The other day Shane Fletcher and I were talking briefly about what the Gospel really is. He said he’d like to know better. So would I, in many (many!) ways. It’s so multifaceted!
What is this good news in Jesus Christ?
The Gospel comes from root words meaning “good news,” which it really is, centered in Jesus Christ. At the heart of it all is this: God’s love for you and me, and all the world. We, like all others, have rejected his love and turned to our own paths, independent of God, sometimes actively rebelling against God. (Romans 3:23)
The natural result of that is that we’re separated from God, the source of all love and hope and life and joy, with no power to return to him on our own efforts. Physical death is inevitable for all, but it’s really just a punctuation mark in an ongoing existence of deadness spiritually: we can’t experience God’s life (Romans 6:23a). We can’t respond to reality, not even the great and good reality that’s more real than all the created world. We’re not all the way dead until we reach that punctuation point of physical death, so we do have some experience of life and joy and love, but it’s only a passing shadow of the real version God wants us to experience.
He loved us so much, though, that he gave his very self for us through Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again to conquer death. “Sins” is a technical term, though one with all too well-known effects. It means “missing the mark,” or as Romans 3:23 describes it, “falling short.” It’s about falling short of God’s good and perfect character. Jesus died so that we might live (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, Romans 6:23b).
How do we gain this life?
What does it take, then to qualify for this life? I don’t think anything Jesus taught ever gave a clearer answer than Luke 18:9-14. You have to know who the players are in this short story. The Pharisee represented the religious elite. Jesus’ ministry was marked by criticism of their smug hypocrisy, including the smug superiority you see in this story. The tax collector was the bad guy of that day. This one has no name so he represents what people of the time thought of all tax collectors. That means we was part traitor, collecting taxes for the occupying conquerors; part thief, skimming a share of the top; part rich-guy power-player, using his position to push people around so he could live large.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
To be “justified” means “to be right in God’s eyes, through God’s own choice to forgive you of your wrong and see you that way from that point forward.” It’s what it takes to entire into the real life of God.
This is incredibly good news for those who will humble themselves and ask God for his mercy. It’s not so good news for smug religionists who think they don’t need to.
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