The naughty child story

How does Jesus’ gospel differ from the way we present the gospel today?

Jesus announced good news. He was good news because he restored God’s kingship (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). He was good news for those who’d missed out (11:5). He was good news for the whole world (26:13).

To announce the gospel is to announce Jesus — God’s anointed ruler (Christ), Son of the heavenly sovereign (Mark 1:1). The way Jesus told it, proclaiming the gospel sounds like this: “It’s time! God’s reign has arrived! Turn to his authority! Place your trust in the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15).

Unfortunately, that’s not the gospel presented by many Evangelical/Charismatic churches today. What passes for the gospel sounds more like the story of a naughty child.

It goes something like this:

You’ve been naughty, and God is upset with you. Because of your disobedience, you’ve forfeited your place in the family. You’re on the outside. The only way you can come back in is to admit your guilt and say you’re sorry.

To do that, pray the Sinner’s Prayer. It’s not specific words, but it’s like this, “God, I’m sorry for my sins. I don’t deserve your love; I deserve your punishment. I’m truly sorry. Please remove my guilt. Please take me back into your family. I’m sorry for all my sins, and I thank you for forgiveness.”

As children, we all knew what it was to upset our parents and have them scold us. We may not have known why they were so upset, but we knew we were in trouble. That’s why the naughty child story is so easy to tell: everybody can relate.

But it isn’t the gospel. It’s not the story of Jesus. You can tell the naughty child story without Jesus. Re-read the two paragraphs above if you didn’t notice.

The naughty child story is not the good news of Jesus. It’s a sales technique to elicit a response, a way to get a “decision” from someone.

This decision moment is viewed as the watershed moment of your existence. Once you do it you’re eternally saved, but if you don’t do it God will torment you forever. It’s that significant because it is the means of receiving grace. In theological terms, many Evangelicals treat the Sinner’s Prayer as a sacrament — a means of receiving grace. We even use sacramental language for it: Catholics “receive Christ” via the Eucharist; Evangelicals “receive Christ” via the Sinner’s Prayer. It might even be the highest sacrament: you can go to heaven without baptism or communion, but not without this one.

But it’s a shrunken gospel that’s applicable only to the unsaved. Once you’re saved, you don’t need the gospel anymore, so you move on to other things. The gospel is not about your daily life.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve exchanged the gospel of the kingdom for a substitute sacrament, a sales technique masquerading as the means of receiving grace.

Our naughty child story is nothing like the good news of the kingdom announced by Jesus. The naughty child story is all about me and my personal guilt; it’s not the grand narrative of a rebellious world being set right under its rightful ruler. It’s not about Jesus, God’s anointed king, executed on a cross by this world’s rulers in rejection of his authority, buried in a tomb, resurrected on the third day and exonerated by God, given all authority in heaven and on earth, ascending the throne to rule until every knee bows and every tongue acknowledges his authority, when he restores the kingship back where it belongs in his Father’s hands so that everything is finally set right. That is good news!

It’s time to stop promoting personal guilt as the means of salvation. That’s a woefully inadequate understanding of sin anyway. Sin is the rebellion against God’s kingship that was already well entrenched before you were born. Repentance is not feeling sorry for your personal deeds; it’s a change of orientation from rebellion to recognition of our true king. Faith is not a matter of believing the doctrines of the Bible as set out by the Reformers. Faith is trusting earth’s true sovereign to restore his world, giving him allegiance to live as his subjects.

We proclaim that Jesus is Lord, the true ruler appointed by God to resolve everything that’s wrong in the world. The good news is the amazing story of how God became king, not through force but through vulnerability, the Lion who gained the crown as a Lamb.

The gospel of the kingdom is your everyday life, your life-long experience of living under Jesus and enacting his kingship in community. It’s not a one-time injection of grace to get you across an imaginary line. This gospel defines our whole life — who we are and what we do each day.

The good news of the kingdom is the announcement of Jesus as Lord. This gospel calls people not to a decision but to life under his kingship, in community with others as his kingdom, with the authority of our king, empowered by his Spirit to function as his physical presence (body), ensuring everyone gets treated as the king wants.

Dump the naughty child story. The gospel cannot be reduced down to a pill to be taken once to save your life. The good news is Jesus our king, and it calls people to life in community under his kingship. It’s time to be the good-news people of the good-news King.


What others are saying

Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, electronic edition (Zondervan, 2011):

I think we’ve got the gospel wrong, or at least our current understanding is only a pale reflection of the gospel of Jesus and the apostles. We need to go back to the Bible to find the original gospel.

Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 52

The gospel is the announcement that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfillment of Israel’s Scriptures. The gospel evokes faith, repentance, and discipleship; its accompanying effects include salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Mark Lauterbach, “Do You Preach Christ?” in Reformation and Revival 11:4 (2002), 63:

This is the gospel, the grand story of the re-establishment of the kingdom of God. The gospel is not about me—it is about the judgment of the present age and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth in which God will dwell with his new people, redeemed from every tribe and nation.

David Seccombe, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Jesus’ Revolutionary Message, electronic edition, (Whitefield Publications, 2016):

The words in the New and Old Testaments which we translate as “gospel” were not special religious terms at the beginning. They had a meaning and a life in the ordinary culture of the ancient world … A gospel at the time of the birth of the New Testament was the announcement of momentous good news, mostly about victory in battle and the rise and fall of kingdoms.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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