Yes, I know…with a title like this, I am just asking for criticism. I just can’t think of another way to express how I want this to be titled.
Let me start by saying that I am NOT denying ANY of the tenants of Biblical Christianity. In seeking to “rethink” the gospel, I just want us to…well…rethink what we have come to understand as being the “good news” that Jesus wanted us to spread. Take a moment, before reading on, if you have the capability, and watch this brief video.
It is humerous to think of Jesus going around, pointing out all of our sins. It is also humerous to think of Jesus saying that He has performed all His miracles and signs simply to tell us that we are all sinners consigned to eternity in hell separated from Him. But, sadly, this is the exact message that we preach most of the time. We tend, in this day and age, to spend the bulk of our presentation of the Gospel telling people how messed up they are and how, because of that, God has to send His Son to die for us so we could get to heaven. If you ask me, this is more bad news than good news.
This being the case, what is the Gospel? What is the good news that Jesus wants us to proclaim? What is the heart of the message that Jesus has entrusted to us as His followers if it is not how messed up we are and how we needed bloodshed to make things right?
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)
When Matthew shares with us the Great Commission, he seems to focus on one particular thing: “Go therefore and make disciples,” and then tells us how we do that. Interestingly enough, though, this is not exactly what is being said. This is not the most literal of translations. Literally, that part of the passage would read,
Therefore, once you have gone from here, instruct all nations…
What are we to instruct them in? We are to teach them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded. I don’t see a single mention here of atonement or blood or sacrifice. Simply, “Teach people to obey Me.”
So, for Matthew, obedience to the Messiah’s commands is the heart of the Gospel.
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16 ESV)
Mark simply tells us to “proclaim the gospel.” But what is the Gospel according to Jesus in Mark’s account? Well, context is everything.
Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:9-16 ESV)
Jesus has just finished rebuking the disciples for their “unbelief and hardness of heart” for not believing those who had seen Him after He had risen. After rebuking them, He tells them, “Go and proclaim the good news!” The good news that Jesus wants preached, and the heart of the Gospel in Mark’s perspective, is the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:45-47 ESV)
Now we have mention of Jesus’ death. But notice where this mention is located. Jesus mentions the death and resurrection as proofs of His Messiahship. What is it that He wants proclaimed in His name? What is the good news? Forgiveness of sins for those who repent. So, in Luke’s perspective, the heart of the Gospel is that Jesus is the promised Messiah and that forgiveness of sins is found in Him.
That Gospel Jesus Wants Preached
Based on the Synoptic Gospels (there is no set “Great Commission” text in John), the Gospel has nothing to do with atonement. Or, to say it another way, the atonement is not the heart of the Gospel message for Jesus (or His biographers). Jesus calls us to only speak of a few things, and nothing more. Jesus wants us to
- Preach repentance from sin
- Proclaim that He is alive
- Instruct people in how to be obedient to His commands.
To neglect to preach any one of these elements is to neglect to preach the whole Gospel as Jesus commissioned it.
According to Hebrews 1:1-2,
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV)
Where does final authority lie? In Jesus. In these last days, God has spoken to us by way of His Son. And what does His Son call us to do? Obey Him. This includes even the Gospel that we preach.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9 ESV)
And what Gospel do you think he proclaimed? I believe that Paul preached that Jesus was alive and that we must repent of our sin and obey Him.
In light of all of this, I leave you with one question: What Gospel have you been preaching?