What Jesus Called Good News
Jesus Christ was a master communicator. He was the Living Word, the self-disclosure of the eternal, invisible Creator. Heb. 1:3 informs us that “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Jesus Himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9).
He did a superb job of revealing truth in language and word pictures that His hearers could understand. The response of the people was dramatic. “Never has a man spoken as this man does!” “He speaks with authority, not like the scribes.” “Where else could we go, You have the words of eternal life.” The crowds thronged around Him, eager to hear Him speak.
What was Jesus sent by the Father to communicate? The Gospels contain several summary statements that give us an overview of Christ’s message. We often state it as, “Believe and receive, you’re forgiven, you’re going to heaven, welcome to God’s family!” But after Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the desert, He began to explain the true beginning of discipleship: “From that time on Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Mat. 4:17). And after that, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (4:23, emphasis added).
His message did not change in three years of visible working life amongst Humanity.
But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43, emphasis added).
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness (Matthew 9:35, emphasis added).
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, announcing the good news of the kingdom of God. (Lk. 8:1, emphasis added).
When Jesus prophesied that the same gospel would be declared until the end of the age, He removed any question that the gospel might lose its kingdom overtones. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be asserted in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mat. 24:14, emphasis added).
Why am I emphasizing this point? I assure you it’s not some academic exercise. At stake is appreciating the full content of the gospel. If we don’t include the kingdom, repentance, and growth in kingdom living in the good news we declare today, we reduce and alter the message of Jesus and are guilty of devising a different gospel. The gospel is “the kingdom.” I didn’t say that, Jesus did! The good news is that the dominion of God can be reestablished over human hearts. A way has been made. There is a door of entry—none other than Jesus Himself!
Looking Through the Door
Jesus’ mission on earth was to provide access to the kingdom of God for all who would repent of their insurrection and revolt against the Creator. He did this by substituting Himself as the lightning rod for God’s righteous indignation and justice. Without question, God’s offer of reentry into the realm of His eternal kingdom is only available through the work of the cross.
Yet Jesus did not call the cross or His death and resurrection the good news. For Jesus, the kingdom was the good news. The magnificent work of the cross is the beginning. Atonement, reconciliation, redemption, justification, and propitiation are all essential ingredients of the gospel, but the theme of the good news is the rest, freedom, peace, and high investment value of living life under the leadership of the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth.
The message of the Christian gospel over the past fifty years has increasingly emphasized the access door to the kingdom instead of what is behind the door. Jesus certainly did say, “I am the door.” But we’ve overemphasized the door imagery as though “getting saved” is all there is to it. Christian evangelists and missionaries have worked so hard at marketing the entrance that it has itself become the gospel. Now, getting through the door of opportunity produced by Calvary’s costly love is crucial and should never be minimized. But the “pearl of great price” is living in and inheriting the kingdom of God, not merely entering it. The focus of the ticket of salvation is the eternal party going on behind the gate inside the King’s palace.
What this overemphasis has produced is a generation of believers who think the issue is getting in and getting others in. Recruiting. Not training. Not much attention is paid to what they are getting into—a whole new way of life! Getting in on eternal life in heaven is vastly different from welcoming heaven’s reign here and now. What we are saved from is a big deal, but more important is what we are saved unto. Christ is our “door,” but He is also our life beyond the door. When the eternal kingdom is welcomed, appreciated, treasured, and enjoyed, salvation has accomplished its intended purpose. God’s human creatures have been restored to following their loving Leader.
What the Apostle Paul Called Good News
Those who insist on a gospel of grace minus the kingdom and repentance believe that they get their model from Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. They assume that the gospel of Jesus and the disciples went through a transition during the early days of the church; that as the gospel to the Jews moved to a worldwide audience, the ingredients changed from kingdom language to relational-reconciliation language. Without question, the end result is that the kingdom and repentance are forgotten, or else viewed by many evangelicals today as unnecessary in explaining the gospel.
This is a serious mistake. It is a misunderstanding of the key role of the kingdom and repentance in the pattern that Jesus gave us. And there are significant consequences. The transformation process is severely weakened in those who accept salvation without understanding the significance of the kingdom component. We now have a gospel that changes us only a little, or not at all....
