TEACHING THE GOSPEL AS GOOD NEWS!
T. PIERCE BROWN
This article has to do with trying to develop the mind of Christ in ourselves and in our students by thinking of the gospel as “the good news” rather than merely a system of rules and regulations which must be followed. This is not to imply that in order to receive the “good news,” there is NOT a system of rules and regulations that must be followed. It is to suggest that we start by emphasizing the “good news” rather than the mechanics of how to appropriate it. Do not forget: It must be appropriated in God’s own way, or it will not be good news!
I have known for over half a century that the term, “gospel” means “good news,” but I confess that in my preaching and personal evangelism I have not always set it forth so that it would be recognized as such. It will be easy for me to be misunderstood at this point, but I simply mean that many of our sermons and conversations about the Lord and His will are couched in such language and presented in such a way as to sound like bad news!
Let me try to make clearer what I mean. If we start off with, “John, you are not living right, and you are going to hell as you now are,” that may be the truth, but it is not good news! If we start off with, “All those in denominations who are not in the church you read about in the Bible, need to know that `every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up’,” that is the truth, but it is not good news! Do not misunderstand me. They need to know those truths and turn from denominationalism and all other sins. But they need to know the good news first!
I have no doubt that some who formerly preached the gospel without fear or favor have changed until they think they must preach only the pleasant things, and do what they call “positive” preaching. By this, they mean, “Be so sweet and loving that you do not condemn anything except those in the church they call `hidebound legalists’.” This is dangerous and wrong. But the thing I want to emphasize in this article is that if one presents the gospel simply as a bunch of rules and regulations which God imposed on us, and which we have to obey if we do not want to go to hell, those who hear and obey under that kind of teaching may do it largely through fear. But if it is presented as a group of gracious offers which God has made to us, the acceptance of which will allow us to enjoy the blessings and escape the just punishment of our sins, one may obey largely through gratitude for the reality of the good news! And whether you know it or not, the one who obeys primarily through gratitude usually has a different life in the church than one who obeys primarily through fear.
This in no sense implies that we should not let men “know the terror of the Lord” and therefore persuade them (2 Cor.5:11). But it does mean that when one thinks of the teaching primarily as that which says, “If you do not do these things, you are going to hell. You have not done them, so my hard duty is to tell you that is where you are going,” will approach his task with a far different attitude than one who thinks of his teaching primarily as that which says, “God loves you and has given provisions whereby you can be assured of your salvation. If you accept His gracious offer on his terms, it is my joyous privilege to tell you that you will most assuredly be saved!” The principle about which I am writing is about the same as the difference between the pessimist who looks at a glass of water and says, “It is half empty” and the optimist who looks at it and says, “It is half full.” They both are telling the truth, but the way one looks at it and speaks about it makes a difference.
I am persuaded that one reason we have such a hard time shaming, whipping, begging people to do “personal evangelism” is that they think of the gospel as the thing that is going to condemn a person if he does not accept it!
The truth of the matter is, that is not so! The sinner is condemned, not because he did not accept the gospel! He is condemned because he sinned! He stays condemned if he does not accept it! But that is a different thing. The gospel is the good news that tells him how he can be saved in spite of the fact that he sinned!
Of course Jesus, Peter and all of the Apostles knew they had to let people know they were lost before they would want to be saved. But Peter, on Pentecost, did not start with “You murdering wretches who killed Jesus are bound for hell, and are going to have to repent and be baptized to escape from the consequences of your dastardly deed!” He started with the facts of the gospel, then told them how to appropriate that good news through the gracious promise of God. I am persuaded that their method and emphasis should be ours. That would make for a Christ centered gospel of good news rather than a man-centered message of despair.