Good News? What’s So Good About It?

laughing-jesusAll the religious/political hooplah that’s been in the news so much recently has left many people with a bitter taste in their mouths when it comes to Christianity. And understandably so.

Images of shunning people and public shaming  (à la John MacArthur), denying their very existence and resisting their legal rights (à la Southern Baptist Convention on transgender people), labeling them broken in need of repair because of their natural sexual orientation (à la Texas GOP platform), and the radical claims that LGBTQ people, simply by insisting on equal civil rights, are a threat to the Church and “the American Way of Life” (à la Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council, Franklin Graham, Pat RobertsonFocus on the Family, and other groups about LGBT people) … all these negative portrayals of a faith that claims to have LOVE as its central principle, have left most religiously unaffiliated people with an extremely negative impression of the followers of Jesus.

Such is the inevitable result of mixing faith with the politics of domination and control.

It’s obvious to many people that this approach is completely antithetical to the teaching of the Prince of Peace who allowed himself to be crushed by civil authority rather than to impose his own power over it.

And it’s left a lot of people asking a very important question:
If this is all nonsense, then what actually is the Gospel?

Even after all these generations of being a supposedly “Christian nation,” of being the most overly-churched, overly-exposed people to the Gospel in the entire world, we still have it ALL wrong. We still have very little idea what that “Gospel” is really all about. But then again, religious people are almost always the last to grasp the simple truth.

What Good News?

When Jesus first started doing public ministry, way back 2000 years ago, the very first words he said were: “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is here. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15). I was rereading this a few days ago, and I was stumped by the phrase. “Believe the good news”? What good news?

Mark, the gospel writer, never explains what that is. Of course, it had to be related to the Kingdom of God arriving, but what did that really mean? Well, we have four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — and each describes the same events from different perspectives. Like four people at a party, each will remember and highlight certain things that were particularly important to him, bringing out details that the others may have overlooked. So I flipped over to Luke’s account to see if he could fill in the missing details: What good news?

Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue … The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Everyone spoke well of him and were amazed at his gracious words” (Lk 4:16-22).

There It Is … Something Good

And there it was — the good news. And these religious folks, these people who had read and memorized their Bibles all their lives, were amazed at what he was teaching them. Jesus didn’t just read to them, he “began by saying to them”, so he must have spent some time elaborating, explaining, telling them familiar truths in a way they’d never heard before. He opened their eyes for the first time in their lives to the true heart of God, hidden in words they already knew so well.

And this is it…

  • That religious prison you’ve been living in all your life — you’re free from it.
  • That view of God you’ve had all these years, the God who counts your sins, the one whom you try so hard to please but keep failing — here’s a different view. See the Father in a new way: not through laws and rules and religious lifestyle, but in simplicity of a loving relationship. Don’t be blind anymore to the true character of God. Open your eyes and see.
  • That oppression you’ve been living under, the frustration of constant failure to live up to other people’s expectations and rules and regulations, trying to force you into a mold of “holiness” — you’re released from all that.
  • Oh, and by the way, the time has come, your King is here now, and that means you NOW live in a time of God’s favor. You’re accepted, you’re loved, unconditionally, just as your are, right now, independent of your ability to live up to all these legalistic standards. It’s a whole new world, a whole new age. You are completely free from all that old stuff, and you already have God’s blessings and favor. It’s yours now.

And you don’t have to do anything to have it except receive it. That’s the good news!

So why do we make things so complicated, so religious, so legalistic about our relationship with God — even after two thousand years — when it’s so simple?

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim freedom …”

What is the Gospel? What is the Good News?
In a single word, the heart of the good news is Freedom.

Freedom from ANY rule or protocol or standard of behavior required to enjoy the company of the Creator of the Universe in your normal, day-to-day life.

Real Life

But what does look like in real life? Simplicity itself.

You know those rules people told you about, things you had to do to please God? Or those things you weren’t doing, and that’s why God wasn’t pleased with you? Throw them all out.

