If it isn’t good news it isn’t the gospel

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Paul wrote in Romans 10:15, to describe those who preach the gospel. To Paul, a preacher who could show just how good the gospel is was a joy to watch in action, like watching a brilliant ballet dancer or gymnast and the amazing way their bodies move.

That wasn’t just Paul’s reaction, however, it was God’s too, because Paul was quoting God. “How beautiful” was a quote straight out of Isaiah 52:7, when God himself spoke of the day when people really grasp what the gospel is all about because there are preachers who grasp it too, and they’re belting out the good news for all its worth. So it was God who was the first to say, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation,” because he obviously loves watching a good news preacher in action too.

That’s why he sent Jesus, to bring good news. When the angel announced Jesus’ birth to the startled shepherds he said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” Luke 2:10-11. And when Jesus started preaching, he “travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God,.” Luke 8:1. How beautiful to God were the travelling feet of Jesus too, then, because wherever Jesus went he brought good news to people.

It’s good news that God wants preached. Anything that isn’t good news isn’t the gospel. Imagine how God reacts, then, to a preacher who threatens people with eternal torment in the fires of hell if they don’t become Christians, or tells people that God’s only saving some people, and the rest go to hell. That isn’t good news, it’s terrible news. How UGLY a preacher must be to God who preaches such awful stuff to people, and then claims it’s the gospel.

It isn’t the gospel and it never was, because the word for gospel in the New Testament Greek means “good tidings.” It’s a good news message about the kingdom of God and how, by God’s grace, Jesus began that kingdom on this earth and makes it possible for us humans to enter that kingdom now, just as God intended before he even created us. “In love God predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will,” Ephesians 1:4-5. And if that’s what God’s pleasure is, then imagine how pleased he is with those who preach that message too.

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Do we have a part in our salvation?

The Galatians heard the right gospel and miracles started happening in their lives, and obvious miracles they couldn’t deny. But then they started “turning to a different gospel,” Galatians 1:4, a wrong gospel based on their own efforts (3:3), not the miracles of the Spirit (3:5). And why was that? Because, chapter 1:7, “some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Oh, so this can happen too, that Christians can start off well, but along come influential people with their own ideas of what the gospel is, and Christians fall for it.

But how is that possible? Because the wrong gospel appeals to the most fundamental weakness we’ve got – pride. But pride in what exactly? It’s pride in the idea that we can be “justified by observing the law,” Galatians 2:16 – meaning, “we can do this salvation thing ourselves.” We can make ourselves righteous. All we do is keep the commandments and God has to reward us. And in Galatians we find this “do-it-yourself” gospel of salvation having a huge impact, because even the likes of Peter and Barnabas fell for it, verses 12-13.

Paul didn’t, though. He knew exactly what was going on. So, verse 14, “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel,” he stood up to Peter and the rest of them and told them twice in verse 16 that no one is justified by observing the law. As Christians we totally depend on Jesus Christ for our righteousness and salvation, and he mentioned that twice in verse 16, too.

This incident proved very useful, however, because it made Paul draw a clear line in the sand between the right gospel and the wrong one, and it’s there in black and white in Galatians for any Christian in any age wondering what the difference is. The difference is clear: Any hint that we have a part in our salvation, or that we can make ourselves righteous, is just plain wrong.

It’s worse than wrong because “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse,” Galatians 3:10. It’s a curse depending on the law. Why a curse? Because relying on the law means having to obey “everything” it says (same verse). You can’t fail once. One sin and it’s game over. But there’s an even worse curse than that, verse 21, because even if we did somehow manage to obey everything the law says perfectly, the law still cannot “impart life,” verse 21.

Nothing we do has the power to save us. Only Jesus has the power to impart eternal life. And that, to Paul, was the right gospel.

A message to those who pervert the gospel

Paul’s message to those who pervert the gospel was clear. They could go to hell. Twice he wrote, “Let him be eternally condemned!” Galatians 2:8-9. That was Jesus’ view too. “You snakes! You vipers!” he yelled in Matthew 23:33, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

And who was he yelling at? “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees,” verse 2 – the spiritual leaders and preachers, whose job it was to learn the gospel and preach it accurately, “BUT you were not willing,” verse 37. Instead, verse 4, “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

The same thing was happening in Paul’s day. People “who were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel,” Galatians 2:14, were trying to “make us slaves (1:14),” by trying to force new Christians “to follow Jewish customs (2:14).” It was exactly the same problem Jesus confronted the Pharisees and preachers of his day with. Instead of lifting burdens off people, these so-called preachers “who seemed to be leaders,” Galatians 2:2, were loading all kinds of religious rituals and customs ON people, burdens that had nothing to do with the gospel.

