You're Giving the Gospel Wrong

Making the good news bad news is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The word "gospel" comes from a Greek word meaning "good news." Most Christians understand that to mean the good news of salvation through Jesus. Of course, it can't be good news to those who don't need salvation, so explaining why everyone does has become a crucial part of sharing it. Most people don't think they're all that bad which makes it our job to help them understand that they are.

This is why many popular pastors today, like Joel Osteen, are critiqued for being "soft on sin." Their gospel presentations focus so much on God's love that the imminence of his judgment gets lost in the fray of happy feelings. It's an ear-scratching message that exposes a desire for the praise of man and the riches of the world, not that the lost become found before it's too late.

Because that's the priority for the Christian: trying to save as many as possible as quickly as possible. Luxuries like discipleship naturally have to take a backseat to evangelism since we only have so much time. Besides, once people are safely in the kingdom, they can figure it out from there. It's a typical American perspective that prefers individual resolve over communal dependence. Beyond that, it relies more on ourselves than God.

We've been warring against the tendency toward works-based salvation for centuries. Whether it's Catholics not recognizing where their ability to do good comes from or Calvinists trying to prove that Jesus is their Lord, most Christians throughout history have made their own works necessary for genuine salvation. It's that constant battle between synergism and monergism (salvation being a work of God and man or solely a work of God). And just like we make salvation more a work of man than it is, we make evangelism less a work of God than it should be.

When we try to convince people to accept Jesus through clever tracts or coherent arguments, we forget that the Spirit is intimately involved in the proclamation of the gospel. God didn't just secure our salvation and then hand over the delivery system so he could get back to sipping coffee. Yes, we've been entrusted to preach it, but that doesn't mean we're expected to provoke it.

To the contrary, Jesus told his disciples to shake the dust off their feet if their message wasn't received and move on. How different this model is from our current methods. With religious zeal as our guide, we badger people daily trying to wear them down enough to fit God's standard--a holy persistence we call piety. But the truth is we fear for our loved ones so much that we forget God's patience is greater than our lack of faith.

Even if our role is not to convince others to accept salvation, it must be to convince them that they need it, right? In the first Christian sermon, Peter addresses the crowd by exposing their evil of crucifying an innocent man. They knew Jesus didn't deserve death and they clearly felt the guilt of that in their response. That's the difference. Peter didn't try to convince them; he reminded them of that which they were already convinced. He let the Spirit do the work of conviction instead of trying to persuade them to feel something they didn't.

That's what the gospel is: not confrontation and imposition but an answer to a need. By focusing on sin, we create a dualistic gospel that emphasizes law, not grace. The prodigal son did not return because the father chased him down and berated him back. He returned because he "came to himself" and was left wanting. And he knew that the father's kindness would be waiting for him.

The gospel doesn't make the good news bad news; it doesn't try to make people feel their sin. It reaches people who already do.

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