The Gospel’s Good News–And Why Even Some Christians Don’t Believe It


In trying to usurp the role of God, Man walked away from God and created a rift. To counter, God showed Man what it would take to cross that rift and return home to Him. That answer was called the Law. All Man needed to make the Law succeed was to do all of it perfectly.

Problem with the Law: No one got it right. Ever. In the end, what the Law accomplished more than anything else was to show the impossibility of doing it. The Law was a bridge too far, and no one could cross. God showed Man what was needed to make it across, but Man failed utterly.

Peace and rest in JesusExcept one man, Jesus. He kept all the Law perfectly. He achieved the holiness that comes from doing all the Law correctly. And when He had crossed that metaphorical bridge over the rift and reached the other side, Jesus announced, “It is finished.”

Except a lot of people don’t believe it is finished. Even Christians. Therein lies the problem.

Every Sunday in churches across the world, people sit in chairs, pews, and even on the bare ground and wonder what they need to do to cross the bridge. Because the rift is still there, and if they don’t cross the bridge, they remain separated from God. The rift they know. It’s that the bridge has been crossed for them that they fail to grok.

This sitting in church Sunday after Sunday and sometimes days in-between and wondering how one is going to cross that rift is one of the greatest plagues on the modern Church. It’s a sign that even though the Church has the Good News of Jesus, it’s not sinking into people.

The major difference between Christianity and nearly all other religions is that those other religions demand people cross the bridge using their own power, their own religiosity, their own supposed holiness. What methods people use varies from religion to religion, but one thing stays the same: people utterly fail to cross the bridge on their own.

In the Christian faith we have the Good News, or what we call the Gospel. That Good News first heard by the people of Palestine 2,000-plus years ago proclaims that Jesus has come on our behalf, and He will cross the bridge for us. He will keep perfectly all the Law, and not only this, but He will be the sacrifice of blood demanded as recompense for Man creating the rift in the first place.

Jesus came, lived, ministered, and accomplished.

Jesus did it all. It is finished. No more recompense necessary. No more need to cross the bridge on our own. Jesus did it all for us.

The question is of holiness, that which is required to approach a holy, perfect God who has set a bridge across the rift. The answer is in Jesus. His holiness in keeping all the Law and satisfying the debt becomes your holiness and mine. For those who come to Jesus as their hope for crossing, Jesus imputes His holiness. By being in Jesus, we have crossed the bridge and been counted holy and debt-free because God sees what Jesus did for us, not what we try to do for ourselves.

In the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, the stoner rock band releases its newest album the band members believe will be bigger than The Beatles’ White Album. Spinal Tap’s album is entirely black. No band name. No title. No cover information. Nothing but blackness. Trying to wrap their heads around the concept, they ask, “How much more black could this be?” To which comes the answer, “None. None more black.”

How much more holy can a believer in Jesus be? None. None more holy. Jesus did it all on His own for us. Nothing we can do on our own can make us more holy, more acceptable to God. It is finished. We can’t add to what Jesus did, either. Jesus took care of it all. Our ridiculous contributions add nothing. The Bible calls our feeble attempts “dirty rags.”

The fancy word for trying to cross the bridge on our own religious merits is Pelagianism. It should be better known as AbjectFailure-ism. Weirdly, while some people reject Pelagianism, they’re OK with a modified form of it. Saying that Jesus got us mostly there but adding our own merits boosts us all the way across is the mockery of Jesus’ “It is finished” known as Semi-Pelagianism.

Those who love what Martin Luther started in the Protestant Reformation get a hoot out of mocking–for good reason–the stupidity that is Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism.


You see, we have this problem of should-ing in the Protestant Church. Christians who say they believe Jesus when He says He finished it all don’t actually believe. Instead, Church leaders and other well-meaning busybodies tell us we should tithe, should volunteer, should read our Bible ___ number of times a day, and should pray ___ times a day too. We should have a monthly date night with our spouse, should avoid the wrong kinds of movies, should do this thing or that action. Should, should, should. The result? Too few Christians believe that Jesus said He finished the job and paid the price so that we can lay down all these shoulds and live truly free. Instead, we get a message that shoulds all over everyone.

That’s not Good News. It’s removing the chains of the Old Testament Law that Jesus said He fulfilled and freed us from and putting on chains we make out of a mistaken reading of the New Testament. We exchange one imprisonment for another. We’ve just added a coating of Jesus to the chains.

That’s the crazy thing about the Gospel. You and I don’t have more lawful requirements to fulfill. This is what makes the Good News a scandal. The idea that we can’t add anything to what Jesus finished galls people. It angers because we want to be proud of our own religiosity.

The group Jesus opposed more than any other were the Pharisees. They insisted they had crossed the bridge on their merit. When Jesus pointed out that they’d failed miserably, they sought to kill Him. That’s how much they worshiped their own religious pride.

Each of us has his or her own Pharisee inside that insists we can keep the Law and not fail. There’s an American version of that Pharisee too, one that tells us we have other laws to keep such as being beautiful, successful, empowered, in control, and masters of our own American Dream.

