Judah Smith: The Good Cop, Bad Cop Gospel

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"Some of us are passionate about telling people about Jesus, but we freak them out because we never learned how to smile."

This feature is an excerpt from Judah’s new book Jesus Is ___: Find a New Way to Be Human.  

There is a poetic passage in Isaiah 52:7 that says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” This verse talks about how wonderful it is to be the person who carries good news to people who need to hear it. Messengers with good news have beautiful feet. They have happy feet.

Most people reading this book are probably not pastors, but since I am, I’m going to pick on my own species for a minute. I was studying the passage I quoted from Luke 2 in preparation for a Christmas message a couple of years ago, and suddenly it hit me: my primary purpose as a preacher is to declare good news, news that produces great joy in people.

It was a paradigm shift. Not that I would stand in the pulpit and scream at people before that—I’m a nice guy—but I think I was afraid of preaching too good of a gospel. Sometimes preachers feel that we have to balance the good news and the bad news. We try to offset the really good passages with something more ominous.

I’d better not make it too good, now, because people will abuse it, we think. People will misuse it. People will misunderstand it. If I tell them that God has finished the work, that he has redeemed and accepted them, that he loves them and is not mad at them, that he forgives all sin, past, present, or future, they might start acting crazy. I’d better keep it balanced.

Then we start preaching, and we wax eloquent about the goriness of sin and the sneakiness of the devil, and we run out of time before we get to the good news. So we try to squeeze it in during our closing prayer, but by then it’s too late.

It’s sort of like doing the good cop, bad cop routine, only we play both parts. Our congregation doesn’t know what to expect from their bipolar pastor when they show up. Last week the sermon was about love and grace, and this week it’s about fire and fear and foul spirits. And our people are thinking, Wow. Guess somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. If they invited a new person this week, they apologize. “He’s not always like this. Usually he’s funnier. And . . . happier.” And they determine to pray for their pastor because he’s clearly under a lot of stress.

Understanding that the gospel is good news should help us all be a little more cheerful, a little nicer to hang out with. Preaching and evangelizing are nothing more than sharing good news with people. Some of us are passionate about telling people about Jesus, but we freak them out because we never learned how to smile. We dangle them over hell and then wonder why they don’t want anything to do with our gospel. If you say you preach the gospel but there is no great joy, I’d say there is a problem with your gospel.

I don’t want to be a person who cares more about whether a guy smokes or does drugs than whether he feels loved. I don’t want to be a pastor who preaches love and acceptance but avoids the teenage gang member who hangs around outside the church. I don’t want to belong to a church that treats a woman differently because she happens to walk into church in a dress that shows off a little too much skin. You know, cleavage does not intimidate God. Smoke that, religion. Maybe that’s the only “nice” dress she owns. Maybe everyone she knows dresses that way. Maybe she’s desperate, and she’s thinking that if she doesn’t find some authentic love and joy today, she might end it all.

I’m not advocating sloppiness or sensuality in church, but I am advocating a church that reflects real life, a church where real people with real problems can come and find hope and joy. I want people in my church to welcome everybody: the gay, the straight, the rich, the poor, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I want my church to be a place where people can come in from all kinds of backgrounds and issues and shortcomings and addictions and bondages, and we don’t have to get them all fixed up before they sit on the front row.

That’s the gospel. It’s good news for everyone.

Judah Smith Judah Smith and his wife, Chelsea, are the lead pastors of The City Church in Seattle, Washington. They were youth ministry pastors for ten years—ranked as one of the top five “most dynamic” youth groups in the country by Ministry Today—before stepping into their new role in 2009. Outreach has recognized City Church as being one of the fastest growing churches in the country. It has four satellite locations orbiting the Seattle, WA metropolitan area. Judah is in high demand as speaker, both in the U.S. and abroad, is the author of several books including Jesus Is ___., and is a popular voice on Twitter (@judahsmith). Judah and Chelsea have three children: Zion, Eliott, and Grace.

More from Judah Smith or visit Judah at http://thecity.org

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  • Pastor Alex

    Brilliantly stated!!!! I wanna go to your church!
    My most influential mentor would ask me “where is the good news? People come to hear the good news!”

