Good News, Bad News

Beginning Down the Path of Discipleship

In our last post, we began down the path of discipleship.  Every path has a beginning.  We are going to begin down the path of discipleship at the beginning.  And following Jesus begins with the Good News, the gospel.

Good News, Bad News.  Has anyone ever asked you…do you want to hear the good news or the bad news?  For instance: The good news is…the insurance will probably cover it.  The bad news…a tree fell on your car.  That kind of thing.  I’d like us to think about good news and bad news.  Would you like to hear the good news first or the bad news?  I always begin with the bad news.  I’d rather get that out of the way.  You could ask me that question a thousand times, I’d always pick bad news first.  So, let’s begin with the bad news.

The Bad News – Let’s consider five bits of bad news the Bible teaches concerning our condition.

  • No one is good. Most of us think we’re good people.  But…before a righteous and holy God…there are no good people.  This is clearly taught in Romans 3:10-12:

10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12)

I come off like a pretty good person if I compare myself to others (by my own judgment!), but before God – no one is good.

  • We’re all sinners. Another way to say the same thing: Nobody’s perfect.  Who would deny that?  Our imperfection, our falling short, has a biblical name: sin.  And all have sinned.  So says scripture:

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23)

Bad news: I’m a sinner!  And so is every other human on earth.

  • Sinners are liable to death. More bad news: Sinners deserve to die.  Scripture makes clear that the penalty for sin is death.  Again, see Romans:

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23)

  • Death means hell. And death isn’t just physical death; it is eternal condemnation: hell. It isn’t just that we live our three score and ten then sleep in the earth.  The death described in the Bible is one of everlasting misery.  So says Jesus lots of places, for instance:

47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where ” ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mk. 9:47-48)

Death isn’t just physical death, which is awful in and of itself, but is more importantly, alienation from God.  Hell is a horrid reality.

  • We can’t fix this problem. We can’t solve this on our own.  We can’t cure it with better technology or medicine.  Education won’t solve it.  No legislation can remedy it.  Greater effort can’t deal with it.  Religious effort or piety can’t fix it.  If it is going to be set right, it requires divine intervention.

 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  (Eph. 2:3)

This is all bad news indeed!  We are not good.  We are sinners.  Sinners earn death.  Death includes eternal condemnation.  And we can’t fix it.  Depressing and sobering truths.  I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready for some good news!


The Good News

Unless you understand the bad news, you’ll never begin to appreciate the good news.

A lot of people don’t give two hoots about Jesus, the church, the Bible, any notion of religion, etc.  This is largely because they haven’t yet come to recognize the bad news.  But we should all recognize the bad news – it is universally verifiable!  We all deal daily with guilt, sickness, anxiety, death, despair, and a thousand other bits of data that confirm the bad news.  It’s like someone walking around with a terminal illness and just not knowing it.  Actually, it’s not just like that; it is that exactly!

Once you recognize the problem, the good news is very good news indeed!  Once we recognize the good news, we must joyfully believe and embrace it.  What is the good news?

  • God breaks into our human misery with a declaration of glad tidings.

The biblical term for the good news is the Greek term euangelion.  This is a technical term in the Hellenistic world to refer to a declaration from the king, or from Caesar, of “glad tidings.”  For instance, a new emperor has taken the throne.  Or the glad tidings of a baby boy, an heir, being born.  A messenger – an angelos, an angel – would be dispatched to proclaim that good news, those glad tidings, to the people.

This is the context for the angelic declaration we celebrate each Advent – a heavenly host of angels brings good news of great joy – a child is born!  The term used is good news, euangelion (Luke 2:10).  Glad tidings!  Something to really celebrate – especially when the news isn’t just from the king, but from God!  Especially when it isn’t just about an earthly heir, but about the one who will reign over the world, and over our lives, as king of kings and lord of lords!

  • God hasn’t left us in our mess – God was under no obligation to provide us with good news. We’ve seen that “we were by nature objects of wrath” (Eph 2:3).  God is the injured party.  But…he has graciously provided to us the way of salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ, though sinless on his own, died for our sins; he bore our  As a result, forgiveness, restoration, and wholeness are made available to us!

