What is the gospel?
One of the questions Darryl and I have been bantering about a bit is “What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ?” It’s been too long since I dug in to the scriptures so I decided to take a stroll through 1John. It seems John wants to answer my question.
1:5a Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you:
Generally letters aren’t systematic theology but I think we can pull a few themes out of John. Strangely absent is anything that looks like the 4 spiritual laws.
1:5b God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. 1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth.
A couple things here. Having fellowship with him, walking in light and practicing the truth.
1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
The old evangelical stand by. Confess our sins, receiving forgiveness and being cleansed of unrighteousness.
2:3 Now by this we know that we have come to know God: if we keep his commandments. 2:4 The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person.
There must be something incredibly transforming about knowing God. John is believes so strongly in this that he equates knowing God with obedience.
2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 2:16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world.
When the love of the father is in us, we won’t love the world.
3:11 For this is the gospel message that you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another
3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth.
3:24 And the person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him. Now by this we know that God resides in us: by the Spirit he has given us.
We know God resides in us by the Spirit he has given us.
4:15 If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides in him and he in God.
This is the one of the few items where correct belief is touched on. I don’t think we can deny that theology is important. It seems that the important theology is smaller subset of the stuff the stuff we get up in arms about.
5:5b This is the conquering power that has conquered the world: our faith.
For a long time I’ve held the suspicion that following Christ is an experience that can only be defined to a certain degree. It is a relationship. It is an experience. Defining our walk with God is like defining what it means to be a good husband or wife. I’m not married. I can read a stack of books and listen endlessly to the advice of my friends but I won’t know it means to be a good husband until I experience marriage. I think John is saying something similar about following Christ. You know you are following Christ when you walk in light, love your brother, walk in faith and the Spirit resides in you. However these things are only indicators of some other less definable state or process. They are symptoms of a transforming inner experience in which God resides in us and purifies us.
This leads me to conclude that the good news being preached by most evangelicals is woefully inadequate. It convinces people that they are following Christ when in fact they are only following a set of principles extracted from Christian theology.