  • http://twitter.com/jamiehampton Jamie Jo Hampton

    Excellent article! Real ministry is messy, just blessed enough someone cared enough about me when I was lost to love me first.

  • Jonathan

    Preach that.
    So good.

  • The One Galen

    This is a pretty basic accounting of the Gospel. Sometimes we need to be reminded, thank you.

  • http://www.SmallGroupChurches.com/ Andrew Mason

    Love the Nacho close!

  • Billy Tang

    Is it unhelpful to preach about sin? What about denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily?

    I think it is important to preach good news as it is. Good news.

    There is good news in taking up our cross, there is good news that we are saved from our sins.

  • Concerned

    This article creates a false dichotomy. The New Testament is full of “bad news” and “good news”. I sure am glad Jesus called wicked people “white washed tombs” and “a brood of vipers”. I sure am glad He told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more”. Welcome to American Christianity where everyone wants to feel good about themselves and be “built up” regardless if it’s true. I suggest we preach like Jesus and the Apostles did, not like Tony Robbins. The words of Jesus frighten me – as I think He intended them to:

    “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

    That sounds like bad news folks. If you feel your job is to only tell the “good news”, then I would question if you preach like Jesus. Jesus talked a lot about punishment. The good and bad news are packaged together by Jesus and the Apostles. If you ignore one or the other, you are only offering an empty placebo.

    Tell someone who loves their sin that they need Jesus, their first question would be “why”. Uh oh, are you going to bring the bad news? Jesus sure didn’t hesitate (see the rich young ruler). As a matter of fact, Jesus loved him enough to not give him the good news until there was a realization of the bad.

    I fear for American Christianity. Obey Jesus and quite idolizing pastors.

    • Scott

      Interestingly enough, most of the times you mention of Jesus giving bad news He is speaking to religious people who think they have it all together. The adulteress woman was told to go and sin no more AFTER Jesus saved her life and the rich young ruler was sent away after he was coming to Jesus to win approval (not after Jesus approached Him). The gospel literally means good news. Saving people from hell should not necessarily be our primary goal. Setting people free by tellingshowingliving the good news should be. Casting stones and fear only serves to drive away the sinner and welcome in Pharisee.

      • Algoria

        Jesus rebuked the Pharisees about their self-righteousness, but he also warned all people to be careful about how they live.

        “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
        For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
        For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.’ ” Mark 8:34-38

        Here He is talking to ordinary people, as well as his disciples, warning them about the risk of losing their souls. He says nothing about any other “primary goal”
        Saving one’s soul and avoiding losing it are two sides of the same coin.
        A one-sided “good news” is not complete or truthful.

      • Concerned

        The rich young ruler came to Jesus asking how he could inherit eternal life. Any other motive is just assumed on your behalf (be careful reading your own thoughts into the scriptures). Jesus answered Him by telling him to give up his worldly possessions and become a disciple. Where is the “good news” in that? Well, in the Spirit of course since he would gain eternal life. It requires the rich young ruler to deny himself and take up his cross to follow Christ. Jesus knows that true riches are in God’s kingdom, not in our worldly lusts (ahem…prosperity gospel anyone). The way is narrow to life, and broad to destruction. Don’t preach a broad road, it leads to a bad place.

        • Cameron

          Also wanna be careful about reading your own thoughts into blog posts

    • Algoria

      “This article creates a false dichotomy.”
      Concerned, I think you are right.
      The Bible tells us “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
      “There is none righteous, not one.” And, “The wages of sin is death.”
      Surely this is bad news which we need to warn people of just as we need to tell them that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
      Certainly tell them the good news first, if the Holy Spirit so directs.
      But to tell people the truth, in love, about the human condition is in no way “casting stones and fear” as some would have it.

    • Lizop

      absolutely 100% agree with you, he is another false teacher who wants to tickle the ears of his followers…

  • Cha

    I don’t think what Judah is saying here is to make people feel good with only the good news. You won’t really feel how good is really good without experiencing or knowing or sensing the bad.

    I like the gospel, and I agree with Judah. The point is to bring both the bad news and the good news and ask Jesus to help us make them feel loved—despite of how bad, or good, even, THE news is. (It’s possible to convey some good news and not always necessarily feel good about it.)