You know how you were told you couldn’t wear too much make-up because it would displease God? Or how your hair was too long? Or that that tattoo you had on your arm was a sin? Or your dress was too short, or your ear was pierced too many times? Or how you went clubbing last night, or had too many drinks — or that you had a drink at all? Or that the person you love is the wrong gender? It’s all garbage.

To use the language of Old Testament law, that shirt you are wearing was made from two types of fabric: you’re a sinner. You cut the hair at the corners of your head. God is displeased. The tassels on your shirt are not showing in public — you failed. You walked too far on the Sabbath. You must die. You didn’t bring your whole tithe into God’s house — you are cursed. You ate shrimp for dinner last night — you are an abomination. You had pepperoni on your pizza — you must be outcast and shunned. Or the person you love is the same gender as you. You are abhorrent to God, and your blood is on your own hands. Rubbish. It’s all garbage.

That’s why the Apostle Paul, who used to be one of the biggest legalists of his time, could say, “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins. He canceled the written code that was against us and that stood opposed to us, with all its regulations. He took it away, nailing it to the cross. … Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink …” (Col 2:13-16).

The great news flash of Jesus is this:
none of these rules has ANY intrinsic spiritual value.

Not one of these rules can make you holy, and none of these has the power to make you unholy. The good news is that you are free from all these regulations and standards.

And anyone who tries to impose these on you again as a way of pleasing God is a liar, a prison-keeper, someone who wants to put you in chains — against the very Declaration of Freedom Jesus himself proclaimed.

You are FREE from the prison of religious rules and restrictions.
You are RELEASED from the oppression of other people’s expectations of your life as a way of having a relationship with the God who loves you.
The true image of your Father is RESTORED – one who accepts you, loves you, without any condition. And that blindness which kept you from seeing his true nature, which always made you think he was angry with you — it’s gone.
And on top you your total freedom, here’s the bonus. You walk in God’s FAVOR, whether you feel like it or not.

You were poor because all this freedom was kept from you. You walked alone in the misery of your life because religious people all around you told you that you had to take on the burden of all these rules and laws of “godly living” in order to have the blessings that are already yours.

This is the good news. You are FREE. You are FAVORED.

And when you walk in that simple, uncomplicated relationship with the Father who loves you, you will slowly begin fulfilling “godly standards” automatically. You won’t want to kill or steal. You won’t want to disrupt the beauty of someone’s marriage by having an affair with one of the spouses. You won’t want to gossip or bad-mouth your boss or that irritating co-worker because you know in your heart how hurtful that is. You’ll start feeling compassion for your neighbor who’s trying to deal with screaming kids. You’ll be concerned about that old woman down the street who can’t afford groceries. As you walk in the freedom of God’s love, your heart will be transformed. Any code of behavior that God is concerned about will be written on your heart, and you’ll do them naturally as you grow. No rules. No one telling you what you must do. Just natural living, loving God and loving your neighbor. Free.

And the good news is it’s already done. The time has come. Your King has arrived – and he wants an intimate relationship with you! You can have peace with God, you can have the wonders of his friendship — and it all comes without a rulebook. The good news is you can tear up that old rulebook and throw it in the garbage where it belongs.

Anything else is worthless. It’s nothing more than legalistic prison. You are free. You are released. You can see God as he is. And he is already pleased with you: you already walk in his favor. Because of Jesus, there’s nothing you need to do except believe it.

And that’s good news worth celebrating!

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared in Cafe Inspirado, in Nov 2011.

 

 

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STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.

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Being a Gay Evangelical

Gay EvangelicalsI grew up in the church. I even remember my first day being dropped off in the church nursery, and I kicked and screamed, terrified as my mother left me to attend the service. I think I was three.

