Judged by the Good News
By Dr. Brad Cole
What is the Good News?
While it certainly is good news that God has graciously provided for our personal salvation, this is not the Good News. For example, these words in a recent periodical suggest that gospel is primarily about you and I:
“It’s the good news that Jesus died as our substitute; that at the Cross He paid the penalty for our sins; that through faith in Him we stand perfect in God now because we are covered with perfect righteousness; and that because of what He has done for us, we have the promise of eternal life. So the good news is that we have eternal life, as opposed to – what?”
And the later the summary position is stated that the Good News is that we will not be punished:
“Thus, the good news of the gospel is that we are spared condemnation.”
For those who are new in the faith and are perhaps growing out of a fearful picture of a God who needs to be appeased, it is natural to assume that the Good News is avoidance of punishment. But there are several problems that arise if we come to see the gospel only from a me-centered perspective. First, it places selfishness as a core tenant of Christianity: “I won’t be punished, I will be saved.” Secondly, if the message of Good News is ultimately that God won’t have to punish, then instead of developing a healthy fear of sin and the natural consequences of sin on the mind and character, the base is laid for a fear of God – a God who is coming to condemn and punish some of his children.
Imagine a child who is waiting to meet his Daddy face to face for the first time. They have talked together on the phone numerous times and the child is eager with anticipation to feel the warm embrace of his Father and to touch his face. You come to the child and say, “I have good news for you. When your Daddy comes home, he must, because he is very just and because of the bad behavior of many of your brothers and sisters, take a certain number of them out on the back lawn and burn them for a period of time. But don’t worry! There is good news because your Daddy will not do this to you. You will go to a beautiful mansion with him […and hopefully you won’t hear the screams of your brothers and sisters]….hey, what’s that sour look on your face? Aren’t you looking forward to meeting your Dad?”
Does this good news message create love for God or fear of God? Is this really the Good News?
The book of Mark opens by telling us who the Good News is about: “This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1 – GN) Jesus is God, of course, which means that the Good News is ultimately about God. Paul opens the book of Romans by reinforcing the same message: “This Good News is about his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ…. Through him we have received God’s kindness.” (Romans 1:3,5 – GOD’S WORD). The Good News is about Jesus – God in the flesh – because He is the ultimate revelation of God’s gracious and kind character to the universe.
Spreading “the Good News…about Jesus Christ” was Paul’s mission (Romans 16:25 – GN):
“I want to finish the race I’m running. I want to carry out the mission I received from the Lord Jesus – the mission of testifying to the Good News of God’s kindness…I am now entrusting you to God and to his message that tells how kind he is. That message can help you grow…” (Acts 20:24,32 – GOD’S WORD)
The Good News message of the great love and kindness of God – his righteousness – is the power that wins us to him for salvation, and like a salve, it leads to the healing of our own character:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed…” (Romans 1:16,17 – NKJV)
We are to come to the world with “the Good News about the infinite riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8 – GN) The world needs to hear “…the Good News about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God…The God who said, ‘Out of darkness the light shall shine!’ is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God’s glory shining in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-6 – GN)
The word “glory” in these verses is not used to convey a physical brightness or an intimidating power, but is referring to the character of God as revealed by Jesus. The Good News Paul is describing here is about the character of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. The Good News is the knowledge of God’s character which we see most clearly shining in the face of Christ – God in the flesh.
The Good News is entirely about God! We worship a God who lived in the womb of one of His sinful creatures for 9 months, washed the dirty feet of his betrayer, and humbly forgave those who tortured him to death. As the veil of distortion and misrepresentation of God’s character is removed and we see Him as He is, our own individual salvation becomes of little consequence. Self interest and self concern about personal salvation dies at the feet of Jesus. But the wonderful thing about this whole process is that when self dies, a new person is reborn who then begins to reflect the character and the selfless love of God to others.
How does the Judgment relate to the Good News?
The Good News and the Judgment are very much linked together in scripture. First, who does the judging?
“Nor does the Father himself judge anyone. He has given his Son the full right to judge…And he has given the Son the right to judge, because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:22,27 – GN).
How does Jesus judge those who accept his message?
“I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24 – GN)
How does Jesus judge those who reject his message?
“If people hear my message and do not obey it, I will not judge them. I came, not to judge the world, but to save it. Those who reject me and do not accept my message have one who will judge them. The words I have spoken will be their judge on the last day!” (John 12:47-48)
What words, what message, what truth will be the judge? The words that will be the judge is the message of Good News that Jesus came to reveal about the character of God. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14:8 – CEV)
Our response to the Good News that God is kind and gracious will be our judge:
“…according to the Good News I preach, this is how it will be on that Day when God through Jesus Christ will judge the secret thoughts of all.” (Romans 2:16 – GN)
For “those who refuse to respond to the Good News about our Lord Jesus” and instead separate from him to worship the image of a false God who is harsh and severe, there are disastrous natural consequences. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 – GOD’S WORD) To those who “exchange the truth about God for a lie” and “refuse to keep in mind the true knowledge about God, he has given them over to corrupted minds, so that they do the things they should not do.” (Romans 1:25,28 – GN)
Are we won to a God of love and meekness and of whom there is no reason to be afraid? It is the mission of God’s people to spread this message of Good News throughout the world. Jesus’ revelation of God’s character brings life by re-establishing trust and friendship with God. But if we are offended by a God whose ultimate power is His kindness, humility, and great condescension and instead prefer a God with harsh, severe, and arbitrary qualities, and who wields the power of force and coercion, the Good News message that Jesus came to reveal about God becomes a stench:
“God uses us to make the knowledge about Christ spread everywhere like a sweet fragrance. For we are like a sweet-smelling incense offered by Christ to God, which spreads among those who are being saved and those who are being lost. For those who are being lost, it is a deadly stench that kills; but for those who are being saved, it is a fragrance that brings life.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 – GN)
God himself on trial
But are we the only ones who are being judged? “He will be proved right in what he says, and he will win his case in court.” (Romans 3:4 – NLT) In the spectacle that is planet earth, the Creator Himself submits to the judgment of his creatures. And in the end, every knee will bow, not out of fear and intimidation, but because God’s character will have been 100% vindicated in the eyes of all. At that point in history, it will be clear that the sin problem with all its resulting pain and suffering, is the natural consequence of rebellion against God’s single principle of other-centered love. “An enemy has done this”, not God. This convincing evidence about God and the nature of rebellion will establish peace and love throughout the universe for all of eternity.