Monday, April 9, 2012

How Good Is the Good News?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers reminding them about their faith in Christ:
·        How they came to faith in Christ
·        What that faith means
·        Why the life of faith is missional (requires commitment)
Now, there are many ways to say something.  Paul’s way was to state the conclusion, the heart of the matter first – then flesh out the details.  In his letter about the Gospel (or “Good News”), he said what to do about it first; then he told them why.  I would like to turn that around and talk first about How Good the Gospel Is, and save the heart for last.  It’s like eating all around the crust of the pie and leaving the good stuff for last.

how good is the good news?

the good news is vital

1 Corinthians 15:3 - 4 (NRSV)
3For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,
In these two verses are the heart of the Gospel (Good News); Christ died for our sins, was buried and raised on the third day; all just like Scripture predicted.  Paul said this Good News he received and passed on to the Corinthian believers was of “first importance” or priority. 
The urgency of this is because, spiritually-speaking, everyone who was ever born is on life-support; we are without brain waves, sustained only by the prevenient grace of God.  We suffer under the penalty for sin, which is death – both spiritual and physical.  We are not vital (alive), we are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).
Essentially that means that something needed to be done about our sin problem (from which all of us suffer Romans 3:21-23), so we could be forgiven of sin.  And since we couldn’t, God did!
Jesus died on the cross in our place, reconciling all of creation to God.  Jesus rose from the dead by the power of Almighty God to become the first among many to never die again[1].  And he did it so we could live as well.  This is the vitality of the Good News.

the Good news is verifiable

1 Corinthians 15:5 - 9 (NRSV)
5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.  7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.   8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  9For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  
In the cross and resurrection God did something so undeniably unique; nothing like that had ever happened before.  Because of this, and the incredible claims Christianity makes (that we can be forgiven, re-born and live eternally with Christ), the human mind needs much evidence to believe.  After all, no other religion makes a claim that its central figure was alive, died and is alive forevermore.[2]
The resurrection is the most verified miracle of Jesus’ in all scripture.  A court of law requires corroboration by at least a second witness.  Paul gives this evidence; the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to all the disciples, was to more than 500 witnesses.  This would even be enough to convince a court in California! 

The good news is universally-Personal

1 Corinthians 15:10 (NRSV)
10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.   
This Good News is full of grace.  It is grace that worked in Paul to become the great missionary apostle; it is also grace that worked through Paul to build the early church.  Everything about the grace of God is universal; it is a whosoever will may come[3] gift of God for all. 
The Good News is vital, verifiable, universally-personal, and…

The good news is missional

1 Corinthians 15:11 (NRSV)
11Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.              
Paul was busy (as were all the other disciples) proclaiming the Good News – telling everyone that God loved them and all were welcome at the table.  This is missional-mindedness. 
Truly Wesleyan people have always been so from the start.  In the early days of the movement there was a frontier mindset in the people called “Methodist”.  Consider what one author wrote:
If asked ‘What business are we in?’ an early Methodist would have shot back a fast answer to that question.  They believed their mission was to ‘reform the nation and spread scriptural holiness over the land.’
The unstated [current day] mission that truly drives most churches is providing fellowship, comforting ritual, and care for insiders…
…I will often hear someone mumbling, ‘We don’t need to work to add more people until we can adequately take care of the ones we have.’  This statement, which cuts to the heart of the mainline church’s dilemma, arises from the belief that the mission of the church is taking care of our own.  I wish I could have been in the room the first time a Methodist church member verbalized such sentiment.  I would love to have seen the looks of shock on the faces of the others in the room.[4]
Well, that’s Paul’s “fleshing-out” of the Gospel.  When I began I offered that I would turn Paul’s method inside-out today.  Let us look at the heart of this matter…The Good News is vital, verifiable, universally-personal, missional, and also…

The good news is conditional

1 Corinthians 15:1 - 2(NRSV)
1Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 
While the invitation is certainly open to everyone – please note it is also conditioned on “whosoever will”.  That last word “will” indicates a volitional choice to conform one’s life to following Christ.  There is a difference between following Christ as a disciple, learning and doing – and just merely professing faith so you don’t go to Hell.
Notice Paul says that he wanted to “remind” the church family of the way salvation came to them, and what that entails if they were to truly follow Christ, and not end-up in the backslidden category of believed in vain.  He mentions 4 very important characteristics of genuine Christ-followers:

A.      good news proclaimed

The Gospel, or Good News is a gift.  It was proclaimed to Paul and he in turn proclaimed it at Corinth.  It is something that is outside of ourselves…it starts with God.  That is why to be saved there must be repentance – an acknowledgement that we cannot save ourselves.

B.      good news received

Like any gift, the gift of eternal life must be received.  If I gave you a check for $500 today and you never took it to the bank to cash it in, just kept it in your wallet, you would never have that $500.  In the same way, God’s offer of salvation is like an un-cashed check until you receive it by acknowledging your need of Him.
Incidentally, don’t miss how much this little metaphor offers – an un-cashed check is only good for 90 days; at that point the bank considers it “stale-dated” and you won’t get a dime.  In God’s economy the Scripture declares that “now is the day of salvation.”[5]  Don’t trifle with God’s offer; don’t presume on his patience – when you know he’s speaking to your heart – you answer now!

C.      Good news governs

Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that they had received Christ, and were “standing-in” that faith.  They were allowing the Good News to govern their lives. 
Daily life is to be lived to please God, not ourselves.  Of course that is entirely contrary to the culture in which we live in 2012.  Everything about our society and general flow of life says “please yourself”.  Well, call me a cultural heretic…the culture is wrong!  God made us for relationship with him.  When we live life for ourselves we displease God, and we miss the greatest, most satisfying blessing we could have in this life or the next.
The conditional nature of the Good News is that it is proclaimed, received, governs the life of believers, and….

D.     Good news cannot be incidental

There are today myriads of Christian believers who are not sold-out followers of Jesus Christ.  They believe with every fiber of their being that Jesus died for them, and are thankful that their sins are forgiven.  And that is as far as they want it to go.
Ladies and gentlemen, I find no such Christianity in the Bible.  The early believers gave themselves to the cause of Christ. 
·        For some it meant they were torn in pieces by lions in the arena.
·        For some it meant their families thought they were insane and they were disowned.
·        For some it meant turning their backs on all their possessions to go proclaim that Good News to others.

How good is the good news? 

It’s the best news this old world has ever heard.
But the real question is:  How do we treat the Good News? 
·        Some of us would never be inconvenienced for Christ
·        Some of us would never miss a ball game or fishing outing to serve Christ.
·        Some of us would never put a nickel in the offering plate that others might hear of this Christ they profess to love.
Backsliding (professing faith in Christ, then refusing to follow him and live for him) has serious consequences.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote to the Galatian believers:
7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. Galatians 6:7 (NRSV)
For those who give their lives to Christ with everything, loving God with all their heart, mind, soul and spirit, the Good News is the absolute Great News.  For those who “play” at religion, mocking God with a half-hearted nod towards heaven, it is sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.  May God have mercy on us all.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23, James 1:18, Revelation 14:4
[2] Luke 15:24, 32, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 1 Thessalonians 4, Revelation 2:8
[3] Matthew 11:28, 18:4, 32, 12:50, Mark 8:34, Luke 6:47, John 6:37
[4] Nixon, Paul, I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church!, (Cleveland, The Pilgrim Press, 2006), 90, 91.
[5] 2 Corinthians 6:2b

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