THE GOOD NEWS (2) – 1978 LENT SERIES – St Peter’s Wellington – Godfrey Wilson
During Lent, we are exploring the theme: “The Good News and how we share it”.
We are doing this in Sunday morning sermons and in a Wednesday night study group with the idea that the discussions will feed into the preaching, and vice versa.
Last Sunday morning I tried to set out what the ‘good news’ is that the New Testament writers are proclaiming – what it is they are talking about when they refer to ‘the Gospel’ – and you will remember we noted that the same word, ‘gospel’, is used for Jesus’ message of God’s Kingdom as he went about preaching, teaching and healing, and also for the early Church’s message about Jesus himself – the crucified and risen Lord through whom God’s Kingdom came.
The Church’s ‘good news’ was (and is) that, in Jesus, God has shown who he is and who we are intended to be.
Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God has shown that he rules … that evil is not able to thwart his purposes. Through Jesus, he has broken the grip of sin on human life and opened for us the way to a new life lived in union with him and our neighbours (not estrangement) – a life rooted and grounded in love and made possible by the power of his Holy Spirit at work in us.
Q 1. Do you have any thoughts on reading this summary of the last sermon?
That is the essence of the message. But I said last time that we needed to dig into it to see more clearly what it means for human life in this world – for people like ourselves and the folk in our street or the office we work in.
So the Wednesday night study group has been looking at passages in the New Testament in which someone is bearing witness to the impact of the ‘good news’ on their life and their view of reality and telling of the difference it has made.
And they have now moved on to reflecting on their own lives and their own spiritual pilgrimage and have begun to share with each other the ways in which the ‘good news’ has affected them.
And in looking at a variety of texts and in sharing our personal ‘stories’, we are beginning to ‘unpack’ the words of the gospel message in terms of human experience.
However, I want to concentrate mainly on the New Testament again today, and on what the writers say is happening for and to them as they respond to the ‘good news’, are baptised into the Christian fellowship and begin to live the life of faith.
Here are ten important things they are saying about the difference the gospel makes. Most of them (though not all) were brought up in the Bible study last Wednesday.
You would describe these as New Testament ‘voices’, saying “This we know, and rejoice in!”
- FIRST (they are saying), we know we are accepted and loved by God.
Paul says in Romans 5: “Even for a just man one of us would hardly die, though perhaps for a good man one might actually brave death; but Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God’s own proof of his love towards us.” (5: 7-8)
The same sense of God’s loving acceptance comes through in Ephesians 2: “In our natural condition, we, like the rest, lay under dreadful judgement of God. But God, rich in mercy, for the great love he bore us, brought us to life with Christ even when we were dead in our sins. It is by his grace you are saved.” (2: 3-5)
And you get the same certainty again in 1 John “God is love; and his love was disclosed to us in this, that he sent his only Son into the world to bring us life. The love I speak of is not our love for God, but the love he showed us in sending his Son as the remedy for the defilement of our sins … (4: 9-10) … We love because he loved us first (4: 19)
So, we are on the receiving end of an unmerited gift – God’s loving acceptance of us, sinners though we are.
They found that a very liberating experience.
Q 2. Has this aspect of “the Good News” been important for you. Would you quote it as an important part of your Christian belief?
- SECOND (and really this is closely related to the experience of loving acceptance) we are brought into a new and intimate relationship with God and with one another. ‘God the remote judge’ is seen to be a myth; he draws us to himself and in this drawing overcomes old divisions and hostilities and makes us one with each other.
“God has reconciled us to himself through Christ”, Paul tells the Corinthians (2 Cor 5: 18)
The Ephesians are reminded of the gulf there was between Jew and Gentile but now, through Christ, the two have been made one. (2: 11-16)
“Through faith you are all sons of God in union with Christ Jesus” Paul tells the Galatians (3:26) … “There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female; for you are all one person in Jesus Christ” (3: 28)
“You are sons of God” (and daughters we would want to add); not “slaves to the elemental powers of the universe”, but sons of God, having an intimate and loving relationship with him; and to prove this is what you are (and how things are) “he has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying ‘Abba! Father!’” (4: 4-6) urging us to approach God with the same trustful, intimate, ‘family’ word as a Jewish child might use to his father.
