The word gospel literally means “good news.” In Greek, the word is euanggelion from which we derive our English words, evangelical and evangelism. So, an evangelical church is one that preaches the Gospel or good news of Jesus Christ.
The question that strikes me this morning is, “are we really offering good news?”
I have been in churches that do a good job of teaching people how they should behave. Sometimes the rules of behavior are plainly spoken; sometimes they are unspoken, unwritten rules that people in the fellowship absorb. Often these churches do a great job of teaching the Bible and holding people to the standards that the Bible promotes.
When I read Scripture, I am overwhelmed with how short I come from living up to the standards I find there. I do not love God with my entire being, I am still self absorbed and petulant with God. I do not love my neighbor as myself. Therefore, I fail in what Jesus tells us are the two great commands. If Christianity is simply a set of rules or a system of morality, I am a miserable failure at it. I can’t live up to the standard.
But that is precisely the danger. We can present Christianity to the world as a system of morality, a code of ethics. The church can come off as a religious Dr. Phil which offers advice as to how to overcome the problems in life through moral excellence.
If Christianity is just a moral system, if all the church has to offer is a cleaner lifestyle, then that is not good news. As C. S. Lewis has pointed out, a man cannot live up to his own standards, so his default position is one of frustration and defeat. If we are simply offering a system of morality and standards of behavior, we are only adding to the frustration. If all we have to offer are rules to live by, we are adding to the burden rather than relieving it.
In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul gives a simple statement of how the Gospel is indeed good news. We don’t have to produce righteousness on our own, nor do we have to clean ourselves up before coming to Jesus. Jesus takes care of it all. In Romans 8:1, we are informed that when we do come to Christ and accept his payment on our behalf, we are no longer under condemnation.
We receive forgiveness we don’t deserve and a status that we cannot earn. That is good news, the best news we can offer. Rather than offering behavior modification we an bring people to Jesus who has the ability to change hearts. In Christ, the words of Ezekiel are true:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
Can we, as the church, leave off our moralizing and poor attempts at behavior modification and return to the good news of Jesus Christ? Can we understand that we are not called to reform the political system but to allow God to reform our hearts?
I find it ironic that the sinners flocked to Jesus when he walked the earth and the “saints” were repulsed and condemned by him because they missed the point of his ministry. Too much of what is labeled Christian in my day is unattractive to non-believers because of perceived condemnation. Maybe it is time to reevaluate what message we are proclaiming to see how closely it matches Jesus’ message.
My guess would be that if we indeed act and speak like Jesus, the “sinners” would begin flocking to the Christ that the world so desperately needs.