What did the disciples of Jesus preach in the early church? What was the good news they were sent out to spread to all nations? Isn’t that the message we should be spreading to our family members, friends, co-workers, and others we meet? Would it surprise you if the gospel that is preached by most people today is not what was preached in the bible? That’s what we are going to explore.
If you were to ask most Christians in the United States today what the Gospel is, in its simplest form they would most likely say “People are sinners and therefore will go to hell when they die. Jesus died for their sins. If they pray, and ask Jesus into their hearts and accept Him as savior, they’ll be saved and go to heaven.”
This concept of being saved by saying a prayer came into existence back in the mid 1950’s when Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ released a pamphlet that contained what has come to be known as the “sinner’s prayer.” This pamphlet was very successful, and some form of it is still being distributed on street corners today.
Over time, different groups have come up with their own version of the prayer. This is Billy Graham’s:
“Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.”
Many church organizations have adopted their own version. This one is common:
“God, I know that I have sinned against you and deserve punishment. But Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. I place my trust in You for salvation. Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness – the gift of eternal life! Amen!”
One thing these prayers have in common is that they are focused on the death of Jesus.
Jesus’ Death Does Not Save Us
The “sinner’s prayer” focuses on the death of Jesus, but Jesus’s death does not save us. That may sound dangerously heretical to some, but let’s look at a few passages of scripture that show this.
Romans 5:10: “For if, while we were enemies we were reconciled to God, through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved through His life.” (NASB)
According to this passage, the death of Jesus does one thing, the life of Jesus does something else. The death of Jesus reconciles us to God so that we can have right relationship with Him, but we are saved by His resurrection life.
The definition of reconciliation is the restoration of friendly and peaceful relations. Reconciliation opens the door and makes it possible to have right relationship with God, but It’s because Jesus was raised from the dead and now lives, that we can walk through that door.
In this next passage, we again see the effects of the cross as reconciliation, not salvation.
Colossians 1:19,20: “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross…” (NASB)
In this passage we discover that not just people, but ALL things have been reconciled to God through the blood of the cross.
Let’s look at one more passage, this one showing again that the resurrection of Jesus is what saves us.
Romans 6:8, 9: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.” (NASB)
According to this passage we now live with Him because Jesus overcame death, never to die again. We will live with Him forever because He Resurrected, not because He died.
The Living King and the Gospel of the Kingdom
The primary message preached in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John was “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”, not “Jesus died on the cross for your sins.” The expressions “the kingdom of heaven” or “the kingdom of God” (they are interchangeable) are used 99 times in the new testament. There is something that doesn’t align when our message is “Jesus died on the cross, you accept Him as savior, and then you’re saved,” when their message was, “the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
The Gospel of the Cross is not wrong. We do know that we are sinners, Jesus died on the cross for us, and without His death we could never be saved, but there is a more profound truth in what was preached in the New Testament. The gospel message preached in the new testament was the kingdom of heaven is here among us, right now and is within our reach.
These are the primary elements of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
- 2000 years ago, Jesus died
- He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven
- He now sits at the right hand of the Father and has established a kingdom that will never end.
- He is now King and Lord of that kingdom and everything that’s under His authority is now part of His kingdom.
- Everyone who bows to the King, becomes a citizen of His kingdom
In the Gospel of the Cross, the resurrection and enthronement are not taken as foundational to the gospel and are seen essentially as “add-ons.” He resurrected to prove that His death was valuable, and that He was God. He ascended into heaven and sat on the throne as a reward for dying on the cross.
I want to reiterate, I’m not saying that the cross wasn’t important. It is critical to our salvation, and we wouldn’t be saved without it, but in the Gospel of the Kingdom, everything is part of the gospel. He died, yes, but He also conquered death and we now live with Him! He ascended into heaven and we ascended with Him! He sits on His throne and the Father has given Him all rule and authority so now we reign with Him!
THIS is the good news! It is life, healing, wholeness, joy, peace, reigning and overcoming. The gospel is not about Jesus’s death, it’s about Jesus overcoming death!
New Testament Evangelism
Peter’s evangelistic sermon in Acts 2 on Pentecost mentions Jesus’s death, but only in the context of His resurrection.
Acts 2: 23,24 “…this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” (NASB)
In the rest of Peter’s sermon, his primary message is that Jesus rose from the dead and is now king over His kingdom.
Acts 2:29-38 “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on His throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore, having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (NASB)
What caused the Jews to be “pierced to the heart” and repent? The answer is found in verse 36:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord (king) and Christ (savior) —this Jesus whom you crucified.” (text in parentheses added)
The Jews that heard Peter suddenly came to the horrifying realization that they had killed the king and savior that had been promised to them and prophesied about for over 1000 years! They came to understand that Jesus had established His promised kingdom by His resurrection, ascension, and enthronement. Realizing who Jesus was, 3,000 of them repented from rejecting Him, submitted fully to the king of the kingdom, and entered into eternal life with Him.
The Gospel of the Kingdom and Evangelism
What are the implications of this for evangelism today? In 21st century America, if you were to ask most people how they’re doing, their most likely, honest response would be, “tired.” People are busy almost to the breaking point. They are struggling and working every day, trying to make a life worth living. But deep in their hearts they know there’s something they are searching for that’s just out of reach. Almost anyone you ask will tell you that they know there must be more to life than what they’re experiencing. Everyone feels the weight of the chaos and disorder of their own lives. Everyone wants to “get off the merry-go-round.”
The simple reason for this is that, before we become Christians, each of us lives in a kingdom of our own making. The quality of our lives depends on the kind of kingdom we have built for ourselves. We sit on the throne and rule over a kingdom we have built using the natural skills and abilities we have gained through life. We also bring to that rulership our pain, shortcomings, and sinfulness. Ultimately, we all fail miserably as kings.
People don’t know it, but what they want is to step down off the throne. They want to be free of the burden of carrying the weight of trying to rule over a dysfunctional kingdom they built for themselves. A kingdom that they were never meant to rule over, and was never meant to be in the first place.
Your understanding of this will radically change your approach to evangelism. You don’t need to convince the guy sitting in the cube next to you who loves his wife and kids, has his elderly mother-in-law living in his home, and goes to a job every day to provide for them, that he’s a horrible sinner who needs to repent or he’s going to hell. What you can tell him is that he can give up trying to run his own life. Tell him there’s a different kingdom he can step into that’s all around him and freely available. A kingdom that’s full of life, and love, and hope, and joy, and peace. A kingdom that can be entered into simply by stepping down from his own throne, and bowing His knee to the TRUE King. And how much more effective that message will be if your life is a witness to those kingdom realities.
That’s it! No tears. No mea culpas. No beating of the breast, or making themselves feel bad enough to convince God, (and everyone else), that they really mean it. Just the simple act of taking a huge sigh of relief, asking Jesus to take His rightful place on His throne, and passing their burdens on to Him. There may be tears, but not because they feel bad about themselves. Rather, because they feel a relief they have never felt before.
If you still want a prayer, try this one:
Lord Jesus, I’m tired. I no longer want to rule over my own life. I’m weary from trying to carry the burdens of a life I was never meant to carry. I willingly give rulership of my life over to you. I am asking you to come and sit on the throne of my heart. Amen.
So, what can you, as a Christian, offer the people of the world? Offer them freedom. Offer them hope. Offer them LIFE. And they will come. Everyone is looking for it, and the Lord has given it to you to give away.
By: Steve Marusic