By: David Schwier—5/17/2016
What exactly was the ‘gospel’ that Paul preached in the New Testament?
We’ll get to that…
But first let’s question a few popular Biblical notions:
—Was the Sermon on the Mount actually a ‘sermon’?
—Did Paul ‘preach’?
—Was Paul a ‘Christian’?
—Did Paul take missionary journeys to get people to join a new religion?
—I’m a bad writer…(whoops, how’d that get in there?)
You might think differently about these concepts by the end of the post (except that last one…ha).
So what about Paul and the word ‘gospel’?
Gospel simply means ‘Good News.’
But our idea of ‘The Gospel’ and Paul’s understanding of ‘The Gospel’ might be two different things.
Here’s what we think ‘The Gospel’ is:
I was born a sinner, am sinful in my natural state, and I’m quickly sliding toward suffering ultimate judgment from God after I die. But Jesus died on the cross in my place to take the judgment for my wrongs, so if I ask for his death to apply to me personally (called ‘the sinner’s prayer’) then I become a child of God and get to be with God in heaven for all eternity, instead of Hell.
This is the message of the famous (or infamous) ‘altar call.’
But where did it come from?
And is this the actual message of the New Testament?
The altar call, as well as the ‘sermon’ format churches use today, dates back to traveling itinerant preachers during the ‘Great Awakening’ revivals of England and then on to America.
The message of the Bible was reduced to an individualistic, contractual agreement between an individual and God that guarantees their eternal salvation.
This compact view of theology was incredibly useful for quick ‘results.’
Thus, the altar call.
But how did this individualistic, contractual view of ‘salvation’ come about?
How did a book produced in a culture that valued community over individuality produce such an individualistic theology?
The short answer: It didn’t.
It simply morphed into that over time as it moved West through cultures that slowly came to value individualism over community.
So Augustine put his layer on it.
Then Martin Luther put his layer on it.
Then a bunch of Dutch white guys put their layer on it.
And so on and so forth…
So that by the time it got to England and America, it meant something quite different from what the original New Testament writers intended.
So from the itinerant preachers of England/America on down to Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ, we now have a simplistic formula for Biblical ‘salvation’ commonly known as the ‘The Roman Road.’
If you’re not familiar with ‘The Roman Road,’ it’s a collection of verses from the book of Romans that espouse the need for our individual salvation.
Now in order to see how these verses have been skewed a bit over the centuries, we need to pull back and look at the book of Romans as a whole.
In other words, when Paul sat down to write Romans, what was he thinking?
What was his intent?
Was it to ‘preach the Gospel’ as we think of it today in the ‘Roman Road’?
I don’t think so.
I’m pretty sure it was this:
Paul came from a culture where God had been intimately and blatantly involved with a particular group of people for centuries.
And for most of that history, God had commanded these people to strictly follow 613 Laws governing everything from corporate spiritual behavior to everyday societal interactions.
If these people followed these Laws, good things would happen to the community. If they disobeyed, bad things would happen.
This was the contract God had with them.
And when they—corporately—fell short of the standard of the Law (which happened all the time) each year there was a community-based temple sacrifice system where animals would be sacrificed to symbolically take away the sin-guilt of …
The entire community.
Gentiles (everyone not Jewish) were not part of this system, and never had been.
They had been excluded until God, through Jesus 2000 years ago, said, “Ok, here’s the deal. Gentiles are now part of this. That means the whole world. And by the way, the Law and its rituals and demands are going to be set aside to simply live with Me in freedom as you go about your normal lives.”
This was a huge concept to grasp.
For both sides.
That after centuries of shackling religion, God had now decided to set everyone…..free.
That’s right. Everyone.
Jesus took away the sin of the world.
So as Peter and his crew were helping their fellow Jews swallow this (no easy task), Paul was commissioned to give this same message of freedom to the Gentiles.
Thus bringing together in unity for the first time two groups with enormous historical animosity.
No easy task, indeed.
So this was his strategy:
Since Paul was Jewish, when he first entered a city he found the local synagogue and showed Jewish leaders from the Old Testament what God had done and how it points to Christ.
Then…he would go to the gentiles.
And what do you know? After many beatings and being thrown out of a few cities, small groups of Jews and Gentiles began to meet together to discuss and celebrate this new freedom, just as Jesus had commanded them (Matthew 28:18-20).
However, things were rocky at first because each side still held tremendous arrogance toward the other, causing rifts, factions and disunity in these new groups that were supposed to be based on love and freedom.
The Jews thought that merely by their ancestral lineage–as descendants of Abraham–they were automatically good with God, while Gentiles remained dirty, unclean sinners (Romans 1 and 2).
Paul addressed the Jews by saying, ‘No, actually, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. No one gets a free pass on that.’
And the Gentiles were saying, ‘Well, the Law was obviously stupid and useless, that’s why God did away with it. So nayaaa!’
And Paul turns to them and says, ‘Actually, the Jewish people were entrusted with the Law for a specific time in a specific place for a very important reason’ (Romans 3:1).
In essence Paul told both sides, ‘You’re both wrong and your both right. But overall, your attitudes suck. So this is what I’d like you to do–sacrifice your arrogant attitudes toward each other (Romans 11-12) and choose to love one another instead.”
That is what the book of Romans is about.
Bringing together in love and unity Jews and Gentiles, two groups who held enormous animosity toward each other.
Paul was actually not addressing us today at all.
So is there no use for Romans today?
It’s very valuable. Just not in the way we think.
What we get with the book of Romans is a peek into what it was like for the first humans to forge a path toward simply living with God in freedom.
For the Jews, it was living free from all God-mandated laws, rules and rituals; For the Gentiles, being free from pagan-temple ritual evil and the worship of human leaders as deity.
So now everyone was free…free from all religion.
The first people to ever do this.
No more ‘in’ groups and ‘out’ groups.
Sadly it only lasted a short time until Rome under Constantine took this freedom and domesticated it; wrapped it up and re-packaged it as simply another shackling religion, complete with its own rules and rituals….what we know today as ‘Christianity.’
The ‘Christian religion’ was born.
In Rome. Not in Jerusalem or Antioch.
And what Rome made of it has nothing to do with what the Bible actually teaches.
So God help us get back to the original intent of the New Testament authors.
Which is to simply live with the Spirit of God in freedom (Romans 7:6)….Free from all rules, rituals, sacrifices and appeasements of God…Because none are required….Because God (with Jesus on the cross) declared the end of religion.
“It is finished.”
This was the gospel Paul ‘preached’ (Ephesians 3:6-7).
It was good news.
And it wasn’t ‘preached.’ And no one needed to be converted to it.
It was simply a message of good news.
Available to anyone who wanted freedom.
How is the view presented above different from what you’ve always thought of ‘religion’?
If this view is correct, how would it change things? On a world-wide scale and in your personal life with God?