At the Gate: The Gospel

Sitting at the gate, I see that the Gospel really is good news. In recent posts, I have explored the hermeneutical principles used by Jesus and the first Christians, showing that our declaration as Christians is more appropriately, “the Gospel says” rather than “the Bible says.” But in saying this, I realize it brings us to the question “What is the Gospel?” In this post, I offer the following aspects of it.

First, Jesus is the Gospel, the Word made flesh. As E. Stanley Jones said over and over, the Gospel is a person, not a principle—it is incarnation, not information. As person, the Gospel is not contained within a particular perspective. Theological labels are insufficient. When we say, “Jesus is Lord,” we mean that no one else and nothing else is.

And right here is the radical nature of the Gospel. If Jesus is the Gospel, then we look to him. We follow him. We abide in him. He is the wine and the bread; we partake of him and are nourished by him. This means that no wineskin is the Gospel. The main question is not “What would Jesus do?” because when we ask this, we too easily overlay the question with our preferences. Rather we ask, “What did Jesus do?” And as we answer that question, we go and do likewise. That’s why the Jesus Hermeneutic and its continuation by the first Christians is foundational and energizing for us.

Second, the Gospel is what’s supposed to be. Jesus lived and taught the Real. He called it the kingdom of God, and he offered it as the transforming alternative to “the kingdoms of this world.” He gave the overview of this in his inaugural address in Nazareth, declaring he was connecting with God’s intention, voiced by Isaiah, “to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison—to proclaim the year of our God’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19) [1]

He amplified his initial declaration a bit later in his sermon on the mount/plain, and then went on to illustrate it through his life, ministry, and teaching. Again and again, he called people to recognize and respond to what’s supposed to be, teaching us to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and then moving into the world as salt-and-light witnesses—restoring the “what’s supposed to be” flavor and removing the darkness.

Third, the Gospel is the reign of love. Looking at the kingdom of God, it is a manifestation of who God is, how God acts, and what God wills. Walter Brueggemann writes over and over that this is summed up in the term “steadfast love.” Given this is so, our response (he writes) is neighborliness—which is a counter-cultural, prophetic resistance to imperialism marked by radical inclusion and the advancement of the common good. It is the salvation-trajectory revealed in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 3:21, 1Cirinthians 5:22, Ephesians 1:9-10, and Colossians 1:20) with its clear Christological core.

This Gospel life is not a superficial rearrangement of things or even a reprioritizing of them. It is a transformation which establishes a new ethical basis for what we say and do. Decades ago, E. Stanley Jones wrote that transformation is the synonym for Christianity. [2] His assertion is a shining light as we seek to recover the Gospel from the lesser definitions (e.g. Christian Nationalism) which are choking the life out of it, and doing great harm to others in the process. Resisting this is now a clarion call, but not an easy or quick one. It is a long-haul endurance that requires an abandonment of the old order, a time of disorder, on the way to the new creation. We are in the New-Awakening phase of disorder, and this leads to a final aspect of the Gospel.

Fourth, the Gospel is an invitation to Christlikeness. In the liminal space of disorder, we are given eyes to see (Mark 8:18) and the will to make new wineskins to hold God’s Gospel wine. Jesus himself extended the invitation: follow me, learn from me, abide in me, go for me—a full-circle to the first point above, that he is the Gospel. The first Christians summarized Christlikeness in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Christlikeness is both the lens for leaving behind “the old” and the motivation for heading toward “the new.” The fruit of the Spirit enables us to see what the Gospel life (loving God and others) looks like, and how it is lived. The fruit of the Spirit transforms both our character (inward life) and conduct (outer life), giving us the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:,5-11) and conforming us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

Taken together, these things make the Gospel good news indeed—the life for which we are made and for which we hunger and thirst. The Gospel compels us to “have done with lesser things,” (Charles Wesley’s hymn, ‘A Charge to Keep’).and to live “a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

[1] Note that Jesus ended with “God’s favor” in his linking his ministry with that of Isaiah. He omitted the phrase having to do with vindication in the original text (Isaiah 61:1-2). This is significant, showing that his congruence with the prophet would nevertheless take a different turn and exhibit a different tone. His life and work would be in the flow of grace, not the letter of the law.

[2] E. Stanley Jones, ‘How to Be a Transformed Person’ (Pierce and Smith, 1951).

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
This entry was posted in At The Gate. Bookmark the permalink.