My parents were God-fearing people, and not just in the churchy way. We didn’t have the Sunday newspaper delivered because that would be causing someone to work on the Lord’s Day. We didn’t watch TV on Sundays, we weren’t allowed to play loudly outdoors on Sunday – it was a day of Rest, after all. And, of course, like all good Christians, we went to both morning and evening services, and the only reason we didn’t go Wednesday nights was because my dad worked the B-shift. Getting up in the morning to get ready for school, I’d see my mom sitting on the living room couch, reading her Bible and talking to her Lord. My dad got up later, and his morning was spent literally on his knees at the side of his bed, his Bible open in front of him.  We had our weekly Bible memory verses magnetted to the refrigerator door, and it seemed like my dad would quiz us on them whenever he saw us.  These were believers.

We all were.

But one of us was a traitor – or least it felt that way to the quiet, introverted, sensitive and intellectual boy that I was.

anita-bryant-newsweekOur church was not a fire-and-brimstone kind of church, even if a lot of the messages seemed geared toward getting us into heaven. And I can’t recall actually hearing a sermon on the evils of homosexuality, but it certainly was talked about in the church. These were the days of Anita Bryant, defender of the faith, and of Harvey Milk, though I wouldn’t hear of him for 30 years.  These were the early days of the counter-culture “Gay Liberation” movement, and of the reactionary movements within the church to prevent homosexuals from holding teaching positions in public schools. In fact, I remember having this confrontation with my parents because I refused to sign a petition to our Congressman circulating in the church, demanding that he vote against allowing these perverted individuals from having influence over school children. Everyone in my family had signed it. I refused.  I was nowhere near “out,” I was still terrified that anyone would even suspect my secret attraction, but there was also no way I was going to become my own enemy. I wouldn’t be a part of persecuting people like myself.

And of course I’d heard over and over again that homosexuals could never inherit the kingdom of God. We made religious heroes of murderers and swindlers who’d turned to Christ. They had powerful “testimonies.” Every sin, every sinner, was redeemable. Except the homosexuals.  It was sad, because God loved them, but even Christ’s blood would not save them. They were irreversibly bound for hell – unless they stopped being gay.

And yet I maintained my faith.  I could not defend it Scripturally, I had no theological skills to bring to bear, but I knew in my heart that I had a relationship with God. And even if he hated the fact that I wanted to kiss another boy, I never doubted my salvation. I knew Jesus lived in my heart – it was more than just the sinner’s prayer that bought me eternal fire insurance. I had, as they taught us to say, “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

The fires of hell did not await me. Of that I was confident. But that didn’t mean that I was comfortable with myself. I had no answers. I believed the Bible, and the Bible was pretty clear (even if it seemed contradictory: I believed, therefore I was saved – except for the fact that I was gay?)  And I did what so many of my gay evangelical brothers and sisters did (and some still do): I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. I rebuked Satan. I bound the demon of homosexuality. I fasted. I tried to brainwash myself, to reprogram my attraction. I read books (I had to sneak them because they’d be a dead giveaway). I read the love and sex advice column of my Campus Life magazines, glad to read of anyone sharing my struggle.  And once in a while, as an early teen, I’d get the schizophrenic simultaneous feelings of disgust and camaraderie when I’d walk past the old fire station, converted into a hippy, Gay Lib headquarters.

And when my friends would pull out their Penthouse magazines, in moments of sinful weakness when I would look at them with them, I’d focus on the men in the shots while my buddies ogled the naked women.  And then, ashamed of my perversion, I’d ask God’s forgiveness afterwards.

The church talked about the power of the Blood, how only Jesus could change someone and save them. That was fine for murderers, adulterers and drug addicts. But that power didn’t make a dent in my particular affliction.

aids-activismAnd then AIDS hit.  Everywhere we turned around, gay people were getting sick in horrible, grotesque, concentration-camp kind of ways. And many in the church-world were less than loving about this. This was God’s punishment on willful rebellion. This was what the Bible meant by men “receiving in themselves the due recompense of their error.”

I couldn’t shake it. Nothing I did had any affect. The attraction was persistent. But the sheer terror of public persecution kept me from ever acting on it. Even going to a state university where you’d expect a wild, liberating environment of young adults free from parental restraints for the first time, even there the fear of ridicule and shame kept me from seeking out people like myself, the still silent underground.

