…our goal is to offer good news that brings joy. That is the test of gospel pastoring. Is it good news? Is gospel good news?
What else might it be?
First, it might be positive thinking but not good news. That is the sum of a lot of modern secular counseling. “You deserve it.” “You can do it.” “Life is not against you.” It is a call to break out of negative thinking. There is something in this approach. In many ways it is the best the secular world has to offer, and often it is effective. The problem is that sometimes negative thinking is right!
I am pastoring someone at the moment who is being told by her counselor that she deserves to get better. Now, I sympathize with her because she suffers from a condition in which people punish themselves. But does she deserve to get better? She does not think so; she knows she deserves God’s judgment, but Jesus has taken the judgment she deserves, paid it in full, and given her the reward that he deserves so that now she is a child of God. She does not need to punish herself, because the punishment was paid in full at the cross. That is good news without any pretending. So we need to be careful not to offer positive thinking in place of real good news.
Second, such counsel might be good advice, but it is not good news. It is all too easy, especially with broken people, to give a stream of advice. “Maybe you should buy cheaper, nonbranded products,” “Maybe you should spend less time with that person.” Maybe you should feed your kids food with less additives.”
The problem with such advice is twofold. First, it distorts your relationship with those to whom you offer it. If you are not careful, it puts you into the role of parent. Or it portrays you as a together person so that others need to become like you. Second, it is not the gospel. At best it might lead to reform, but it will not reconcile anyone to God or change hearts.
There is a place for advice; it can be an act of love. But we need to spell out for people the nature of what we are saying, especially if we are in a position of authority within the church. We need to distinguish between advice and the gospel because they carry very different levels of authority. Advice comes with the accumulated wisdom such as it is. The gospel comes with the authority of God, and that is a very different proposition. So we need to be careful not to offer good advice in place of proclaiming good news.
Third, we can proclaim law instead of good news. You would think good evangelical, justification-by-faith people would not do this, but we do! Law says, “You should…” You should not sleep with your boyfriend; You should read your Bible everyday; You should not get drunk; You should witness to your friends; You should not lose your temper. Does any of that sound familiar? That is not good news, not to someone struggling with those issues. It is condemnation.
What the gospel says is this: “You need not…”-You need not get drunk, because Jesus offers a better refuge; You need not lose your temper, because God is in control of the situation. That is good news! Sin makes promises. The gospel exposes those promises as false promises and points to a God who is bigger and better than anything sin offers. That is good news.
Taken from Everyday Church-Gospel Communities On Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis