What is the gospel? It is, simply, good news. It is the good news that God loves us so much that he sent his only son to die in our place (John 3:16). It is the good news that through Jesus our sins are forgiven and we are justified in the eyes of God (2 Cor. 5:19-21; Romans 5:1). It is the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead and has inaugurated his Kingdom and has invited us to enter into these joys with him (Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:5-6). All of this is wonderful, glorious news for us!
The gospel is good news, but it is also in this way a good gift. But what kind of gift is it?
For some, the gospel is like a gift given by a father to his child with considerable assembly required. But the father, while giving the gift, expects the child to put it together. Not only must the child put it together, but the child must put it together in the precise manner described by the manual with no mistakes of any kind. If the child should unfortunately fail to do so, the father is standing over his shoulder, prepared to release his rage at the child’s foolishness. Should the end result include even a small mistake, the consequence is having the gift revoked and being cast out of the house.
As you can imagine, the child in this scenario has no joy. Rather, he is filled with fear and worry, because he knows he can’t possibly meet the expectations. Though the gift could be wonderful, he will never find joy in it because he will never get to the point where he can appreciate it and use it. He will see nothing but fear in the gift. It will seem to him a curse.
Thankfully, this is neither the gift nor the God we see described in scripture.
Rather, the gospel is like a gift given by a father which required considerable assembly, and so the father stayed up night after night for many months putting it together while the child slept. He dealt with the difficult instructions on his own, and even the bruises and cuts and sleeplessness that came with the process, so that he can give the child a gift to enjoy. After he gives the child the gift, he proceeds to teach the child to understand it and use it well. He knows the child won’t understand or use it perfectly at first, but he is patient and helps the child learn.
In this scenario, the child rejoices in the gift. At first he is happy to receive it. As time goes on, the child realizes more and more how much love went into the gift and his joy continues to increase. He is filled with awe and joy at what his father has done for him, and seeks to honor the gift all the more.
This is the kind of gift and the kind of God we find in scripture.
Understanding this point is key to how we live as Christians. If you think the gospel is all about what you are doing, you will be filled with fear and bitterness and you will release that fear and bitterness on others. Or, even worse, you will become arrogant and boastful, because you think you have managed by your superior wit and strength what few others could or would. On the other hand, if you recognize the gospel is about what God has done for you in Jesus, you will be filled with joy and wonder, and you will share the joy and wonder with others in grateful humility.
We have a wonderful Father who loves to give gifts (Ephesians 4:7-8; James 1:17). He is abundant in joy and love and mercy. He wants us to be spiritually successful. Of course he has expectations. We should never presume to receive his gift with an entitled attitude, or to reject it and treat it as nothing. The father in the second scenario would be justifiably angry at such behavior. But neither should we think our Father is standing impatiently over our shoulder, expecting us to flawlessly assemble the whole thing by our own power. It is only when we realize it is completely a free gift by his grace (Romans 3:21-26), a work done by him for us, that it will produce the joy and love in our hearts that it is intended to. It is then that we will be grateful to God, and patient and forgiving with others. The power of the gospel is not in what we have done (what a powerless message that would be!), but what God has done for us. May we meditate on this reality and grow in our love for our wonderful Father.