Good News vs. good advice

Posted: January 9, 2011 in Gospel
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Over the last few months as I’ve been re-introduced to the Gospel, I’ve come to realize that the implications of this message reach far beyond my ability to digest (let alone articulate…) all of them. So I often find myself “nibbling” on certain aspects and end up equally floored.

The morsel I’m nibbling on right now is the portion of the Gospel that has most eluded me throughout my walk with Jesus. And that is that not only did Jesus die the death I should have died, but He also lived the life I should have lived.

I recently watched a lecture given by Tim Keller in which he described the difference between “news” and “advice”. In the Gospel, we claim to have “good news”. News, as Keller points out, is an account of something that has happened. When we read the news, we read of events that have already occurred. And we receive this news from messengers. Advice on the other hand tells of things that can happen. If you do this, xy&z will occur.

The Gospel is good news. Unfortunately, it’s often presented as good advice. The distinction, though subtle, can mean the difference between a life that overflows with joy and gratitude or one that is full of pride and despair. And perhaps, the security of someone’s soul.

I think back to how I’ve heard the Gospel presented at times throughout my walk with Jesus and it’s easy to see why I and others lost sight of what truly makes Christianity different from every other world religion or philosophy. I often hear people say things such as “Jesus changed my life and He can change yours too. I made a mess of myself and He made me a new person. So just say this simple prayer…”. While in some ways that may be true, it’s not the Gospel. And when that becomes the basis for a person’s belief in Jesus, it’s setting them up for disaster.

Say, hypothetically, said person responds to such advice and “gives their life to Christ”, expecting radical life transformation. The foundation then for their relationship to Jesus is what He can do for them. But maybe it doesn’t happen quite as they were hoping. So they’re confused. Frustrated. And are now faced with basically two options: Try harder, or walk away. The person will try harder to live in such a way that somehow “earns” God’s blessing. If they think they get it, they’ll become prideful and arrogant because in their mind, they must have tried harder than others and received God’s favor as a result. If they don’t, they’ll become exhausted from all of their “trying” and feel that there must be something wrong with them. That God must not love them. And they may just walk away entirely. And the real tragedy lies in the fact that since repentence of sin and trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus never took place, neither did conversion. So the end result is either an unsaved person within the church who is arrogant and religious or an unsaved person who is frustrated with God and has walked away from the church.

Contrast this to the “news” of the Gospel and the distinction is startling. In sharing the good news of the Gospel, we share the news that although we have all sinned and are separated from God as a result, God lovingly came into human history as Jesus Christ to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. In doing so, God lived the life we should have lived, died the death we should have died, and conquered death in victory over Satan and hell. God substituted Himself for us, and His work was complete. As Jesus said, “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30) The foundation for our faith is not what Jesus can do for us, but what He’s already done.

That news is amazing. That salvation is a free gift from a loving God who has been pursuing a wayward people since the beginning of time. That we don’t have to do anything but repent and respond to the good news by trusting in the person and work of Jesus.

Now, for me, I’ve understood since I became a Christian that Jesus died for my sins and rose for my salvation. But what I never truly grasped until recently was that in His sinless life, He also lived the life I should have lived. The Christian is not only free from the power of sin and death but also free from having to “get it right with God” by living as if we’re undertaking some kind of salvation maintenance project through our good works. The Gospel offers freedom. Freedom in that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves or commend ourselves to God, but that He did it all for us. God’s work on our behalf lacks nothing. It is perfectly, lovingly, and totally…complete. Jesus took care of everything.

That is good news. And it’s vastly different from good advice.   

  

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