Why the “Gospel” can’t save you.


“Sin,” “repent,” and “eternal life” are among the top words and phrases that have taken on a meaning in pop-Christianity that Jesus would have never endorsed or taught. It just underscores the power of groupthink – that if enough people believe something, they will reason that it must be correct.

What is our crime that separates us from God? As the pop-Christian theory goes, our crime is being human. We are told that we are born “sinners.” Insert the misinterpretation of the word “sin.” According to the theory, before we do anything… we are born as babies “in sin.” In other words, we don’t get a choice; by virtue of being born human, we are at the core, “sinners.” The theory further says that this state is disgusting and revolting to God, which is why God rejects and condemns us, has nothing to do with us, and sends us to Hell… we are separated from God.

However, the word “sin” means to miss the mark or fall short. What mark? Fall short of what? Sin is falling short or missing the mark of realizing, accepting, being and giving expression to the complete and whole people God made us to be. Of course God “hates sin” – God hates anything in our lives that prevents us from knowing and experiencing our true nature, which is an extension and expression of the image, likeness and being of God. And God hates anything that prevents us from embracing the freedom, goodness, beauty, peace and freedom intended for all humankind. I love my daughter Jessica. I passionately desire her to know love, goodness, beauty, peace, freedom, wholeness and well-being. It’s heartbreaking to see any way she is not experiencing these, and I want to remove any obstacle in her life that would be preventing it.

Next, pop-Christianity inserts a misinterpretation of the word, “repent.” In the religious context, “repent” usually means acknowledging and grieving your sinful condition, turning from your wicked ways, throwing yourself on the mercy of God, and pledging to do better… or else! “Repent” is one of those religious words that conjure up images of judgment, condemnation, and fear.

Jesus often said in the gospels, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” For years it troubled me that Jesus so often used this word because it represented everything that repelled me about religion. But then I learned its true meaning and significance. I discovered that the word “repent” (metanoia) actually means a change of mind or having a new mind. The word suggests a radical transformation of how we process reality.

Metanoia literally means “beyond the mind.” It’s the idea of stretching or pushing beyond the boundaries with which we normally think and feel. It often involves pressing beyond our religious conditioning about ourselves, God, others and life itself. When Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” he was saying that peace, freedom, fulfillment, and wholeness is present in every moment but it can’t be accessed or grasped through the religious mentality. “Repentance” as a way of life would mean acknowledging that what you most deeply want in life lies beyond what you already know or think you know. It involves approaching life from a place of “not knowing” and becoming more grounded in that inner voice that woos you toward what is truly good, beautiful, and liberating.

The pop-Christian gospel is then capped off with the promise of “eternal life,” which is normally associated with life after death or Heaven. This, despite the fact that Jesus described “eternal life” as the life of God that is continuously and unconditionally available to us, in us, for us, as us, and through us… in every present moment.

These ideas of sin, repentance and eternal life became the modern “gospel,” along with a host of other doctrines. They were conveniently labeled “orthodoxy,” implying that you could not even be a “Christian” unless you signed off on this doctrinal litmus test, which Jesus himself would not have supported. Just a cursory reading of church history raises some suspicion of how this popular Christian “orthodoxy” came into existence.

One of the biggest mistaken notions I carried around for years was that somehow Jesus Christ and Christianity were more or less the same thing or interchangeable. It makes sense; the Christian religion bears his name. It just seemed to go without saying – Jesus was in support of Christianity, and Christianity was in support of Jesus. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that sometimes Jesus and Christianity can be two totally different and irreconcilable things.

Latest Comments

  1. deborahlynn27 says:

    I needed this post today … it tells me go forth … stay with the lines of inquiry ♡

  2. Jeff Stewart says:

    (tongue in cheek) But you can *fix* your doomed condition with your mouth and your will. It’s entirely up to you. By the grace of God you are what you are – but you can alter that. “Who’s on first, What’s on second, I don’t know….”
    Repent is not an event. It is an ongoing expression in the transformation process.

  3. Paul Kinney says:

    Jim, I love this! Thank you. it so percisly states what i have come to believe. So now that you have stated what “the gospel” is not and does not do could u write on what “the gospel” is and does?

  4. Heather G says:

    Somehow I feel like this post is unfinished – what I take you to be saying is that the “gospel” laid out above is not really the gospel, so therefore it can’t save you. So what happens next? What is the *real* gospel that CAN save you, if this isn’t it – in your mind?

  5. LandSurfer says:

    Love this…. Been spreading this message for decades…. Good to hear another voice at it…

  6. Maria Dreyer says:

    So much Truth in a nut shell!

  7. donovanshaw says:

    Reblogged this on my new inclusive journey and commented:
    This is an absolutely brilliant post by my friend Jim Palmer. I’m very honoured to reblog it.

  8. silentlyhealing says:

    I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of original sin. Such an interesting article!

  9. Dan Pedersen says:

    Wonderfully said. Couldn’t agree more.

  10. Colette says:

    I believe these words are the truth. Thanks.

  11. colourmecrazee says:

    pop culture – that about sums it up. the moment when i started really listening and thinking about all the christian “terms” and “sayings” – and how people flippantly used it, i started running for the hills. 😉

  12. jim gleeson says:

    Wow, what a breath of fresh air you are! I had many of the same doubts about contemporary Christianity. If you haven’t already, read “Science and Health” by Mary Baker Eddy. Amazing!

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