When Is The Good News Not The Good News?

Over the years I’ve enjoyed asking this as a “bait question” to seminary students, persons in the life of the church, and at various conferences or gatherings where I’ve had the opportunity to teach or to share about evangelism. It might sound like a trick question, but I can assure you, it is not. Most often, in response to the question, I will hear, ‘It is not good news to the person who doesn’t believe.’ On the surface this might seem to be plausible. But is it? Does a person’s response have the power to change the good news?

I do get all kinds of interesting answers over the course of the first few minutes after having asked the question, but almost inevitably there will be someone who will slowly raise their hand, or tentatively whisper from the back of the class, ‘The good news is always good news.’ Upon which, I am likely to scream out, ‘Hallelujah!’ And why not? Confessionally speaking, the Truth is truth. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

The good news is always good news because it is not predicated on the person’s response but holds, within, the power to transform the person and the response of the one hearing it. The good news is always good news because it is the narrative of the One who is unchanging – ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8).

The English word evangelism comes from the Greek word euangelion meaning “gospel” or “good news”. The gospel or the good news, as we Christ-followers refer to it, as contained in the Bible is, simply, the birth, life, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is good news, indeed! The Word incarnate. The atonement for sin. The hope and promise for all who, by grace through faith, believe.

Outside the audience of Christ-followers, it might not be uncommon to hear, “Prove it!” Relax, take a deep breath brothers and sisters, God does not ask, demand, or command us to prove anything. No, rather, Jesus invites us to come unto him and abide in him as he abides in us and then he says, “Go, go and make disciples…”. However, it has nothing to do with “proving” anything. Rather, it is about embodying the good news as a “way of life” – a life to be shared.

I’d like to suggest two axioms for all who understand themselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ, and as such, evangelists and embodiments of the good news: ‘We are not in control, but we are responsible’; and ‘We have nothing to prove but we have much to share.’ One might draw from a myriad of verses of scripture to support this understanding. Two that I would share, ‘…do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?’; and ‘When the Holy Spirit comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment’ (John 16:8).

God is not asking or demanding that we “give up” the “free will” that is intrinsic to the very nature of what it means to be made in the image of God. He is inviting us to “submit” our will unto his. While the world cries, ‘prove it!’, Jesus says, ‘Come to me…take my yoke…abide in me and I will abide in you…go, go into all the world…’. The Holy Spirit does the job of convincing and converting as we respond to the grace of the Most High moving in us and through the church, as we embody the good news through words, deeds, and signs.  

Now, just because the good news is always good news it doesn’t mean that persons, as disciples and evangelists, have not over the years and centuries employed and engaged in bad or harmful practices; words and actions that are inconsistent with the humble, vulnerable, and transforming love and life of Jesus Christ. These “harmful” practices, in my experience, stem from thinking or believing that we have something to prove.

Sharing the love of Christ with others does not require us to “prove” anything and therein lies the secret to moving more freely in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we submit or surrender our “right” to be in control it allows us to be more responsive and responsible to the leading of the Spirit – the very One whose job it is to convict and convert.

In professing and embracing Jesus Christ as the meritorious means and the Holy Spirit as the efficacious means, we, image-bearers of the Most High, may know and experience the greatest of joys and privileges of using the spiritual gifts and talents that we have been given to embody the good news.

1. Is there anything in your life that limits or inhibits being a fruitful and effective witness?
2. In what areas of ministry are you most susceptible to feeling that you have something to prove?
3. How often, and how, do you intentionally submit your will to the leading of the Spirit?

Written by David Whitworth

David Martin Whitworth is a teacher-pastor of One Kingdom Mission and One Kingdom Church, a non-profit and a recent church plant outside Atlanta, Georgia. They are committed to inspiring, equipping, and empowering disciple-makers of Kingdom-building movements around the globe. He is the author of the book, Missio Dei and the Means of Grace: A Theology of Participation.