Welcome to our Good News pages. This is the third and last of the studies in this series.
Each study consists of the information pages – to help you know the story – and the Homework pages, designed to help you integrate what you’ve learned into your daily life.
If you don’t have a Bible in e-format, you can click here for online access to a free complete Bible in translations for several different languages.
This material is also covered in more detail in our Roots Course – see the Courses tab for more information.
GOOD NEWS ABOUT GOD’S PEOPLE
Just as there is Good News about God and Good News about Jesus Christ, there is also Good News about “God’s people,” the New Community, “the church.” Surprised?
What God wants “the church” to be is much better than what most people think and have experienced.
What people call “the church” has done some amazing things to lead the world out of backwardness and anarchy. But it has also been a tool for the worst kinds of oppression. “Church people” have sacrificed themselves for the good of many people. They’ve also been guilty of every crime that can be committed.
Many modern people, even religious ones, have mixed feelings about the church. They don’t like what they see as misplaced priorities, badly handled money, and confusion from so many competing groups. But they don’t like to criticize it, either. Most prefer to ignore it altogether.
A lot of people would like to believe God and follow Jesus, but what they see and experience in organized religion holds them back. They don’t know what to do.
For others, the well-documented problems in organized religion are a convenient excuse to avoid facing legitimate questions about their lives and God. They see no difference between church-goers and themselves. They conclude that God is unnecessary – not because they’ve actually sorted out the questions and tried to find answers for their lives, but because that’s how they want it.
Still other people have no complaint against “the church.” They don’t know much about it because it’s never been a consideration for them before.
What does God really have in mind for the church to be? Is what He wants really available today? How can people find it?
As we saw in our earlier studies, our experience of life in this world is broken and frustrated. There is great beauty, but also great tragedy and pain – great accomplishment, but also great evil. It’s deep, and it’s pervasive, and no one can get away from it. The most devastating effects of sin, the “off-target way,” corrupt our picture of God’s heart, and our picture of Jesus Christ. They also hinder us from seeing what God is doing in the world today. Just like we couldn’t see God’s heart, just like the ancient people didn’t see Jesus for who He is, we have a similar problem: we won’t know what a church really is, much less what to do with it.
Most people have never seen a real church, being and doing what real churches are supposed to be and do. God would like to change that.
What God does with His church is powerful and exciting. In His new community, His new people, He addresses some of our deepest human needs. He gives a whole new vision of what life can be and will be. He provides the resources to make that vision come true.
This lesson will help you become more familiar with God’s picture of His people, so you can make an informed decision about it.
The fact that there are many counterfeits out there suggests that something extraordinarily valuable is out there, too – somewhere.
GOOD NEWS THAT CHANGES PEOPLE
In this course we’ve looked at God and His character. He has consistently loved people since the beginning of time. He gives people all kinds of good things. He even gives laws to protect them from the destructive power of the off-target way. When people do damage to themselves with a way of life that brings death, He helps them face the problem, so they can start over. He has set a day in the calendar when He will break into our world and make everything new and right, and start everything over: a true and final victory over all evil.
But people have strayed a long way from God. We saw in “Good News about Jesus Christ” just how far sin will drive people: when God appeared in the flesh to reach out to people, we killed Him in the most extreme form of rejection that humans knew how to do. There is nothing good in “the independent way,” no matter how it looks at first. At the cross we saw sin at its worst.
But we also saw God’s love at His very best: rather than destroy everyone right then and there, God raised up His Son from death. Jesus came back to continue loving people. And He has never stopped!
Only a few people actually crucified Christ. The problem for us is this: the same corrupting power that drove Jesus’ crucifiers to such extreme rebellion lives in everyone who “sins.” And that’s everyone. Many of us are very nice people trying to live nice lives and do good things – but as we saw with the people of Jesus’ day, the rebellion has messed us up: if you push people hard enough, and they’ll do the worst things you can imagine. How can we fight a force that is so widespread? How can we stop the drive for independence of God that misdirects us so badly? How can we break out of the fearful dreariness of guilt? And what about death, the “final phase of growth” that makes life seem so empty?
