The Lost Gospel of Jesus (Part 1)

jesus.jpgI think we might have the gospel wrong.

I was at the EFCA Northern District Conference in Rochester this week and was blown away by the speaker, Jan Hettinga. I took notes assiduously and then boiled them down to what is below. This might drastically change the way I talk to people about the gospel and about how they should respond to Jesus. I’ll share this in two parts to aid in digestion. Hope it’s illuminating.

Retooling Transformation
Dr. Jan Hettinga
EFCA NCD Conference
April 2008

The same creative God who created the universe, our solar system, our eyes, our ears, our digestive tract, etc., also designed the gospel.
– Many of us (and many in the broader evangelical church) think that the gospel is up for grabs.
– People are rarely changed by the gospel that we preach. The gospel preached in most of the evangelical church is biblical deficient.

What is the content of the gospel?

Mark 1:14-15: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”

– The gospel authors summarize Jesus’ primary, gospel message as “Repent, the kingdom is near” (Matt. 4:17, cf. Matt. 3:2). That’s the gospel! And we do not understand it. Almost no one in our churches understands what repentance really is, and almost no one understands what Jesus or the evangelists mean by “the Kingdom.” (NB: The Kingdom is not ‘heaven,’ as is commonly believed).
This is pretty critical—generally speaking we do not understand what Jesus and the evangelists called the “gospel.”

Why did Jesus come? According to him, it was not only (perhaps not even primarily) to die.

Luke 4:43: “…he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news (i.e. ‘gospel’) of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’”

– Jesus is about so much more than the cross and the empty tomb. So why does our gospel message typically only include the cross and the empty tomb?
– Again, look at Luke 9:6 (Remember, this is before the Cross): “And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” What are they preaching? What is the “gospel”? It is not the Cross and the empty tomb. This is before the death and resurrection of Christ. Their gospel message has to do with repentance and the Kingdom.
– Previous generations of evangelicals, heavily influenced by dispensationalism have assumed that the “Kingdom” gospel is the gospel for Israel, and when the ‘gospel’ went to the Gentiles it had to be morphed (by Paul, presumably) into a more Gentile-friendly relational and legal gospel. But that will not square with Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The gospel of the Kingdom was designed by God to be a cross-cultural (“all nations,” not just Jews) gospel and a cross-generational (“will be…”) gospel.
– We also make mistakes if we believe that the “Kingdom” emphasis of the gospel is only common to the Synoptic evangelists:

John 18:35-37: Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have
delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

John 3:4-5: Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (NB: “Kingdom of God” does not refer to a future heaven. It refers to a present reality!)

Acts 28:
v. 23: From morning till evening [Paul] expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.
v. 30-31: He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

What have we asked people to do to become Christians?
– Believe the gospel of Jesus Christ
– Accept the gift of God’s grace
– Receive God’s acceptance, love, and forgiveness
– Commit your life to Christ
– Make a decision for Christ
– Pray the sinner’s prayer
– Invite Jesus into your heart
– But your trust in Christ as savior
– Place your faith in the finished work of the Cross
– Respond to an invitation during a church service
– Be born again by accepting Jesus as your personal savior

We almost always miss (or omit) the elements of repentance and the Kingdom!

– Even when we include repentance, often we do not explain correctly what it means. It does not mean to feel bad for what you’ve done, or to regret your sin, or to want to “do better,” or to feel appropriate guilt. Repentance is not even primarily an ethical category when Jesus is speaking. That is, it doesn’t focus on not doing sinful things. It primarily has to do with repenting from self-government. It means laying down your rebellion to the Kingdom and accepting God’s leadership and authority in keeping with your entrance into his kingdom and government.
– We are far too hasty in our declaration that someone is “in.” This hastiness, combined with the lack of Jesus’ repentance and Kingdom focus on our gospel presentations are a large part of the reason that only 6-10 individuals from every 100 ‘converts’ remain committed and active, and bear fruit “in keeping with repentance.” We are actually often helping the other 90-94 people into a comfortably uncommitted, unchanged and unconverted state because we have assured them that “everything has been done for them.”

We have overemphasized the reception of grace and silenced the demand for a person to come under the Kingdom authority of Jesus.

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10 thoughts on “The Lost Gospel of Jesus (Part 1)”

  1. “What is the “gospel”? It is not the Cross and the empty tomb.”

    While I don’t disagree with the speaker as a whole, isn’t this slightly settling for an “either/or” when it should be a “both”?

    1 Cor. 1:23 “… but we preach Christ crucified.”

    Acts 20:24 “… testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (ref. to His sacrifice?)

    1 Cor. 1:17 “… but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

  2. I would add that just because Christ was proclaiming the “Gospel” before his death/burial/resurrection, doesn’t mean that the Gospel he was preaching was not about his death/burial/resurrection.

    Of course without being there misunderstanding is very likely.

