Is the Gospel Good?

I’ve spent my life surrounded by people telling me the word “gospel” means “God’s good news.”  Yet Jesus’ first words as he began his gospel ministry—“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”—didn’t prompt the kind of comfort and joy my friends described. For as long as I can remember, I understood Christ’s words to mean something like this: “God has been far off, but now He is coming your way. He doesn’t really like you. And He certainly doesn’t approve of you. If you want to avoid His wrath—and you definitely do!–you’d better change your ways—and fast.”          

Knowing I could never measure up meant the gospel was not good news for me. Instead, Jesus’ words played in my spirit like eerie movie music. Signaling something terrifying, they triggered a dread and despair that strangled my hope. Recently, though, a friend’s question gave me pause:

“What have you always hoped would be true about God?”

This simple question has birthed a new understanding of Jesus’ first gospel words.

Jesus’ opening message is a Spirit-anointed announcement of God’s good Kingdom finally arriving. For the poor, God’s Kingdom brings good news. Captives are released.  Blind regain sight. Oppressed are freed. 2. It is the year of God’s favor. 3  Far from forecasting judgment and wrath, Jesus’ words tell me God’s Kingdom brings long-awaited comfort—relief from punishment, pain, suffering. This comfort is not only available to those whose suffering is undeserved, but also to those whose suffering is deserved. 4 

Life in this Kingdom isn’t far off, or accessible only to a fortunate few. It is nearby, right here, literally “at hand.” 5 For anyone. For everyone.  Even for me.

Jesus opens His announcement with the word “repent,” which is an invitation to think differently. And now, as I listen to Jesus’ picture of God’s Kingdom, I do think differently.  My old understanding of Christ’s words told my soul a sobering story: This all-seeing, only-holy God sees you as fundamentally, unchangeably irredeemable. Not only does who you are make it hard for God to want to love you, but your inability to repair who you are—or to allow God to repair you—can only disqualify you from divine love. Who you are will only ever provoke God’s disappointment, disgust, and condemnation.

Jesus’ words mean that my deepest hopes cancel out—one and for all—my darkest fears about who God is and how he sees me.

Relinquishing my old story about God is itself repentance.

It re-awakens the audacious hope that the gospel is indeed the very best of news, reminding me to listen to the truest story of all—that the all-seeing, all-holy God in Christ’s gospel is also loving; that his love isn’t eclipsed by his spotless, utterly upright nature; and that this holy-and-loving God could somehow love me—not just tolerate me, not just provide salvation, but actually feel affection towards, delight in, favor even me.

This new narrative lets me say goodbye to the old fear and foreboding, to welcome, to know, and to drink in the deep hope of Christ’s good gospel.  

Matthew 4:17
Luke 4:18
Luke 4:19
Luke 23:43
2 Peter 3:9

Immersed in Christian community since her earliest years, Grace Apprentice knows the loneliness of seeing and celebrating God’s extraordinary provision and presence in others’ lives while secretly wondering why her own looks so much messier. After decades of quietly fearing what this messiness might mean about whether God’s grace extends to her, she is learning to notice the less-spectacular-seeming but equally-soul-sustaining ways God tends to her life and heart. She shares her experiences as a way of standing in solidarity with others who walk untidy stories, to let them know they are not alone, and to invite them to risk watching for glimpses of God’s grace in their own journeys.