What is so good about the Good News?¶
Christianity is a religion based on what we call the Good News or the Gospel (in the original meaning of this word, see About the word “Gospel” for other meanings).
This Gospel is neither a teaching nor an advice nor a commandment, but a news, an announcement. It doesn’t say “You must do this in order to go to heaven”, it says “Heaven is already now and here, you are already in heaven because something has been done for you”. The something that has been done for us is the life of Jesus Christ on Earth, which triggered an irreversible fundamental change in our way of understanding God.
But how to summarize that news, that announcement? What is the content of that message? The Gospel, in three sentences, if you ask me, is this:
God does not punish your sins, he does not make you pay your debts.He forgives your mistakes, weaknesses and failures.He loves you unconditionally and will never let you down.
But of course there is more to say about it.
More about the Gospel¶
The Gospel has important and fundamental consequences at theological, political, social and psychological level. It causes a fundamental change in my thinking and my way of understanding the world. It sheds a new light on the way we live together.
The Gospel is universal: it is not only for a particular nation or class of humans, it is for every nation and for every single human. Jesus told his disciples to explain the Gospel to every human, to every people, to every culture, not only to their own people. Psalm 98 calls us to “sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!”.
Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, has redeemed us forever from the idea that humans will have to pay for their debts or get punished for their sins after their death.
The Gospel says that the Kingdom of God is already now and here.
The Gospel encourages us to not follow human laws and teachings that appear to promote the opposite of what God intended. It calls us to civil disobedience where needed.
What the Gospel is not¶
Democracy is not a Christian value. The Gospel is not a political message. Jesus has no problem with big contrast between rich and poor (Luke 17:5-10), neither with the dictator-like Roman emperor (Mt 22:15-22) nor with the fact that Romans occupied the Jewish territory and forced Jews to join their army (Mt 5:41).
The Gospel does not ask us to live in traditional families or to protect this way of living within our societies.
The Gospel does not ask us to protect unborn children from abortion.
The Gospel does not say “If you don’t want to burn in hell forever, repeat this prayer and believe that Jesus died on the cross for sins, rose from the dead and is coming back to destroy sinners and rescue the Christians.”1
The Gospel does not say “Here is how to get to heaven”, but “The Kingdom of God is already here, it has come to you via Jesus Christ” 2
Jesus started a religious revolution¶
Any belief system needs a definition. For most religions this definition is some Holy Scripture. But not for Christianity. Christianity is not defined by a Holy Scripture. It is defined by a person, a person who didn’t write any book.
Jesus didn’t say that the Jewish Holy Scriptures (most of which is known to Christians as the Old Testament) were “wrong”, but he look at them in a new way.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:17-20
Jesus claims to “fulfill” the Jewish Holy Scriptures. He says that only he (not these scriptures) is “the way, and the truth, and the life”.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” – John 14:1-7
This destroyed the authority of these scriptures. Jews called the “Word of God”. No wonder that they accused Jesus of blasphemy.
Seeing God as a father who “forgives everything” differs fundamentally from the Jewish image of a God who will “make them pay for their sins”. Jesus redeemed humanity of this yoke, this wrong image of God. That’s why we sometimes refer to him as the Saviour.
On the other hand, refusing a Holy Scripture for your Church is no solution. Note that religions were the first cultures that defined themselves using written descriptions. Kingdoms were defined by the person of their king, empires by their emperor, peoples by their territory.
Every modern culture needs a written description that lasts longer and is more reliable than human brains. For corporations this written description is called a mission statement. For religious groups it is called the Holy Scripture.
But there is another problem. Every Holy Scripture has been formulated at a given time for a given audience. As every culture changes over time. So there is no way around the fact that every religion needs, in addition to a Holy Scripture, a legal person who is responsible for interpreting their mission statement.
We might say here that Jesus was naive when he did not consider theses issues. But keep in mind that he lived 2000 years ago when writing technologies were only at their beginnings, it was more than 1500 years before humankind began to worry about copyright laws. And then don’t forget that Jesus was killed at the age of 30, before he had time to think about these issues.
And we cannot say that he didn’t think at all about them. For example he said to one of his disciples (Simon Peter)
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:13-19
The Church and the Gospel¶
Excerpt of a speech held by pope Francis in October 2015 in his conclusion to the synod on the family:
The Synod experience also made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness. This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae – they are necessary – or from the importance of laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy (cf. Rom 3:21-30; Ps 129; Lk 11:47-54). It does have to do with overcoming the recurring temptations of the elder brother (cf. Lk 15:25-32) and the jealous labourers (cf. Mt 20:1-16). Indeed, it means upholding all the more the laws and commandments which were made for man and not vice versa (cf. Mk 2:27).
My summary of this paragraph:
Humans are more important than ideas
The spirit of the Gospel is more important than the letter
Explaining God’s love and forgiveness is more important than maintaining formulae
Christians must overcome the recurring temptations of the elder brother (cf. Lk 15:25-32) and the jealous labourers (cf. Mt 20:1-16).
Realizing that the laws and commandments were made for man and not vice versa (cf. Mk 2:27) encourages us all the more to uphold them.
Keith Giles in Exposing The False Gospel Of Evangelicalism
Tim Keller says (in The Gospel-Shaped Life): The Gospel is news, not advice. Advice is counsel that you get to help you get something accomplished. News is a report that something has been accomplished for you, it’s already happened in history, and you must response to it. Essentially all religions besides Christianity (and to a great degree a big part of Christianity is formulated this way, though it shouldn’t be) are all advice. Christianity is news, Gospel, Good News. Every other religion was founded by somebody, by a prophet or a sage or a figure, who came and said “Here is the way to find God”. Only Christianity was founded by a man who said “I am God coming to find you”.