The Gospel is not happening as we speak. Nobody in this world is being the Gospel, living the Gospel, or anything of the sort. The Gospel is by definition good news of past events as well as the announcement of a future return of Christ. None of the Gospel is in the present tense. Getting this right might be the most important challenge the Church faces in our day. The implications of a wrong view of the Gospel as history are wide and varied.
To the individual mistaking the Gospel as something we participate in leads to despair. Eventually we come to a point when we look at our lives and what we have done as Christians and realize that our actions are not “good news” in fact often times we find ourselves in struggles we had long before we believed. We look to ourselves as an example of the Gospel and realize there is little good news there to celebrate.
To the church it leads to all sorts of strange concepts. If we are to live the Gospel, then spreading the Gospel means either to bring people to us, or take ourselves to people. We end up (though we would never say it) believing that what the world needs is more of ‘us’. It is highly narcissistic. A lot of Church growth, attractional mentality is built on the premise that exposing people to ourselves will expose them to the Gospel as long as our people are ‘living the Gospel’. It also leads to this idea that “we need to be Christ for someone” or “the only Jesus some people may ever see is you.” Again, I understand the motive here and it is not all bad, but at its heart it is narcissistic. This confusion of the Gospel as something we do, has driven much of the church’s mission, and largely has caused us to lose our theology that is foundational to our mission. That theology being that Christ has already done and completed a work for you.
To the world the implications of believing that the Gospel must be lived is enormous. The Gospel ceases to be good news for a perishing world if it includes a mandate. The greatest hope for a dying humanity is that a work has been done in history for them and that they can look back with assurance knowing that work (Christ’s life, death, resurrection) was completed for them. If the Gospel is a new lifestyle of good works and service it offers wonderful ethics to a perishing world, but it offers nothing by way of salvation.
When the Gospel becomes a present tense activity it becomes reduced to humanism. Humanism includes self sacrifice, it involves the golden rule, it includes honor, it includes caring for the poor, in includes all sorts of wonderful things that the scriptures include in its laws. You do not need Jesus to have solid ethics. As far as that is concerned I am not really “anti-humanist”, in fact I am pretty much good with humanism. It is an attempt to live out the law which is already written on the heart of man, and it benefits society when people do that. However, humanism always fails at the personal level. No person lives to the ethics they espouse, all people commit the injustice they abhor, the real problem is sin and it cannot be labored away, and ethics do not cure it. Only the Gospel offers salvation, yet if the Gospel gets confused with the ethics and good deeds even that “Gospel” ceases to offer anything more than despair and condemnation.
Yet, if we recall that the Gospel indeed is a historical transaction occurring in real time with a real body, and real blood, real wood on a real cross, and real tomb that was empty because our real savior rose from the dead... if we can recall what has been done for us we no longer need to approach the Gospel as what we must do, we approach it with gratefulness knowing we are redeemed. We are freed for joyful obedience to a law that no longer has the power to condemn.