What on Earth is the Gospel anyway?
I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, “share the gospel.” It read it tonight in something a friend of mine wrote and I was reminded to ask, for the one millionth time, “what does that even mean?” The gospel… good news… Jesus… your faith… we could really put any of these into the blank of “share _____” and I’d still ask the same question. I’m quite struck that we say that as if we all know what that means and we all mean the same thing by it. Do you know what you mean by it?
I’m also prepping a workshop on helping people grow in faith as part of an Evangelism Conference (there it is again… “Good News” Conference, or perhaps better translated “Share/Proclaim Good News” Conference). Here again we run into the same problem. It’s hard to share something if we don’t really know what it is we are sharing!
So what is the “good news”, or what is the “gospel”? To ask it another way, why is Jesus a good thing in your life and what difference does Jesus make in your life?
If we aren’t prepared to answer those questions for ourselves we certainly aren’t ready to share it, and help others to recognize it for themselves in their lives. And yet it is – I think – a fundamental aspect of life lived in the way of Jesus Christ: to live as good news in the life of the world and help others to do the same.
Now when I talk about evangelism I’m often fond of saying that the real trick to evangelism – or sharing good news – in the way of Jesus Christ is to be good news in someone’s life without ever mentioning Church or Jesus. It’s not that Church and Jesus aren’t good or important; it’s that we tend to make the mistake of reducing the good news to an invitation to church on Sunday, or to some form of debate to convince someone else of our creedal superiority. None of that seems like the gospel good news to me. The Gospel good news for me was always articulated best when Jesus responds to John’s disciples by saying that the answer to their question about whether or not he was the messiah could be seen in what was happening around him: blind people seeing, lame people walking, poor people finding hope. (paraphrasing Luke 7:22) That is to say, in the words of the 23rd Psalm, goodness and mercy follow him all the days of his life.
Do they follow you? Is your life being lived as good news? How do you define gospel and good news? Do you share them – not simply with your words, but with the day-to-day choices you make and the life you live?
Now that could be a finishing point but I want to take this reflection two steps further. Are you going to work miracles on the order of healing blindness or making a lame person walk? No, at least not literally. But that hardly exempts us from living as incarnate good news in the world. I believe that Jesus as incarnation of God is an invitation for us to be the same. That we are to incarnate the same love God has given us. So how do we live our life putting flesh and bones on love of neighbor? Because that is, Jesus says, the heart of our command – the heart of the gospel – the heart of good news: to love our neighbor.
And how do we love our neighbor? Think outside the box. Often we decide to love our neighbor in the way that we would want or need to be loved ourselves (in this case loving our neighbor is still all about us). But our neighbor isn’t us. In that case we aren’t so much sharing good news as forcing other people to conform to our predetermined way of being/loving. If, however, we are going to be THEIR good news and not simply OUR good news to them, than we have to learn enough about our neighbor to love them in the way they need to be loved. We have to learn to be the good news they need to hear and see and experience.
Gospel/Good News is then, for me, about love and hope and healing and presence… at its heart it’s about relationship. We are not alone, we are loved, we have future – and it is good. Now let us go forth and find out how to live in a way that we make this true for our neighbors as well… whomever they may be, wherever we may encounter them.
So be it. Thanks be to God.