It is no major insight that the very word, “gospel” itself means, “good news.” Nothing revolutionary there. There is no Christian in the world that would deny it. Even an atheist who knew their Greek would assent to the equivocation of the word evangelion with the English translation… good news.
When you receive good news in your day-to-day life, what does that phrase mean? Usually it means that something really good happened, right? You won something, somebody had a baby, the medical diagnosis was better than you thought, mom baked a pie and you get to eat some… mmm pie. Anyway, stuff like that.
Unfortunately, in our day-to-day lives, “good news” usually also comes with qualifications. You won something, but you have to give them your social security number before you can pick it up. Your friend had a baby, but there were complications with the delivery. The medical diagnosis was better than you thought, but you have to go back in every couple months to make sure. Mom baked a pie, but you have to wait until after dinner. We’re used to this. It’s the world we live in. As my friend Jake once said somewhere: “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
So, when we come into church and the pastor wants to tell us the good news of the gospel, we want to get excited, however we have no framework to deal with the concept. There’s a “but” just around the corner. Surely.
Pastors are reliable in this way too, because they almost always throw in a few good, “buts.” “Jesus loves you unconditionally, but you have to ____________. You need to be a good __________. You can’t ever say ___________. And never ever ever do ___________. “
Then we give a sigh of relief because this church thing is really just like everything else in our life. If you want to stick around and try your hand at your particular church’s holiness checklist, you write a check and leave. If you want to shop around and see if maybe a different church has a longer or shorter holiness list, you can check out somewhere else next week. Or maybe you just decide to check church off your list all together because they’re really not offering you anything anyway. More conditions, more lists of things to do, more “buts.”
…But, what if there were no “buts?” What if the good news of the gospel was actually the best news you’ve ever heard because there are no conditions, no qualifications, no “buts?” That’s insane. Life doesn’t work that way. Our world does operate in that way. Everything comes with strings attached.
The weird thing about reading the Bible though is that it kinda seems like they’re saying that God really does love us without condition. He keeps choosing these really strange and messed up people do stuff with… fishermen, shepherds, prostitutes, drunks, thieves, etc. Not polite church folk, but riff raff. The kind of people that any pious Christian would avoid eye contact with. He keeps talking about things like love, grace, forgiveness, healing, free gifts, acceptance, inclusion, and adopting us into His family. Without strings. It’s pretty nuts really. And it doesn’t seem like He wants much back from us. Love maybe? But that would be pretty easy to give if all that other stuff were true, right? It’s weird.
Anyway, thank God I get to wake up and go to church in the morning and realize that I’m reading it wrong. Hopefully the pastor will give me another holiness checklist and I can give another sigh of relief.
…But, what if he didn’t? What if he were to announce that the gift really is free, that the good news is actually and profoundly good, that there are no strings attached!?
Surely not. Right?