“The Gospel” only means the path to eternal salvation in many U.S. churches.
Consequently, the life and teachings of Jesus have been relegated to a non-gospel status. His revealing life story is presented as a “nice way to live” rather than a “must way to live.”
A return to the biblical definition of the “Good News” is needed — one that is evidenced by Jesus through his words and deeds. Embracing the forgotten Gospel of Jesus allows Christians and the churches to stand against oppression and injustice, and to stand for the plight of “the other.”
The synoptic Gospels talk of how Jesus proclaimed the presence of the kingdom of God on earth. Through his life and acts, Jesus reveals what that kingdom on earth will look like. This is the Gospel of Jesus, revealed in his inaugural sermon recorded in Luke 4:18-21.
John’s Gospel stresses the divinity of Jesus, from the first verse to the last. Here Jesus becomes “the son of God” and “the Word” (logos), preparing his followers for eternity with God as summarized in John 3:16-18. This could be called Gospel of Christ.
The complete Gospel of Jesus, the Christ, holds together both aspects of the biblical witness about Jesus’s life, ministry, death and resurrection.
Too many churches in America, particularly those identified as evangelical Protestant, believe that eternal salvation is the endgame for a Christian. To use the dichotomy I set forth above, they have affirmed the Gospel of Christ but neglected the Gospel of Jesus.
But what about the life between the salvation decision and death? How are Christians to live?
Matthew, Mark and Luke clearly illustrate what a life following Jesus looks like.
We also know, through the Epistle of James, that a genuine belief in Jesus for salvation will yield a life worthy of Jesus. James 2:14-26 alerts those who call Jesus, “Lord” (by professing to follow his commandments) that they are at spiritual risk if they ignore the complete Gospel of Jesus, the Christ.
There is a paradox in seeking to profess belief in theological concepts about Jesus as the Christ, while ignoring the life and teachings that focus on how we are called to live. Doing so denies, knowingly or unknowingly, that Jesus was the Son of God. And that may have eternal consequences.
What can be done?
My book, Reclaiming the Forgotten Gospel of Jesus, offers practical steps to integrate the Gospel of Jesus into every aspect of the church’s life through a reallocation of the energy, resources and commitment of the church toward the forgotten Gospel of Jesus.
One way to do so is to have up to half of the sermons in a year focus on ushering in the kingdom of God as described by Jesus.
Another is to develop or find Bible study curriculum that presents the Gospel of Jesus with specific calls to action based on Jesus’s teachings.
One more idea is to find song lyrics that speak to how we can fulfill our role as the hands, feet, mind, voice, eyes and ears of Jesus.
The goal is to balance the church’s mission, message and activities by shifting resources to support the Gospel of Jesus.
Changing an entrenched culture will take time and, more importantly, patience and commitment.
An important change is to begin calling the life and teachings of Jesus the “Gospel of Jesus.”
As long as what Jesus said and did are seen as something less than the gospel, churches will continue to allow this vital element of the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ, to fade into the background.
This is ambitious and will take commitment, planning, patience and flexibility. It is a tall order. But, then again, we serve a big God.
A longtime lay leader and Bible study teacher, he is the author of Reclaiming the Forgotten Gospel of Jesus, and resides in Orlando, Florida.