It’s unfortunate, but much of the emphasis in the Evangelical church, especially in the West, has diminished “the gospel” to primarily being about getting our sins forgiven and getting our ticket to heaven. And it is that. But it’s so much more.
Todd Hunter, in his book, Christianity Beyond Belief, explains it this way.
In my experience, forgiveness (of sins) is often viewed as the finishing line, with a “whew” and a wipe of the brow while thinking I’m in. I have no quarrel with the notion that forgiveness gets us in. But I want to emphasize that it gets us into a new life story, not merely into heaven when we die.
The new life story God is writing for us is this: he intends to have a people on the earth who happily, easily and routinely embody, announce, and demonstrate the rule and reign of his kingdom. Failing to value this overarching story, this wider context, is what betrays most of our thinking about what it means to be a Christian.
“I’m saved” means one thing in the context of a story about “going to heaven when I die.” It means something completely different in the eternal drama in which we are invited, as followers of Jesus, to live on earth under the rule and reign of God (and later go to heaven).
Let me suggest three results that a diminished view of the gospel brings.
- First, if the idea of the gospel is only the forgiveness of my sins and getting me into heaven one day, then it makes the gospel mainly about me! This limited understanding misses the point that the gospel is also about God’s plan for His entire world and the part you and I play in that plan.
Yes, the gospel is about me, but it’s also about God. And certainly the gospel is about me being in heaven one day, but it’s also about me bringing as much of heaven into the world while living in this world! Jesus loves me, and yes, He is concerned about my life. But He’s just as concerned about poverty, sex trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence, institutional injustice, and ethnic cleansing. The gospel isn’t either or, it’s both and.
- Second, when we live by this small view of the gospel, then “being saved” becomes little more than managing our sin so we can make it to heaven one day. But a more complete understanding of the gospel is that through what Christ has done for us and because of His LIFE already living in us – we can live the eternal-kind of life now!
Certainly salvation is about being saved from something but it’s also about being saved for something. Trust me, as someone who grew up in the church and has been “saved” for fifty years, I’ve heard much more about not sinning than about how to live in and live out of my life in Christ that I already possess. Yes, we are saved from a life of sin and death but we are also saved for a life that’s in union with God and on mission with God.
- Third, if we live by this limited understanding of the gospel, then it weakens our belief that we can become more and more like Jesus. I know that very idea shocks many. Yet the bible makes it clear, and the gospel makes it possible.
When we “get saved” we are forgiven of our sins and granted a new standing before God. This is certainly good news but fortunately, it’s not the full news. God gives us a new standing, but he also gives us a new nature – the very nature of Christ – and then offers us a whole new way of life.
The correlation between our new standing, new nature, and new way of life is similar to a lifelong criminal standing before a judge and being acquitted of the crimes he rightly deserves. But the good news isn’t left there. The criminal is also given a new nature, and because of his new nature he has the potential for a whole new way of life. In essence, he no longer has to be a criminal. He can now become the person God originally designed him to be!
Now that’s incredibly good news. And that’s exactly what God has done for us. We are granted a new nature so that we can become more and more like Christ!
The gospel is HUGE. Let’s live it that way!
Ken L Roberts
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