Pastor's Blog

If the sole purpose of the gospel message is to rescue you from hell, then once you are rescued, the business is done.  Jesus saved you.  Go on your way.

My contention is that rescue from hell is a side effect of the gospel message, but is not God’s primary intention in sending His Son into the world.

When God was creating the world, everything was good – until sometime on that sixth day of creation, when man had been created but woman had not yet been created, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.”

Human beings are not created to live in isolation from other human beings.
We are made to live in connection with others.

Sin separates us from God, but it also separates us from each other.

The Son of Man came into the world to save the world – and a big part of saving it meant creating a group of people – a kingdom, a church, a body (use whichever term you like) – and all those who are rescued and pledge allegiance to Jesus become a part of that group, that new creation – a ‘new society’ as it were.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  (John 13.35)

Love is the hallmark of the followers of Jesus.  Love is the hallmark of that body, that kingdom, that church.  Knowing how to love – how to live in harmony with one another, how to create harmony despite differences and conflicts between one another – is the hallmark of the followers of Jesus, of the church, of the kingdom.

It is the hallmark of heaven.

God saves us from sin, not merely so I can breathe a sigh of relief that I’ve escaped hell, but so that I can become a contributing member of that eternal kingdom characterized by love, where GOD’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. 

The seed of change has been planted in us – and we together become the seed of change planted on earth.  That kingdom is a plant that is slowly growing and spreading now and will eventually come to full flower.

God knows that it is not good to be alone because He has never been alone.  He has always been one God in three different persons who live in perfect harmony.
Human life was created with the intention of reflecting Him
Sin destroys love and poisons harmonious life with others by getting too caught up in the self.
God has moved to save us from sin, and remake (or renew) that creation.  It will eventually become what He intended – a society of people existing in harmony with Him and with one another.

That changes the picture of what a church is supposed to be about, doesn’t it?

I was recently told about a young man who said that his dream for his life was to eventually find a wife and have a marriage and family life like he had seen in Christians he had known – “but without all the religious nonsense”.

I think this is a more common sentiment than many Christians realize, and it should be instructive to us about evangelism.

Some evangelicals treat the gospel as a form of magic – an incantation to be repeated in the hearing of an unbeliever.
            You are a sinner.  You were born condemned to hell.
            God sent His Son, Jesus, to die for your sins on the cross.
            If you believe this, you will escape hell and go to heaven.
            Would you like to ask Jesus into your heart?

Sometimes the incantation converts the person.  When it doesn’t, try saying it again tomorrow (or use a different incantation, as we have several).  The important thing, it is believed, is to take every opportunity to speak an incantation in the hearing of an unbeliever.  Even if the life context or the conversation you’re in has nothing to do with religion, spirituality, or Christianity – just speak an incantation.  You never know when God might work His magic.

My purpose is not to offend my fellow evangelicals with this depiction, but to get us to see ourselves as outsiders see us, because understanding how your intended audience sees you is, I believe, an important part of communicating effectively with people.

As we rocket into the future, ancient religious doctrines seem irrelevant to modern people.  Why, then, would that be our starting point in communication?

Toss a rock into a pond and waves roll out in concentric circles from where the rock struck the water.  Jesus may be the Rock, but religious truths about Him may be too far removed for people to hear first.  But the waves that roll out from him – truths about life as all people experience – may be the stuff that makes for meaningful communication and connection.

When it comes to reaching people for Christ, maybe the best contact point isn’t the “Faith” in our slogan “Faith, Families, Friendships”.  Maybe it’s the other end – the families and friendships – that are the most relatable things.  These (and the life issues related to them) are the outer ripples that should eventually lead those we wish to win to the Rock at the heart of all things.

The church itself – what we are, how we are, how we relate to one another – almost becomes part of the message itself.

The Christian message calls people to pledge allegiance to Jesus, to follow Him, to become part of and builders of God’s kingdom.  It is not merely an invitation to souls to escape an eternal destiny of misery, nor is it primarily an invitation to enjoy an eternal destiny of personal happiness.

The gospel is about dying to self – not indulging self.  Indulgence of the self is the central problem to be solved, from which we need to be saved.  This self-centeredness, self-focus, self-absorption, is where sin is born and bred and nurtured.  Sin thrives on it.

“It is not good for man to be alone.”  That simple sentence spoken by God in our early history is pregnant with meaning.  We must be saved from self and turned in trusting dependence to God.

When you make the gospel about one’s personal escape from the pains of hell (or enjoyment of heaven’s pleasures), you not only abbreviate the gospel, but shift the message from the focus of the apostles.  You turn the listener toward self, not away from self, and not toward God.  The self is called to protect itself, not abandon itself in trust to God.  God becomes the servant, not the Lord, of the self.

You may feel these are trivial distinctions.  They are trivial at the outset.  But draw a straight line and draw another line next to it that only diverges by one ten-thousandth of a degree.  The lines look parallel at the outset.  The divergence seems trivial at the outset.  But the further out the two lines go, the greater the chasm between them becomes.

You may feel my approach complicates the gospel.  Hell, I’ve been told, is a matter of life and death, an emergency to be solved hurriedly before a person dies unexpectedly.

Jesus said the opposite.  Precisely because it’s a matter of life and death Jesus told people to count the cost of following Him.  Listen, think, weigh out the consequences of what following means.  If you are going to follow, you’d better understand, not that you are purchasing an eternal fire insurance policy that can be shoved into a drawer and forgotten, but that you are committing your life to “hate” everything, including your own self, so that you might pledge allegiance to Jesus (Luke 14.25-35). 

This is not a decision to be made lightly or with as little information as possible.  Jesus expected followers to know what they were committing to.

I have decided to follow Jesus . . . No turning back.  No turning back.

Pledging allegiance to Jesus is not a trivial commitment, and yet I have seen evangelicals treat it as a decision that can and should be made hastily, in a moment of temporarily manipulated emotion – with no consideration of what issues from that moment.  As though the decision involves only what happens to you after you die.

This is not simplified but oversimplified.  The difference is that that which is oversimplified is wrong.

All that to say this:  how you see the gospel will change how you see the ministry and purpose and role of the church.  And perhaps Christianity is so weak these days because we have abandoned a more demanding understanding of the gospel?

 

 

 

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