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Rethinking the Gospel

Rethinking the Gospel
Aug 02 Tags: gospel | 6 Responses Print Save as PDF

What is the Gospel? What elements are essential? What criteria do you use to identify a “good gospel message?”

Recently, I took a look at the gospel presentations in the book of Acts to discover how the Bible might answer these questions. I went to Acts because it gives us the record of the initial thrust of the Gospel, when the Holy Spirit drove a wedge into human culture through the preaching of the apostles.

What’s included

The early presentations of the Gospel were extremely Christo-centric. Besides clearly identifying Jesus as both man and God, the apostles put His death and resurrection front and centre. Acts 4:33 tells us “…with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” (ESV) This suggests to me that God endorsed this emphasis.

People were confronted with the fact of their sin and the need for forgiveness, but nowhere did I find the apostles trying to drum up feelings of guilt. They simply stated sin as a fact and got on with calling their hearers to believe in Jesus and repent. Repentance surfaces as an important theme of the gospel in Acts.

What’s excluded

None of these things surprised me a great deal, but a few points did grab my attention. I could not find any reference to the love of God, or His mercy. Grace got several mentions, but not in the presentations of the gospel. Mostly, grace is referenced as a post-salvation work as in Acts 20:32 “…I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

What really rocked me was the absence of warnings concerning hell or the wrath of God. There’s nothing to say about them; they just aren’t there. Paul did mention judgment when he was talking to Felix, but this is the only occurrence. So much for the idea “If you haven’t preached hell, you haven’t preached the gospel.”

The other shocker was that the apostles offered no inducements to believe. They didn’t extend promises of personal fulfillment, of peace and joy, of help with your relationships or finances, of freedom or purpose, not even of heaven. It was all about recognizing who Jesus is and the fact that through his death and resurrection he had made divine forgiveness possible.This may strike 21st Century Christians as not a “big enough deal.”

But think about it:

  • By believing, their thinking had been properly aligned with reality, as they recognized who Jesus was and what He had done for them
  • They had repented—abandoning a complicated life focussed on sin and the law, and embracing a simple one focussed on grace and righteousness
  • They had been baptized, publicly identifying themselves with the One who had turned their mourning into dancing. (No wonder they “ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” – Acts 2:46)

Three closing points:

  • I’m not saying we must limit our presentations of the Gospel to what we find in Acts, but I do think that it would be good to have the same emphasis.
  • There is no room in this simple message for human eloquence, with its frightening descriptions of eternal punishment, or glowing descriptions of the bliss of heaven (and, much less, offers of personal benefits).
  • I suspect that the reason the gospel was so powerful in the book of Acts was that it was all about Jesus — who He is and what He has done.

Ron Hughes

Ron is president of FBH International.  Ron and his wife, Debbie, were commended by Edmison Heights Bible Chapel in 1983 to the Lord’s work in Ecuador. They served there for 10 years and returned to Canada on the invite of the FBH board to work alongside Arnot McIntee, then president of the ministry. In 1995, Arnot retired from active work with the board and Ron assumed responsibility. He writes and produces program material for use by the international producers, creates videos and other on-line material, and promotes the ministry among interested believers.

6 Responses to Rethinking the Gospel

  1. crawfordjpaul

    Great Article Ron. While I do think sin and judgement are a part of the message at some point I agree that it shouldn’t be the first thing people hear. Jesus is the answer to life’s problems and when he is presented the Holy Spirit does the work of convicting people. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Kraig Stiles

    I was raised with a great presentation of the Gospel as a child and as an adult I always come back to this verse -Romans 2:4 New King James Version (NKJV)

    4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

    The Goodness of God leads you to repentance. The Gospel tackles life’s biggest question of life after death and gives us the greatest hope the world has or will ever see. The hope of eternal life which is a surety yet to be fully realized. God truly is Good.

  3. Psalm 119:160 NKJV
    The entirety of Your word is truth,…..

    Book of Romans

  4. Deb
    Deb

    Excellnt. Thanks!

  5. Jim Paul

    The Gospel Message has no limitations and to those who preach it covers the cross, resurrection, love of God, grace of God, mercy of God, sin, guilt, judgment, repentance, blessings of Heaven, warnings of Hell, and the list could go on. The Gospel is contained in the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, Hebrews, Jude and Book of Revelation. The prayer of the rich man was that someone would be sent to warn others not to come to this place of torment. Sadly we hear so little of the preaching that saw many repent and flee from the wrath which is to come.

  6. Acts 17:30-31
    “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”

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