Originally published in The Calhoun Times October 11, 2015
The short answer is “good news.” Gospel is a Greek word that was transliterated into English Bibles. Instead of translating the word we just use the Greek word and learn its meaning. For Christians of course it always refers to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel message is that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. In Mark chapter 1 Jesus began his public ministry, preaching in Galilee “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
It is really important that we get the gospel right. We have to address our sin and God’s grace. Notice in Mark 1:15 Jesus said to repent and believe in the gospel. He told the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8 that he did not condemn her; but he also told her to go and sin no more. One way we get the gospel wrong is to only talk about God’s love and grace. Jesus did not change his sweater and sneakers like so much Mr. Rogers and talk softly about how much he loves us just the way we are. Jesus made a whip of cords of overturned the moneychangers tables when he cleansed the Jerusalem temple. He often had strong words for the scribes and Pharisees. God hates sin and his wrath toward sin was poured out on Jesus the day he hung on the cross. We can’t be faithful to the gospel message and never mention sin, judgement, the cross and the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, we get the gospel just as wrong if we only focus on sin. The typical hellfire and damnation sermon runs the risk of not sharing the good news of God’s love, grace and mercy. The gospel is summarized well in a single verse in Romans 5:8 “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We as Christians must be honest with people about how love and mercy work. “God loves you” is a foundational truth of scripture but that fact alone is not enough. It is God’s will that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9) but the truth is that many do. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” Matthew 7:13
“Preach the gospel always and if necessary, use words.” This quote is often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi but it appears to be a recent invention. Nevertheless it is the subject of much debate. Can you share the gospel without words? Can you “live the gospel” or is that a falsehood? There is an old saying about actions speaking louder than words. If we talk about our faith but do not live by it then our words will have little effect. We might call that “talking the talk without walking the walk.” But how much difference does the walk make without the talk?
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus told his followers to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In Matthew 5:16 he said “Let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” I’m not teaching a works-based salvation, but where there is faith there will also be good works. And according to Jesus, our good works bring glory and honor to God. Jesus was the light of the world that that shined into our darkness. He didn’t just tell us to talk about light, he told us to be light. Disaster relief teams from Georgia are mobilizing to help those displaced by the flooding in South Carolina. Providing meals and clean water is one way to be good news for people that are suffering. I preached this past Sunday on heaven, hell and the gospel. I told my congregation in Plainville that becoming a religious nutcase or a Bible thumper was not necessary. Be a good neighbor. Be an honest and friendly co-worker. Provide encouragement and be a shoulder to cry on. And share the gospel when the opportunity presents itself. You can have more impact in your sphere of influence than a cold call from a church pastor.
From one end to the other the Bible tells one story, about how a holy God deals with sinful, fallen and broken people. At the center of that story is Jesus. Of all the things Christians have to say, what the world needs to hear is the gospel. Be salt, be light. Share the good news.