Whether an American Phariseeism or the old-fashioned original kind, that Pharisee in us is both deceived and a damned liar.

Jesus condemns this self-righteous, “don’t need your help Jesus because we’ve got this bridge crossing thing covered on our own” Phariseeism every time He can.

In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the younger son tells his father that he wishes dear ol’ dad were dead and demands his inheritance, which he then blows on hookers, booze, and partying. Eventually reduced to coveting slop intended for pigs, he crawls back home demoralized.

At first sight of the prodigal, his father runs to him and tearfully welcomes him with open arms because he loves that messed up ingrate kid so much.

Meanwhile, the elder son stands by dad, pissed, because he never whored around, didn’t squander his inheritance, and was here at home all along, dutifully keeping his own nose clean.

Which of the two sons gets the stern lecture from the father? You’d think the younger, but you’d be very, very wrong.

Jesus also tells the story of a farmer who hires some men at the first of the day to come work in the field after those early risers agree to the wage. But the work is too big, so later in the day he hires more. Then even more. Near the close of the day, the farmer is still hiring.

Finally, the day ends. The farmer pays everyone he hired the same money, but the men who worked from the early morning, who agreed to work for that amount, are hacked off. They insist they acted like the best kind of workers and not like those who frittered away most of the day and only came out to work near sundown. How can the farmer give everyone, fritterers included, the same pay?

In both parables, Jesus points out self-righteousness: We’re scandalized by God’s ignoring of what humans do to try to cross the bridge, incredulous that He looks only at what Jesus has done.

Like the father of the prodigal, God stands at the end of the bridge over the rift with His arms open. In fact, when we hear the fancy spiritual word repentance, all it means is that God has His arms open and simply wants us to cross the bridge and come home to Him. And because the bridge was already crossed by Jesus and the bridge itself paid for, being in Jesus means we’re already considered to have crossed and paid. There’s nothing more to do but rest in the arms of Father God.

No more tragic figure exists than the person who believes Jesus is God but who spends all of life trying to be a “good Christian.” To him or her, I say this: Stop trying! It is finished. Jesus did it all. Rest in Jesus’ success. If you try to perform on His behalf, you’re usurping the role of God again, which was the very error that started this mess!

Some folks will object to this post on the grounds that we need to be slaving away to perfect ourselves to look more like Jesus. But the promise from God is that because of Jesus’ finished work, that’s not our job but God’s alone. He is both the author and finisher of our faith. It’s all on Him to make us look more like Jesus and none of it on us. Can the pot mold itself? No, only the Potter can mold it as He sees fit.

It is finished. All we have to do is acknowledge our failure to get across the bridge on our own and our desperate need for Jesus. Then we can head home and fall into the embrace of our Heavenly Father.

And that’s the Gospel’s Good News.

13 thoughts on “The Gospel’s Good News–And Why Even Some Christians Don’t Believe It

  1. Stephen Rothlisberger

    The author and finisher of our faith: I skimmed through most of the article because, yeah, I’ve heard it all before. Then Bam! that phrase hit me. Given that Jesus is the finisher of my faith, why am I working so hard on the finishing? So I had to go back and re-read the whole article again, slowly.

    Thanks for that, Dan. A Gospel to live by. Good News indeed!

    • Stephen,

      Before I saw your comment, I added this to the post near the end:

      No more tragic figure exists than the person who believes Jesus is God but who spends all of life trying to be a “good Christian.” To him or her, I say this: Stop trying! It is finished. Jesus did it all. Rest in Jesus’ success. If you try to perform on His behalf, you’re usurping the role of God again, which was the very error that started this mess!

      Then I saw your comment, which only drives home the need to say it again.

      Thanks. Rest in Him. It’s life-giving.

  2. Martin Luther once said, “the default setting of the human heart is religion.” Once we accept the completed work of Jesus Christ, we begin to add to it. There is nothing more difficult than to “be” a Christian. It is easier to “do” Christianity. But true doing can only come out of being first. And there is the rub.

  3. Diane Roberts

    You are basically talking about Sanctification–what happens (or at least should happen) after someone is born again and is justified. The BIG question always remains though– how much of a part does the Christian play on the ?Sanctification process? You seem to imply (although I am probably misreading you) that we have nothing to do with it, that it is all God’s responsibility. Perhaps more of a clarification on what is God’s part and what is our part(if any)….?

    • Diane,

      As I get older I realize that the sanctification process is in God’s hands. Period. All the striving by us to be better does not work. Most of the time, we ourselves are unclear on what God is doing to form us, so how can we direct that forming? We can’t. See Jer. 18:1-4. For the Christian, we believe that our destiny is in the hands of God, so if I am a “better” person today or if I’m not, isn’t it all within God’s working? If even the faith I have to believe in Him comes from Him, if He is the source, then what really do I have to contribute other than to allow myself to be placed in Christ and reside there?