Alienation and enmity are at an end. We are being drawn into a unity with God and our fellow human beings.
This is a profoundly exciting experience, they say, altering our whole approach to life.
Q3. “Alienation and enmity are at an end. We are being drawn into a unity with God and our fellow human beings.” Is this an exciting experience for you? How much do you experience this in your life?
- A THIRD thing the New Testament writers are saying, out of their experience of the Gospel, is that we are forgiven our sins.
As far as the past is concerned, God has wiped the slate clean and offered us a new beginning.
“God was in Christ” Paul tells the Corinthians, “reconciling the world to himself, no longer holding men’s misdeeds against them” (2 Cor 5: 19)
“He has made you alive with Christ” we read in Colossians; and in the next sentence “He has forgiven us all our sins.” (Col 3: 13).
And this is a continuing reality. It is not that one load of garbage has been got rid of but that another is now accumulating. No, forgiveness of our sins continues to be freely available.
We sin against God and our neighbours still – no doubt about that – and we deceive ourselves if we claim otherwise. But, the writer of 1 John tells us “If we confess our sins, God is just and may be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every kind of wrong” (1 John 1: 8-9). The penitent soul can begin again every day, secure in the knowledge that his sins are not being held against him.
- And that links closely into a FOURTH thing they are saying: We are released from bondage to sin.
Perhaps the most eloquent testimony to this sense of bondage is in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he says “When I want to do the right, only the wrong is within my reach. In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive that there is in my bodily members a different law, fighting against the law that my reason approves and making me a prisoner under the law that is in my members, the law of sin – miserable creature that I am! Who is there to rescue me out of this body doomed to death?” (7: 21 – 21)
Then he goes on in the next chapter (Chapter 8) to tell how this bondage is at an end for those in whom God’s Spirit dwells – we need no longer be slaves to the law of sin if we let our lives be directed by the Spirit rather than the inclinations of our selfish and carnal nature.
Q 4. Is the forgiveness of sins a powerful part of the Good News for you? Is it an easy concept to introduce to non-Christians?
- This passage in Romans is also a good example of a FIFTH thing that the New Testament writers are saying about the impact of the good news in their lives.
Our lives now have a new centre, they say, and a new and marvellous source of power.
This centre is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, powerfully at work in the lives of those who respond to the gospel.
Paul puts it this way in Galatians: “The life I now live is not my life, but the life which Christ lives in me” (2: 20)
To the Corinthians he says “I am what I am by the grace of God”. (15: 10)
Again to the Galatians, he says “If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct our course” (5:25) and bring forth his harvest … “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control.” (5: 22)
Notice how love stands at the head of that list – the Spirit of God, who is now the centre of our lives, is above all the Spirit of Love. Paul underlines this in his famous ‘hymn to love’ (1 Corinthians 13) where he says that without love we are nothing. And the writer of the First Epistle of John makes love for others the acid test of our profession of love for God:
“If a man says ‘I love God’ while hating his brother, he is a liar. If he does not love the brother whom he has seen, it cannot be that he loves God whom he has not seen.” (4: 20)
So there is a new centre and organising power in our lives: the Spirit of God, who is love, and who brings forth the works of love in our dealings with others.
Q 5. Have you had experience of this “organising power” (the “Spirit of God, who is love”) in your life?
- The experience of having our lives organised around this new dynamic centre, in which the old, self-centred nature is being done away and a new self is being created in the image of love, is an experience of profound change.
This is a SIXTH thing the writers are saying about the impact of the Gospel in their lives.
The experience is one of reversal, of being turned around.
