The Gospel is Not About ‘Going to Heaven’
Imagine your newly elected prime minister (PM) or president addressed the nation about his big new vision for the country and the plan to accomplish it. That is indeed good news for the country that has gone through a tough period of war and depression.
The PM gave an open invitation to join in and asked his office to assist in this noble mission. He wanted to bring great minds together for this task. He described their responsibilities and milestones and clearly explained how the possible future could be achieved.
People started enrolling as the office ran a recruitment campaign to influence people to join. Reports were going to the PM that the recruitment task is going in full swing.
To get more people recruited, the office started promising many incentives. One of them was the life insurance policy. “After you die, we will take care of your family.” They even promised perfect health and abundant wealth.
People who have seen war for several years have found this incentive very attractive. They continued joining under the Prime minister’s office roles. They seemed to be very happy that their life insurance is covered.
After a few months, the PM was expecting to see some changes according to the plan. He noticed that a lot of people were recruited, but the task has barely begun. It looked like the PM’s office misunderstood that vision for a recruitment drive.
The PM called for an emergency meeting. He again clearly articulated the vision and the office’s role in it. But, the office team went on with their old plan. They presented to him about the ongoing recruitment drive and the building projects.
The Human resource department gave an excellent presentation on how successful they were in staff retention. They played many testimonial videos who praised the PM for his love and the insurance plan.
The PM was extremely disappointed. Except for a handful, the entire PM’s administration has no idea of his vision. It almost looked like the office was playing the Chinese whispers each time when the PM tries to communicate. What would you expect the PM would do now?
Can you relate to this story? Have you ever joined a company for its retirement benefit? No capable person would do that. People may work for many reasons, but the essential requirement is to work according to the expectations of the one you are working for. Organizations do offer retirement benefits to their employees but, that should never be the goal of your work.
Can you imagine a colleague at your workplace who is only excited about his retirement benefits? What do you think about him? What kind of work would he be producing?
Unfortunately, over the past hundred years, the gospel has been reduced to a message about your ticket to heaven after you die. That is why most of the evangelists ask this question, “do you know where you will go after you die?” As if the gospel can answer only that question.
We think the gospel is for those who are not ‘saved.’ Once the person is ‘saved,’ the gospel is more or less a back story. This wrong understanding has hijacked us from God’s mission. Not to mention the other heresies like the prosperity gospel, etc.
Selfishly speaking, I wish I am with my God and his saints in heaven today than here on earth. God’s mission is not just to take me to heaven, but to restore all things. That is good news.
The authority of the gospel
In the Roman world, the word gospel/euangelion was used for the royal announcement of the emperor’s accession or birthday. Here is one referring to Caesar Augustus. First-century Christians understood the gospel as a royal announcement.
It was not just a news headline in a newspaper. It has the complete authority of the King. That is why when Jesus was born, angels came and announced it.
Early disciples lived and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus in the face of the gospels of Caesar, who was also called the Son of God.
Paul, while writing to Romans, starts the epistle by associating the gospel of Jesus by who he is. The descendant of David and the Son of God, who is our Lord.
“…set apart for the gospel of God… concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…” (Romans 1:1–4)
NT Wright says, “for Paul ‘the gospel’ is the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth is Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Lord.”
Jesus, after His resurrection, spoke to his disciples, saying that he is the Lord of heaven and earth, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” Matthew 28:18
In Revelation, John sees this happen in the throne room where the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who has conquered, opens the scroll and its seven seals. Then the twenty-four elders fell before the lamb and sang along with myriads of angels and creatures in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea. “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5: 9–13)
The Gospel of Jesus is the announcement that Jesus is the King. Every creature in heaven and on earth acknowledges the triumph of Christ, and his dominion over all his creation is indeed the good news because he will rule with righteousness and justice. (Isaiah 11)
When I obey the gospel in obedience by faith, I don’t get a ticket to heaven, but God’s rule extends into my life.
The obedience to the gospel
Either the gospel of Caesar or the gospel of Jesus, it demands obedience from the people.
In the beginning, God was indeed the King. But, Adam and Eve decided to become gods to establish their own rule. They rejected God as their King and became slaves to sin and death. This is idolatry that separated us from God and turned our world into a kingdom of darkness.
Through the King’s death and resurrection, he has redeemed all creation from the bondage of the kingdom of darkness to himself. (Luke 4:18.19) Now all things in heaven and on earth belong to the King.
