What is the Gospel?
We believe in the Good News, or “Gospel” of Jesus Christ. What is that exactly?
The Gospel can be found in summary propositional form in the words of the classical ancient creeds, especially the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.
What is clear immediately from these Creeds is that whatever the Gospel is in its particulars, it is overwhelmingly focused on the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi in first century Judea, a province of the ancient Roman Empire. If we are to appreciate what about Jesus’ life is so “good” or why it is "news" to us who are so far removed from his time and culture, we need to go back even further. Way back.
The Trinity and the Purpose of Creation
Before the universe was, there was only the triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons existed in such intimate fellowship with one another that they actually constituted only one being, the one true God. That means at the very center of God’s identity is superabundant love. So eternally joyful is this fellowship, that God wanted to share it with another.
So he made all that is, seen and unseen, the galaxies, the stars, the planets, the earth. And at the center of it all, he created humankind, male and female, to share the most intimately in his eternal fellowship of all his creatures. He gave the first humans the capacity to hear him and to know him, above all that they would love him as he loves and thereby share in his eternal life forever.
Our Fall from God's Purposes
But if this love was to be truly love, it must be reciprocal. Our first parents chose to find love and satisfaction on their own, apart from God. Because their very existence depends on God, their walking away from him could only mean the end of their existence, their return to uncreated, to the dust from which they were made. This is death, and it manifests itself in our souls even while we yet live, in an insatiable longing for that love which we have rejected.
We have tried to satisfy this longing through many things: through wealth, or power, or knowledge, or even loving relationships with our fellow humans themselves. We have especially tried to create gods we might worship. Sometimes we catch glimpses of it by these means, but they are all in the end fleeting. Wealth is wiped out in market crashes. Power is easily taken. Knowledge is illusive. People inevitably fail us. And our false gods, they cannot see or smell or taste or touch, let alone love as only the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit can. Sometimes we go to extreme lengths to get it: we lie, we steal, we exploit, we rape, we murder. Indeed, in our fear of never having what we long most for, we are hopelessly inclined towards many false solutions, an inclination which only leads us further from God, further from that true love which gives life, further toward death. This is called sin, and the irrefutable fact that we all die is evidence that we are all hopelessly infected by it.
But God did not make us to die. He made us to live and love with him. So he set out immediately to set our mistakes aright, to woo us back who had wandered from him, to show us that he is the only way to a love so true it gives life.
Abraham, God's People, and the Law and Prophets
Out of all the world, he called one man, Abraham, and promised him many descendants who would bless the entire world. His many descendants were called the people of Israel, an ancient nation to whom God revealed his Law through Moses. This Law was meant to show God’s people both God’s holy standards and their inability to meet them on their own. But more than anything, it was meant to show God’s people the earnestness of his desire that they should be in fellowship with him. They were to know through God’s Law and the Prophets he sent to help them see it clearly that God intended to make them new, so that they could live and love with him as he intended. In short, the Law and the Prophets were to prepare God's people, and all humanity through them, to receive God himself.
Jesus, Abraham's Descendant
And then one day, in the fullness of time, God showed up. God the Son came down and took for himself a human nature just like ours. He was named Jesus, and he walked the dusty paths of Roman Palestine showing any Israelite who would listen, and not a few eager non-Israelites, the power of God to heal, to raise up, to forgive, to illumine, and to restore.
Jesus, His Death, and Our Life
Then Jesus went to a cross to die. Why did he do this? Being God’s Son, he lived a life of perfect fellowship with his Father, and being in human form, he lived that life as God intended us to live it. His sinless life did not need to end in death. But he willingly chose that end for our sake. He willingly died as we all inevitably die. He died to satisfy God’s righteous declaration that no life is possible apart from him. He died so that we would know the earnestness of God’s desire that we not die but live and love with him. He died to put to death the power of death in human nature. He died for sin so that we would not have to.
But Jesus wasn't finished yet. To demonstrate the magnitude and completeness of his victory on the cross, he beat down death itself. He rose again from the grave, and told his followers that in and through him, all people everywhere might come to know the life and love of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a love which vivifies and transforms us to love in return. He rose again so that we could follow in his steps, and live with his Father and ours forever, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And he yet lives to this very day, and his Father has given him authority over everything from his throne in heaven. It still seems like sin and death reign in this world. But Jesus surely is enthroned, and he will return to finish what he started, and put an end to sin and death in all the world forever.
The Call of the Risen Lord
In the meantime, he calls those who believe in him to proclaim the story of his victory over our ancient condition. He empowers those who believe in him to be set free from fear and hopelessness and selfish ambition and sensual indulgence. He commissions all who believe in him to help others find the same freedom and transformation to live and love as God intended.
This story of God coming to us to save us from ourselves, this is the Gospel. It is not just about one Jewish rabbi, and it is not only for long-dead Jews. Its specificity is not a limitation, but rather a concrete solution to a concrete problem common to all people. And it is not about what we do. It is not about how good we are. It is not about trying harder. It is certainly not about being more religious. It is about God coming to us in Jesus Christ, doing all the work we could never do, and dying the perfect death we could never die, so that we could live and love with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forever. It is the Good News that God is in Christ reconciling all the world to himself. This is the Gospel.
And it is very good news.
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