efforts, a difference can be made in someone’s journey. If the gospel is presented in a prayerful, loving manner without condemnation, then what Hicks said will be true: “When they get what (Jesus is) up to they’ll do anything to be part of it.”