The first question is probably the easier of the two, though not as easy as you may think. A couple of years ago, The Christian Century tried to see if the gospel message can be summarized in seven words or less. That wasn't conclusive, as you can imagine.
You could write an entire blog post about the definition of "gospel," and you'd still not be 100% complete and clear. In fact, the Gospel Coalition blog even had a series called Gospel Definitions.
But for the purpose of this post, let's agree (I hope) that the gospel includes these points:
- It's the good news (literally) of God's story of redeeming this broken world
- The central act of God's story is the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah promised in the Hebrew scriptures.
- It is an invitation for all people to put their trust in God for the forgiveness of sins.
Here is a great five-minute video that explains God's story in a simple framework of 3-2-1, and with a cool accent...
We could say so much more, . . . . Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.
A Wrong GospelOver the years, I have spent a lot of time with children and students in church settings. For most children who have grown up in church, there is a problem of true gospel understanding. Many children (especially at a young age) equate the Christian life with a list of things to do and not do. And they measure their acceptance by God according to their keeping of the "rules."
This trust in a false gospel generally leads to one of three paths:
- Rejection of all the "trappings" of religion once they have the freedom to choose, such as when they go off to college.
- Continual frustration and stress as they work harder and harder to earn the favor of God and of others.
- Repentance of their trust in this false gospel or works, and understanding that their acceptance by God is based on His grace. (Yes, I know we can argue God's sovereignty versus man's freewill, but let's not go there today.)
Want more? Check out these two short sermon snippets from Jeff Vanderstelt: How to Make Disciples and Everyone Is an Unbeliever.
So What?As Christian parents, we spend a lot of time teaching the what of the gospel, but how much are we focusing on the "So what?" We often miss the question of why the gospel is so important.
Our children in preschool and grade school (and beyond?) can tell you all about what Jesus did, and what God calls us to do in response -- "go to church," "read the Bible," "pray," etc. But do they understand why that is so important?
(Of course, I'm counting my kids in the group as well. These are the questions that weigh on my soul.)
Our understanding and trust in the gospel must go beyond the facts about Jesus. They must lead us to pursuing and trusting in Jesus Himself. We don't just need to embrace the good news about Jesus, but we need to embrace what is so good about that news. The good news is only good when we understand how bad we are.
Pastor and theologian Thabiti Anyabwile gives a mild rant about this issue, and concludes with this,
I wonder if the cliff notes references to “the gospel” doesn’t blunt our understanding, meditation, application, and enjoyment of the incredible realities accomplished for us through the Son of God. Are we inoculating people against the actual gospel with our frequent but unexplained references to “the gospel”?
Speaker and author Sally Lloyd-Jones reminds us,
"How do we give hope to children? When we take the focus on them and put it back on God where it belongs. . . .Contrary to all our fix-it-now, formulaic approaches, the best we can do for our children (in our homes and our churches, in our communities and our world) is to simply tell the story of Jesus. Proclaim how great He is, and even as we invite them to trust and follow Him, they must understand that their lives are not about them, but about God. It's His Story, and there is only one Hero in the Story -- Jesus.
Children don’t need to be told to try harder, believe more, do it better. That just leaves them in despair. The moral code always does.
We don’t need a moral code. We need a Rescuer."
So what is the why of the gospel? The whole point of this good news is to make me realize how great Jesus is, and to make me realize how much I need Him.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Romans 1:16
CautionsIf you are like me, you'll want to add "be gospel-centered" to the list of things we need to do, as if it were a formula towards spiritual success. Just because we label something with the "gospel" doesn't mean it really is, and just because something isn't labeled with that term doesn't me it isn't.
For more about the concerns and benefits of the gospel label, read Tim Challies' excellent article The Gospel-Centered Everything.
But on a positive note, I'll conclude with these words from John Piper:
“Parents teach your kids the gospel is not just something that begins the Christian life but empowers it, shapes it and sustains it. Pray, love, correct and demonstrate the love of God to your kids until he draws them they respond and He becomes their treasure and their great reward.”
- Biblical Parenting vs Gospel Parenting
- The Gospel for Middle Schoolers (and You)
- Love Jesus, Love Your Kids
- Don't Raise Good Kids
- My Passive Son Needs the Gospel
- My Son Is Not Ready to Become a Christian
- Gospel-Centered Children
- Honey I Shrunk the Gospel (Sam Luce)
**image courtesy of Phaewilk via morgueFile