The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The gospel

Hello friends

Not too long ago, TotalVictory started a thread titled “Just what is the good news” and a while before that, Dondi started a thread called “Definition of the gospel”.

Definition of the gospel ended rather abruptly, Just what is the good news just sort of, ended.

Anyway, I’d like to propose my current understanding of the gospel and ask for feedback on it. Is it enough? Has it missed anything absolutely categorically vital? Is it biblical? (whatever that means).

As a contrast, the standard traditional form of “the gospel” probably goes something like

God loves you
You’re a sinner
God can’t stand sin and you need to be punished for it
He sent Jesus to die in your place to take the punishment meant for you
If you trust in Jesus, you’ll be forgiven and get to go to heaven
If you reject Jesus, you’ll spend eternity in hell

Now, what about this…

God has already forgiven your sins.
He showed this by offering Jesus as a sacrifice to reconcile the world to Him.
Therefore, turn away from your sins and be reconciled to God."

What I like about this is:

  • It draws heavily on 2 Cor 5:19, which I’m being drawn to more and more
  • It resonates wonderfully with the prodigal son story, where there’s no hint in the story of “turn or burn” or even judgment (not that I’m saying there’s no judgment!) and where, when the son returns, the father embraces him fully, demonstrating that the son was already forgiven.
  • It returns the gospel message to one of genuine grace, rather than the implied “grace, on the condition that you repent”. God has already shown His grace. It just remains for the listener to accept it. (If there seems no difference to you, I can only say that to me there does seem a difference).
  • It fits with Rom 10:13, all the standard UR passages, and other passages
  • It fits wonderfully with what Jesus did to the “sinners and tax collectors” when he walked on earth, for instance, the woman caught in adultery, he says “I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more.”…

I think a presentation of the gospel like this to unbelievers would be met with far less resistance than the standard version and would therefore allow much more rational, reasoned and calm discussion and hopefully “opened eyes”.

Anyway, I’m very interested in your reaction to this.

Hi rline,

In the link below is a similar bullet point list of the commonly understood “gospel”. The whole “In The Garden” essay is one of the best things I’ve ever read concerning the gospel I think.

In The Garden

It’s a long essay but worth it.

Rline, I like how you present that! I’m going to have to write that down. It’s so simple. I’ve recently also taken note of passages that talk of Jesus dying for us while we are still enemies, seeming to imply that there is forgiveness even while we’ve not repented. That is, after all and like you say, real grace. Shoot, there are passages that talk as if he’s already reconciled us too, right? Tho, I realize that there is the call, also, to be reconciled. I think you are right that what you’ve stated goes well with scripture.

What it reminds me of is George MacDonald and something he said that I really liked. Talbott talks about this in his section on him of All Shall Be Well. He tells that, according to MacDonald, we are already forgiven, but the reason we must still repent and come to God is so that we don’t continue down a path of hurting ourself and others. Something like that. It made sense to me that God is able and willing to forgive, has demonstrated he’s done just this on the cross, and the invitation to repent is because our future is what God is concerned with.

Btw, the parable you mention is also mentioned in the section on MacDonald when Jesus tells the woman, “Go and sin no more,” at least I think. It’s what was so convincing to me about MacDonald’s point that we are already forgiven. Very powerful! I’ve since shared it with a lot of people (made so much sense to me!), but they were reluctant to embrace my reasoning about why repentance is so necessary. They’d prefer to stick to their view that repentance is necessary because without it we can’t have Jesus’ blood applied to our account. Blood is what God wants, not that we actually turn from sin. Very interesting, isn’t it.

Thanks for sharing that!

David, this is too funny…I was reading the link and kept thinking to myself this does not sound right. I wonder why David likes this?! :laughing: Then I looked up and saw that this was what we’ve heard but NOT right. I need to read more carefully! Thanks for the link!


