Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
In 1 Corinthians 15, often called “the resurrection chapter” of the Bible, the apostle Paul lays out the heart and soul of “the gospel.” Gospel is a word that we don’t use all that much, especially outside of Christian circles. And within Christianity it is often misunderstood. I must admit that I’ve been guilty of using language such as “the Gospel requires that we should…” Still shaking my head about that. But it was a matter of not being adequately articulate. Really. Trust me.
Let’s look at an extreme example. A member of a non-Christian religious organization came to my door some years ago. Normally it didn’t happen, but this person must not have read the map that her group likely had marked as, “This is a tough house, skip them.” I had a few minutes and it was a pleasant day for standing on the porch, so I asked the middle-aged lady what she wanted to tell me about. She was clearly on a mission. As she waved some literature in my general direction, she told me that her church (her word, not mine) wanted to let people in our neighborhood know about how they could live forever. I can go along with that. Forever life is something Christians value! So I asked her how her organization said we could live forever. She said it was by hearing what the Bible and their group’s teachings said so we would be able to obey them well enough that we could live forever. Very well, the Bible does describe itself as God’s Word and says that it offers us eternal life. One problem remains. It’s a problem you have probably latched onto by now. We can’t obey well enough. And the group’s teachings, where they depart from a biblical faith, are not going to do us any good.
I asked the lady if she was familiar with the term “gospel.” She said she was. I asked her if she would describe it to me. She said the first four books of the New Testament are described as “gospels.” She knew the names of the evangelists and even put them in order for me. She opened her Bible and showed me that they were in there. I thanked her. I asked her if she could tell me another meaning for the word “gospel.” She thought for a moment, not very long, and told me that it’s a word the Bible uses for the good news. I asked her what the good news is. She said that if we obey well enough we get to live forever.
In the Lutheran tradition, that’s what we call law, not gospel. In a nutshell, law is what God tells me I need to do, gospel is what God has done for me. I explained to her that I found the demands she made to be very bad news. There was no realistic promise. It was like telling someone to swim across the ocean to claim a reward. I then proceeded to tell her that the Bible describes the truly good news in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. The good news is that Jesus, God the Son, has kept the demands of God’s law for her and for me. Being God, he was able to obey not only for himself, but also for us. The burden of our sins, our failings to keep God’s law perfectly, brought him to his death. He was really dead, really buried, and really rose from the dead on the third day. This is also a matter of gospel. He did it for us. And in his resurrection we see that he is just the firstfruits of the resurrection. If we want to live forever, we believe that we are some of the sinners he died for. We then receive his promise that as he rose from the dead we will be raised in the last day to eternal life. I asked her if she believed this. She said it wasn’t exactly what her group taught. I asked her if she would like to hear more about it. She said maybe she would. I asked her to write down the address where I lived. She put a mark by it on her list and thanked me.
I never saw that lady again. I have no idea how much farther she went spreading her false teaching. But there was no gospel there. Maybe she later believed and found herself set free from the crushing demands of the law. Maybe not.
When we mix demands into gospel it ceases to be gospel. It’s something else. It’s law. The resurrection is all about gospel. It’s all about what God has done for us in Christ. The only valid demand is this: If you hear the gospel joyfully, agree with it and believe it. The rest will work out by itself.
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