What is the Gospel?
This is a reproduction of a blog post I wrote in January of 2010 addressing a video about the Gospel on Tangle. I duplicated it here so that I could add sidebars showing you that what I'm telling you is historic Christianity.
In the original blog post, I linked to a video on the Gospel at Tangle. That site, however, can't decide what they should be called. Once they were Godtube, then they were Tangle, and now they're Godtube again. In the process, my link to the video no longer works, nor can I find the video.
No big deal. You'll recognize the statements I'm complaining about. They're made by Christians all the time.
Note: There is a "What Is the Gospel" video on YouTube from the Southern Baptist Seminary. Their video is much better. It is not the one I am addressing on this page.
The Tangle Video on the Gospel
The video states:
If we've lied once, cheated once, hated once … just once … then our soul becomes imperfect and can't get into heaven."
That doesn't sound so horrific on the surface because we Protestants have heard it so much, but let's look at what the author of the video is saying. He's already said that heaven or hell are the only places our immortal soul can go. He believes that hell is a place of torment, full of literal flames.
So ... God is a being who will send the vast majority of souls who have ever lived into eternal torture even if all they've done is just hated once.
By these standards, Guantanamo Bay is a vacation resort. At Guantanamo Bay people are subjected to temporary humiliation and pain, some of it terrible but none of it as bad as being burned alive, and all or most of them are there for being exceptionally evil.
God, according this video, is much worse than the Americans at Guantanamo Bay. He's going to burn conscious people in flames for millions and millions of years for hating once, or for cheating on a test in elementary school, or for telling a lie at work … just once.
This is a just Judge??
The Letter of Barnabas
The letter of Barnabas was considered Scripture by some late 2nd century churches, which does not make it authoritative for us, but it does prove that the letter represents Christian thinking in the 2nd century. It was written between A.D. 80 and 130.
[God] has revealed to us by all the prophets that he needs neither sacrifices, burnt offerings, nor oblations … He says to [the Israelites], "I did not speak to your fathers, when they came out of the land of Egypt, to offer me burnt offerings and sacrifices? Rather, I commanded this, 'Let none of you cherish evil in his heart against his neighbor, and do not love a false oath'" [Jer. 7:22-23, poorly quoted by Barnabas, but the idea is accurate].
Since, therefore, we possess understanding, we ought to perceive the gracious intention of the Father, for he speaks to us. He doesn't want us to go astray like they did, but to ask how we are to approach him. To us, then, he declares, "A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a smell of sweet savor to the Lord is a heart that glorifies him that made it" [Ps. 51:17, again poorly quoted].
Therefore, brothers, we ought to make careful inquiry concerning our salvation, lest the wicked one, having made his entrance by deceit, should hurl us forth from our life. (ch. 2)
This is not the Gospel. This is slander.
That is not God. Listen for a moment to who the Judge of all the earth, the one who does right, really is:
If the wicked will turn from all the sins that he has committed, keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live. He shall not die. All his transgressions that he committed, they shall not be mentioned to him. In his righteousness that he has done, he shall live. (Ezek. 18:21-22)
The Lord passed by before [Moses] and proclaimed, "The Lord God, merciful and gracious, patient, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children." (Ex. 34:6-7)
Okay, granted, God will not clear the guilty. He'll even punish the children for sins of the fathers. Don't freak out about that. We all know that children are prone to inheriting the faults of their parents. Punishment is not evil. Punishment is a wonderful thing that produces repentance, and as you can see from the Scriptures above, repentance produces life and drives punishment far away.
However, read those verses. Is this a God that sends people to hell for one lie??
And how does he forgive the mass of sins that the wicked have committed. Does he require sacrifices and oblations? Does he have to kill a human? Does he have to send his own Son to earth and kill him so that he can forgive sin?
That's not what the Bible says. After King David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, then killed her husband Uriah to hide it, God punished him both in his body and by killing his love-child. David repented, crying out for forgiveness.
You do not want sacrifice, or else I would give it. You do not delight in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps. 51:16-17)
This is not a God that can't forgive sin unless he kills his Son.
Why Jesus Really Died
Jesus did not die because God was a monster that could not forgive sin and would torture eternally the mildest sinner. It was not God who needed to be saved. He has always been wonderful. Everything he has done has always been redemptive and has always been good. God did not change when Jesus died.
Jesus died because we are monsters. Look at Paul's description of us:
Polycarp of Smyrna
Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John and one of the most respected leaders of the early 2nd century. A letter to the Philippians from him is preserved for us.
He who raised [Christ] up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do his will, walk in his commandments, and love what he loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness. (ch. 2)
There is none righteous, no, not one. …
Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they have deceived;
The poison of asps is under their lips; their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood.
When Paul wrote, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," he was not talking about cheating on a 6th grade math test. He was talking about those things I just quoted from Romans 3. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23)immediately follows that awful description of humans in general.
Worse, according to the Bible, at least for the majority of us, there's not much we can do about it. "How to perform what's good I cannot find" (Rom. 7:18).
Now that's a problem worth dying for!
And that's the problem Jesus did die for …
Clement of Rome
1 Clement is the only early Christian writing that is almost certainly first century. Clement was a bishop of Rome (whether he was one of the bishops is a debate of major interest to me). He was likely appointed by Paul and Peter.
1 Clement is cited as Scripture by several early Christians and was found attached to the New Testament in the Codex Alexandrinus from the 5th century. It's assumed to have been a part of the 4th century Codex Vaticanus as well.
Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world.
Let us turn to every age that has passed and learn that … the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all who would be converted to him. Noah preached repentance, and as many as listened to him were saved. Jonah proclaimed destruction to the Ninevites, but they repented of their sins, propitiated God by prayer, and obtained salvation, although they were foreigners to God.
The ministers of the grace of God have, by the Holy Spirit, spoken of repentance. The Lord of all things has personally declared an oath regarding it: "'As I live,' says the Lord, 'I do not desire the death of the sinner, but his repentance'" [Ezek. 33:11] … Because he desires that all his beloved should partake of repentance, he has established these things by his almighty will. [ (chs. 7-8)
For what the Law could not do, because it was weak through the flesh, God did. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk after the flesh but after the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4)
Awesome! So now we wicked people with the poison of asps under our lips and whose feet are swift to shed blood can "put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit" and live (Rom. 8:13).
That was worthy dying for.
And it doesn't make a monster out of a loving, kind, and merciful God.
One More Verse to Mull Over
When Peter told the Jews in Jerusalem--including the other apostles--about the conversion of Cornelius, the Gentile, they were horrified. Forget the fact that Cornelius had received the Spirit of God, having had his soul cleansed by the blood of Jesus. They were horrified that he'd ... gasp! ... eaten with gentiles!
After Peter explained what happened, however, they were silent and accepting. This was the work of God.
Their comment, however, should be mulled over by all modern Christians who have been deceived into believing that God forgives sin by killing and sacrifice rather than on the basis of repentance:
So, then, God has given the repentance that leads to life to the gentiles as well. (Acts 11:18)
Even more difficult for us modern Christians is Paul's description of his Gospel:
I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but have announced first to those in Damascus and Jerusalem, then to all the regions of Judea, then to the nations, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance. (Acts 26:20)
Paul said that? Paul did that?
Of course, he also told them that the power for this repentance is found in the grace bestowed upon us by the Lord Jesus Christ in his death …
Sin will not have power over you because you are not under Law but under grace. (Rom. 6:14)
If you walk in the Spirit, you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. (Gal. 5:16)