It’s a good topic. Unfortunately, sometimes threads just get lost, new stuff comes up and things don’t get talked about as much as they deserve. I have a lot of drafts saved, where I started to answer something and never got around to finishing, and probably never will, because I’m too busy trying to keep up with current topics. :neutral_face: I’m sure others have the same problem.

This might give you some trouble, because people will point to: “If we confess our sins he is faithful and righteous to forgive…”

But I’d say that God is holding out forgiveness to us, waiting to give it to us as soon as we are able to receive it. Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him.” I believe this is God’s attitude toward us as well. On the cross, he said “Forgive, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Where we get into trouble is where we know what we’re doing, and we’re still doing it. Then we’re in need of rebuke, not forgiveness.

I think the gospel message is different to different people. Jesus speaks to each individual as an individual. Paul tailors his message to the specific audience he’s addressing. But for a general gospel proclamation, I’d put it something like this:

“God loves us all and wants us to turn away from all of our pride, greed, injustice, selfishness and unlovingness and everything else that results in sin–bad behavior, thoughts, and attitudes which are separating us from true fellowship with God and the people around us. If we won’t we’re going to have to face the consequences of that sin. But God loves us too much to let us stay in that death.”

People can see the justice in a punishment that fits the crime and is meant to change the criminal. People want justice. People hate oppression and cruelty — especially if they are the victims of it!

Some people object to UR saying that a temporary hell won’t deter people from continuing in sin or make them turn to God. That it will only make people complacent and comfortable, knowing they can put off “getting saved” as long as they like, because they know it will turn out ok in the end. That might be true in a sense: the prospect of a jail sentence doesn’t necessarily deter people from crime!

Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, so we are told. To know that God is absolutely, certainly, going to make us pay for every evil, hurtful, unloving, unjust, unkind wrong that we do – and be afraid – that can give us wisdom enough to refrain from evil and do good instead. Like the unjust steward who began to beat the servants and party–if he had only known the Master was coming, he would have had fear enough to do right. And to do good out of fear is better than to do evil.

Many people are “saved” by fear of Hell. But a “confession of faith” extracted out of terror… is that real? I wonder when I hear people who say “if Hell isn’t forever, why would I bother to be a Christian? I could be out living however I want and still get into heaven!” Are they serious? I think they’re only being hypothetical–I hope they are anyway! Do they really want to live destructive hurtful lives in the name of “pleasure” so long as they can be sure they’ll still eventually end up in heaven? Do they want to know God, or do they only care about weaseling out of the punishment they deserve? Do they have the Spirit of God? or merely the fear of God?

But there is a better way … Love. Perfect love casts out fear. If the unjust steward had loved his Master, his Master’s delayed return would have made no difference to his behavior. He would not have been unjust because he would have loved justice just as his Master loves justice. His desire would have been to do his Master’s will, whether the Master was present or absent, as one entrusted with a sacred charge.

Getting back to Hell and jail sentences… The judgment of God that I believe in is not merely a jail sentence – which people assume when we say it’s not everlasting. The terrifying aspect of Hell to people is it’s length, it’s hopelessness. Take that away and they think you’re saying you just “do your time” and walk out essentially unchanged into the joys of heaven. But I believe God judges to the changing of the heart. To death and rebirth. You don’t get out until you have paid the last penny … until it’s you that’s righteous with the righteousness of God. Until you care enough about your neighbor to do unto him as you want done to yourself. Until you are willing to pick up your cross and walk the path Christ walks – the narrow path that leads to life. If we’ve used this life to make ourselves into monsters, the destruction of all that corruption is going to be excruciating – a burning away of everything that we have held onto, loved, and lived for. Instead of the righteousness we thought we had clothed ourselves in, our eyes are opened to the fact that we are naked, filthy, and destitute.

