Gospel = Good News
If you ask the average person on the street what the gospel is, I’d bet a lot of people would say something to the effect of “Love.” Love people, accept them, do good for people in need. They might even include “Love God” in their answer, even if it might be pretty difficult for them to describe what it looks like to love God in practical terms. They might simply refer back to loving people as a way to show you love God.
But “Love God, love people” is actually not the gospel. Loving God and loving people, according to Jesus, is the greatest commandment, the summary of all the things God has asked us to do, the summary of all the Old Testament Law. Love is the Law that we’ve been unable to keep, broken time and time again. We strive toward it, but always fall short, are regularly giving in to our selfishness and failing to love God and others selfishly, purely, perfectly. And as loving as God is, he is also just, and lawbreaking is not okay with him. If it were, he would not be very just or very good. Yet he is both.
So the Law of Love, as good as it sounds, is actually more like bad news. We don’t live up to the standards. We are in trouble. There are natural consequences to our selfishness (just turn on the news), relational consequences (so many broken and strained relationships, even in our own families), and there are spiritual consequences as well- separation from God. Broken relationship with him, guilt and shame, or a growing callousness to avoid the guilt and shame, that keep us from coming to him. This is not okay with God either. It breaks his heart to be separated from his children, whom he created, whom he loves. He is our source of life, and if we are cut off from him, we die inside.
So, he made a way. He sent Jesus, his Son, a part of himself in ways we can scarcely understand, to bear the punishment himself, bear the weight of justice so that we wouldn’t have to. So we could be reconciled to God, have a restored relationship with him, and be free from the bondage of sin. This is the gospel, the Good News, for those who would receive it.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
No, the gospel is not Love, as in we must love God and people. That’s the Law. The gospel is that God loved us first, that he died for us. This is important because people who don’t receive the Good News, don’t accept Jesus’ sacrifice for them, God’s way of fixing things, are still living under the Bad News, things seriously unfixed. Separation from God, and the death that overtakes us when we’re cut off from his Life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:16-18
It’s one thing if someone consciously makes that choice, to reject God. It’s another thing for people to be living with good intentions, trying to Love, thinking that their efforts to be good people are making things okay, thinking that’s what makes God happy. When what really makes God happy, what he wants more than anything, is a relationship with his child, for us to seek him and believe him and live our lives WITH him. And for us to accept his gift of his Son who made things right for us, and the gift of his Spirit which he promises will come and dwell within us if we do (springs of living water!), for us to be connected to him, the Source of Life who gives us power over the things we were formerly powerless to overcome, and gives us REAL LIFE, welling up more and more within us and overflowing to those around us as we walk through life with him each day. This is the gospel. Hope for all the bad news there ever was. Good news that we don’t have to measure up on our own, don’t have to fulfill the Law of Love to be good enough. He is our enough. The gospel is still the gospel no matter how well we love, because it’s about God loving us first.
“I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10b
Believing in Jesus and accepting his sacrifice for our sins is the only thing that can justify us, reconcile us to God, and it’s the only thing that’s required of us in order to be reconciled to God, to be counted as righteous.
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
And yet… The Bible is quite clear that if we don’t love, we have not really accepted the Gospel.
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4:20-21
Love shows that our faith in Jesus is genuine.
Loving God shows our gratitude to the one who saved our life, our desire to be in relationship with him. And if we are in genuine relationship with our loving Father, we are naturally going to be imitating him, walking in his ways, becoming more like him.
Loving others, especially when they don’t deserve it, shows the same kindness to them that God has shown to us. It is a way we can reflect the gospel to them, invite them into the presence of the One who loves them without condition. Putting other people before ourselves, making true sacrifices for their benefit, is the very thing Christ did for us. That’s what shows we’ve really gotten the gospel.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:14-17
This week at church the message was about the Good Samaritan. I was tempted to check out a little bit as soon as I heard that, because I’ve been having all these thoughts about how the gospel isn’t about being a good person and loving people, and I feel like so many people believe that it is. And maybe people outside of the church really need to know that, that the gospel is not just “Love your neighbor.” But for those of us in the church, I was reminded, we do need to hear the command to love, over and over again, because we often get caught up in our religiosity and forget that it means nothing without love.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37
The first two men, the religious ones, might have had some good reasons for passing him by. It might not have been that they just had no value for his life. Maybe they were afraid the robbers would jump out and attack them, too. Maybe touching someone in his state would have made them ceremonially unclean and disqualified them from the work they were supposed to do at the temple that day. Maybe they were just really busy that day. There were a lot of religious people in Jesus’ day who were like that, focused on religiosity and justifying themselves instead of genuinely loving people and loving God with their hearts. They thought they were doing everything right. But they had it all wrong, and Jesus usually had some pretty harsh words for them.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Maybe some of my excuses for passing over people in need sound like those of the priest and the Levite. And maybe the non-churchgoing person down the street is doing a better job of pleasing God than I am. The story of the Good Samaritan was a good reminder for me that it’s not enough to bear the name Christian. I must live like Christ. I must love.
So as I’ve wrestled with the gospel, of how it’s not just about “Love,” and yet it’s entirely about Love, what I’ve come up with is this:
Being a “Good Samaritan” is not going to save you.
But if you’re not living like the Good Samaritan, you’re not really saved.
What is going to save us?
First, accepting his love and atoning sacrifice for our sins as what justifies us.
Then living with him, and living like him.