The Book of Acts is the 5th book of the New Testament, following the four Gospels. It’s the story of what God did after Jesus died and was raised, and how He spread the Good News of hope and life that answers the rebellion, sin and death, and what the rebellion has done to us.
Before we look at the content of that message, let’s look at the effect it had on people. Who heard it? How did they respond to it? What did it mean to them?
In Acts chapter 2 verses 5 – 11, the Good News had its first audience, made up of Jews from countries all over the known world. Many of these people traveled to Jerusalem for religious festivals, which cost them time and money. They went there because they really believed in God. As Jews they had a strong religious background. They knew their Bible, the sacred songs, the rules, etc. They tried to live the way they thought God wanted. But it wasn’t working. Something was wrong, incomplete.
When Peter spoke to them, he used Bible words, ideas they understood. 3000 believed the Good News of Jesus Christ and were baptized. To be forgiven by God and to have new, forward-looking, empowered life in Jesus Christ – this fulfilled hopes about God that these people had cherished for centuries. “The promise is for you, your children, for all who are far off, for everyone whom the Lord calls.” God is trying to bless all kinds of people!
But that seems so different from the way many of us have been conditioned to expect. God would require a religious background to qualify people for His blessing, right? Look again before you decide.
Acts 8.26-39 tells of the Ethiopian national treasurer’s encounter. He was of a different race than the people of Acts 2. According to the Jewish law, because he was a eunuch he couldn’t have been a Jew – so he didn’t have that religious background. But something about the stories of God in the ancient times got his attention, and he somehow managed, at great expense, to get a copy of the Bible, as they had it back then. As he read the Bible, he didn’t understand it all – but he was interested enough to travel all the way to Jerusalem to find out more about it. In fact, when he read his Bible, he knew he didn’t understand it – but he was trying to learn. He cared about what God wanted for his life. Where our story begins, this man was on his way back from Jerusalem, where he’d gone to worship God in the Jewish temple. Do you know what organized religion would have done to him there? Most likely, the authorities would not have allowed him in to the Temple area to worship God – based on an old law that had nothing to do with people like himself. How do you think he would have felt at being excluded from organized religion because of something about his health that wasn’t his fault?
Perhaps he thought the Bible verses he was reading (8.32-33) sounded like how he felt: humiliated, rejected. When Philip, starting with those very verses, told the man the Good News about Jesus, the Ethiopian realized that Jesus has had the same kind of experience: humiliated, rejected! “Jesus Christ understands me! Jesus Christ overcame the things that have hurt me!” The man wanted to be baptized immediately – and was. He went home joyful, because the God he was searching for had found him. Religion had confused him, but God had welcomed him into the New Community, into God’s new people!
Different race, different country, not allowed into organized religion, didn’t understand the Bible – no barrier was too high for God to overcome to help a sincere seeker find Him.
Acts 18.1-11 tells of a mixed group of people in the new Roman city of Corinth. Most of them had no religious background in common with the ones who brought them the Good News. The religion they did have wasn’t about living a good moral life. It was all about “getting the gods on your side” in the daily war of the urban jungle. People were used, abused and wounded in a very competitive society. Life was fast and cheap, and people were hard. In their culture there were vague echoes of a God who was different from all the others, one who was bigger than any statue or picture you could make of him. But they had never thought of a God like the one in the Good News. Many of them believed and were baptized, and they made huge lifestyle changes because they could see God’s heart for them. People of all social ranks, from slaves to high political office, believed the Good News and followed Jesus, “together.” They became a community where everyone was learning the new way of life “together” – encouraging each other, holding on to God together, staying faithful for the Great Day when God makes everything new. The Good News, for them, was “too good to not be true!”
