The primary problem with most of what is proclaimed in churches today as the gospel is that it really isn’t much of a gospel.
The word “gospel” means good news, but most presentations of the gospel do not contain a whole lot of good news.
At least, not in the long run.
Most gospel presentations are mostly bad news.
Because they are missing the word “nothing.”
The word “nothing” is the missing word of the Gospel. To see this, let us quickly define the gospel the way it is often defined today.
What is the Gospel?
If I were to ask you, “What is the gospel?” you would likely respond with something that you read in a book or heard your pastor teach.
The gospel, according to many people, is the message that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay the penalty for our sins and all we have to do to receive eternal life is believe in Jesus for it.
The gospel, for most people, centers around a few key words: God, sin, death, Jesus, cross, believe, eternal life.
Adding to the Gospel
While none of this is wrong, it just isn’t … complete.
Most people sense this, which is why, after a person believes in Jesus for eternal life, other well-meaning Christians come alongside that new believer and try to fill in the pieces.
After a person believes in Jesus for eternal life, the nagging question in their heart and mind is, “Now what?” People know there must be something more to this whole Jesus thing, but they are not sure what it is.
The tragic reality is that there are plenty of people and churches who are more than willing to fill in the pieces, but the pieces they provide do not come from the gospel of grace but from the rules of religion.
The missing pieces that often get added on to the gospel are not from God’s gospel at all, but are from the legalistic laws of man-made religion.
Where the “nothing” piece is supposed to go, religion adds all sorts of rules and regulations.
New believers are told to attend church, read the Bible and pray every day, get rid of sinful music and sinful activities and sinful speech, tithe faithfully, attend a Bible study, build friends with Christians, and so on. Along with this list of things new Christians must do, there is also a list of things to believe. New Christians must believe the Bible and everything written in it, and must not doubt a word of it. They must believe that God is always at work, even if everything goes bad. They must believe what the pastor says, and what the church tells them.
And on and on it goes.
Yet here is where the problem begins.
Most people have trouble with these lists of these behaviors and beliefs.
It is not that they don’t want to do or believe these things; the problem is they cannot.
The list of activities and behaviors that Christians are to be involved in is overwhelming. Most people cannot add daily prayer and Bible reading into an already busy life, let alone church services on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, a Bible study on Friday night, and an accountability group on Saturday morning.
As for sin, while most people can fix a few sins, they can’t fix all of them, and every time one sin gets “fixed,” a dozen more seem to sprout up.
Then there are all the strange things written in the Bible. Most people have trouble believing everything that is there. Was the universe really created in only six days about 6000 years ago? Did people live to be almost 1000? Did an axe head really float? And on and on it goes.
Eventually, what began as the good news of God’s love and grace becomes the bad news of duty, obligation, shame, fear, guilt, and failure.
The pieces of the puzzle which have been added to the gospel sound right and even biblical, but they rapidly cause the gospel to lose its luster and appeal.
The Solution to the Gospel Problem
The solution to this gospel problem is to recognize once and for all that there is nothing we need to do to earn, keep, or prove God’s free gift of eternal life. This is the beginning of the gospel, and if we get this wrong, the rest of the gospel unravels as well.
So what do you need to do?
No amount of good works before, during, or after the reception of eternal life can help you earn, prove, or keep your eternal life. This is square one of the gospel, and everything follows from here.
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