Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Gospel

My faith community has a habit of saying "you have to obey the Gospel." By that we mean that we must respond to the Gospel by 1) hearing it, 2) believing it, 3) repenting from sin, 4) confessing your belief in Jesus, and 5) being baptized. But is the Gospel something that can be obeyed? I think not. To suggest such a thing is to rob the Gospel of its power.

So, what is the Gospel? It is simply this (my apologies to Paul): God loves you and wants to bless you.

That's it. No great theological dissertation. No need to fully grasp a litany of facts. Simply that God loves you and wants to bless you.

That is good news and stands in sharp contrast to the message of many religious groups that "you're all going to Hell unless you come be with us." Somehow, "you're going to Hell," doesn't sound like good news to me. And it isn't.

So what about that list of things at the top of this post? Aren't they important? Yes they are and critically so. But they are responses to the Gospel, not the Gospel itself. And all but one are intuitive. Disciples of God will respond to the graciousness of God by aligning themselves with Him and so items 2 and 3 are covered automatically. Aligning ourselves ("I'm a Christian") with God is a response that disciples who are not ashamed or afraid to claim God would do, and so item 4 is covered almost as a matter of course. So that leaves items 1 and 5. The first is not a response, but rather a cause for the response. Its inclusion in the list is a result of Paul's rhetorical question "how can they hear without a preacher?" While seemingly necessary, it is neither the Gospel or a response to it. And so item 5. Baptism is a response to God of a repentant disciple. It is a public acknowledgement of our alignment with God and a process that, according to Peter washes away our sin and through which we receive the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel, the Good News, is a message of hope, healing, and reconciliation (John 3.16, 17; Luke 4.15). One's response to hearing that good news is a measure of one's belief in, and belief of God. If one is convinced that God is, and that Jesus appropriately modelled God for us, aligning ourselves with His teaching is a normal response. Not one to be debated, but rather a response we actively make.

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