The gospel usually proclaimed these days by traditional and many evangelical Christian churches goes something like this:
God is holy. Mankind has sinned against him and incurred the penalty of death. God is just and justice demands punishment. But God is also love so he sends Jesus Christ to pay the penalty and take our punishment upon himself. The moment when Jesus cries from the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” is interpreted as the time when the Father, being too holy to look upon sin, forsakes Jesus as he takes our sin upon himself. The agony of this forsakenness translates into Jesus receiving the ultimate punishment for our sins as he also pays the death penalty for us.
If this were true, it would drive a wedge through the unity of the Trinity and stand the incarnation and the work of Jesus on its head.
Nowhere does the Bible state that Christ came to reconcile the FATHER to us. Neither does it say that Christ came to placate the Father’s anger, or to satisfy the Father’s demand for punishment so he could forgive us. Quite the opposite, the Bible states that Christ came to reconcile US to the Father, to change OUR attitude not the Father’s. It was the Father who sent his Son, and it was to “reconcile the all things TO HIMSELF through Jesus Christ” (Colossians 1:20). It was OUR state of mind that needed changing, not the Father’s.
Jesus did not come amongst us to make it possible for the Father to have mercy on us, or to change the Father from demanding justice to loving and forgiving us. It was the Father’s unrelenting love for us that sent his beloved Son amongst us – because he was totally opposed to our destruction. The Father sent Jesus because he loves us, not because he demanded punishment. It is by the Father’s will that we are forgiven and brought close to him, and it was the Father who sent Jesus Christ to carry out his will. The Father’s will was for Jesus to enter into our fallen existence and remove everything that separated us from him and bring us home. And that is exactly what Jesus did: “It is finished” (John 17:4, and 19:30).
If the gospel really means that the Father is too holy to look upon sin, how is it that the Son actually became sin? Is the Father holier than the Son? Is the Trinity so split that the Son has to somehow rescue us from the Father’s holy anger? This would push the notion that the Father “cannot” forgive us until his demand for justice is satisfied, or that the Father “will not” forgive us until his anger is appeased by bloody sacrifice. This puts the church and all mankind hiding from the Father’s anger behind Jesus Christ’s blood, and it drives an ugly wedge through the Trinity.
The idea that the Father is so holy that he cannot be near to sin, and that he demands just punishment for those engaged in it, harps back to the understanding that God is unapproachable and unknowable, an abstract singular entity. He stands above the creation in unapproachable holiness, in control and omnipotent. His relationship with mankind is remote and mediated through the law. He is a God of rules and justice, keeping account and exacting due payment and penalty before there can be forgiveness. This is the “legalized” so-called God taught to many sincere Christians. No wonder they live in fear and anxiety.
I’ve seen many Christian churches with a notice board declaring “All are Welcome,” but most also proclaim on other notices that “Your sins will find you out,” or “Be prepared to meet your God,” and similar scary epitaphs designed to provoke us into entering their church. This is hardly “Good News”. It certainly does not proclaim the God of the Bible and mostly drives people away from Christ, rather than drawing them to him.
The Trinitarian God of the Bible is the exact opposite of this horrendous picture. The Father, Son and Spirit live in unimaginable, joyous, loving, creative fellowship and unity. So close is their mutual and reciprocal love that it can only be expressed as being “in one another.” Their thoughts and motives are identical so that all are involved in every action of God.
The underlying nature of the Triune God is one of self-giving love flowing out into the determined purpose of sharing life and drawing us into this beautiful relationship as his adopted children (Ephesians 1:3-5). He planned for us to be at one with him, re-created in Jesus Christ to be perfect for him and sharing everything he is and has. It is this unswerving purpose and the love of the Son for the Father that drove Jesus to the cross to bring about the Father’s will for us.
The Gospel, the “Good News,” is that Jesus completed this work that the Father gave him to do (John 17:4).
At the Father’s decree, Jesus entered into our wretched human condition, took our fallen and alienated human nature upon himself and turned it back to the Father in faith and obedience. During his sacrificial life he defeated Satan, and then took the old fallen humanity inherited from Adam to the cross and destroyed it. The Father resurrected Jesus as a new creation, a new humanity. He ascended and now sits incarnate at the right hand of the Father.
The really great news – the real Gospel – is that we are “hidden WITH him in God” (Colossians 3:3). If we can only see ourselves as a new creation, hidden with Christ at the right hand of God as his adopted children, sharing in all he has and is through the communion of the Spirit, then we have perhaps the greatest gift that God bestows upon us – total assurance. Resting in Christ, accepted, cherished and loved in him, and at peace, assured and blessed, we are free to go out of ourselves and give of ourselves to others. Released from any ulterior motive, self-centredness, and obsession with our own life and anxiety, we can care for others and turn to God in free, unrestrained love and joy. We are released from the burden of being “good enough” and the restraints of trying to achieve that which Jesus has already accomplished in our place.
The legalized God and the fear gospel often preached from the pulpit today have little relevance to our every day life, our marriages, our work and play, and they provide no answer to our inner anxieties. And the legalized gospel gives no assurance and no peace and no joy.
It’s not Good News, but bad news.
(By Ken Buck, my Dad)