Forgiveness and Helping
Gospel. Gospel means “good news.” In the New Testament it refers to the good news of Jesus Christ. In churches it often means a body of doctrine you must believe in order to be saved and to be in good standing.
Paul defines the gospel in Romans 15 as four items of first importance: Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he was raised after three days, and he appeared to the disciples. The point about Jesus appearing is critically important because it means too many people saw him to deny that his resurrection really happened. It is a fact.
It is because of the gospel - Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and appearance, that we have forgiveness of sins and fresh standing with God and the community. Paul said, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you” (v.2). That is good news, good news because our lives need forgiveness and restoration to God.
There is a parable about forgiveness and restoration that we are all very familiar with. Luke 15 tells the story of a young man who left his father’s house to go party. Jesus said he squandered his wealth in wild living. His brother specifically mentioned prostitutes. What a waste of the family’s resources and his young life. What this young man committed was personal, rebellious sin. His chosen lifestyle was sin, and it was his fault. He needed the gospel: he needed forgiveness. That would be good news for him, to know that he was forgiven and reconciled to the important people in his life: his family. And, he was forgiven and restored. Gospel.
But, there is another parable in the New Testament with a different view of good news. If we sin and separate ourselves from God and others, good news means we are forgiven and restored to God and others. But, what if we are not the perpetrator of sin, but instead we are the victim of sin? What does good news mean to the victim of sin?
In Luke 10 we have the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story a man is traveling when he is attacked by a violent gang, beaten, robbed, and left for dead. But, good news! Two preachers walk by. Surely they will help him. Ah, no, that doesn’t happen. Apparently they have some spiritual business to attend to and can’t spare the time, nor can they risk being ceremonially contaminated by the uncleanness of the poor victim. So, they pass by. But, another fellow happens by, a Samaritan. He cleanses the man’s wounds and takes him to a motel, paying all the expenses incurred. The Samaritan was the bearer of good news.
As in the story of the Prodigal Son, there is sin in the story of the Good Samaritan. In the first story, the one who committed sin needed forgiveness, and he received it. Good news. In the second story, the man who was beaten was the victim of someone else’s sin. He didn’t commit the sin, but he was damaged by it. It was not his fault. What did this poor man need? Not forgiveness, but help. He needed to be cleaned, bandaged, fed, and given a place to stay. That for him is good news, and God gave it all to him through the actions of the Samaritan.
Two gospel stories, two good news stories, one involving forgiveness, and one involving charity. The gospel involves both. On the one hand, the gospel is forgiveness. God forgives, and we must, too. We must forgive those God forgives. Further, we must be agents of God’s forgiveness. There is action - we preach and teach the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
On the other hand, the gospel is about helping. It is caring and ministry. This form of the gospel involves action as well, such as social engagement with other people, dispensing charity, mercy and justice as God reveals the need to us. We are agents of God’s charity.
For the gospel to be good news, it must touch people where their needs are. For some, those needs are the healing of the soul through forgiveness. For others, it is the healing of the body through food and compassionate care. Our role in the good news is to share with others what God reveals to us they need. (Idea from The Externally Focused Quest).