      What CAN we do? Lean into God. Always keep going back to Him, abiding in Him. This is a relationship where He does the heavy lifting for us, but we have to rest in Him. If we fall, we go back to Him. If we’re not strong enough for the situation, we go back to Him. It all goes back to Him. That’s all that’s asked of us: Keep going back to Him. That’s what children do instinctively with their parents, and so should we as God’s children.

  4. Heartspeak

    And yet….

    Paul writes multiple times and in mulitple letters of the things that we all SHOULD do (or not do).

    Certainly, there are many who would add to the ‘shoulds’ and place unnecessary burdens to folks. There is nothing we can DO to be a ‘good christian’.

    But as I would hope you agree, our lives are not to be of the ‘que sera, sera’ helplessness variety which some might infer from your post. This apparent contradiction between ‘should’ and ‘it is finished’ leads many to err to either one side or the other with distressing results for either extreme.

    Your response to Diane is correct however. It’s correct because ‘leaning on Him’ (great Christianese btw) is a description of a relationship with Jesus. This relationship is the motivator for us to pursue the ‘shoulds’.

    Too many churches, church leaders and pew sitters view the ‘shoulds’ as measures of one’s sincerity and success of looking like a Christ-follower. That is the sin of the Pharisees that so ticked off Jesus. THAT is where the actual actions of many belie their misunderstanding and lostness. I am confident that this process of sanctification (I truly hate even using a word that is NEVER used in the rest of my life, but for the purposes of this sentence….) is ongoing and, yes, I have no way to ‘manage’ it….

    • Heartspeak,

      I think everything must be read through the lens of Christ’s completed work, including apparent “shoulds.” That’s the only way the Gospel makes sense. I mean, what did the apostles in Acts recommend the gentile believers should do? Not much.

    • I want to add this:

      We Americans are the ultimate boot-strappers and self-makers. Our national psyche is toward self-help and control. If anything, relentlessly leaning away from those tendencies may be the only way to maintain the proper perspective on this. This leads to a strange reality about Americans: We may publicly aknowledge the virtue of selflessness and humility, but we privately abhor it, viewing as weak and ineffectual others who acknowledge their own insufficiency.

  5. stephanie

    first, and im not trying to argue- but does James state that ‘faith without works is dead”? so what is the correlation between faith and works? Also doesnt Jesus say something to the effect of “those who dont produce good fruit will be thrown into the fire” ?
    Second, its easy to understand and believe in ones mind, but do you have any suggestions on how to help drive the message home to ones heart?

    • Stephanie,

      Apologies for the delayed response.

      There are MANY unpackings of James 2 in light of a Protestant Reformation understanding. I would encourage you to Google “Lutheran OR Luther James 2” to get an idea of the scholarly interpretations of this passage in light of grace and of salvation by faith alone.

      As for surrendering, I would just take time to remind myself that God is both the Author and Finisher of my faith, and that what He started in me He promises to complete. It’s on Him. If I am resting in Him, then those things will happen as He plans and in His timing. All I do is stay with Him and those things will come about. That’s it. It all comes down to trusting in God that He is who He says He is and that He is both faithful and trustworthy to work in your life and mine.

  6. Laina

    Hi Dan,

    I’m new here. I found you by looking for home churches in my area. No, I haven’t found one yet. 🙁

    I signed up for your emails hoping to find some help in my search for a local body of believers that truly want to live out the early church understanding of the gospel.

    I just read this post and I think I know what you mean, but I thought I’d share some thoughts – I may totally be misunderstanding your point.

    Because we’re in Christ, have faith in Him and abide in Him, we will fulfill His will as we live out our new spiritual life in Him. He gives us the desire to love, serve and obey His truth.

    I’m studying 1 Peter right now. Peter says we’re chosen to obey. That explains everything we need to do. We do what He tells us in His word to do.

    We must have faith in Him – and that faith is the type of faith that obeys.

    Jesus said a person must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Jesus.

    The epistles are full of how we do that.

    The believer in cooperation with the Holy Spirit lives an obedient life. Each day the believer is learning to put off the old nature and put on the new.

    He’s that living sacrifice that stops being conformed to this world, but instead he’s being transformed by the renewing of his mind.

    We are told by Peter to prepare our minds for action, to be sober and as obedient children we are not to conform any longer to our former lusts.

    We are told, “be holy for I am holy.” We are told to conduct ourselves in fear during our time on this earth.

    We are to love one another fervently, putting aside all malice and deceit, hypocracy, slander, envy, etc.

    There’s so much in God’s word that we are to do. Not should do, but do.

    And we’re able to do and grow in doing because the Holy Spirit leads us and guides us into all truth. We live a powerful life when we yield our lives to Him.

    As we abide in Christ, because He obeyed His Father, so we too can live a life of obedience to our loving Father in Him.

    That’s the beauty and wisdom of the new life we have. It’s in Christ that I’m able to deny myself, to take up my cross, to follow Him.

    Where once we could not live in obedience, we now can through Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

    Joy and peace,

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