They use various images – emerging from darkness into light, as in the first letter of John.
- being raised from death to life as in Colossians 3.
- laying aside one nature (like a suit of clothes) and putting on a new nature, as in Ephesians 4.
But it all comes to the same thing: profound change in the way you live.
Q 6. Is this “experience of profound change” real for all of us?
- And the change is such that a new confidence is born in us, in the face of life’s difficulties and sufferings. Here is a SEVENTH thing they are saying:
The Power at work in our lives gives us strength to face anything!
At the end of Romans 8, where he has been talking about the transforming power of the Spirit, Paul says:
“What can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or hardship? Can persecution, hunger, nakedness, peril, or the sword …? I am convinced that there is nothing in death or life, in the realm of spirits of superhuman powers, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, in heights or depths – nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. (8: 35 – 39)
That confidence does not make pain any less painful, or suffering easy to bear; it is simply saying ‘we know we can face whatever life throws at us because God is with us to uphold us; even in the experience of death itself, mysteriously, we experience strength in weakness’.
Q 7. How do you relate to the idea of being able to “face anything” as a Christian, in the power of the Good News?
- And that touches on and EIGHTH thing the writers are saying:
‘The hope we now have in Jesus Christ is a hope that cuts death down to size and opens up for us and all mankind a real future’.
It is a hope of resurrection beyond death.
“We know” says Paul “that if the earthly frame that houses us today should be demolished, we possess a building which God has provided – a house not made by human hands, eternal, and heaven”. (2 Cor: 5).
And it is not only a personal hope about our own destiny beyond death, but a hope for the world – a tremendous vision of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ – a destiny for all creation, summed up in the vision of the Book of Revelation, in which the One who sits on the throne says “Behold, I am making all things new!” (Rev 21: 5).
This is a future which I can make my contribution; a vision I can help come true; insofar as my life is being transformed by the divine Power who is even now working to make all things new.
Q 8. As a Christian, how important is hope for you, personally and also in terms of the vision for “a new heaven and a new earth”?
- ‘And this knowledge brings a new moral seriousness into all our choices’ – that is a NINTH thing the writers are saying. They have a sense of divine judgement, present and potent in every situation, as God works out his purpose. Their choices on what to do, how to act, can help or hinder God’s work, and in the end they will have to give account for what they have done, or left undone.
‘Accountability’ is the deep, sobering note struck in the midst of the joy and thanksgiving and confidence which abound in the New Testament writings:
“We shall all stand before God’s tribunal” says Paul to the Romans (13: 10).
And to the Corinthians:
“We must all have our lives laid open before the tribunal of Christ, where each must receive what is due to him for his conduct in the body, good or bad” (2 Cor: 5 – 10).
Q 9. How does “‘Accountability’ … the deep, sobering note ..” fit into the theme of Good News?
- And lastly, a TENTH thing they are saying about the impact of the ‘good news’ on their lives is that they must share it. They long for others to share their liberating vision and experience. The first Christian evangelists we read about in the Acts of the Apostles cannot keep the ‘good news’ to themselves. They must share it, even if it constantly gets them into trouble.
“Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel!” says Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9 : 16) … “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Cor 9: 22).
Well, it has taken rather a long time to cover these ten things that the New Testament writers are saying about the difference the gospel has made to their lives. And I am sure you would all give up if I were to take time now to recapitulate! Do not worry – I will have the sermon run off, and you can go over the ten points at your leisure.
In plain language, though, they seem to be saying this:
‘Because of the good news of Jesus Christ,
- we can deal with the burden of our past – the burden of guilt;
- we can live in the present creatively, courageously and purposefully;
- we can face the future with real hope, for ourselves and for the World.
Surely news which produces that kind of testimony is as good today as it was to those who first heard it?
Q 10. [from Godfrey] “If our testimony is much the same – why are we not more noticeably sharing it in our Society? What are the difficulties, and how might we overcome them?”
More next week.