I have a minister friend who likes to ask thought-provoking questions on social media. A while back, he asked a question that all Christians ought to ponder. The question was, “How would you articulate the content of the gospel in a single sentence?”
I’m not at all a fan of bumper sticker theology. If you can express your beliefs on a bumper sticker, I fear you may not have accounted for all the variables. Good theology requires nuance.
At the same time, shouldn’t Christians be able to explain the most basic elements of the gospel message in a way that anybody could understand it? So what would you say? What would be your opening sentence to start a conversation about what the Christian faith is all about?
For me, you can’t get much better than the words of Jesus in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” That’s an amazingly compact sentence comprising two closely related indicatives followed by two closely related imperatives.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” A new age has begun, Jesus says. This new age is marked by God’s life-giving power being unleashed upon the world bringing wholeness and redemption to all of life.
“Repent, and believe in the good news.” How should people respond to this amazing turn of events? They must repent—change their mindset and behaviors to bring them into alignment with God’s kingdom. And they must believe—trust, confide in, pledge allegiance to—this wonderfully good news.
Is there more that could be said, even should be said? Absolutely. But why not at least begin with the message that Jesus himself announced when he first proclaimed God’s good news? This, Jesus says, is what he is about. Stray from this, and you may be proclaiming good news about Jesus, but you’re not proclaiming the good news of Jesus.
Jesus proclaimed this good news after John is arrested and just as he is about to call his first disciples by the Sea of Galilee. When the disciples hear him, their response is immediate: they leave everything and follow Jesus.
Isn’t that what we want people to do when we proclaim the good news to them? We want them to buy in: to embrace the message and begin to organize their lives around its implications. If all they do is intellectually assent to a list of doctrines—even perfectly true doctrines—have they done what Jesus says people must do with the gospel?
As we embark upon a new year, let’s consider what it would look like if we got back to the basics in our faith. Let’s make sure we understand the good news of Jesus and authentically call people to follow him.
• What does the phrase “kingdom of God” mean to you? How would you explain this concept in a way that modern hearers could understand it?
• Why are repentance and belief appropriate responses to this message?
• What made the first disciples so eager to follow Jesus?
• What can their willingness to follow teach us about discipleship?
Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.
For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary. Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.