I didn’t give up the fight until I was in my late-20s.  By then, I’d fallen in love with a guy who was completely “out” and completely comfortable with himself. He even introduced me to his parents as his boyfriend – something that nearly paralyzed me with dread.  But by then, understanding it or not, reconciling my faith with it or not, I knew I was never going to change.  Still struggling with my own cognitive dissonance, the opposition of my faith with my reality, I decided to at least begin living the life I’d dreamt of my whole life: having a boyfriend, someone who loved me as much as I loved him.  The rest would have to sort itself out along the way.

And it actually did. Like so many other things of a spiritual nature, truth seldom comes while we sit in our closets praying for revelation. God often speaks and moves while we are moving.  Sitting on the bus on my way to meet my boyfriend’s parents, I hung my head in sorrow one more time. “I’m so sorry, Lord. I know you don’t approve of this, but I have to do this.”  And with a clarity as though spoken by someone sitting next to me on that bus came four words that changed the course of my life: “I’m not accusing you.”

I would learn years later that this was not an uncommon experience among my evangelical and charismatic brothers and sisters. We believe that God speaks. And sometimes he speaks very, very clearly. I’ve since met many gay and lesbian believers who had encounters similar to mine. In a moment of utter frustration and futility, after we’ve wrestled with this demon for years, and we’re often on our knees, throwing ourselves in abject failure on the mercy of God, unexpected words of peace come. “I made you this way. Your prayers were never answered because I never wanted you to change.”  Or, in the words said to that great apostle, “Saul, Saul, why are kicking against the goads?”

Did the answers suddenly fall into place? Did I – we – finally come to peace with the Bible passages used to clobber us so often? No.

For most of us, that would be a continuing journey, learning to harmonize Scripture (or as some fundamentalists prefer to say, learn how to twist Scripture) in a way that would allow us to maintain our evangelical beliefs and yet still be true to ourselves.  I spent years in seminary and grad school studying theology – not for that reason, of course – and still had no satisfactory answer. Until one day after I’d long since given up on chasing those rabbits, and it occurred to me to “go back to the basics.”  All that theologizing, reading all those religious books that parsed out every condemning verse in the Bible and explained it in a non-condemning way, juggling text with context, was exhausting. And for me, unsatisfying.  Yes, if cornered in a debate, I could argue the theological points and defend my position. But that didn’t mean I was convinced. They were just defensive weapons. But something inside me lead me to believe that the truth could be found in the very Scriptures I was taught in Sunday School and on my father’s knee.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16.  Start with the Gospel of John.

 

Back to the Basics

So I read it, probably for the millionth time in my life.  And the words poured out, over and over again. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned.” “Whoever believes in me, even though he is dead, yet shall he live.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.” “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”1 …  Simple truth. I believed. And it wasn’t just a mental thing, some words I confessed or a creed I would repeat.  Jesus said whoever believed in him would be saved. Period.  How do you argue with that?  It’s the bedrock of evangelical Christianity.

Then came the Book of Acts.  It’s the next book in the Bible after John. And it is chock full of stories about the early church after the ascension of Jesus, wrestling with “The Law” and what it means to be “saved.”  Non-Jews wanted to join this Jewish messianic movement, and the apostles just didn’t know what to do with them.  Did they have to convert to Judaism first? Did they have to get circumcised? Did they have to observe the Sabbath – one of the cornerstones of God’s Covenant with Israel? What about the rest of the Law, the Torah? In order to embrace the Jewish messiah, the Son of Israel’s God, did these non-Jews have to embrace the commandments of Israel’s God? And all through the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit moves in ways that answer definitively: NO!  Peter has a vision, and God commands him to “call nothing and no one unclean whom I have made clean.”  The Holy Spirit descends on Gentiles and they not only are “saved” but they even speak in tongues as those in Jerusalem had.  Peter, and later Paul, both argue the same point: if relationship with God could be earned through obedience to commandments, then the Cross of Jesus was meaningless. “Christ died for nothing.” “Why do we put God to the test by burdening the Gentiles with a yoke that we Jews ourselves have not been able to bear? We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, and they are as well.”2

The unavoidable conclusion:
Relationship with God – salvation – comes independent of keeping Biblical commandments – the Law.

