The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #2: The ‘Stop It’ Gospel
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. -Matthew 4:23
I grew up with the ‘Stop-it’ gospel that went like this: “God is good. You are bad—STOP IT!” In numerous churches, the gospel is often proclaimed like this in some form. “You are a dirty, rotten, no-good sinner,” is what one friend shared he felt the message had been to him. “You are going to hell. You are messed up, unhappy and deserving God’s wrath. You need Jesus to save you. Then you will stop doing bad things.”… All true observations, as far as they go.
But this all falls short of being the good news Jesus brings. The gospel is far better than a reminder to become moral, upright and mind your Ps and Qs. Far better than a promise of a better land that all who believe get to go to after death. When Jesus proclaimed the good news, it had immediate impact on the lives of people. They were changed. They were made whole. People were physically restored from the ravages of disease. Others—Zacchaeus comes to mind—were set free from the ravages of greed or lust or anger. Other were set free from the ravages of demonic control. Even religious leaders—a pretty hard-hearted lot!—were transformed from the ravages of trying to be righteous through keeping the law.
Jesus’ good news broke down walls of enmity. He included among his closest disciples both Matthew, a tax collector and a hater of tax collectors, Simon the Zealot. (I wouldn’t be surprised to find out when Jesus sent his followers out two by two, Matthew and Simon were travel buddies.) Later, Acts shows us the gospel drawing in Gentiles (despised by Jews) as fully included in God’s family. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility . . .” Ephesians 2:4
This is what is meant by the transformational gospel. The good news is that we will experience deep and lasting change done to us rather than a moral life attained by us reforming our ways. The central focus of the good news Jesus proclaimed is forgiveness, not condemnation. Wholeness, not morality. Life changes produced by the Spirit, not by God setting out a list of dos and don’ts. A Father who is approachable instead of the hanging judge.
Why do too many not know the gospel this way? In his introduction in Transforming the Inner Man, John Loren Sandford pointed to the revivals in western North America in the early 1800s. Preachers who sought to convert those then pioneering beyond the Appalachians reduced the gospel to an easy-to-teach size, emphasizing God’s judgement against the hell-bent culture of the wild west in order to gain the promise of future glory in heaven. Repent of your wicked ways, believe in Jesus and be saved. This was your ticket into heaven. Their abridged message of ‘repent and believe’ unfortunately fostered the false idea that this is the whole of the gospel. It has continued to shape how too many churches teach the gospel today.
What is the difference between this reduced gospel and the good news of the Kingdom? In a word, it is transformation. Not just the kind that comes when people initially place their faith in Jesus. It is the lifelong process of being conformed to the likeness of Jesus by God.