When it is proclaimed, what does that sound like?
Perhaps it has sounded something like this:
“The holy Creator God set forth a holy law, which that God demands we keep. In rebellion, we transgressed God’s law, and now deserve death. In his mercy, though, God gave his Son in our place, so we don’t have to die. If we believe in this Good News (and/or give intellectual assent to sound doctrine? and/or do the right things in church? and/or grow in personal holiness?), we can be saved from hell and go to heaven. Thus, you must decide: what will your fate be when you die?”
In this working/model/conception of “the gospel” the only good news is reserved for “after you die.” There is no sense of salvation in the here and now. Even if there is an emphasis on righteous living, it is the burden of the individual to carry that out, not something received as ‘grace’ (usually little or no mention of the work of the Holy Spirit).
Justification. That’s it? That’s the gospel? That is the good news? I want to say to those who defend this gospel, “if this is the good news, show me in Acts, in one of the many gospel ‘sermons’ or proclamations there, where anything like this is said.” The answer is, of course, it’s not there.
Let me be clear, Justification is part of the gospel. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ on the cross, we have access to God whereby he declares us justified in his court. Wonderful! This is indeed good news. But there is a problem. Many problems actually. The best way to sum up these problems is that A LOT is missing. For starters, the primary message of Jesus himself is lost – the kingdom of God. Secondly, where is the Holy Spirit? Thirdly, when Jesus announces that the kingdom of God is breaking into our world, it sounds more like the Sermon on the Mount than a gospel of justification only. Fourthly, if atonement is all Jesus’ death represented, why didn’t he choose Yom Kippur (the feast of atonement) instead of Passover (the feast of deliverance) to interpret the meaning of his death? After all, Jesus is not considered by Paul, other writers, or us to be “the Yom Kippur Goat.” He is, rather, the “Passover lamb.” Why?
Myself and a close friend have been considering this a lot lately. A good thesis question for our considerations and conversations might be something like “If the gospel is not freedom from the slavery of the fear of death, then is it the gospel?” To test our thesis, I have re-read Acts looking for one thing: When the first apostles proclaim the gospel, what do they say?
Let me give you the short answer, then I will flesh it out some. The short answer is this: When the first apostles proclaimed the gospel in Acts they very seldom use any language about atonement or justification – and they ALWAYS (please note the ALWAYS) proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead – and they ALMOST ALWAYS proclaim that he is “Lord and Christ” and that his kingdom reign is evidenced among them – and they ALMOST ALWAYS announce that the gift of God’s presence is offered to them in the Holy Spirit.
What does Acts of the Apostles say?
- Acts 2:24-32
But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”
‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.
That is the thrust of Peter’s sermon. The “first gospel sermon” has nothing in it about “You are all guilty of breaking God’s law, so you deserve hell, but Jesus died on the cross in your place, and his blood covers your sins, so believe in this fact so that when you die you can go to heaven.” Brothers and sisters and friends – that ‘gospel’ you will not find in Acts (or anywhere in scripture) because it simply is not there.
Peter’s good news – Peter’s gospel, is about Resurrection. It is about the kingdom of God. It is about the Holy Spirit. Now, don’t mis-read me. Justification is hugely important. Atonement is part of this. You don’t get to Easter without a cross on Friday. I get that. So do the Apostles in Acts. It’s just not the whole gospel. The gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ MUST include the following:
Forgiveness of sins
Resurrection and newness of life
The restoration of Israel
Empowered living in the Spirit-filled community (church)
The Kingdom of God is breaking out into the world
If we “neuter” the gospel of King Jesus in such a way that the good news has nothing to do with his Reign as Messiah, nothing to do with the restoration of Israel, nothing to do with Resurrection power and new life, nothing to do with the kingdom of God – then I am sorry to say it is not the gospel – at least not the FULL gospel.
Here are some examples of the gospel being proclaimed in Acts:
Acts 17:31-32 (Paul’s Gospel Sermon to the Athenians)
because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’
With great authority the apostles continued to proclaim the gospel, testifying to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”
‘My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,
“You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.”
As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
“I will give you the holy promises made to David.”
Therefore he has also said in another psalm,
“You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.”
For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption; but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption.