If there is a one-sentence summary of Jesus’s preaching, Mark gives it at the beginning of his Gospel: “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’” (Mark 1:14-15).
Every Christian loves the gospel. By definition, you cannot have a Christian who isn’t shaped by and saved by the gospel.
So three cheers for the gospel. Make that 3 million cheers.
But let’s preach the gospel the way Jesus and the apostles did. Theirs was not a message of unconditional affirmation. They showed no interest in helping people find the hidden and beautiful self deep inside. They did not herald the good news that God likes you just the way you are.
Too much “gospel” preaching sounds like a slightly spiritualized version of that old Christina Aguilera song:
You are beautiful no matter what they say.
Words can’t bring you down.
You are beautiful in every single way.
Yes, words can’t bring you down.
So don’t bring me down today.
I don’t doubt that many of us feel beat up and put down. We struggle with shame and self-loathing. We need to know we can be okay, even when we don’t feel okay. It is good news to hear, then, that God loves us in Christ and that we are precious in his sight.
But the gospel is more than positive self-talk, and the gospel Jesus and the apostles preached was more than a warm, “don’t let anybody tell you you’re not special” bear hug.
There’s a word missing from the presentation of our modern gospel. It’s the word repent.
Yeah, I know, that sounds old school, like an embarrassing sidewalk preacher with a sandwich board and cheap tracts with bad graphics and lots of exclamation points. And yet, even a cursory glance at the New Testament demonstrates that we haven’t understood the message of the gospel if we never talk about repentance.