Will the people in obedience to the gospel surrender all of their being to the rightful Lord and King? They can choose to become the citizens of the kingdom of light (Hebrews 12: 22–24) and walk in righteousness and justice or disobey the King and face judgment. Disobedience to the gospel leads to judgment. (2 Thessalonians 1:7–9)
Paul, in Romans 1:16, says the gospel is the power of the King for salvation. That is the restoration of all things, restoring God’s image in me and his glory in all things. When I obey the gospel by faith, I don’t get a ticket to heaven, but God’s rule extends into my life. His Spirit sanctifies me until Jesus is glorified in me and all that I do.
The lordship of Christ in all my life means my spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, imaginative, sexual, creative, relational, financial aspects of life are offered in worship to the King. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (Mat 22:37,38)
I hope it is clear that the gospel is not just for those who are ‘not saved’ about getting to heaven. It is, in fact, the order of God’s kingdom of heaven on earth. It is God’s plan for all of his creation from the foundations of the earth.
The King is in the business of reconciling all things under his righteous rule. The ecclesia (church) of this King is called to be busy on his mission. Paul calls it the ministry of reconciliation. The church that is concerned only about the ticket to heaven has almost lost its calling.
Job believed in the resurrection/restoration of all things that God will bring upon in the end.
The dominion of the gospel
The word ecclesia in Greek means assembly, in a democratic Greek political state context. So in the historical context, the male citizens above eighteen years were called out from their homes to a public place to look into the state’s public affairs.
There is no ecclesia without the King and the kingdom. Her calling is to administer the King’s rule across the dominion. Remember, Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”? (Matthew 6:10)
Now, what is the dominion of the King? The former rural of the world, Satan, also called the dragon in Revelation, has been defeated by Jesus, the prince. Now the heaven and the earth is his dominion. Ecclesia is called to reign with him by disciplining all nations. (Matthew 28:18–20) (Revelation 5:10)
God in Christ is reconciling all this dominion to himself. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15–20)
Unfortunately, many Christians today believe that the gospel is about our soul going to a floaty space above the clouds after we die. That is why we associate evangelism to “winning souls.”
Do you recollect this song written by Mary Reeves? Unfortunately, many still believe this.
This world is not my home;
I’m just a passing through;
My treasures are laid up
somewhere beyond the blue.
This is not a proper understanding of the scripture.
Job wrote, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last, he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh, I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25–27)
Job believed in the resurrection/restoration of all things that God will bring upon in the end. Old Testament prophets call it Shalom. When the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God. (Isaiah 11, Isaiah 40, Psalm 24)
“The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Psalm 97:1)
May we take up our cross and imitate our King and make all nations imitate him.
The splendor of the gospel
The ‘ticket to heaven’ gospel taught us that the gospel is about your ticket. We never seriously asked what does it look like when we believe the gospel. We use the phrase ‘share the gospel’ very often. What we really mean is, let the other person also get the ticket.
Whenever a person shares their conversion experience, it usually begins how bad they were before and how happy they are that their sins are forgiven, and when they die, they will go to heaven. It’s all about me. I am not saying that this is entirely wrong. Seeking God’s forgiveness and becoming his child is essential, but we are still missing the point.
What would it look like when disciples/ecclesia/faithful followers of Jesus, live out their lives under the lordship of Jesus? We will see and display God’s kingdom coming to the earth. That is the will of the King.
Imagine you walked into a hospital which is filled by the disciples of Jesus, how would it look like? Don’t you think we can see the glory of God there? Disciples filled with the Spirit of God and bearing the fruits of the Spirit as faithful stewards of God’s wisdom, knowledge, and compassion.
Imagine schools, farms, government, entertainment houses, etc., are filled with disciples. We are called to serve our King in all spheres of culture so that people and the patterns of the former kingdom of darkness are transformed into the patterns of the kingdom of light. (Romans 1:1,2)
We may never become perfect and sinless in our corruptible bodies. Still, those who are born of the Spirit are being transformed into the image of God. (Galatians 4:19) Restoring our dark world that is filled with the desires of the flesh to a renewed world overflowing with the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16–24)
The tragedy is that we don’t see God’s glory in our churches today because we have distorted the gospel and our calling. Instead of living out the gospel and making disciples of all nations, we began “saving souls” from going to hell as Jesus is coming soon. This mission turned out to be all about numbers, church growth, building projects, events, brands, religious empires, celebrity preachers, media mumbo jumbo, etc.
Even though we tend to talk about “sound theology,” we have failed to live out the gospel amid our neighbors.
I am glad that God is preparing a new generation of disciples who take the scriptures seriously and live out the gospel in their communities. Discipleship in the Jewish context means, imitating the rabbi. May we take up our cross and imitate our King and make all nations imitate him.
Let us seek to live out the gospel as local covenanted communities of disciples, make more disciples, and serve our neighbors. In doing so, we confront the kingdom of darkness and extend God’s rule in our lives, communities, and nations.
How I wish I understood this truth early in my life.