Adding burdens, therefore, is a telling sign of a false preacher at work, because the gospel isn’t about making life more burdensome, it’s about freeing us from our burdens. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus cried, “and I will give you rest….for my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” Matthew 11:28, 30. And as Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

But slavery to what, exactly? Well, in context, verse 4, it’s slavery to the idea that we have to justify ourselves before God – by how good we are or by how much effort we put into our Christianity (3:3). But, Paul cries, “if righteousness could be gained through the law” – or by any effort on our part – then “Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:21. Christ didn’t die to put the burden of our salvation – or righteousness, or justification – on our backs. He died to take all those burdens on himself, because God wants our salvation to be entirely his doing. That way it’s guaranteed to be successful!

To those who were confusing and perverting that message, Paul had this to say: “The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be,” Galatians 5:10. And what penalty did he, like Jesus, have in mind for such people? “Let them rot in hell.”

The importance of good preaching

It is God’s wish to reach everyone with the gospel message, and he’s gone to great lengths to make it possible. He gave us a conscience that lights up when the true gospel is preached ((2 Corinthians 4:2), and he pours out his Spirit all over the world to enable us humans to understand truth when we hear it (Acts 2:18). So he hasn’t made it difficult for us to understand the gospel message. In fact, Romans 10:8, “‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the world of faith we are proclaiming.”

God, therefore, has certainly done his part to enable us humans to “confess with our mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead,” verse 9, so that he can then “richly bless ALL who call on him,” verse 12.

But the key to that actually happening is good preaching, because, as Paul asks in verse 14, “How can people call on the one they have not believed in?” In other words, what’s the likelihood of people turning to Jesus if they’ve never been given a reason for turning to him? “And,” Paul continues, “how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” because if people haven’t heard anything about Jesus worth listening to, why on earth would they even want to believe in him?

So how do people get to hear about Christ in a way that rings true to them – and in a way that they want to hear more? Well, Paul asks in verse 14, “How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” What they need is a good preacher. Someone who can explain to them, in words they can easily grasp, who Jesus is, why God sent him, and what he’s doing now. Because that’s the way God set things up. He isn’t reaching people by talking to them personally – like a voice in their heads – he’s reaching people through good preaching.

He makes sure that such preachers exist too, because, as Paul asks yet again, “How can they preach unless they are sent?” verse 15. But God has always sent good preachers, from the Judges and Prophets in the Old Testament, to the apostles and preachers in the New Testament. And the proof they are preachers sent by God is that they “bring good news!” verse 15. If there’s any bad news in their message, it’s a clue right there that they haven’t been sent by God.

God set things up so that it’s good preaching about the good news that people respond to. That’s why good preaching is so important.

“What if I don’t believe?”

If a person doesn’t believe, is that it – no belief equals no salvation? It appears that way in Romans 10:9, which says, “if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Does that mean if a person doesn’t confess and doesn’t believe, he won’t be saved? And if it does mean that – and belief really is that important – then how, pray tell, do we come up with the necessary belief in the first place?

Paul’s answer is simple: “faith comes from hearing the message,” verse 17. Ah, so faith, or belief, isn’t something WE have to we come up with, it’s something that’s stirred IN us by hearing “the word of Christ” (same verse). That’s how belief is triggered. The message does it.

What message, though? In context, it’s that “righteousness comes from God,” verse 3. All that we need for our salvation is God’s doing. Through Jesus Christ HE’s taken care of our salvation every step of the way (verses 11 and 13). And when we hear that message – properly and accurately explained (verses 14-15), belief is not far behind.

And the reason belief is not far behind is because God put it in us to believe, verse 8 – “The word is near you; it is IN your mouth and IN your heart.” It’s not difficult for us, therefore, to accept and believe that God has everything worked out for us. It’s what, deep down, we hoped and suspected about God – that he loves us, he forgives us, he’s merciful toward us, and he never gives up on us. So when we hear in the gospel message that God REALLY IS totally forgiving and merciful toward us, as we see in the sacrifice of his Son, we instinctively latch on to it as true.

Paul knew by experience how this worked. “By setting forth the truth plainly,” he writes in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” Paul knew that if he preached the right gospel it would ring true in a person’s conscience, at which point belief would be awakened and brought to life.

Belief, therefore, is not something we have to come up with to be saved. It is something God put in us, ready to burst forth in our mouths and hearts on hearing the right gospel. If, therefore, a person doesn’t believe, the first question to ask is: “Has he, or she, heard the right gospel yet?’- because hearing the right gospel is what triggers belief.