Is this assertion about Paul true? Did he discontinue using the kingdom emphasis of Jesus? Now, there is no question that the apostle Paul championed the revelation of the grace of God that he had received. He certainly clarified and defined the gift basis of salvation. He was strong on the fact that good works, religious practice, and keeping the law are not ways to earn favor with God. Through Paul, the Holy Spirit made it clear that acceptance and inclusion in the kingdom is without question a gift of God received by faith.
The big question is, What else did Paul teach about salvation? The best summary is found in Acts 20:20-27, which is in the middle of his farewell address to the elders of the church in Ephesus. He knows he is likely to be imprisoned in Jerusalem, and doesn’t expect to see this group of friends and fellow workers again. In wrapping up his assignment from God with them he summarizes what he has done there and elsewhere.
Paul’s self-analysis contains three ways of saying the same thing.
• Verse 21: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”
• Verse 24: “If only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”
• Verse 25: “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about declaring the kingdom will ever see me again.”
I am convinced that if we could ask Paul if he proclaimed a gospel of grace, he would answer with an emphatic yes. If we asked him, “Did you declare a gospel of the kingdom?” he would answer, “Of course.” If we asked him, “Did you teach a gospel of repentance?” he would answer, “Certainly.” He would have no problem affirming all gospel ingredients because he saw them as three ways of describing the same message.
In another summary statement, Paul attempted to put his assignment from God into a nutshell for King Agrippa. In Acts 26:17-20, he describes his commission from Christ on the road to Damascus.
“‘I am sending you to them [the Gentiles] to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I annunciated that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”
Once again the message of faith and forgiveness is set alongside the kingdom message of repentance in a way that makes it clear that Paul saw no distinction between the two.
At the end of his life, under guard in Rome, Paul was still proclaiming this combination. In Acts 28:23 and again in 28:30-31 the Scripture affirms that he was a kingdom teacher. “From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus” (Acts 28:23, emphasis added).
The significance of this is huge. The gospel of Jesus and the gospel of Paul were identical. Paul’s message contained a further clarification on the distinction between law and grace, or salvation by works and salvation by grace through faith. Yet, he never left the kingdom theme of Jesus.
What happens to the gospel if the key ingredients of the kingdom and repentance are eliminated? If salvation is presented as only a gift to be received, or an offer of forgiveness to be accepted, or a relationship to be reconciled, what is the result?
When the kingdom is dropped out of the gospel message, repentance ceases to make sense. Instead of being forced to deal with the issue of control and leadership (that is, my kingdom versus God’s kingdom), I am only asked to accept the work of Christ on my behalf. Repentance without the kingdom becomes an awkward idea and is usually dropped out of the mix. If included, it is defined as grief over sin and turning around or changing one’s mind. Believing, receiving, or accepting Jesus and His redemptive reconciling work on the cross is partial language. It is essential but incomplete.
If I want the benefit of salvation, it will cost me my personal sovereignty, my independent autonomy, my own agenda, my “throne.” Why? Because that is exactly what I must be saved from in the first place!
What We Accept In Place of the Original Good News
During the twentieth century, science and technology have affected our world and our lives in an accelerating process of change....One significant change in an attempt to serve God has come as the science of marketing has been applied to packaging the gospel presentation. Sales training called Personal Evangelism Classes has become standard procedure for any outreach-oriented church.... Millions of believers are now “trained witnesses.” Memorized proof texts, linear logic, convincing arguments, and closing techniques are all practiced and firmly in place. Most sincere Christians are equipped to make the offer of eternal life to their lost neighbors and friends.
On the surface, we appear to be effective. At least one-half—some researchers say more like 60 percent—of the American people have prayed a salvation prayer and made a decision to receive Christ. They, therefore, are considered to fit the general category of having been evangelized or “born again.” And here we must face a troubling and uncomfortable reality. A.W. Tozer, in the introduction of his book The Knowledge of the Holy, tells it like it is:
“The loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains and the churches are more prosperous than at any time within the past several hundred years. But the alarming thing is that our gains are mostly external and our losses wholly internal; and since it is the quality of our religion that is affected by internal conditions, it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field.”
We have discovered, to our dismay, that the majority of these supposed converts are no different after they bought our gospel than they were before. In fact, many who show up in Bible-believing churches exhibit scant evidence of more than superficial subculture adaptation. They learn the evangelical jargon, become comfortable in the church society, listen to Christian radio, but in reality remain very much like their nonChristian neighbors in values, moral conduct, and lifestyle.