Our fractured world won’t always be the broken place it is today!  God is renovating the it through his Son; one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth.  We won’t always be the flawed broken people we are today!  God is remaking us through Christ.  We are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).

  • People need to know this! People need to hear the good news or order to believe it.  Someone has to tell them. That’s what Peter did in Acts 2.  That’s what Paul did on his missionary journeys.  Consider Romans 10:

11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile– the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom. 10:11-15)

  • God has called us to be the means by which this is made known.

God has chosen our verbal proclamation of the good news to be the means of salvation for the world.  We are the means God plans to use!  We’re supposed to tell them!  Consider Acts 1:7-8:

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Why would God pick us?  I wouldn’t have!  But he did, and we are privileged to be the vessels of his glorious purpose!


Turning Good News Bad

Sometimes good things turn bad.  Consider an avocado.  You purchase it.  It is hale and hearty.  You think it a good avocado (or else you wouldn’t buy it).  But…you forget it for two days.  Now it is brown and mushy.  That which is good has become bad.

Is it possible for the good news of the gospel to turn bad?  No.  It isn’t fruit.  It is an eternal verity.  It was good news from all eternity, and it will be good news through the end of time.  Yet, in our cultural context, many have come to view the good news as very bad news.

Many people today believe any claim to truth (like humans are sinful, or that Jesus Christ is the way of salvation) can’t possibly be true.  At least, they can’t be true for everyone.  They can be true for you if they mean something to you, but you can’t claim that they are true for me and for everyone else.  This is another way of saying: our cultural is relativistic.  No truths can be allowed to be universally, absolutely true (except for the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth!).

This viewpoint is one hundred percent at odds with the biblical worldview and we can only say, “No.  Jesus says he is the Way.  God has demonstrated he is right by his bodily resurrection from the dead.”  The good news is good; don’t let anyone convince you it is really bad news.

But this isn’t just a problem out there with the secular culture.  This is also an internal problem for the church.  Most evangelicals have come to believe that the good news isn’t really good news.  We don’t think we should proclaim it because our culture has convinced us that it is really a bad thing.

Consider this recent data from the Barna Group:

Almost all practicing Christians believe that part of their faith means being a witness about Jesus (ranging from 95% to 97% among all generational groups), and that the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to know Jesus (94% to 97%). Millennials in particular feel equipped to share their faith with others. For instance, almost three-quarters say they know how to respond when someone raises questions about faith (73%), and that they are gifted at sharing their faith with other people (73%). This is higher than any other generational group: Gen X (66%), Boomers (59%) and Elders (56%). 

Despite this, many Millennials are unsure about the actual practice of evangelism. Almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith. This is compared to a little over one-quarter of Gen X (27%), and one in five Boomers (19%) and Elders (20%). 

What does research highlight?  It is that many evangelicals don’t believe we should be evangelizing.  They claim to believe the bad news and the good news as outlined above.  But they have allowed the relativistic culture to convince them that declaring the good news is actually bad!  Christians have come to believe that it is wrong to tell other people they should believe in Jesus!  We’ve come to treat the good news as bad news!


Making the Bad News Good Again:

We need to turn the bad news good again.  We don’t really need to do this inasmuch as it never really turned bad (it’s not an avocado).  We simply need to reorient our thinking from a worldly perspective to a biblical one: The good news is good news.  To do this we need to take on some of the lies of our culture.

Lie # 1: Respecting other people’s beliefs means we shouldn’t evangelize.

We live in a pluralistic culture.  This is simply a fact.  There are many different types of people all around us – different races, ethnicities, nations of origin, sexual orientations, etc.  In addition to this, people hold to many different religions and non-religions, philosophies and worldviews.  Our culture values tolerance.  To assert that your way is the way is simply narrow, bigoted, and judgmental.  You shouldn’t do it.

