When Mormons and Christians talk with each other, it is very important for both to realize that, although they often use the same words, many times they define them drastically different. One example is seen in an article in the latest Ensign (the LDS monthly magazine). It contains a brief article on the gospel. It sums up the gospel with this statement about Jesus. “His message was one of peace, love, and obedience to God’s commandments.” A little bit later it says, “He also taught that ordinances, such as baptism, are necessary for us to return to our Heavenly Father.” Finally it states: “He taught the gospel clearly (see Matthew 5-7).”
I don’t know if Mormons realize that, to a Christian, those words come off sounding like someone singing badly off tune. For Christians, the first and only things that come to mind when they hear the word gospel are what Jesus has done for us – not what we are to do. To a Christian, the gospel is not about our obedience, but his obedience for us. It’s about his death on the cross as payment for all our sins.
That’s how the Bible describes it. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures: And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” (1 Corinthian 15:1-4) There is no mention here of what we are to do. The gospel is good news precisely because it’s not about what we have to do – but about what Jesus has done for us.
But there is none of that in this Ensign article. Nothing about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Nothing about the Atonement or the forgiveness of sins. Even its reference to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 underscores that – because that sermon is all about our response to the gospel – it’s not about the gospel itself.
That brings us to the most sobering fact of all. The different ways that Christianity and Mormonism define the word gospel highlights that they are teaching two different types of good news. One focuses on what we do. The other focuses on what Jesus did. Along with St. Paul I’m going to focus on what Jesus has done for me. “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)