And where were most of these Biblical passages that condemned me as a gay man, that told me I was an abomination in God’s sight? The Law.  The Law condemned homosexual acts (at least male homosexual acts), and for whatever reason and no matter how you dissected the historical context, this prohibition was part of “the Law” from which I was set free. My salvation had nothing to do with my ability to keep that rule.

And then, after Acts, came Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, that primary book of salvation.  Justification by faith alone. Paul himself arguing strenuously that we are saved by God’s grace, received by our faith. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith, apart from observing the law.” “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight … But now apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested: the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”3

Roman-RoadIn Sunday School, we’d been taught the “Roman Road” – the way to win souls to Jesus just by using verses from the Book of Romans – and now that Roman Road was once again proving my salvation.

It was a process that occurred over several weeks once I’d started. John – Acts – Romans.  Then later, Galatians: really just recap of Romans.  Reinforcement: “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law or by believing what you heard? Having begun with the Spirit are you now being made perfect by the flesh, by keeping the Law?”4

You foolish evangelicals! Having begun in faith, having confessed the power of the Blood shed on the Cross by the Son of God himself, having claimed over and over our “freedom from the Law,” our Christian liberty, our ability to eat pork and shrimp, to wear clothes of mixed fabric, to cut the hair on the corners of our head, to be circumcised or not as irrelevant, to completely ignore Saturday as God’s chosen Sabbath and instead use Sunday as the Lord’s Day. We who boast in our salvation attained solely by the grace of God and received by faith – independent of keeping any commandment – why have we insisted that fellow believers who call on the name of the same Lord are denied access to the Kingdom of Heaven simply because they do not keep that single law? Who bewitched us?

In honesty, it’s more complicated than that. The same Paul who preached salvation by grace and faith apart from law, is the same man who wrote harsh words about those who used their new spiritual liberty as a way to indulge their fleshy desires. Homosexuals are targeted by these two or three sentences written by Paul, but Paul lumps those who gossip or overeat, who get drunk, or who accumulate wealth – the greedy – in the same group as those perverse homosexuals.  There is a whole list of sins specified that would exclude participants from God’s kingdom.  But we conveniently ignore them as we graze at the Sunday buffet after church, or we talk about Sister Sally and that affair she’s having with the associate pastor.

There are tons of books out there which deal with these difficult passages, which explain them in ways that make sense (basically stating that the word translated as “homosexual” actually refers to sex-trafficking and the like). Feel free to look them up.  For me, this debate is now as significant as the ongoing discussion about whether women should be allowed to preach in church, or whether they may even go into a church without wearing a veil or hat. Trivial. Or the word God whispered to me in a moment of doubt: insignificant.

The bottom line is that the belief that gay men and women forfeit their salvation is as groundless as claiming we’d be kicked out of heaven for not being circumcised.
Or not wearing a hat.

Getting back to the basics of Christianity, answering the deep cry in the heart of all of humanity, “What must I do to be saved? What does the Lord require of me?” – once and for all settled that theological dispute in my head, that faith-reality disconnect.  And it is simple. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved – you and your household” (Acts 16:30-31).  Everything else is a distraction.

Similar Routes

That was my journey. That was how I finally came to terms with being an evangelical believer who also happens to be gay.

Other LGBT Christians likely take different routes in reconciling their sexuality with their faith. But I think we share a similar process. We come to accept ourselves first, the unchangeable reality of who we are as gay men and women. And that often takes many, many years. Often, it takes a direct word from God himself to bring us to that point: “I have not rejected you; I still love you, and you are mine – just as you are.” Then we’ll try to make peace with Scripture. Some will take refuge in the academic approach. Answers can be found through history and literary analysis. But some may bypass that route entirely, and end up dismissing Scripture from their lives in some way. They’ll maintain their faith, they’ll cling to God, to Jesus, to the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, and they’ll be devoted followers of Jesus. But they’ll shed their evangelical label like someone rescued from a cult. They’re now “ex-evangelical” or “post-evangelical.”  And that’s absolutely fine. Jesus never said you had to accept the Bible to be saved, literally or not. He said “Believe in me. Follow me.”

