In my last post I explained why we need not just more evangelical churches (gospel preaching churches) but more missional churches in our post-Christian context. The times are changing in Canada and we cannot do evangelism and discipleship exactly as we did them fifty years ago. We need to ask, like good missionaries, who are the people we have in front of us, and we need to do ministry accordingly.
Now the question is, if we cannot do evangelism exactly as we used to do it how should we do it. I have a million things I want to say on this subject, and I’ve really been wrestling with exactly how to bring all of my random and disjointed thoughts together, but just last week I realized there really isn’t much point in writing about how to do evangelism well if I haven’t even defined what I believe the gospel message is. Or even what evangelism is. So in this post I am going to answer the question, what is the gospel, and in my next post I will answer the question, what is evangelism, and then we’ll look at the “how” of evangelism in our brave new world.
What is the gospel?
If I were to summarize the gospel, I would say the gospel is the good news that:
Through the person (Son of God, God-man) and work (sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection) of Jesus, God the Father has rescued us from judgement for our sin, reconciled us to Himself, adopted us into His family (the church), broken the power of sin and the devil in our lives and given us His Spirit so that we can live, though imperfectly in this life, as a new humanity in a broken world, and someday He will utterly vanquish all evil, completely transform us body and soul into our perfect selves, and usher in a new creation, free from the presence of sin, in which we can enjoy our new life with Him forever.
There are past, present, and future aspects to the gospel. God created the universe “good”, and He made us “very good” (Genesis 1-2). We were made to have an eternal relationship with God and to centre our lives on Him, love Him, worship Him, serve Him, and be loved and blessed by Him. In the beginning, everything existed in perfect harmony with God, us, the creation, everything, and we were in perfect harmony with each other, humanity, men and women, and with the created order. We cultivated the earth and lived at peace with it. This world haunts us and we all long to get back to it. The reason it doesn’t exist anymore is because of sin. We are all sinners, that is we have all rebelled against the rightful rule of God and tried to de-god God and take His throne for ourselves. We have tried to find our ultimate joy, meaning, identity, fulfillment, satisfaction, hope, apart from God who created us to find those things in Him. As a result of our rebellion we have separated ourselves from God, un-centred ourselves, and brought disharmony and death into the world. We have grieved and offended God, and hurt ourselves and others and the earth (Romans 1). We are under a sentence of eternal separation from God for our treason, BUT…the gospel. This is where the good news summarized above comes in. Jesus tells us when we repent, that is turn away from our rebellious life, and believe the gospel, that is we embrace this story, that Jesus lived, died, and rose to save us, past, present, and future, and there is no hope for us of being made right with God apart from Him, we are saved (Mark 1:15; Acts 3:19). Our status changes. All the condemnation due us has been fully absorbed by Jesus. Our record of wrongs is entirely expunged and Jesus’ sinless record is substituted in. We go from being God’s enemies, to being His sons and daughters. We go from being exiles to being reconciled to God, to being at home with God. God sees us as He sees Jesus. He sees us as His blameless, unblemished, undefiled children. He loves us eternally, unconditionally, and unwaveringly. He delights in us, is pleased with us, and fully accepts us, because of Jesus. Our identity now is that we are beloved, blood bought children of God in whom He is well pleased. This is the change in our status, our standing forever before God that occurs the minute we repent of our sin and give our lives to Jesus (Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:1-14, 2:1-10). This is our past salvation, although we need to embrace it everyday if we are to live free and overcome our fears, addictions, anxieties, disordered loves, insecurities, inadequacies, self-esteem and self-image issues, enslavement to people pleasing etc…
This is good news. However, the gospel doesn’t stop there. There is a present aspect to the gospel as well. Jesus not only changes our status, but He begins to change us. He gives us His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and begins to transform us from the inside out, making us into who we were meant to be, who we were created to be, who God wants us to be, but aren’t because of our sin. Jesus starts to make us like Himself. You see, Jesus’ thirty/thirty-three years on the earth prior to His crucifixion were pivotal. Jesus was fully God but He was also fully human, and the life He lived was the perfect human life. He lived a life of obedience, love, and worship towards God the Father. He centred His whole life on God. He lived the way we should have. Jesus did not only do this so He could be our sinless substitute, able to exchange His sinlessness for our sinfulness (2 Corinthians 5:21), but to show us what a thriving, flourishing, joy-filled, abundant, fully human life looks like. He came to be our example with His beautiful life and sacrificial death. And when we entrust our salvation to Him, He gives us His Spirit and empowers us to live the life that He lived. He breaks the power of sin and the devil in our lives so that we can live lives of faith, freedom, joy, peace, love etc… Lives centred on God, lives of love, worship, and obedience to Him. Through faith we become united to Jesus, like a branch to a vine, and He lives His life through us, producing in us what the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit (John 15:1-17). What is that? In Galatians 5 Paul tells us that (these lists are not exhaustive): the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (vv 22-23). These fruits are the opposite of the works of the flesh, which Paul summarizes as: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (vv 19-21). The works of the flesh, or the active outflow of our sin nature, are what separated us from God to begin with. Jesus says He is going to purge these things out of our lives and make us new. It is a painful and lifelong process as Jesus peels back layers and deals with all of our stuff, but it is freeing and life-giving. And the amazing thing is, Jesus doesn’t leave us to do this journey on our own. Obviously He is with us through His Spirit, but through Jesus we are also adopted into the family of God, Jesus’ people, the church, a Spirit-indwelt community that collectively is being transformed by Jesus into the new humanity that shows the world what life with God looks like. As we live life with Jesus’ people, He changes us through them and uses us to change them, and together we become more like Jesus.
