The gospel, of course, literally refers to “good news”. Yet what is “good” about it? Who defines that goodness? Some have taken this idea of good news and concluded that if a message doesn’t sound or feel appealing to an unbeliever, then it must not be the real gospel, for the gospel is supposed to be good news to people who hear it. Thus, from this perspective, it is the man in Indonesia or the woman in Oman who is determining whether the missionary is actually a herald of good news or not.
Consider the following passage:
“For when Gentiles (or “nations” – Gr. “ethnos”) who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” Rom. 2:14-16
Paul is addressing the question of justification and the New Covenant as it relates to Jews and the rest of the nations of the earth. He concludes this segment by saying that part of his “gospel” – his apostolic good news – is the truth of a day when God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. Right away this doesn’t sound like a warm and fuzzy announcement to us. It actually comes across as quite foreboding. Context only strengthens this impression.
Earlier in the chapter, Paul says, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds…” (Rom. 2:5-6) And then in the very next chapter we find this question from the apostle: “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous is He? (I am speaking in human terms). May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?” (Rom. 3:5-6)
So, according to Paul’s good news, there is a day when God will judge the secrets of all men through the Lord Jesus. And it is clear from the immediate context that this “day” is the day of wrath when the God who inflicts wrath will reveal His righteousness and judge the entire world.
This passage does not reflect the entirety of Paul’s gospel. We are not attempting to be comprehensive. There are clearly other crucial facets of the good news. Yet the looming question at hand is “how is this even part of it?” How is the Day of wrath, reckoning, and judgment good for someone to hear?
The certainty of God’s judgment actually is good news if we view it in the right perspective. The alternative – the prospect of God forever tolerating wickedness and never bringing recompense for injustice – is far more dreadful. The intended lesson from this brief study, however, is that the gospel is good because it is true. It is a note of clarity in the midst of a chorus of lies; it is a ray of light shining in the dark landscape of this present evil age. The gospel is good because it shatters the walls of falsehood imprisoning the lost through the liberty of reality – whether that reality first manifests itself to us in the extravagance of mercy or the severity of judgment. In other words, the gospel is good because it is from God and it is about God (cf. Gal. 1:11-12). God alone ultimately defines the goodness of the news we herald – not the subjective response of the hearer, not whether it feels palatable to the audience.
This lesson also serves to frame the question of evangelism primarily in light of faithfulness and accuracy, rather than outward impact or responsiveness. “As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is accursed!” The Godward orientation of the gospel is why Paul immediately follows this grave warning with, “For am I now seeking the favor of man, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:9-10)
The gospel may or may not please man, but it is still good either way. Let us be diligent to search out the truth of the gospel and proclaim it with boldness, confident of its unchanging goodness in the sight of God.