Posted on February 8th, by Doug Ponder in God, Mission. 1 Comment


Written by on February 8, 2013

Good News vs. Good Advice

There is a big difference between good news and good advice, and getting it wrong often means getting the gospel wrong, too.

A Welsh pastor named David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (only the Brits could pull of naming a child with four first names) explained the difference between news and advice like this:

“Advice is counsel about something to do and it hasn’t happened yet, but you can do it. News is a report about something that has happened—you can’t do anything about it—it’s been done for you and all you can do is respond.”

In other words, advice is something you tell someone to do; news is something you report.

According to the Scriptures, the gospel—the Christian message about the death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners—is good news, not good advice.

“The Battle Is Won!” vs. “Get Ready for Battle!”

Why does this matter? Are we just quibbling over words?

Well, I don’t think so. Here’s an illustration that Lloyd-Jones used to drive home his point: Imagine that a king goes into battle to defend his kingdom against an invading army. If he wins the battle, he’ll send messengers back to his people with the good news of his victory. These messengers would announce, “The enemy’s been defeated! The battle is won! Go enjoy the peace the king has obtained for you.”

But what if the invading breaks through the king’s defenses? Then the king wouldn’t send back messengers with good news. Instead, he’d send a message of advice, saying, “Arm yourselves. Reinforce the ramparts. Get ready to fight for your lives!”

Do you see the difference? One of these messages is a call to action, but not a good sort of action. It is action motivated by fear—the fear of defeat or the fear of death. The other message, the good news, doesn’t need to force people to do anything because the battle has been won. It simply announces what has already happened.

The Gospel vs. Religion

Here’s why all of this is significant. One of the main differences between the gospel and the religions of the world is that the gospel is news, but religions are advice. Religions tell you, “If you want to live, if you want to be happy, if you want to earn salvation, then you’re going to have to obey the rules, keep the rituals, and work hard all your life.”

The gospel, by contrast, introduces you to the person who has already won the battle for you. It says, “This is Jesus. He’s the King who defeated sin and death by laying down his life for you and rising from death to give you life.” Clearly, the gospel is a message. (Indeed, the word gospel actually translates as “good news” in English.) It’s not advice on how to work hard to earn something. It’s about believing that Jesus has already won for you the victory over sin and death.

In fact, the only way you don’t receive the benefits of Jesus’ victory are if you to continue trying to earn what has already been done for you. That would be like telling the King, “Thanks for your sacrifice and all. But surely you don’t expect me to believe that the battle really has been won? So, no offense or anything, but I’m still going to arm myself, build a fort in the mountains, and live out my days in the security of my own effort.” Such people live anxious lives, fearing at all times an attack from an enemy that’s already been defeated. As a result, they miss out on the benefits of the life that the King’s sacrifice has purchased for them to enjoy.

Sadly, this is how many people, including many people in Christian churches, live every day. They hear about the commands of Scripture—like loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself—and they are told that they must obey these commands in order to earn God’s love and acceptance. Those who live this way eventually become one of two kinds of people: either (1) they become prideful and self-righteous, believing that they have already done enough to satisfy God, or (2) they become depressed and fearful of God’s judgment, believing that they can never do enough to satisfy God.

But look at what happens when the gospel is allowed to be good news, not good advice. People actually obey the commands of God, not out of some fear of judgment, but out of great joy for the grace they have been shown.

Grace vs. Your Heart

Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, famously said that religion is the default status for everyone’s heart. Here’s a list of questions to help you uproot the weeds of religion and replant the gospel of grace:

When you read the Bible, do you focus more on what God calls you to do instead of what he has already done for you in Christ?

When you think about your own sin, are you tempted to think that the “cure” for your struggles will be found in check-lists and religious duties?

Do you ever feel like you have to “repay God” for the sins you have committed against him and others?

Do you listen to sermons for self-improvement tips instead of for reminders of your need for Jesus?

When you try tell others about Jesus, do you find yourself emphasizing the importance of your obedience to him instead of emphasizing the beauty of his sacrifice for you?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you’ve been drinking from the dry well of religious advice. Chance are, you likely struggle with fears and doubts about God’s love and acceptance, or else you may be arrogantly sure of your own worthiness to earn God’s love and acceptance. Both of these ways of living will leave you burnt out and unsatisfied. The solution to both errors is to remember the good news of grace. Never forget that Jesus has already beaten your worst enemies (sin and death). The more you dwell on the good news of his grace toward you, the more you will find yourself desiring to live for the one who died and was raised for your sake.

Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.