Why is the Gospel Good News?

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In Christian circles we refer to the Gospel as Good News. This follows from our understanding of the Biblical Greek term εὐανγέλλιον which literally translated means “good news”. I would like us to consider some practical reasons why the Gospel is Good News to everyone, regardless of background, ethnicity, or geographic location. I will begin by providing a brief definition of Gospel.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel is the story of redemption carried forth by Israel and culminated in the person and work of Jesus. This redemptive work is necessary because Adam and Eve chose evil over righteousness, a choice I believe was a real choice. (Genesis 3) As a consequence of this decision all humans were born with a sin nature. God immediately began redeeming his creation, as seen with the Messianic promise in Genesis 3:15. Fast forward through several years of Israel’s history and you will see God making covenants with humans with the goal of redemption in mind. Several covenants appear throughout the Old Testament but God’s covenant with Abraham takes an important place in history.(See Genesis 12-15, 18, and Paul’s epistle to Galatians, especially chapter 3.) Jesus is the mediator of a new and better covenant according to Hebrews 12:24. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Messiah has come to redeem Israel and the world as a result of his gracious covenant. The Good News hinges on the person and work of Jesus, namely the resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15)

Jesus does rescue us from judgement but the Gospel is much more beautiful than that. Good News is more than fire insurance or an escape ticket from hell. Good News is good because Israel’s long-awaited Messiah has come. There is no Messiah outside of God’s covenant with Israel. 

There are at least four reasons why the Gospel is Good News. (This list is not exhaustive. If you can think of other reasons, comment on my post.)

1.) It is a free gift of God.

Many passages refer to redemption as a gift but I find Romans 3:21-26 helpful.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,  to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26, NKJV (emphasis mine)

I sometimes struggle with grace, especially after I sin. God is not going to love some future state of you more than He loves you now. (Matt Chandler) Our justification finds basis on Jesus’ gracious work rather than from any meritorious work on our account. The Gospel is Good News because it is God’s free gift to you and me.

2.) It’s offer extends to all persons wherever they are.

John 4 is that wonderful story of the Samaritan woman who had a radical encounter with Jesus. We could highlight several Gospel elements of this story but I’ll point my attention to Jesus meeting her where she was. Jesus engaged in conversation and challenged the Samaritan woman to contemplate her relationship with God by emphasizing the relationship with her five previous husbands. We understand this encounter to have resulted in a lifestyle change based on the new belief of the community. John says that many believed as a result of this woman’s testimony but eventually accepted Jesus as Messiah through faith. (John 4:39-42) Jesus met the Samaritan woman in the midst of her sinfulness and brokenness. She didn’t have to clean up her life and come to Jesus. She came to Jesus and he cleaned up her life by washing her in the Word.

Wherever you are Christ is calling you to come to him. You don’t have to get your act together to come to him. He accepts you just as you are. This is Good News.

3.) It sets us free from our old master, namely sin.  

This thought inspired the entire post. In Systematic Theology we were discussing human sexuality and the transforming power of the Gospel. In American culture sexual orientation is receiving significant attention, given the rise of the so-called moral revolution. In class we examined 1 Corinthians 6 which highlights the particular problem of church discipline. An individual in the church was practicing sexual immorality and Paul urged the church to deal with this matter in grace and love in light of the transforming power of the Gospel. Sexual orientation is a matter of temptation rather than mere sexual preference. Culture excuses sexual sin, whether heterosexual or homosexual, on the basis of one’s orientation. This is really a fatalistic view of human nature. We are all oriented toward various sinful desires but the Gospel teaches us that we do not have to act on those temptations or orientations.

Let’s consider how Paul viewed one’s orientation and the Gospel’s transformative power.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NKJV

We are all oriented toward sin rather than righteousness as a result of the Fall. We all have temptations but we do not nor should we act on every temptation we face. Only through the Good News of Jesus can we overcome these many temptations we face. We will struggle with sin until Christ returns. We are saved and being saved. 

4.)It’s transforming power extends to all people who have faith in Jesus. 