UR itself, in my thinking, is not the gospel… it is the end result of the gospel, it is the goal that is being aimed at, a declaration of purpose. God doesn’t want anyone to perish. The gospel is the message of God’s love and the reconciliation He offers. It is His promise of the coming kingdom where justice reigns, where wrong is punished and good is rewarded. …And everyone cheers and says “so-and-so” will finally get what’s coming to him … but then we realize we’re all that “so-and-so” to someone else at some level, if only in our thoughts and hearts … Judgment day is coming … and if we would judge ourselves rightly we would not need to be judged – so we are told.

We only can know the truth of UR – the final success of the plan – if we believe the prophecies say it: “…in Christ shall all be made alive.” Will the mission succeed? I firmly believe it will, because I believe that is the character of God, that the scriptures say that God intends for it to succeed and that He is working everything toward that end, for the glory and honor of Christ.


I might need to study this a bit more, but I don’t recall offhand that God has already forgiven us. I thought this was conditional upon our repentance and reliance on Christ. As SLJ pointed out, I John 1 tells us that when we are restored in our relationship with God upon our confession of sin, then God forgives us.

Very well said Sonia. I totally agree with your whole post, especially those last two paragraphs. Two thumbs Up!!

First, thanks for the responses so far.

Sonia, you wrote:

That’s the kind of thing I was after: potential issues. So thanks for that. My only comeback to that is that John was writing to believers, not unbelievers. So it seems that’s actually about how Christians are to “walk in the light”, meaning, in the context, continue in correct relationship with each other, not “the gospel”.

This also is probably true. I guess I was hoping to find some analagous “gospel presentation” to the standard one which is short enough to remember but includes enough to make sense.

OK. Does that imply that if we turn away from all those things, we won’t have to face their consequences?

Yeah but this is kind of my big underlying thing: if they’re “saved” from a God whose primary motivation is to make sure sin is punished, is that really the true God of the Bible? Not that I’m saying that hell isn’t something to fear; I’m just wondering whether the “salvation” would be different if people understand that God was waiting purely for them to come home, like the father waiting for the son, and that the father’s thoughts were surely not centred on making sure the son “paid for his sins”, but were “I long for my son to come to his senses, come home, and be reconciled to me, so we can celebrate”. There seems to me to be a huge difference.

This is wonderfully put! I see clearer now.

Dondi, you wrote:

You and me both probably need to study more! What you’ve said also underlines my suspicion of it. It seems like you’re basically saying that the gospel isn’t a gospel of grace, but of a work, specifically the work of repentance.

As to God having already forgiven us, what about Jesus and the woman in adultery? She didn’t repent. Jesus forgave her before she said anything. What about Jesus praying for those who crucified him? Father, forgive them? Surely God answered his prayer. But those guys didn’t repent. What about Paul? He definitely didn’t repent, but Jesus appeared to him. He was surely already forgiven before he repented. What about Jesus saying to the paralysed man, “Son, your sins **are **forgiven.” Note that he didn’t see the faith of the paralysed man, he saw the faith of his friends. The man hadn’t repented and “trusted in Christ”. And note that he didn’t say “Son, your sins will be forgiven if you repent and trust in me”

And probably most crucially for this discussion, the writer of Hebrews says in 10:15-18

"The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”

Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”

And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. "

According to the writer, his reason as to why the sacrificial system is no longer necessary is precisely because “their sins and lawless acts have already been forgiven, and God will remember them no more”. The whole point seems to be “God has already forgiven you: now live as those already forgiven!”

I trust people might keep this thread alive a little longer because it seems to me this is a fairly important thing to get right.

My understanding is that the gospel is not about forgiveness of sins but about deliverance from sins. The angel announced to Joseph, “You shall call his name “Jesus” (saviour or deliverer) for He shall save (or deliver) His people from their sins.”


Yes, this is key I think, I had forgotten about it though. So, what about…

God has already delivered you from your sins.
He did this when He offered Jesus as a sacrifice to take away the sin of the world.
Jesus’ resurrection showed that the way to be reconciled to God was open.
Therefore, turn away from your sins, believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, and be reconciled to Him.

