It is quite in vogue today to opine that the Gospel is not about "going to heaven when you die" but rather about living the Kingdom here and now. That sounds very clever and progressive but it also gets the order all out of whack. I think it also tends to diminish the need for being born-again and for repentance from sin. Anyone can embody certain values or work in a soup kitchen or avoid shooting their neighbor but only those who have been born-again can truly follow Christ. We don't like that language in the church today, it grates against our modern sensibilities. So much of the church loves to quote Gandhi as if he is a paragon of Christian virtue when by any measure he was not a Christian and died bereft of Christ, of forgiveness and of hope. When we celebrate a dead pagan and sneer at our simplistic Christian neighbor it is indicative of having lost the real imperative of the Gospel, namely that all of mankind is lost and under condemnation for sin and that Christ came to offer Himself in the place of His sheep to redeem them from the curse.
Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. He came to redeem those who believed who were otherwise already under condemnation. The Gospel is not the Gospel if it is divorced from the sinfulness of man and the effectual redemption of the cross. Paul laid it out for the church in
and we apparently need a reminder today.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:1-5)
Christ died for our sins. He was buried and then raised again. Belief in this is what saves us. That is the Gospel and by definition nothing else can be the Gospel. There are certainly, and indeed necessarily, implications for doctrine and practice that flow from this Gospel but they are not the Gospel.
We must be very cautious to not confuse the priority and the order here. Living out Kingdom virtues is a result of the Gospel, an outward manifestation of a supernatural internal change. The Gospel proper is the Good News of redemption from sin made available to condemned sinners. Jesus said that one must be born again or they would never see the
but many seem to want to try to show blind men, indeed dead men, the Kingdom
while skipping over the born-again part. Kingdom of Heaven
I understand the backlash against the "easy believe-ism", "get out of hell free card" model of "evangelism" that dominates the pseudo-conservative evangelical church. When we reduce being born-again to "making a decision for Christ" in response to an emotional plea accompanied by the soft playing of "Just As I Am" from the piano, of course we are going to get a whole bunch of unregenerate church members who necessarily fail to embody any meaningful Christian virtue. I reject that entire enterprise as a perhaps well-meaning (or perhaps not) exercise that seems mostly aimed at producing flashy numbers of "conversions" and of course filling pews and offering plates. Yet the very worst response to the excesses of evangelicalism is the neutering of the seriousness of sin and the need for regeneration. Substituting "get to heaven" with "live for the here and now" is simply trading one error for another.
When Christ gathered His disciples and commissioned them with the Great Commission His charge was clear: go to the world and preach the Gospel and the Gospel by virtue of the message is necessarily futuristic, looking forward to the renewal of all things for the redeemed and warning of the wrath of God to those outside of Christ. That declaration of both warning and hope is the priority of the church. We ignore or diminish this to the detriment of the lost who unknowingly depend on the preaching of the Gospel for the salvation they so desperately need. It is an ancient message, it is a foolish message in the eyes of the world but it is the message we have been sent to declare. We have not been given the right to water down this message, to smooth the rough edges, to reduce it to a social gospel or a number game. Let's stick to the message we see preached in the New Testament and not worry so much about whether the world thinks we are being old fashioned or concerning ourselves with how many names are on the membership rolls. The Gospel is too precious and the alternative is too dire for us to do any less.