As promised, I said that I would be writing posts over the next month about the nature of the gospel and its relationship to today's society. It would be helpful to start with one simple question. What is the gospel? We know that the word "gospel" means "good news", but what precisely is this "good news" that Christians are supposed to share with the world?
I remember one day in Bible School when a woman named Sally Green suggested to my School of Missions class that the message we are suppose to share with the world is "Your sins are forgiven!" I remember that almost as soon as these words left her mouth, most of the class immediately turned against her. The common objection was, "What about the need to repent? Don't people need to be made to feel like they are sinners first? What about hell, wrath, and judgement?"
All of these are good questions, but they betray a basic misunderstanding regarding the gospel. The way most people understand the gospel is, "Repent so that your sins can be forgiven." Although this sounds Biblical, the truth is actually the other way around. The true gospel is, "Repent because you have been forgiven."
Don't take my word for it though. The Apostle Paul is a far better guide on these matters than I am. Let's hear what he has to say about what precisely is the message of the gospel.
"Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses against them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
According to the Apostle Paul, the message of the gospel is, "God is not counting your sins against you. He has reconciled you to Himself. So, therefore, repent and be reconciled to God." Remember that Jesus Himself said that His message to the world is, "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke 4:19)
Think also about the parable that Jesus gave to Simon, one of the religious leaders of His day. Jesus said, "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" (Luke 7:41-42)
Notice that Jesus said the man freely forgave the two debtors. Jesus then asks the question of which man will love more in return, the man who owed little or the man who owed much? You see, when God forgives, He forgives freely. His call to repent and to be reconciled to Him is in light of the fact that He has already freely forgiven you. Remember that Jesus did not ask the woman who was caught in the act of adultery to tell Him that she was sorry and that she would never do it again before He forgave her. He simply told her, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." (John 8:11) Notice that Jesus forgave her first, and then He told her to repent. That is how it is suppose to be.
Bottom line: Sally Green was right. The gospel is in fact, "Your sins have been forgiven!" In light of this, God is now calling men and women everywhere to repent, believe the good news, and enter into a wonderful new relationship with Him based on love, grace, and truth. Now that's good news!