    I do appreciate the additional insight into repentance, though I would also say it’s “the whole list”, but maybe you get everything else with the heart change that enables a cessation of hostilities against the Kingdom.

    –Jim

  3. I think part of the problem in NOT preaching true repentance is that you can tend to have new “believers” that get the wrong impression about God.

    They are not hearing that change needs to take place. That there needs to be a turning from sin. A turning from your self will. Instead they only hear that God loves them, which is true, but that everything is going to come up roses.

    The Gospel is not fluffy.

    PB and I had a brief conversation about the Way of the Master radio program. And although I am not a card carrying member of there system I do think there is a valid point that they are making and that is UNLESS a person repents how can there be true regeneration?

  4. Wonder twin powers …. ACTIVATE! Form of…. a two-part Fusion sermon on repentance and the kingdom!

    You heard it here first, kids.

  5. Darius,

    Just to clarify, I’m not saying (nor is Hettinga) that the gospel is not the cross and the empty tomb (I’ve spent 6 months in Keystone unpacking that part of the gospel).

    I’m saying (as is Hettinga) that the cross and the empty tomb are not the ‘gospel’ that is being referred to in Luke 9:6. Clearly their message pre-Cross was not the cross and the resurrection. So, all I’m saying is that we’re probably not telling the whole gospel if we focus exclusively on the cross and the resurrection.

  6. Agreed, though like James, I would add that their message pre-Cross wasn’t necessarily non-Cross-oriented. The disciples might not have known what the exact end was, all they did know was that Jesus was the Messiah and He had come to save His people. The death and resurrection opened their eyes to the full gospel which prior to that, they hadn’t understood. Isaiah and the prophets even preached the “gospel,” even though they didn’t have the cross in mind.

  7. Bryan,
    I think you pose and interesting questions, “What is the Gospel?” I would contend (at least right now…until you most likely defeat my point 🙂 that the Gospel IS the cross and the empty tomb.

    Darius, I’m going to sort of expand on what you’ve already said, so I apologize for the redundant nature of this post.

    Here comes some proof-texting…
    In Galatians 2:8 “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify Gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.”

    So what was the Gospel that was preached the Abraham? The Genesis text gives us no indication that Abraham was given any understanding of Christ, a Messiah, the cross, or even charged with the idea of repentance from a former life of sin. So what was the Gospel?

    I would contend that the Biblical narrative has consisted of a progressive unveiling of the heart of the Gospel. A more common understanding of repentance seems to permeate Scripture as the Hebrews are released from captivity and led into the wilderness. They turn their backs on God and worship idols…and thus the idea repentance because prevalent as God gives rise to His prophets (a further unveiling of the Gospel).

    The end of Malachi and the beginning of the gospels speak of John (the greatest prophetic voice yet – Luke 7:25-28). Jesus’ ministry begins with miracles, teachings on justice, and the idea that one person (the Messiah) can forgive sins without presenting a sacrifice of atonement to God.

    But, I would suggest, the fulfillment of the Gospel is completely realized in the cross and the empty tomb. The symbolism of the temple curtain tearing and the subsequent welcoming of the Gentiles into the faith points back to Isaiah and brings the fullness of the Gospel to complete fruition.

    So, to be sure, Jesus preached the Gospel prior to the cross-event, but it was only a further unveiling of the true Gospel, which would have to wait to be fully uncovered until the Son, himself, was fully uncovered on the cross, where He uttered, “It is finished.”

    Not sure if this makes sense…but I think it’s dangerous to say that Jesus preached “the Gospel” as we understand the Gospel on the other side of the resurrection.

  8. Bryan,

    I actually don’t think I disagree with you. I think we may be misunderstanding one another. All I’m saying is that there is more to the gospel than the Cross and the empty tomb. Clearly the Cross and the empty tomb are the climax of the gospel, and an essential part of the gospel message.

    All I (and Hettinga) am saying is that we are not doing justice to the primary way Jesus talked about the gospel, i.e. the arrival of the Kingdom and rule of God on earth in the person of his Son. So, I’m simply trying to say that I think we need to make sure we’re not just dealing with people’s “guilt problem” when we share the gospel with them, but we also make it clear that “believing” and “knowing Jesus” entails submitting yourself to a new Kingdom and to its King, not just receiving all the benefits.

  9. I think with true repentance, the kind only God can grant, comes the full realization of what the Gospel is.

    When there is true repentance, the “wholeness” of the Gospel is achieved. There is the “ticket-punching” where we are declared justified and are granted admittance into heaven. But there is also the submission to your new Lord. Romans 12:2. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world (repent). Literally it is saying BE, BEING transformed by the renewing of your mind. Once we are justified we don’t become more justified. We become more sanctified. I think that encapsulates the gospel.

    I think I’m rambling. Maybe this has nothing to do with the original post.

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