The Goal of the Gospel
AUGUST 21, 2021
by Matt Heard
In church circles, we hear the word “gospel” a lot, but do we really understand what it’s for? Do we grasp the full goal and, as a result, the whole gift of the Gospel? Or do we have it cordoned off from the bulk of our lives, only letting it prescribe our religious activity and give us hope of heaven? Do we experience the Gospel on a daily basis or just hear about it on Sundays?
Doctrine AND Dance
The Gospel is a phenomenal song with both lyrics and music. But too many of us have met people, maybe the person we see in the mirror every day, who know some of the words but ignore the music. As a result, we might mouth the doctrine, but we miss the dance.
We miss out on the full song when we focus on redemption from sin but neglect the larger reason for our salvation: to restore dead, fallen image-bearers back to Life so we can, once again, thrive to the glory of God. Jesus could not have made His mission more clear: I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). He came not only to grant us forgiveness from our sins and entry into heaven, but to enable us, as forgiven human beings, to flourish. I call it, “Life with a capital L.”
When I was a college student, I sat under the teaching of an amazing thinker and theologian, Francis Schaeffer. One day he used a term I’d never heard before: “dead orthodoxy.” He was referring to the dangerous tendency of outwardly going through religious motions and adopting legalistic lifestyles without actually submitting our hearts. It made sense to me then, it makes more sense now. Ever since, I’ve been observing that hazardous reality in churches, families, and communities…and my own life. People who know the doctrine without the dance can be dangerous people—to themselves, their families, their fellow church members, and even their culture.
Orthodoxy AND Vibrancy
So how do we address that danger? John, a follower and friend of Jesus, was deeply impacted, not just by Jesus’ Way and Truth, but also His Life. Near the end of his journey, the disciple passionately summarized the goal of the Gospel by voicing a dual yearning for us:
(Purpose A) that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and
(Purpose B) that by believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).
Have we only accepted Purpose A and missed out on Purpose B? When we receive Jesus as the Christ and then urge others to also believe in Him, we’re rightly focusing on Purpose A (I’ll call that “Orthodoxy”). But lamentably, we often stop there and disregard Purpose B (let’s refer to that as “Vibrancy”).
Our Orthodoxy is meant to pave the way for Vibrancy that springs forth from the truth, love, and grace of Jesus. It’s a Vibrancy radiating Christ’s Life in and through us to the people, situations, and culture around us.
No matter how articulate we are in conveying Orthodoxy to our surrounding culture, if we aren’t equally authentic in our Vibrancy, attempts to impact the world with the Gospel will fall short. Our Gospel proclamations will sound more like judgmental reprimands at people who are broken, instead of loving reminders of where wholeness, grace, and peace can be found. Without Vibrancy accompanying our Orthodoxy, instead of dancing to the music of the Gospel, we’ll just do a religious march that, at best, conveys to people they’re not in the band and, at worst, trudges right over them.
Lyrics and Music…
Truth and Grace…
Head and Heart…
Orthodoxy and Vibrancy…
It’s not a matter of choosing one over the other, but experiencing and expressing both.
Embracing the Vibrancy of the Gospel as well as its Orthodoxy is a Life-giving shift in perspective, enhancing our vision for what the Gospel means and what it looks like every day. Believing the Gospel means experiencing the Gospel, not just tipping our hat toward it. It involves more than just being secure about heaven—it’s also about becoming Fully Alive now.
Yes, the Gospel is true. But it’s also good. And beautiful. That is the Gospel the disciples died for—and the world longs for.