Acts 26 is the story of King Agrippa, who was Jewish by birth. He was at the top of the social and political pyramid – mostly because the Jews would only accept one of their own as King. Since Agrippa cooperated with the Roman overlords, Rome backed him. He knew all about religion. He’d heard it all his life. He’d also seen religious leaders get into power plays, plots and schemes of all kinds – just as it was happening in this particular story in Acts. Life looks different from the top: everyone wants favors from man with money and power.
Agrippa had seen the dark side of religion: even in the story you’re reading, religious and political leaders were trying to manipulate him. He had become very cynical. To change his religion would be unthinkable – there were too many advantages in keeping it. But it meant nothing to his daily life. And he knew it.
Agrippa heard the real Good News about God and Jesus Christ, from real people with genuine lives who weren’t trying to get any favours from him. He was impressed by their unselfish integrity, and it certainly appears that he was impressed with their message. No one knows how seriously he considered actually following Jesus. But you can’t help but wonder what he would have done if he hadn’t have been so afraid of losing his wealth and power.
God isn’t only interested in religious people. Nor are “down-and-outers” the only ones who really need Him. He wants all kinds of people – and all kinds of people need Him. The Good News of His love can overcome all kinds of barriers – and speak to all kinds of pain and emptiness: religious emptiness, hunger for meaningful direction, the pain of ordinary life’s twists and turns, the pain of mistreatment and abuse. It even speaks to the pain of “having everything, but having nothing,” that so many people feel even in our time and our society.
Right from the very beginning of sin, when humans were tricked into joining the rebellion, God promised a victory over evil. Over the centuries of the story of the Bible, God taught us more about the war with evil and about the victory He is going to bring. In the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, sin and death have been defeated. God has set a Great Day when He will break into our world, into our history, into our lives, and make everything right! Everyone who wants to share in the victory is welcome!
But God never forces Himself onto people. He hopes that the Good News will convince us that He wants the very best for human life. If people persist and ignore Him or reject Him, the destructive power of sin will overtake them on the Great Day, and they will be lost. Whatever that is, it’s the very worst thing that can happen to a human. Most of all He would like to spare us from that. He’s not trying to condemn us: He’s trying to rescue us from something so terrible that we have no understanding of it. And He’s trying to give us something so wonderful that we can’t yet imagine it.
MAKING CONNECTION WITH THE GOOD NEWS
We’ve looked at the effects of the Good News on different kinds of people. Now let’s look at the Good News itself. “What does it mean to me?”
Acts 2 is the first time that people heard the Good News about Jesus. Verses 22 – 36 put in a capsule what we have studied: God’s ongoing care for people, Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and His continuing work to help people know God. God made Him “Lord” and “Christ,” which gives Jesus authority equal to His own.
The people who first believed this were devastated. Here’s what it means: God had shown Himself to humans, and we had been so blinded by sin that we had killed Him. What would happen now? What could we ever do now to make up for that? Sin appeared to have won the war in their lives. What hope could there be?
Peter told them of the opportunity of a lifetime. God wants to completely forgive us, and He wants to live with us to help us become everything He made us for.
God wants to help people recognize the deep problem of sin, and to start over. He won’t give up. He loves us too much. After Peter told them what God had done with Jesus, he told them how to receive its benefits. You can do it the same way in our time.
First, he told them to “repent.” The word means to take the attitude, “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it differently.” That’s important, because in some very significant ways God wants to let you start over again.
It’s more than wanting to change specific wrong actions. “Repenting” goes to the root of the problem: it means a change of direction, and a change of director. Instead of running your own show, you can submit to God’s direction, trusting that He knows what’s best. Now when you fail to do what God wants, instead of running away as Adam did at the beginning, you can go to God for help .
The Good News is that all punishment and suffering due for sin is covered for everyone forever by Jesus Christ. God counts what we did to Jesus, not against us, but as the means of healing us. Jesus took it all on Himself so we won’t have to carry it on ourselves. All the forces of evil which we can’t defeat ourselves, He has defeated for us.
That is the cure for the independence that destroys people.