But there are many of us who still cling to our evangelical heritage and identity. We still hold to the authority of Scripture, and honor its place in our lives. In Scripture, we still read the Good News, God’s love letter to us – even to us gay believers. For me, that came about by focusing again on the core of Christianity as taught by my evangelical parents and teachers: by getting back to the basics.  The Gospel of John, the Book of Acts, and Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  Believe and receive eternal life. The Law plays no part in salvation. We are reconciled to God, and our relationship with God is based on his grace received by faith.

With that simple truth as my foundation, I still call myself a gay evangelical.


 

1. John 3:17, 11:25, 14:6, 3:36, 5:24, and lots of others
2. Acts 15, 10:9-29, 10:44-46, 15:10-11
3. Romans 3:23, 3:28, 3:20-22, and all through the book
4. Galatians 3:1-3

If you’re feeling rejected or beat up by your church of family, here’s a short list of “Rescue Passages” to remind you that God does love you and has a place and purpose for you in this life.

 

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STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
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Good News? What Good News?

laughing-jesusWeird thing happened last night at church. A bunch of us got together for our weekly Bible study, and, it being the night before Thanksgiving, only a handful of people showed up. And we talked, and joked, and laughed like we normally do. And then it was time to get down to business. Leading the group, I started praying. And I was still laughing while I prayed. Even as we all lifted some of the concerns and requests up to God, I described the various situations to God as any of us do in a group of friends we enjoy being around. Real issues, real stories, but told from the comical side, sharing the joke with God.  Laughing in the Throne Room.

And it struck me: I’ve never in my life seen a preacher laughing while praying in church.

How ridiculous. Why are we always so serious, so “religious” about talking to God? Laughing, expressing our humor with God should be the most natural thing in the world. And I think it’s because even after all these generations of being a supposedly “Christian nation”, of being the most overly-churched, overly-exposed people to the Gospel in the entire world, we still have it ALL wrong. We still have very little idea what that “Gospel” is really all about. But then again, religious people are almost always the last to grasp the simple truth.

What Good News?
When Jesus first started doing public ministry, way back 2000 years ago, the very first words he said were: “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is here. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15). I was rereading this a few days ago, and I was stumped by the phrase. “Believe the good news”? What good news? Mark, the gospel writer, never explains what that is. Of course, it had to be related to the Kingdom arriving, but what did that really mean? Well, we have four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — and each describes the same events from different perspectives. Like four people at a party, each will remember and highlight certain things that were particularly important to him, bringing out details that the others may have overlooked. So I flipped over to Luke’s account to see if he could fill in the missing details: what good news?

Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue … The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Everyone spoke well of him and were amazed at his gracious words” (Lk 4:16-22).

There It Is
And there it was — the good news. And these religious folks, these people who had read their Bibles all their lives, were amazed at what he was teaching them. Jesus didn’t just read to them, he “began by saying to them”, so he must have spent some time elaborating, explaining, telling them familiar truths in a way they’d never heard before. He opened their eyes for the first time in their lives to the true heart of God, hidden in words they already knew so well. And this is it…

That religious prison you’ve been living in all your life — you’re free from it. That view of God you’ve had all these years, the God who counts your sins, the one whom you try so hard to please but keep failing — here’s a different view. See the Father in a new way: not through laws and rules and religious lifestyle, but in simplicity of a loving relationship. Don’t be blind anymore to the true character of God. Open your eyes and see. That oppression you’ve been living under, the frustration of constant failure to live up to other people’s expectations and rules and regulations, trying to force you into a mold of “holiness” — you’re released from all that. Oh, and by the way, the time has come, your King is here now, and that means you NOW live in a time of God’s favor. You’re accepted, you’re loved, unconditionally, just as your are, right now, independent of your ability to live up to all these legalistic standards. It’s a whole new world, a whole new age. You are completely free from all that old stuff, and you already have God’s blessings and favor. It’s yours now. And you don’t have to do anything to have it except believe it. That’s the good news!