However, the gospel still does not end there. Jesus came to announce the breaking in of the Kingdom of God through Him and by extension His people, the church (Mark 1:15; Luke 17:20-21). Throughout the Bible God longs not just to restore individuals, but to restore the whole created order (Isaiah 65:17-25; Romans 8:18-25; Revelation 21-22). Everything became effected by sin when we rebelled against the rightful rule of God, but now through King Jesus and His people everything is being reconciled to God, or brought back under the rule of God. It is being centred on God again (Colossians 1:15-20). Churches are outposts of the Kingdom, and Christians are citizens of the Kingdom. As more and more people repent and believe the gospel and live out the values of the Kingdom in their schools, marriages, families, friendships, neighbourhoods, and spheres of influence, the blessings of God’s rule are felt and experienced. Individuals, families, communities, and sometimes cities, cultures, and societies are transformed. The future aspect of the gospel is that one day God’s Kingdom will break in fully and all of the blessings of His rule will be felt in their fullness throughout the whole cosmos. Evil will be vanquished, rebellion will be decisively defeated, and peace and justice will reign on the earth. Heaven will come down and meet earth and this creation will be restored (Romans 8:18-25). We will be perfected body and soul (1 Corinthians 15), and we will live forever with God in His presence. There will be no more poverty, hunger, homelessness, suffering, pain, death, war, terror, depression, anxiety, fear, sickness, illness, slavery, sexual exploitation, corruption, racism, sexism, hate, inequity etc… Things will be the way they were supposed to be, and better (Revelation 21-22). We are to live in anticipation of that day, the fulfillment of the gospel, which is why I believe justice is such an integral part of the church’s mission and gospel proclamation.
We need the whole gospel
This is the whole gospel. Jesus has saved us, is saving us, will save us. Unfortunately, this larger than life gospel has often been reduced to “you’re a sinner, God is angry with your sin, trust Jesus and you won’t go to hell”. Now the gospel is not less than that, but it is certainly much much much more than that. Jesus reconciles us to God. Brings us into an intimate relationship with God. Makes us pleasing, acceptable, and delightful to God. Changes us into our true selves. Makes us fully human. Uses us to transform lives and transforms us through relationships with His people. Works through us to beat back the darkness in our world and show people a different way. And someday He will “make everything sad come untrue”(Jesus Storybook Bible). This is the gospel, and tragically we often under-sell it. For many Christians who have heard nothing but the “Jesus saves you from hell”-only gospel, they see God as an angry tyrant who now thankfully has been appeased by Jesus, but they never come to embrace Him as a loving heavenly Father. They never come to realize that because of Jesus we are eternally, unwaveringly, unconditionally loved, accepted, and delighted in by God. All of the love, acceptance, belonging, and value we long for, we have completely in God through Christ forever. For many Christians who have heard nothing but the “Jesus saves you from hell”- only gospel, they do not live transformed lives. They remain angry, joyless, frustrated, selfish, greedy, addicted, jealous, envious, apathetic, complacent. They think Christianity is all about the after-life, and they don’t know that Jesus came to give them an abundant life in the here and now (John 10:10); to break the power of sin and the devil in their lives that they might live in joy-filled freedom. For many Christians who have heard nothing but the “Jesus saves you from hell”-only gospel, their hope for the future is that they will escape this irredeemable planet as God annihilates it and will live a disembodied existence in another dimension. They think Christianity is all about escaping this life, this existence, this body, this world, but the gospel is that Jesus is going to restore this creation. He is going to utterly vanquish all evil, bring everything back under the rightful rule of God, and usher in a New Heavens and New Earth. He came not just to save our souls, but He is going to resurrect and perfect our bodies, making them immortal and fit for eternal life in the presence of God, and we are going to live a sinless existence with God in this world made new. Without this future aspect of the gospel we care little for our world and bodily existence, seeing justice, efforts at renewal, and acts of love that seek to bring healing to the whole person as rearranging deck chairs on the sinking titanic. But it isn’t! Justice is actually an act of faith in the gospel. It is a declaration of victory.
When we don’t have the whole gospel we live deficient Christian lives. The gospel is good news for our past, present, and future. We are saved. We are being saved. We will be saved. Thank you Jesus!