In Robin’s talks, he says that we are already reconciled (which I assume implies we are already forgiven). I believe it’s a case of now and not yet. i.e. we are already reconciled & forgiven, however, this isn’t actualized for many people yet.

However when Calvinists restrict God’s love & reconciliation so much, I think it changes, or at very least taints, the quality of that love & reconciliation.

When a preacher proclaims the “gospel” on the corner, he would have to say, “God loves a few of you, but hates most of you! Pray that you’re one of the lucky ones. Rejoice that God’s glory and justice will be clearly displayed in the eternal torment of His enemies.” (I get the impression Jonathan Edwards might’ve done this :open_mouth: ).

On a more positive note, I love the prodigal son story (& hence your summary), as to me, that sums up everyone’s journey :sunglasses:

On another recent thread, Sherman wrote

This would very much seem to affirm what I was thinking earlier, that everyone is already forgiven, already redeemed, justified and free, they just don’t know it yet. The more I think this through, the more I think this is quite close to the mark of what the gospel is, and is not.

It’s not “If you repent, God will forgive you.”
It’s “God has forgiven you. Now repent and sin no more.”

I think there is a world of difference.


Yes. For some years I’ve been saying this to folks but rather than the word ‘know’ I use the word ‘realise’:
“they just don’t realise it yet” and I emphasise that 'realise means to ‘make real’. It is not a reality in their lives until they realise it.

Good thread. God never changes, he doesn’t condemn us one day and forgive/deliver us the next.
I still have to remind myself there’s nothing I can do to make him love me more. Gratitude is the Spirit motivator, not fear.

God bless

Oooh. Good point! I like realise “make real”

I have to say I’m surprised so few people have anything to contribute to this topic which is pretty key. :open_mouth:

I think that’s a good point too. I’ve been using the word “actualize” :slight_smile:

Oi :stuck_out_tongue: 15 posts in a topic is pretty good at the moment, given the forum has broken new records of activity over the last week. I’ve enjoyed reading along :mrgreen:

Maybe. What I was meaning was the lack of distinct humans who had weighed in.

The gospel is the story of the prodigal son.

The father gives his son freedom. The son abuses his freedom and ends in torment, a personalized hell. In his suffering he finally realizes an important truth: good is better than evil. He limps home and discovers another truth: his father has loved him all along. The son is reborn. He is transformed in ways the older brother is not. He now knows things the older brother cannot know. If the son hadn’t been allowed to leave, if he hadn’t experienced his hell, he would never have understood.

(BTW, if the younger brother is Man, is the older brother Lucifer? Perhaps that’s what his falling out with God was all about. Was Lucifer angry that he was displaced (as he saw it) in God’s affections by a race of hairless primates?)

Amen! I’ve been thinking about this the last few days.

:laughing: I’ve never heard/thought of that angle, but now that I think about it…


Are you saying that if you were “sharing the gospel” with someone (I know you enough to know you wouldn’t phrase it like that!) that you would tell them the story of the prodigal son, and not even go with something like

God has already delivered you from your sins.
He did this when He offered Jesus as a sacrifice to take away the sin of the world.
Jesus’ resurrection showed that the way to be reconciled to God was open.
Therefore, turn away from your sins, believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, and be reconciled to Him.

If that’s true, can you possibly confirm for me whether you think that the father had already forgiven his son? In other words, is the gospel “you’re already forgiven”, or “you can be forgiven if you repent”.

And where does judgment for sin etc fit in with the prodigal son?

Thanks, and I’ve dropped everything to wait for notification of your reply. :wink:

Not quite sure what’s going on with the formatting/quoting in the first paragraph :confused:

you’re right, I bet dad would, but with a few extra, clever twists :laughing:

Rejected, left to rot in a pig pen in a foreign, heathen land… but yes, as Luke said to me, it’s missing vital things like Jesus & the Cross. However, given it is a parable, I don’t think we should expect every detail (otherwise it would be too easy for us :wink: )