I suggested that the gospel is like a brilliant diamond with the work of Jesus at the very core (1 Cor. 15:1-8). While acceptance of this might come in the form of the modern day “salvation prayer”, as I said earlier, the gospel is much more than forgiveness. It certainly includes this but it’s more than we ever thought and all that we hoped would be true.
The good news is that a Kingdom has arrived! The three writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke call this the “Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt. 4:23), meaning this good news is about the rule and reign of Messiah that the Jews were waiting for. In short, this is the good news… God’s effective reigning, His power and authority, are present in the lives of His people and around them. While this Kingdom will be fully realized at a future point, with the coming of Jesus, we have enough to instruct us and motivate us that God’s rule and reign is ultimate reality.
What can get confusing is that Jesus sometimes uses “Gospel of the Kingdom”, and sometimes, “Kingdom of Heaven”. As far as my study goes, there is no appreciable difference between the two. Jesus is announcing, turn back to God’s face for life as God created it, a life full of shalom, happiness, and salvation, is readily available to you. And if you don’t know what God’s face looks like, take a long hard look into the loving face of Jesus.
Further, we shouldn’t see any difference between the gospel as described in Kingdom terms and the gospel described in the disciple John’s terms. If you want a better treatment you can read Chris Green’s Power to Save (which includes the chapter written by Simon Gathercole). John rarely word “Kingdom” to describe the gospel. In fact, he doesn’t even use the word “gospel”. Rather, he describes this good news of the Kingdom as requiring personal transformation – you must be born again and “eternal life”. Both of these terms describe this now and future life that Kingdom language speaks about.
What difference does this make? The gospel is not just about getting forgiveness. It certainly includes that but it’s more. My deepest concern has been that we give people the idea that they pray a prayer “to get saved” and then get really busy living the Christian life. Or that somehow we are rescued by God’s grace (salvation) but then growth (sanctification) is what you do. If salvation is by grace through faith it seems to me that sanctification is by grace through faith as well (it might includes our participation but all growth is caused by God).
The gospel has a Kingdom element to it. The invitation of Jesus in all of our lives is to trust that what He brings with Him is a life connected to the deepest longings of our heart. It is the way of real, deep personal transformation and it tells us that we actually are heading somewhere in life (more on both of these later). And the way to receive this life is to acknowledge that you could never do this or achieve it on your own. It was Jesus’ work on your behalf that secured this very life for you. And so while the prayer can be useful in terms of helping people articulate what’s in their heart, it turns out that the gospel is more compelling than simply pray the prayer to be forgiven. What if the gospel were so simple a child could understand it and prayer is the simplest way to demonstrate acceptance? Yet, what if the gospel is more nuanced that we thought?