The Gospel—the Good News—we talk about it, but what is it? How do we boil it down into a concise statement? And what if we are misrepresenting what it really is? I have heard it preached—either explicitly or implicitly—that the Gospel is merely that Jesus died for our sins and all we have to do is believe. Forget the pesky obedience to God thing.
As I read the New Testament, however, I am struck lately that this is certainly not the case. Consider a few examples:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)
What if Paul’s emphasis in this verse is not “he is a new creation,” as glorious as that is? What if his emphasis is “if anyone“? As I read through Paul’s letters, this seems to be a recurring theme. (Emphasis added in the following quotes.)
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:27-29 (ESV)
For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:11-13 (ESV)
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Colossians 3:11 (ESV)
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV)
It certainly seems that to Paul, a key component of the Good News is that we no longer have to become Jews first to serve God. Paul’s anti-law rhetoric makes more sense when we try to discern why he has such an issue with circumcision. Could it be because for Paul, circumcision was the symbol of Jewish cultural identity? It was commanded in the Old Testament as part of what we would now call the “ceremonial law” and it is this law Paul rails against, not the “moral law,” which he strenuously upholds. (Consider the first few chapters of Romans.)
Even Peter comes to understand this piece of the Gospel in his interaction with Cornelius in Caesarea.
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
Acts 10:34-35 (ESV)
Peter goes on to talk about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but without God opening the way to all, the actions of a Jewish Messiah would mean little to a Gentile. Jesus, however, was not merely the Messiah to the Jews, though he came from them and to them. He was the savior of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
The Good News isn’t that we no longer have to obey God, but that now anyone can.