So why are we so serious, so religious, so legalistic about our relationship with God — even after two thousand years — when it’s so simple? In a single word, the heart of the good news is freedom. Freedom from ANY rule or protocol or standard of behavior required to enjoy the company of the Creator of the Universe in your normal, day-to-day life.

Real Life
But what does look like in real life? Simplicity itself.

You know those rules people told you about, things you had to do to please God? Or those things you weren’t doing, and that’s why God wasn’t pleased with you? Throw them all out.

You know how you were told you couldn’t wear too much make-up because it would displease God? Or how your hair was too long? Or that that tattoo you had on your arm was a sin? Or your dress was too short, or your ear was pierced too many times? Or how you went dancing last night, or had too many drinks — or that you had a drink at all? It’s all garbage. To use the language of the Old Testament, that shirt you are wearing was made from two types of fabric: you’re a sinner. You cut the hair at the corners of your head. God is displeased. The tassels on your shirt are not showing in public — you failed. You walked too far on the Sabbath. You must die. You didn’t bring your whole tithe into God’s house — you are cursed. You ate shrimp for dinner last night — you are an abomination. You had pepperoni on your pizza — you must be outcast and shunned. Or — hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen — the person you love is the same gender as you. You are abhorrent to God, and your blood is on your own hands. Rubbish. It’s all garbage.

That’s why the Apostle Paul, who used to be one of the biggest legalists of his time, could say, “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins. He canceled the written code that was against us and that stood opposed to us, with all its regulations. He took it away, nailing it to the cross. … Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink …” (Col 2:13-16).

News Flash
The great news flash of Jesus is this: none of these rules has ANY intrinsic spiritual value. Not one of these can make you holy, and none of these has the power to make you unholy. The good news is that you are free from all these regulations and standards. And anyone who tries to impose these on you again as a way of pleasing God is a liar, a prison-keeper, someone who wants to put you in chains — against the very Declaration of Freedom Jesus himself proclaimed.

You are FREE from the prison of religious rules and restrictions.
You are RELEASED from the oppression of other people’s expectations of your life as a way of having a relationship with the God who loves you.
The true image of your Father is RESTORED – one who accepts you, loves you, without any condition. And that blindness which kept you from seeing his true nature, which always made you think he was angry with you — it’s gone.
And on top you your total freedom, here’s the bonus. You walk in God’s FAVOR, whether you feel like it or not.

You were poor because all this freedom was kept from you. You walked alone in the misery of your life because religious people all around you told you that you had to take on the burden of all these rules and laws of “godly living” in order to have the blessings that are already yours.

This is the good news. You are FREE. You are FAVORED. And when you walk in that simple, uncomplicated relationship with the Father who loves you, you will slowly begin fulfilling “godly standards” automatically. You won’t want to kill or steal. You won’t want to disrupt the beauty of someone’s marriage by having an affair with one of the spouses. You won’t want to gossip or bad-mouth your boss or that irritating co-worker because you know in your heart how hurtful that is. You’ll start feeling compassion for your neighbor who’s trying to deal with screaming kids. You’ll be concerned about that old woman down the street who can’t afford groceries. As you walk in the freedom of God’s love, your heart will be transformed. Any code of behavior that God is concerned about will be written on your heart, and you’ll do them naturally as you grow. No rules. No one telling you what you must do. Just natural living. Free.

The good news is it’s already done. The time has come. Your King has arrived – and he wants an intimate relationship with you! You can have peace with God, you can have the wonders of his friendship, and it all comes without a rulebook. The good news is you can tear up that old rulebook and throw it in the garbage where it belongs.

Anything else is worthless. It’s nothing more than legalistic prison. You are free. You are released. You can see God as he is. And he is already pleased with you: you already walk in his favor. Because of Jesus, there’s nothing you need to do except believe it.

And that’s good news worth celebrating!