The Gospel: Good News or Good Advice

Not too long ago I met a friend for lunch and while we ate he shared how he was discouraged because he wasn’t seeing a lot of spiritual success in his life. Having become a Christian about a year or so ago, he expected to be further along the path to Christ-likeness. But instead he finds himself still struggling with all the same sins he always had: impatience, pride, lust, insecurity. You know the list because it’s no different than your sins both past and present. The lack of spiritual progress in his life made him feel far from God and was sapping his desire to keep pushing on.

His problem–our problem–is that he had confused the good news of the gospel with good advice. We live in an advice saturated culture. Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, Dave Ramsey, the self help section of the book store, and magazines in the grocery store check out line all inundate us with advice on topics ranging from weight loss and self esteem to finances and marriage. We make the understandable but deadly mistake of thinking that in the gospel God becomes a kind of life coach showing us how to get the best out of our lives. And then when our life doesn’t improve the way we expect it to, we get discouraged with him and ourselves.

But the gospel isn’t primarily advice. It’s the good news of what Jesus has done for sinners like us. The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” In the Old Testament the word we translate “gospel” was used to report victory from the battlefield. When the Philistines defeated the troops of Saul on Mt. Gilboa, “they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news (gospel)…among the people” (1 Samuel 3:19).

In 9 B.C., within a decade of Jesus birth, the birthday of Caesar Augustus was hailed as good news [gospel]. Then we read in Mark 1:1 “The beginning of the gospel [good news] about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus is the good news. Jesus is the good news that God’s Son has come. Jesus is the good news that salvation has arrived. Jesus is the good news that there is hope for sinners like us. Jesus is the good news that God is reconciling sinners to himself. Jesus is the good news that God’s King is here and that he is inaugurating his kingdom.

Good news is fundamentally different than good advice. The good news of Jesus is about what he has done. Good advice is about what we should do. When I hear good advice, I think about how I need to try hard to implement it. When I hear good news, I rejoice at what has happened.

My friend was discouraged because he wasn’t living up to the standard that he expected of himself. And his discouragement was driving him away from Jesus. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ accepts sinners and therefore our sin shouldn’t drive us away from him but toward him.

In the early part of the 20th century J. Gresham Machen found himself trying to distinguish the gospel from the Protestant Liberalism that was on the rise all around him. His appeal may be timely for the American church today.

“What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God as saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you not tell me the facts?”

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