With Easter come and gone I have been thinking about our message and why it doesn’t always sound as good as it is supposed to sound.
The Gospel. The cornerstone of our faith. Romans gives us a great summation of how to have faith. The Romans Road as some have dubbed it is a series of verses that is still very helpful for explaining the Gospel. Some may think it archaic in presentation; to simply present the verses and then an expect a full conversion after hearing it; I would agree, but the content of the verses are still very useful and true.
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Wait what? Is God maybe not OK with this?
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.
OK we should want to avoid this and want that, a bit harsh?
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we still sinners Christ died for us.
Ok, Hey this does sound good, so what’s the catch?
Romans 10:9 That if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.
Ah but here is the rub, if someone isn’t offended by the first point then this one brings issue. In Christian circles we think that this is so simple, just believe! Be saved! Make it to the finish of Romans 5:1 Therefore since you have been justified through faith you have peace with God through Christ. Right? Easy? Easter!!!
I have seen the problem, which has always been the problem. The recognition of sin and our fallen state is a hard pill to swallow at first. But then confessing that Jesus is Lord and believing in his resurrection is admitting some other things about ourselves. This is admitting that perhaps we have been an offense to God. That perhaps my sin is separating me from him. Did my sin somehow contribute to his death? Is that something I am really prepared to come to terms with despite how good the end of this road is. Am I prepared to be humble before an accusation that I am not OK?
For a Christian this is good news. For someone who has already agreed to these terms this is very good news. For someone prepared to come to these terms, this is very good news. For someone who is not, then the Gospel is not so good. It is not so exciting, because there is a veiled accusation. There is a veiled message that I am not cool with God the way I am. This is the reality of the Gospel, it does have a catch. We have to be humble and accept the truth it points out in us. In faith we repent of trusting in ourselves and we place our trust in him.
People love the idea of a loving Jesus with all the acceptance. But Jesus’ acceptance comes on the other side of my repentance. Again the repentance is a turning in my mind from going it on my own to going on because of him. This is my acceptance that I am not OK, that I might even be on the pathway to hell. That I am currently dead and an offense to God. Now we do not even have to present this amount of detail in the message but rest assured that someone who is offended has come to this realization. They have put two and two together and they don’t like. This is why the Bible even tells us that this is offensive.
If it is offensive, doesn’t it push people away? So what is the answer? How do we fix this?
We don’t. This may be easy for some and not for others, but the ones it is harder for have to work through it. We are not free to soften the message’s impact. It has eternal consequences, it is supposed to.
Despite this, what has happened is we have tried to help the Gospel out anyway.
The solution? To present a less offensive Jesus. Now it is not this overt, which is why it is difficult to talk about. But I hope I can show here that it is true. The method? Let’s only focus on one aspect of the gospel, the love. And I know the moment I say that people will say “What do you have against love?” Well, I don’t have anything against love, but the Gospel’s true love is on the other side of something. It is on the other side of our coming to terms with truths from the Romans Road verses above. Wait, didn’t God display his love to us while we were still sinners? Yes, yes he did, but that is a general offer, that is his loving nature. But for it to be efficacious, the love of God’s forgiveness, he asks of us something. John 3:16 has an “if” clause. If it didn’t we would have universalism and evangelism would be moot.
If people were already OK and loved then we wouldn’t need to tell them. But if they are not, then I had better help them see and point them in the right direction. Our presentation of “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” has started to sound like original sin is no longer a thing, which people love!
But what this has done to the gospel is what the angry mob said to Jesus on the cross in Mathew 27.
They would believe in Jesus if he simply came down from the cross. The King of Israel has no business on a cross. The King of Israel has no business dying an insurrectionist’s death. The King of Israel has no business being a substitution for our atonement. This is similar to what Satan tempted Jesus with. “I will give you the world, if you just worship me”, without all that going to cross and suffering. But Jesus had to go through the path he went as the Bible says to learn obedience, he was the suffering servant. He was born to die. And he asks us to take up a cross and follow.
We think we are doing people a favor by avoiding sin and the death part and making the Gospel more palatable. But we are really joining with the angry mob and with Satan when we downplay Romans 10:9. God raised Jesus from the dead because sin caused his death. Our sins, not his. A payment had to be paid. It required the death penalty. God’s love is freely offered but is was not free of charge. The cross speaks volumes. The cross has meaning. The cross speaks of our need and his answer. The good news cannot be offense free. Somebody had to die, because somebody did something worthy of the death penalty. This is offensive because it points to us. We have to acknowledge this exchange.
Running past the cross to the love is not simply a case of the cart before the horse. This is making the goodness of the good news not that he died for us, but that he accepts us the way we are, as we are, where we are. But He doesn’t, we have to be cleansed. To not do this takes away the rescuing element. It is affirming us as we are, and who wouldn’t love that? But the gospel is not affirming it is undermining. It undermines our security in our self. It is a painful reminder of our need for salvation. It is a mirror to the face with a bright light revealing all our blemishes. It does not cover up, it tears down all defenses and then asks “Am I welcome to continue?” It causes vulnerability. As we say yes, then in our nakedness before God he reaches out and embraces us at our worst, fully exposed but fully welcomed. This is the Good news.
“But Gabe no one is questioning this, we just want to reach more people!”
Cool, but the issue is that people in the church have still taken up the “Hey man don’t judge me mantra.” This is evidence that the offense of the cross and our part in it has been circumvented.
Without humility, and a recognition our sin, then the Gospel is an imposition. If it is an imposition than our response is not repentance but anger. This is a result of an anemic Gospel, hence this blog entry. Our job is to be clear on the Gospel not soften the blow. It is not our job to change this.
I am not adding works to the Gospel. I am simply returning to it what we have subtlety stripped away. I know this makes it sound like I am trying to make the Gospel harder, but I am not I am trying to make the message clearer. We focus on love and rightfully so, but its aim is always to draw people to repentance, drawing to repentance means an honest confrontation with the cross. So let love live on but as Paul McCartney sang Live and let Die.
In order for us to live we have to allow Christ to die. Don’t worry he rises again, it’s awesome!