We all know the story of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – four remarkably similar accounts about his life. What we don’t agree on is our interpretation of what he taught. I’m talking about the Gospel message that Jesus intended to be a guide for how we should live our lives, and to be passed on to others to help them understand what it means to be a Christ follower. Jesus shifted us from the law-based religion of the Old Testament to his radically new principle-based way of living, and it just makes sense that he’d choose to use a different style of teaching to do that. Parables and metaphors replaced rules and regulations but the downside is that it leaves the door wide open for a myriad of interpretations that make us wonder if we’re all reading the same Bible. I have to admit that sometimes I wish God would have just replaced the Ten Commandments with another set of stone tablets with a whole new set of rules carved into them. Things like “Don’t even think about being violent…ever.” and “Take care of the poor, even if it means reducing your standard of living.”
Many Christians fall into one of the following categories….
- Those who start with a personal agenda, or a blind following of their church’s doctrine, and interpret Jesus’ teaching to make it say what they want it to say. These people have landed on their square and they don’t want to move.
- Those who do their best to understand what Jesus actually taught and change the way they live to reflect his teachings. These people will adjust their views if they’re convinced that what they previously thought was right is wrong.
Early in my faith journey I was pretty much a card-carrying member of group one. I knew what I knew, and if you didn’t agree with me I’d write you off as either stupid or incredibly misguided. I had my version of Christianity figured out and as far as I was concerned it was either my way or the highway. It was The Gospel According To Me and I really didn’t care if it was right or wrong as long as it said what I wanted it to say.
Somewhere along the line my thinking began to change. I listened to some sermons online and read articles by Christians with a different perspective from mine, and gradually those rigid, non-negotiable truths that I’d held onto so tightly began to crumble. Maybe being gay doesn’t make you a bad person, as I’d been led to believe. Perhaps it’s okay to question the righteousness of the military. What if most things weren’t as black and white as I wanted to make them? I really don’t know if the Holy Spirit was moving through me or I was just becoming more spiritually mature, but I truly believe that we all need to be willing to soften our hearts and be open to what Jesus has to say to us.
Here’s one person’s attempt to summarize the Gospel in a single sentence. It’s by Bruxy Cavey, the teaching pastor at The Meeting House. He says “The Gospel is the good news that God comes to us through Jesus to show us his love, save us from sin, set up his kingdom and shut down religion.” Just thirty words, but I think he does a great job of getting to the heart of what Jesus’ message is all about.
Let’s break it down:
The Gospel is good news: It’s a message of love meant for all people to hear. It gives us hope and should at the very least put us in a pretty good mood.
God comes to us through Jesus: Jesus is God on earth in human form. He becomes one of us to experience a real human life – to sort of run with the herd. It also enables him to demonstrate by example what’s possible if we’re willing to commit our lives to him.
Show us his love: The God of the Old Testament gets kind of a bad rap as a God of wrath. When we see him living among us as Jesus it becomes obvious that his DNA is love – something that’s made incredibly clear throughout the Bible but that we often don’t want to believe.
Save us from sin: Jesus is the Lamb of God – the final sacrifice. When Jesus dies on the cross to take away our sin, it’s not a case of an angry God doing something horrific to Jesus. God is doing it to himself. He experiences the pain and agony along with Christ because he knows what it means to be fully human.
It’s also worth mentioning here that Jesus is our Savior but he’s also our Lord, which means that we should actually try to do what he asks us to do. It’s a package deal. Saving us is the free gift of grace and following him is how we say thank-you for that gift.
Set up his kingdom: Working towards establishing the kingdom of God here on earth is what gives our lives purpose. It is the meaning of life in this very imperfect world. By transforming ourselves – aligning our lives with God’s kingdom values we can plant the seeds that will bear fruit in a new world transformed by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Shut down religion: This may seem odd if you’ve never heard it before but when Jesus goes head to head with the religious conservatives of his day (which ultimately gets him killed) he’s a major threat to the rules, regulations, rituals and routines of their structured religious system. The Jesus event is about much more than just words of good advice by a prophet, or even the miraculous act of saving the world from sin. He turns everything upside down. Nothing is the same ever again and we dare not marginalize him by continuing on with the type of thinking that he devoted his time on earth to changing.
You may or may not agree with this particular interpretation of the Gospel but one thing I know for sure…if anything in our version of the Gospel doesn’t look like Jesus, we need to let it go. Occam’s Razor is a principle used in problem solving that states “simpler explanations are, all things being equal, generally better than more complex ones”. If that’s true, I think I can provide the best explanation of The Gospel According To Jesus in just one word…love.