How can this be? Where is the supernatural process of transformation? Why are professing believers so often closed to the life-changing presence and power of the Holy Spirit? I ask you to consider with me the possibility that the application of marketing and sales expertise to evangelism has actually changed the content of the good news. Tweaking and massaging the gospel for ease of mass consumption has gradually changed the content—and killed its original power.
The Effects of Marketing
The cardinal rule of salesmanship is to concentrate on the attractive features, the advantages, and the benefits of the product. The lion’s share of good sales technique is “hyping” the value and the reasons why customers owe it to themselves to become proud owners or proud members. The intent of this portion of the persuasion process is to create a desire for the product.
What piece of information is held back until “the close”? The price! And then the cost is minimized and customers are encouraged to think they’re getting a great deal at an extraordinarily low price.
When this approach is applied to the gospel of Jesus Christ, modifications to the biblical model are inevitable. For instance, the benefits are easy to promote.
“What’s your felt need?” a presenter may ask. “You say your life is in turmoil and you’re stressed out? Well, if you let Jesus come into your life, He’ll give you peace and inner tranquility.” Then he or she might say, “Are you discouraged? Oh, you say you’ve really been down and blue? Let me assure you that when you open your heart to Christ, He’ll give you the most fantastic joy imaginable!”
Then, of course, the “offer you simply can’t refuse” comes into play. “It’s free! It’s a gift! There’s nothing you can do to earn salvation. You can’t pay for it even if you want to. Jesus already paid the price. He took the consequences of your sin upon the cross. All you have to do is receive the forgiveness and love of God and enter into the abundant life!” The presenter continues. “Now, why wouldn’t you want to have eternal life? You do want to go to heaven when you die, don’t you? Is there any reason why you couldn’t receive God’s offer of love and forgiveness right now? Let me explain the prayer.”
“...The problem lies in the substantial modifications that have been made to Jesus’ message. The effect of using marketing and sales techniques in evangelism is that they change the message. And when the message is altered, what the message produces is also changed. Salespeople do not make good evangelists if they depend on their craft. We must all depend on our Leader and His example for success. Our message must be His authentic kingdom gospel of grace in its entirety if we want to see its original life changing power.
You may be one of those who, without realizing it, received an incomplete gospel. You assumed that the doorkeepers who stood at the entrance and introduced you to Christ knew what they were doing and you complied. You believed, prayed a prayer of accepting or receiving Christ, asked for forgiveness, and invited Christ into your heart and life. You have waited, but so far you’ve experienced disappointment, frustration, inability to change, and finally boredom. You may actually have come to the point of despair, thinking that you are somehow an exception and that it just doesn’t work for you.
If so, what’s happened to you is most likely a consequence of a gospel that has been altered. This is not your fault. The version you were led to believe would accomplish your salvation simply did not have the essential component of humble surrender in repentance. Since the heart of our sin problem is our self-centered need to be in control, unless that is addressed in salvation, and the back of our resistance is broken through repentance, nothing really changes.
Grace, the supernatural forgiving love and transforming power of God, is released through the deliberate act of giving up the kingdom of self. Giving up is not a “work.” It is a cessation of resistance. It is the losing wrestler surrendering to the winner. God repeatedly makes it clear that He resists the proud (those who are full of their own egoism), but gladly gives grace to the humble (Ps. 18:27; Jas. 4:6-10; 1Pet. 5:5-6). The faucet that turns on the pipeline of saving grace is the voluntary choice of humility. This is the heart of repentance. The event of salvation then immediately becomes the process of humble obedience. And enabling grace keeps on flowing.
If the conflict over control has not yet been resolved in God’s favor in the core of your heart, now would be a good time to settle it.
...repentant faith. It is giving God permission to make your turf part of His dominion. It is welcoming His will. It is embracing His leadership and embarking on a life of followership.
That kind of prayer is the beginning of true worship. It’s beautiful music to God’s ears and a lovely fragrance to His nose. It contains the essence of what He has been waiting to hear from each person born on this planet.
When His kingdom comes—what a difference! When salvation embraces the kingdom, a new government arrives. True, you will have to learn to live under new management in all areas. You are no longer an entrepreneurial independent. You have joined the corporate kingdom of the most high God. The ultimate issue of who is in control is the focus of all your choices from now on, day by day, for the rest of your life. He is your Leader. You are His follower.
© J. Hettinga, NavPress