Peter also told them all to “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” To be baptized means to be immersed in water. “In the name of Jesus Christ” literally means “relying on Jesus Christ” and what He did for us in His death, burial and resurrection. It’s an expression of authority and power: we’re being baptized, but God is doing something to us, too! (For more detailed information, see our additional page “Q&A: Baptism.”)
In the New Testament baptism is described as a death, burial, and resurrection: yours. When you believe that Jesus did this for you, you can do it — literally “into the forgiveness of sins.” You can be confident that God’s response to your failures will be the same as the way Jesus treated the man with leprosy, the paralyzed man, Levi the tax-man, and all the others who let him help them.
2.38-39 “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” “Gift” in the original language is a huge gift, a “munificence” like a rich man giving buildings to his home city. This “gift” is God’s Presence to assure you of His love and faithfulness. It’s His power to help you live beyond yourself, to do what only God can do — His way of helping you grow into what you’re made for. The Spirit is His extension of Himself into your life and into your world, to replace the old off-target ways with Himself, to make a difference. Forgiveness clears the out the old, so that God’s “gift” can work!
Baptism marks the time and place where your old independent life without God died, and your new life with God begins. It shows that your destiny after death is permanent life with God. It shows that the centre of your faith is God, who loves people so much that He sent His Son to rescue us from destruction.
People who do this today are just like the ones in Acts 2 and all the other stories. We hear the Good News, believe it, repent, and are baptized. And God permanently changes our lives.
MORE THAN A NEW LIFE
God gave them and us more than a new life individually with Him. He gave us all a New Community with other people who would be lost on their own, but who have been rescued by Jesus. No one is perfect. But together we follow the One who is! Together we learn from the One who is! Together we’re cared for by the One who is!
John 13.34-35 gives the basic rule of the New Community, the real church: “Treat each other the way God treats you.” When you see how God loved people in the Good News, you know what to do. As you grow in your understanding of how He continues to love you and other people, you will see what to do, and you will receive the ability to do it.
Many people have never really been loved by anyone. Sometimes it’s their own fault. They make it hard for people to get close enough to them. Or they’ve been mistreated by others who were never loved either. It’s hard to love if you’ve never been loved.
We learn love not only by being taught about it, but also by experiencing it. Some of the experience will be directly from God as you grow with Him. A lot will come from your new relationships in the New Community with all kinds of other people learning as you are. God uses us to help each other. We also learn by trying to do it with each other and with those who haven’t heard the Good News yet. Real love covers all kinds of mistakes and ignorance!
In the New Community God can use you to reach out to others who don’t know Him yet. Your life can be used to show other people how powerful God is, how gracious and kind He is, how faithful He is. You can help God’s dream of reaching all people come true!
It’s in loving all kinds of other people that our lives reach their peak. Being free from guilt, fear, and anxiety about life and death leads to the freedom to be loved — and to love without selfish demands. That’s love that lifts people to the kind of life we are made for. This kind of love can change you, too.
The real church, the New Community, is where your relationship with God gets connected with real life and real people. It’s your education for life without limits — for a life that makes a permanent difference in this world — and the next. Our new, permanent life on the Great Day will be a life with relationships, in a new community that is full and complete: it’s what we’re made for. The real church, the New Community, is where we become prepared for our new life, which is coming soon to a world near you!
For more specific information about the South Burnaby Church of Christ, go to our “FAQ’s About Us” page.
For more about what all this means, and how to do it, come meet with us on Sundays in Burnaby, BC Canada! You are welcome to explore these things with us, to see what it looks like as we’re trying to do it. Get to know us! You’ll see some things that we’re doing right, and some things that we’re still having to learn about. You’ll meet ordinary people, a lot like yourself, I think – and you’ll see the difference that freedom from the past, joy in the present, and hope for the future can make in our lives.
EXPLORING THE ISSUES
We would love to hear your ideas and thoughts as you study: “Leave a Reply” at the base of this page!
South Burnaby Church of Christ
7485 Salisbury Avenue
Burnaby, BC V5E 3A5 Canada