    As the popular saying goes: We can’t change people (it’s the Holy Spirit’s job). WE CAN ONLY LOVE THEM. The main aim is to love (second greatest commandment, remember?)

    • Concerned

      I would agree with your statement “The point is to bring both the bad news and the good news and ask Jesus to help us make them feel loved”, but that is not what Judah said in his article. He was rebuking the idea that preachers need to keep it balanced (see his first few paragraphs). I say, just preach like Jesus and you will be OK. Judah is advocating to emphasize one aspect of the message – thus creating a new gospel…which is no gospel at all according to Paul.

      According to Paul we should: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.”

      Reprove? Rebuke? Amen. It seems Judah is advocating for another way. I’ll stick with the old paths. If you ignore these important aspects preaching the gospel, you are creating your own foundation for the hearers that seem to be based more on being liked, than telling the truth.

  • Cameron

    Great stuff, Bieber likes it ;-] lol

  • Ryan

    I get the spirit of your article and both like and get what your saying. God, in Deuteronomy presented both a blessing and a curse, a blessing if they continue in His ways and a curse if they don’t. There is two sides and both need to be presented. Just from the experience of life, there is blessings that come from following God’s ways and curses that come from sin. That just the way it is. What caring parent wouldn’t warn thier child of danger… “Don’t play in the fire because you could get burned.” Warning people of sin and it’s consequences is to keep them from harming themselves… messing up thier lives or messing it up further. Some sin causes spiritual harm that causes a distance between them and God such as immoral lifestyles. I like the idea of accepting anyone into church, no matter who they are or what they do. If you give warning of the consequences of sin, maybe they change, maybe they don’t. Don’t be concerned whether someone continues in sin or not. All will stand at the Judgment seat of Christ and give an account for thier life. So let the immoral stay immoral and believe that God is ok with that. Let God deal with those. You just preach truth and leave the rest to God. “God, I’ve warned them, yet I’ll not hate them because they won’t change. I’ve done as you asked and their blood is not on my hands.”

  • Andrew

    Judah Smith – please provide chapter and verse where you are drawing these truths from.

  • Andrew

    Judah, that’s something else. That’s welcoming people, but that is not even close to the gospel message that Jesus and the apostles preached. To see what the gospel is, please read this passage 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Please don’t exchange the gospel of Christ for a false gospel. Galatians 1. Don’t call something gospel, when it is not.

    “I am advocating a church that reflects real life, a church where real people with real problems can come and find hope and joy. I want people in my church to welcome everybody: the gay, the straight, the rich, the poor, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I want my church to be a place where people can come in from all kinds of backgrounds and issues and shortcomings and addictions and bondages, and we don’t have to get them all fixed up before they sit on the front row.

    That’s the gospel. It’s good news for everyone.”

  • fezic

    Wow, leave it to Christians to complain about saving people. That’s the problem with some “believers” today. If the gospel doesn’t fit into your box, it’s obviously wrong and should be ridiculed, reviled or shunned. So let me ask any of you this, who among you would turn down any of the examples Judah laid out as a person in need of Jesus? He didn’t come to heal the healthy but the sick. But in your eyes it seems that if those people aren’t healed your way, it’s obviously bad.
    I sit in Judah’s church every week and I can tell you that the message isn’t about only giving the good news. It’s about how God loves you in spite of you.
    So with that, let me tell you that the most important point. The bad news”IS YOU! The bad news is me! We are all sinners. Jesus is the Good News! And Judah’s point is that if He didn’t turn people away for being who they are, then why are you?

    • Concerned

      Judah wrote this about how to preach the gospel, what is wrong with us disagreeing with him? His article basically disagrees with what I believe. So in stead of being so defensive about it, why not talk about what method of evangelism is more like how Christ and the Apostles did it? NOBODY ever said we should turn anyone away, but read John chapter 6. Jesus didn’t tell people to go away, but they all left because His message was hard for them to receive. I’m glad he didn’t take Judah’s advice and tickle their ears so they would stick around for the wrong reasons.

    • Concerned

      Fezic, I think this quote pretty much sums it up:

      ‎”The Church used to be a lifeboat rescuing the perishing. Now she is a cruise ship recruiting the promising.”
      – Leonard Ravenhill