Gospel transformation is available to all who seek it. In the verses mentioned above, Paul reminded the Corinthians that they too were delivered from the ugliest sins. You can change your behavior but your heart can only be changed by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Gospel is more than mere moralism. It is Good News of deliverance to those enslaved to sin. When we become believers we are given the Holy Spirit who works to mold us into the image of Jesus the Son.

This reason moves me to celebrate God’s gracious work in Christ. Dr. Putman stated, “Regardless of your temptation, through the Gospel you might become new through Jesus.” There is no greater news than this. The Good News changes how we relate to God and to each other. The Gospel is Good News because we are not doomed to stay in our sinful muck. Jesus has reached down (figuratively speaking) and has gotten us out of that muck. What an awesome God we serve!

Grace, Grace, God’s grace

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within

Grace, Grace, God’s grace

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

The Doctrine of Immutability: Does God Change His Mind?

Each week I am assigned a theological reflection on a particular doctrine. I was personally encouraged by my assignment this week and thought I would share my reflection with you. May the immutability of God bring joy, peace, and assurance to your faith.

Millard Erickson posits that the basis for the doctrine of immutability is both biblical and philosophical. (God the Father Almighty, 96-97) Three passages provide the biblical support for immutability or God’s changelessness: Psalm 102:25-27, Malachi 3:6, and James 1:17. James 1:17 more fully encompasses the doctrine. James reminds his reader that God and the Father of Lights are the same being.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (NKJV)

Although the above passage indicates there is no change with God contemporary interpreters must interact with other passages that appear to connote a change in God’s actions toward humanity. Philosophy can function as an interpretive tool for problem passages.

Erickson includes philosophy as the basis for the doctrine of immutability by referring to how Greeks understood reality. Platonic thinkers perceived reality as divided into two levels: the upper level of reality includes the invisible but intelligible, is absolute and therefore more real, and the lower level which includes ideas or forms that are subject to change and therefore less real. Aristotelian thinkers on the other hand understand reality in terms of potentiality and actuality. In Aristotelianism “God” is static and does not change. Erickson summarizes the Aristotelian understanding thusly, “God” being fully actual cannot change because he has no potentiality no fully realized.” (God the Father Almighty, 99) How one understands reality directly or indirectly affects his understanding of the doctrine of immutability. Erickson properly reminds us that “God is an active, dynamic being at work in the world and that [his activity] is “stable rather than unstable.”  (God the Father Almighty, 112) Scripture and philosophy do not necessarily contradict one another when discussing the immutability of God, but rather complement one another. Contemporary interpreters can and should discuss this doctrine by engaging with philosophical conversation. Erickson provides us with three solutions to passages that seem to indicate that God changed his mind.

These three solutions are ways of understanding God’s relationship to humanity. Problem passages should be understood as anthropomorphisms or anthropropathisms. The biblical writer sought to describe God’s actions and feelings in human terms to convey God’s message to his people. Erickson also posits that apparent changes of mind are really only new stages in the working out of God’s [redemptive] plan. He includes the example of God’s offer of salvation to the Gentiles, which was originally offered to Israel. Other apparent changes of mind are “changes of orientation resulting from humans’ move into a different relationship with God.” (Erickson, 249-51) Dissertations can be written in favor of Erickson’s third solution highlighting the significance of human prayer in relationship to Divine acts.

Conclusion

Some passages of Scripture seem to indicate that God changes his mind. Interpreters must carefully interact with Biblical and philosophical content. Millard Erickson has provided the church with helpful solutions to the apparent changes in God. His conclusion functions as an encouragement to the Christian and the church. “God is dependable. He will be the same tomorrow as He is today.” (Erickson, 250, Lam.3:22-23) Peter Geach also provides a helpful conclusion when he says, “Confidence in God and his promises that Christians have can only be experienced and justified on the basis of the immutability of God. This guarantees that God can and will fulfill His promises.” (Cited by Erickson in God the Father Almighty, 100) We serve an amazing God.