I’ve lamented before (here, here and here, to name a few places) that our understanding and proclamation of the gospel is often…well, lamentable. Consequently, what we present as the Gospel of Jesus Christ—as the “good news” for the world—tends to be nothing more than an anemic and ultimately irrelevant set of doctrinal statements about how to achieve personal happiness and/or secure a comfortable spot in the afterlife. We have no inclination to proclaim it, because we know people aren’t interested in what we have to say. And, if we’re honest, we don’t blame them. Because we don’t find it all that interesting either.
Because we’ve missed the point altogether. Because in place of the earth-shattering news that the kingdom of God has broken into the darkness of the world and that all of creation is being redeemed through the victory of Jesus on the cross, we’ve cultivated a pseudo-gospel that now reads: “Jesus died on the cross so that I can go to heaven when I die”. It fits nicely on a tract, and to some degree it’s a true statement; but it is, truly, so inadequate as to be not only uninteresting, but also false.
And thus a dying world has no interest. Because what we have offered the world for much of the last century is not life. It is a blend of blind optimism and individualist escapism, predictably resulting in apathy—both from those outside and those within Christianity. But that is not the gospel. The gospel is not simply a program for individual salvation, nor is it a dry, dogmatic set of religious beliefs.
The gospel is what makes us human.
The Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, in which we declare to a dying world that Jesus is the resurrected Lord and is in the process of redeeming all things (ourselves included) and restoring them to their proper relationship with the Creator, is good news. It is hope and it is life, and these are found nowhere else. It means that we are able to be fully human, in a way that is otherwise impossible. It means that through the death and resurrection of Christ, we are offered redemption. It means that we can be made whole again, in a way that our sin—our pride and choice of self over God and others—otherwise renders impossible. It means that we can be put back together again, that we can know our Creator and do his will.
It means that all of our lives—our work, our relationships, our jobs and families, happiness and pain—have meaning. Not simply a “sense of purpose”, but an actual meaning at the ontological level (the level of being). The gospel is not about “finding a sense of purpose” – it is what gives and reveals our purpose. It is what gives meaning to being human, and it is what makes being fully human possible.
To be human is to bear the image of God – to be like him in our capacity for relationship and to rule justly over the creation of which he has made us stewards. But because of our sin—because of our pride that seeks to place ‘me’ at the center of all things rather than the Creator—the image of God in us is tainted. Our relationship with Him is broken, as are our relationships with one another and with creation itself.
But the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God declares that through his victory over death and sin on the cross, the redemptive work of God in the world is taking place. It declares that we can now be put back into proper relationship with our Creator—that we can return to being about his will instead of ours. It declares that because of the grace and love we have been shown through the sacrifice of Jesus, we can be made right with one another through that same love and grace.
It means that we are no longer hopeless amid the systems and sin of the world that beat us down on a daily basis. It means that there is a meaning to life beyond survival, beyond mindlessly pursuing the things that the world has to offer. It means that in the face of the dehumanizing world, into the darkness of daily drudgery, the Christian can stand full of life, hope, and joy, knowing what it means to be fully human.
The gospel is good news, not because it is a ticket into heaven or because it provides a sense of personal fulfillment. Those things are mediocre news at best, because they are only bits and pieces of a grander, more beautiful story—a story that is primarily about God, and not us. The gospel is good news—it is the best news—because it means that from the broken bits and pieces of our fractured lives, Jesus restores his image in us for his glory.
The gospel is good news, because it is what makes us human.