How can we respond to this objection?  There are a few cultural values expressed here that we should affirm and must agree with.  We too believe that all people should be treated with respect. As Christians we recognize that all people are created in the image of God and have inherent value.  We believe that we are called to love all people as we love ourselves.  We should also respect everyone’s beliefs.  We respect all people and we treat them with love, grace, and compassion.

But…does this mean that we don’t share the good news with them?  If we really believe the gospel ourselves, would we not also want others to know the glorious good news that salvation in Christ is available to them?  Indeed, how can we love our neighbor and not seek to share the good news with them?

How is it loving to withhold the good news?  Would doing so not be hateful?  Wouldn’t withholding the gospel be the ultimate show of unconcern?  Consider the words of Penn Jillette, a comedian and prominent atheist:

I’ve always said I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe there is a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward.  How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?  If I believed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, that that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point that I tackle you, and this is more important than that.”

If you Christians really believe this stuff – you can’t keep it to yourself!  It’s not loving to not say it; it is loving to make Christ known!  Take it from an atheist!

Lie #2  – You don’t know enough to evangelize.  Another lie that often prevents us from evangelizing is that we don’t know enough.  What if they ask a question I can’t answer?  It’s possible they’ll reference a difficulty with the bible, or the age of the earth, or the problem of evil, or…anything else I don’t know enough about.  We definitely should evangelize, but…first we really need a whole lot more education and training.    If we knew a whole bunch more, we would be in a much better position to be able to share the faith.

I’m not opposed to training in evangelism.  I’ve actually taught evangelism in the context of the local church.  I’ve taught it to college students, to campus ministry staff, and to seminarians.  Training in evangelism is a very good thing.  But…a lack of training really isn’t our problem.  We don’t not evangelize because of our ignorance.  This is rather an excuse that lets us off the hook.  After all, it is impossible to ever be trained so thoroughly that you’ll never be asked a tough question.  You can’t prepare for every eventuality.  And the most fervent evangelists are often new converts who know the least.

A lack of training isn’t our problem.  We are often like the Union’s General George McClellan – always training, never fighting.  A frustrated President Lincoln was once so exasperated with McClellan’s propensity to train but never fight that he sent him a telegram:

If General McClellan does not want to use the Army, I would like to borrow it for a time, provided I could see how it could be made to do something.”

The truth is that, like the Army of the Potomac, sometimes we just need to engage.  No amount of preparation will ever see an army win a war.  No amount of training will ever be effective for real kingdom fruit unless we actually engage people with the truth of the gospel.

A similar variant of the training dodge is the actions-speak-louder-than-words excuse.  Of course, congruence between our words and actions is a necessity.  If I tell my son not to smoke with a cigarette hanging from my mouth, I will be recognized as a hypocrite.  If we call people to faith, but live like pagans, we shouldn’t expect our testimony to be good for much.

We are called to preach through the quality of our lives.  Our actions are a witness.  But…this was never intended as a substitute for gospel proclamation.  We have an actual message.  There is content to our faith.  We are to tell people the good news of Jesus’ death for us, his resurrection from the dead, the need for repentance from sin, and conversion to faith in Christ.  If we only do but never say, we are ducking our responsibility.

St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”  This is true. We should make our actions scream the gospel.  But this can be a dodge too.  Often I just don’t want to say it because that could be uncomfortable.



Coming back to Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 – you will be my witnesses.   You will give testimony for me.

This isn’t necessarily street corner preaching, nor door knocking, nor four-spiritual-lawing – this is being who you really are.  This is allowing your sincerely held faith in Christ, which is at the core of your identity, to flow out of you in your speech as well as your action.  You talk about Jesus, you talk about your Christian faith, because it is part of who you are.  You testify to your own experience, your encounter with Christ, his answers to prayer, his care and love and grace.

That’s all you’ve got to do – and you don’t need a lot of special training to do that.  Just be authentically who you are.

Let’s reject the lies and live this out with integrity!  Let’s be who God made us to be – his witnesses.    Let’s believe that the good news is in fact good news, and let’s make it known through faithful testimony – giving witness to the gospel we have come to know!