What is the gospel?

Recently I had a conversation with a pastor who just planted a church. He shared that the primary difficulty he faced was in getting members of the church involved in evangelism and missions. According to him, most of the members were contented just attending weekly services because they saw their task in believing the gospel as having been completed. “Once they believe the gospel, they consider the spiritual side of their life as settled. They move on with their physical life” he said. I shared the comments of the pastor with my friend and expressed some concern. My friend however, was quick to point out that the church in Singapore wasn’t too different. As I thought about it, I realised that perhaps my friend wasn’t altogether wrong.

Among churches, there is a known saying that 80% of the church work is done by 20% of the church members. What this saying implies is that the work distribution of the church is not balanced and that there is still a large majority of church members who don’t actually serve in any capacity. While this may not be accurate for every single church, I believe that for some churches this may still remain true. There could be various reasons for this but in the case of the pastor that I spoke to, his congregation didn’t see the need to serve because they felt that their job as Christians was complete now that they had believed the gospel. Whether or not there are Christians in Singapore who similarly feel that way is something I cannot ascertain. But hearing the pastor share did lead me to wonder what exactly was communicated to them concerning salvation and the gospel. Being in the Christian circle for a couple years, perhaps one version of the gospel that may have been communicated goes something like this: “God created the world and He desires for us to be in a relationship with Him. But due to man’s disobedience/sin, we have eternally separated ourselves from God. However, out of God’s love for us, He sent his son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins so that He can have a relationship with us again. If we believe in Jesus Christ and his atoning work, we will be granted salvation and eternal life as our relationship with God is restored.”

I’m not sure if this version of the gospel sounds familiar to any of you reading this post. But if it does, then maybe you’ll agree with me that this version of the gospel could potentially be the cause of people not actually serving in church. How so? Under this account of the gospel, the Christian goal is met the day one believes in Jesus. His job is essentially done. Any service he does is a bonus or add on. What is essential has been met. It is now time to move on to more important things like earning more money. Those who want to serve the church are the ‘A students’.

Such a view of the gospel not only makes serving an appendix or a bonus but it also says almost nothing about the role the gospel ought to play in our everyday lives. The reality is that most of us will not be trained clergies. Instead we end up working in different sectors of society. Given a gospel that is focused primarily on personal salvation and the need for a personal response, what bearing does this gospel actually have in terms of the work that we do and service for the church?

At the same time, from reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we know that service isn’t simply an optional good. It’s an integral part of Christian life. Each member has been given a gift for the building up of the body (the church). There is an assumption that service and the participation in church life is part of what it means to believe in the gospel.

Growing up in a Christian environment, we tend to assume that we already know what the gospel is. We want something new and exciting, not the same old boring gospel. But it is really through conversations and observations like the one I had with the pastor and friend that makes me pause and ask again: What is the gospel?

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