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Gospel, Gospel, Gospel…

The word “gospel” is likely the most used word in Christian circles these days. There has been a major return to gospel-centered theology in the last decade that has been such a fresh wind of relief to believers who grew up around churches who assumed the gospel was understood and went on to teach obedience that wound up feeling like merit-based salvation to many.

I, for one, am extraordinarily grateful for the focus on and return to the gospel. I love teaching that points to the shadows of Christ all throughout the Bible. I’m thankful for for all the best-sellers with the word “gospel” in the title, because they are helping to re-educate many in desperate need of a gospel re-education.

I’m grateful for gospel-centered teaching, gospel-centered community, gospel-driven living. I’m grateful for all the words that now have “gospel” as a prefix and motivation that you didn’t hear much 15 years ago in evangelical circles. It is a great reminder to keep the main thing the main thing, to re-focus our hearts and motives on grace when our very natures want to chase after performance and self-righteousness.

Gospel, gospel, gospel, gospel, gospel…

Gospel.

I grew up hearing that “gospel” means “good news” in Greek. I shook my head and thought, “Yes, it is good news.” But over time, a word can start to feel like just a word and not like good news. It can produce a head nod without actually getting to your heart. You drift towards saying, “Gospel—yeah yeah yeah—I get that.”

Here’s how Frederick Buechner describes this tendency:

Take any English word, even the most commonplace, and try repeating it twenty times in a row — umbrella, let us say, umbrella, umbrella, umbrella — and by the time we have finished, umbrella will not be a word any more. It will be a noise only, an absurdity, stripped of all meaning. And when we take even the greatest and most meaningful words that the Christian faith has and repeat them over and over again for some two thousand years, much the same thing happens. There was a time when such words as faith, sin, redemption, and atonement had great depth of meaning, great reality; but through centuries of handling and mishandling they have tended to become such empty banalities that just the mention of them is apt to turn people’s minds off like a switch, and wise and good men like this friend of mine whom I have quoted wonder seriously why anyone at all in tune with his times should continue using them. And sometimes I wonder myself.

But I keep on using them. I keep plugging away at the same old words. I keep on speaking the language of the Christian faith because, although the words themselves may well be mostly dead, the longer I use them, the more convinced I become that the realities that the words point to are very real and un-dead, and because I do not happen to know any other language that for me points to these realities so well…for me, threadbare and exhausted as the Christian language often is, it remains the richest one even so. And when I ask myself, as I often do, what it is that I really hope to accomplish as a teacher of “religion,” I sometimes think that I would gladly settle for just the very limited business of clarifying to some slight degree the meaning of four or five of these great, worn-out Christian words, trying to suggest something of the nature of the experiences that I believe they are describing.

– Originally published in Peculiar Treasures

Not Your Ordinary Good News

A while back I saw some teaching from Martin Lloyd Jones on the etymology of the word “gospel,” and it was so fascinating. He said that the word has a military background—that if your nation was at war with another nation, regardless of the outcome, messengers would be sent back with the news. It was either bad news— “Run for your life!!! Certain death is coming with the other nation’s army, because our army is lying dead on the battlefield. They are coming to kill and pillage us all!”

Or it was good news— “Gospel! (Euangelion) Gospel! The battle has been won! The blood of our soldiers has purchased your freedom. You won’t be killed. You are free. Relax and enjoy the victory that’s been won for you.”

Now THAT is good news, isn’t it?

Those villagers would sit there on pins and needles, awaiting the fate of their very existence, holding their families tight, and—is that a cloud of dust there on the horizon?

Hear it smack your ears with the relief of a lifetime:

“Gospel! Gospel! Good news!”

The blood of another has purchased your freedom.

Breathe easy. Death is no longer your fate.

Does your soul feel relief at the sound of Jesus’ substitutionary life and death, His righteousness imputed to you?

Does your heart heave with a “Phew,” when you hear of the freedom from religious pressure and performance purchased for you by the blood of God’s Son?

If not, we have a problem—a watered down, confused, or misunderstood gospel.

Gospel means good news, so if it’s not good news it’s not the gospel. 

And if that’s the reality of what we’re talking about when we throw out the word “gospel,” let’s be sure to consistently communicate the reality beneath the term and pray for the word to never become just a word, because it is so much more than that.


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