Do we really appreciate the depth of the gospel?

Do we really appreciate the depth of the gospel?

Most Bible believing Christians probably think they have got a good understanding of the gospel. They could probably give a reasonable answer to the question: ‘What is the gospel’? But, I wonder, how many of us truly appreciate the breathtaking depth of the good news and the diversity of ways it can be applied across various cultures? There is something so rich about the ‘Divine Election’ of God the Father, the ‘Perfect Redemption’ gained by God the Son and the ‘Renewing Purpose’ of God the Holy Spirit. Even this sentence could take reams to pick apart, debate, discuss and apply.

Now I work in an area where I am constantly telling my people to simplify the message in order to make it understandable and I stand by that. Too much preaching is convoluted, theoretical and ‘sound’ at the expense of passion and heartfelt application. My concern is that sometimes we may be guilty of reducing the gospel to merely an intellectual set of propositions. A sort of 4 step guide to eternal bliss. We tell our people to ‘repent and believe’ and yet when I read those words in Acts at the end of Peter’s message to the crowd, I can’t help noticing that the command there was in response to the gospel rather than as part of its content. Jesus himself seems to suggest as much in Mark 1:15: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Surely the gospel is good news, not good facts about Jesus. This great and glorious news should stir us not only to repentance and faith but to good works too. If a person has truly understood the good news then surely we will know that by the radical transformation of their lives across the board. Discipleship, then, will become more than about just making sure they know more stuff about the Bible, or to give them an exam on the facts, but about how we see all of their lives impacted visibly as a response to the work of Jesus carried out to completion on their behalf.

That is why, for me, preaching is so important. We must proclaim the good news constantly. Yes, we have lots of projects going on in our church to try to alleviate some of the social issues in our midst but we know that these will not lead people to salvation in Christ. They are merely the vehicle (the donkey) on which we bring the Saviour. But that news about him must be spoken. Faith comes by hearing, after all. It does not come by osmosis. Only by preaching this good news can people be brought to a saving knowledge of the truth.

The issue is that our presentation of it will look very different to churches in other contexts. It has to, surely? A quick perusal of the NT shows us that Paul adapted the good news to different cultures. In Acts 13 he talked to ‘God fearers’ with a clear biblical background. In the next chapter he talks to pagans who did not trust the scriptures at all. Later, in Acts 17 he appeals to more educated people and comes at them from a philosophical point of view. There is great scope for taking the good news of Jesus and bringing it to bear effectively within different contexts. At Niddrie, we have many ‘supernaturalists’ as I call them. This means that we don’t have to argue for the existence of God or even the spirit world. Most people here already believe in that. The key is to proclaim the one, true, God to them from the Bible and to hold out the good news of Jesus to them. So, we get to talk quite openly and bluntly about who Jesus really was and what the cross really means. We’re not fighting to prove God’s existence so we don’t have to waste too much time ‘proving’ it. That obviously differs from the more ‘cultured’ (in their own proud minds anyway) individuals in the prosperous city centre churches who have to deal with an anti-supernaturalistic, materialistic worldview and seek to bring the gospel to bear there. They have go further back and begin a case for the existence of God before they can even get to Christ.

For me, that’s the excitement about the gospel. That’s the beauty of our world. The gospel is one truth, presented in very many ways to different types of people. It is not a caged bird or a 4 step plan. It is richer, deeper than that. Still thinking stuff through, but loving it.