In many ways we can relate our knowledge of God to a detective story. There is a “first narrative” that includes most of the story where the detective is trying to piece together an incredibly confusing mystery.
Then, near the very end of the movie or book, there is a “second narrative” told by the detective. It is the shocking “reveal” that suddenly makes the long, winding, confusing first part of the story snap into focus.
This "reveal" forever changes how we see the entire first narrative. If we re-watch the movie or re-read the book, everything seems so obvious and so clearly confirms the detective’s account. It becomes impossible, actually, to read the story without filtering everything through the reveal of the second narrative.
Our encounter with God is very similar to the detective story genre. We come to know God through his self-disclosure, or self-revelation, and that comes primarily through the Bible.
The gospel is the Reveal of God’s story. It’s the second narrative that makes sense of the whole story of God and mortals. When we get the gospel, we can no longer read the Old Testament (or the New Testament) without seeing the gospel as the overarching and obvious message throughout. When we get the gospel, we also can no longer see our own lives without filtering everything through the gospel – God’s great reveal. It’s the box-top that shows us how the pieces (of the Bible, and of our lives) come together.
"Gospel" comes from the Greek word meaning "good news".
Tim Keller makes three excellent points about this “good news.”
1. The gospel is Good News, not Good Advice. News is about what has already happened, not what we have to do to make something happen.
2. The gospel is Good News announcing that we have been rescued or saved. Of course, we must discuss what we have been rescued FROM. The normal answer is “sin”, but we will spend an entire class discussing what that really means.
3. The gospel is news about what has been done by Jesus Christ to put right our relationship with God. The gospel is ALL about Jesus. There is no good news without Jesus.
A great summary of the Gospel: Jesus saves sinners!
The Gospel has two equal and opposite enemies. They are religion, and irreligion. Or moralism and relativitism.
Religion, or moralism, says we must be good to earn our own reward. This is the core of all religions except Christianity. At the heart of religion is repetition of our greatest sin – trying to make it in life without needing God – and a rejection of the gospel, the good news that Jesus saves sinners.
Irreligion, or relativitism, says we are rewarded because of our intrinsic goodness, regardless of what choices we make in life. At the heart of irreligion is a rejection of justice and accountability for our own choices, and more fundamentally, of the concepts of good and evil. Relativitism says that sinners don’t need to be saved. (Note - we called this "Moral Therapeutic Deism" on Sunday).
The gospel stands against both religion and irreligion, against moralism and relativitism. We believe our choices matter, and that real good and evil exists in the world. We also believe that we need Jesus to rescue us; we cannot fix our situation on our own.
Questions (Comment here or reflect on your own):
Have you experienced that first narrative confusion, either in your life or in the Bible? Think about what it is like to try and navigate through those situations without a clear, overarching story to bring clarity to your suffering, or the Bible's commandments.
Why are we tempted to change the gospel from good news to good advice?
Have you ever been a part of a church community that preached either "religion" or "relativism" instead of gospel? Did you notice at the time that it was different, or it it seem normal to you then?