The gospel is good news, not good advice. And this fact has tremendous implications on how the gospel is proclaimed and lived out as the people of God.
In his sermon, “Gospel-Centered Ministry,” Tim Keller directs us to the sure words of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his exposition of 1 Corinthians 15. Keller, quoting Lloyd-Jones, explained the significant difference between the gospel being goods news versus good advice:
“Advice is counsel about something that hasn’t happened yet, but you can do something about it. News is a report about something that has happened which you can’t do anything about because it has been done for you and all you can do is respond to it.”
Lloyd-Jones continues with a great illustration. In a battle against an invading army, if the enemies have all been defeated and the mission is accomplished, the commanding officer sends back messengers and envoys with a report–good news–of what has already been done. Those carrying the good news are filled with joy and go on living in peace through what has been accomplished for them. On the other hand, if the battle has not been won, the commanding officer sends for military advisers on how to defeat the enemy with new strategies and redoubling efforts. Lloyd-Jones then says that
“every other religion sends military advisers to people. Every other religion says that if you want to achieve salvation, you will have to fight for your life. Every other religion is sending advice saying ‘here are the rites and the rituals; here’s the transformation of consciousness and laws and regulations.’ We send heralds. We send messengers not military advisers” (emphasis mine)
What makes the Gospel so radically different is that it is a message to believe, not a method to change behavior. Sure. It will bring deep transformation, but not because it is good advice but because it is good news!
Keller observes that both the adviser and the messenger receive enormous responses; however,
“one is a response of joy and the other is a response of fear. All other religions give advice and they drive everything you do with fear. . . . In the short run, both responses look alike. But in the long run, [those receiving good advice] will have burn out and self-righteousness and guilt and all sorts of problems.”
The implication to the gospel being good news, Keller concludes, is that preaching is declarative preaching and should be irreplaceably central in gospel ministry. If you as a preacher or one who listen to a preacher who primarily brings good advice (how-to’s) and not good news (gospel message), then it can be argued that you are receiving nothing different from what all the other religions are offering their listeners. The distinctiveness of the Christian faith is bound up in the gospel and its proclamation, and when it is reduced or substituted to how to overcome fears, worry, depression, money, or any other “felt need” to connect with an audience, you forfeit the very message that audience needs to hear in order to be saved.
I am not saying that application and imperative preaching is unbiblical. Indeed it is biblical–only when the message of the gospel has been declared as messengers bringing good news. From that good news is massive, universal implications for all of life. If you stand up to preach and tell people how they are to live without telling them who they are in Christ because of what He has done for them, you are driving them to obey out of fear, guilt, and manipulation, not “joy inexpressible and full of glory.” Even worse, what you are implying is that the mission is not accomplished and the victory on the cross has not been won by Jesus. God needs advisers to help him strategy and achieve the victory.
What our world needs is the only thing we have to offer–good news. Let us never forget that we are messengers with a glorious message that is unbelievably satisfying and brings unspeakable joy, and there is no greater privilege we have in this world than to be one who declares to all people everywhere what God has accomplished for us in defeating sin, death, and hell through the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior and King, Jesus Christ.