When this blog posts to Twitter and Facebook, there will be a portion of my audience that will see the word “Gospel” and immediately roll their eyes and move on. There will be another portion that looks closer in an attempt to sort of scrutinize whether or not I was able to represent the gospel according to their understanding. Still others will come because the subject of the gospel remains a bit of a mystery to which they find themselves strangely compelled.
I have conducted an informal survey by asking people a simple question. “What is the gospel?”
The answers are interesting. Below are the standard replies. Is your answer in this list?
- It’s the Good News! (because “gospel”, Greek word euaggelion means good news)
- It means that Jesus died for our sins.
- It means that the messiah has come.
- It is the way a person can go to heaven.
- The gospel are the books, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
- It’s the story of Jesus.
Are these answers correct? Yes. However, while what they are saying is true, it is not all that is true about the gospel.
- What happens when we go into the office and announce across the board room table into the conference call telephone that you have good news for everyone in the company, and then proceed to say “Jesus died for our sins?”
- When Paul talks about the gospel how can he be referring to the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John given that they probably were not even written yet?
- If it is good news that the messiah has come, then why aren’t our Jewish brothers and sisters convinced? And how does a messiah change anything about modern politics, business, education, sports or religion?
Once again we have confusion over terms. Language is a very challenging medium to convey deep realities, but it is all we have. The term “gospel” is in danger of being a nebulous term like “God” because it can mean almost anything to anyone.
Does the gospel exist until it exists for us, individually? What I mean by this is not that there is no such thing as the gospel, only that it lacks significance and power until it permeates our personal reality or inner experience. Only about 30 percent of the world would define themselves as Christians, does that mean that the gospel only exists in 3 our 10 people? Of course not.
The Apostle Paul preached much about the Gospel. But it didn’t start with him. He said that the Gospel had been proclaimed in ALL THE CREATION UNDER HEAVEN and that he became a part of it (Colossians 1:23). Apparently, Paul’s definition of the gospel was not limited to Christianity.
To further underscore this point, Jesus himself (a Jew) went into the temple and unrolled the scroll (read it out of order) to Isaiah and selected portions of Chapter 61 proclaiming good news to the poor, liberty to captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, and liberty to the oppressed while leaving out God’s anger and judgment. Jesus was saying this prophesy written hundreds of years prior was now being fulfilled in their hearing.
They couldn’t believe their ears. They couldn’t believe this gospel. And they drove him out of town.
You see, Jesus proclamation wasn’t just for the Jews. It was for all those who were poor, captive, blind or oppressed. The Jews, led by Saul of Tarsus (Apostle Paul), were killing and persecuting the early church because their “Gospel” claimed that Yahweh (the God of the Jews) was now saving non-jews without requiring them to convert to Judaism.
In like manner today, most Christians would outright reject any gospel that would say that God would save non-christians without them having to convert to Christianity. It’s a gospel that people just can’t (or won’t) believe.
Is it “good news” that God only loves and saves some people, while punishing the rest to eternal torment and suffering?
What is harder, helping a blind person to see, or raising the awareness of someone to the point where they can perceive realities that they previously thought did not exist?
What is harder, providing for the needs of the poor, or coming to the awareness that our character has grave deficiencies and then beginning the hard work of personal transformation?
What is harder, letting a prisoner out of jail, or enabling a person to become aware of how fear, self-doubt, racial, economic, religious, and institutional power have stifled us from pursuing our biggest dreams and following our deepest passions?
I believe that Paul was right. The power to grow, evolve and transform for the better has been with all of humanity since the beginning of time. As a Christian, I understand that to be the power of the Christ, because we see this cosmic work saving and benefitting people who had no idea who Jesus was (1 Corinthians 10:4, 9, Matthew 25:45-46).
However, there are many people who are not Christians. These people do not call this power that beckons them to become transformed the gospel. They call it something else, they call it a billion different names. Regardless of title, it is a power that has gone out to all creation under heaven and people are saved by its illumination.
And right there is where some of my Christian brothers and sisters will reject this message. They will claim that salvation is only possible by conversion to Christianity. They have interpreted Christ’s claim of exclusivity (John 14:6) to mean that Jesus started a new religion and only Christians get to go to heaven. Instead Jesus was saying that if any of us at all ever find our way to God, then it was the power of Christ that brought us. This was not the initiation of a new religion, but the completion of all religions into one unifying power. The gospel by any other name still holds the same power.
The gospel is far wider than both the believer and unbeliever will ever want to consider. It is good news for all comers. It is an invitation toward personal and global transformation and it is the power to see it happen. It is found in the ground of all being, it is what gives any aspect of life meaning. It’s in every particle of the universe, yet we so easily miss it. It’s a kingdom led by a leadership force that is unlike our own. It is paradoxical, mystical, tangible. We only need eyes to see.
Why is it so hard for us to believe it?