The Gospel is Old News

The Gospel is not happening as we speak.  Nobody in this world is being the Gospel, living the Gospel, or anything of the sort.  The Gospel is by definition good news of past events as well as the announcement of a future return of Christ.  None of the Gospel is in the present tense.  Getting this right might be the most important challenge the Church faces in our day.  The implications of a wrong view of the Gospel as history are wide and varied. 

To the individual mistaking the Gospel as something we participate in leads to despair.  Eventually we come to a point when we look at our lives and what we have done as Christians and realize that our actions are not “good news” in fact often times we find ourselves in struggles we had long before we believed.  We look to ourselves as an example of the Gospel and realize there is little good news there to celebrate.

To the church it leads to all sorts of strange concepts.  If we are to live the Gospel, then spreading the Gospel means either to bring people to us, or take ourselves to people.  We end up (though we would never say it) believing that what the world needs is more of ‘us’.  It is highly narcissistic.  A lot of Church growth, attractional mentality is built on the premise that exposing people to ourselves will expose them to the Gospel as long as our people are ‘living the Gospel’.  It also leads to this idea that “we need to be Christ for someone” or “the only Jesus some people may ever see is you.”  Again, I understand the motive here and it is not all bad, but at its heart it is narcissistic.  This confusion of the Gospel as something we do, has driven much of the church’s mission, and largely has caused us to lose our theology that is foundational to our mission.  That theology being that Christ has already done and completed a work for you.

To the world the implications of believing that the Gospel must be lived is enormous.  The Gospel ceases to be good news for a perishing world if it includes a mandate.  The greatest hope for a dying humanity is that a work has been done in history for them and that they can look back with assurance knowing that work (Christ’s life, death, resurrection) was completed for them.  If the Gospel is a new lifestyle of good works and service it offers wonderful ethics to a perishing world, but it offers nothing by way of salvation.

When the Gospel becomes a present tense activity it becomes reduced to humanism.  Humanism includes self sacrifice, it involves the golden rule, it includes honor, it includes caring for the poor, in includes all sorts of wonderful things that the scriptures include in its laws.  You do not need Jesus to have solid ethics.  As far as that is concerned I am not really “anti-humanist”, in fact I am pretty much good with humanism.  It is an attempt to live out the law which is already written on the heart of man, and it benefits society when people do that.  However, humanism always fails at the personal level.  No person lives to the ethics they espouse, all people commit the injustice they abhor, the real problem is sin and it cannot be labored away, and ethics do not cure it.  Only the Gospel offers salvation, yet if the Gospel gets confused with the ethics and good deeds even that “Gospel” ceases to offer anything more than despair and condemnation.

Yet, if we recall that the Gospel indeed is a historical transaction occurring in real time with a real body, and real blood, real wood on a real cross, and real tomb that was empty because our real savior rose from the dead... if we can recall what has been done for us we no longer need to approach the Gospel as what we must do, we approach it with gratefulness knowing we are redeemed.  We are freed for joyful obedience to a law that no longer has the power to condemn.

1 comment:

Dave Pettengill said...

Good post Jay!
I think one of the scariest things I see with the attractional model is that is we are not careful it leads us to be people pleasing not God pleasing. We challenge people with God's truth if that is o.k. with them. I even think you have hit on another topic as well that there are alot of Christian Cliches that sound good "We need to be Christ for someone" and "We might be the only Jesus some people will see" and while when we say these things we have good intentions (I have said them many times myself) it does not portray an accurate picture. Obviously when people say these things they are referring to the fact that as Christians we are called to die and let Christ live through us. That as Christians we are called to decrease and let Christ increase in us. With the comment "We may be the only Jesus people see" many times that is said because alot of people won't walk through the church doors and sit down in a pew nowadays so as we are out in the world we might be the only person people come across that are connected to the church and most importantly follow Jesus. The fact that alot of people will not go to a church to hear a sermon about Jesus Christ but might be willing to have a spiritual conversation about Jesus, the faith, and the church. Obviously in these times we need to point people to the true Savior Jesus Christ because we will never be Jesus, we are a broken, sinful people that are in need of salvation. Like you have said there are days that I do my best to live out my faith, care for the poor, reach out to the lost, pray for the hurting, and share the gospel but even in those times I am still myself a man in need of a Savior. I am still a sinner in need of God's grace. As you have said the acts of living out our faith of caring for the poor, the hurting, the lost, is what we are called to do but this doesn't bring salvation. When we live out our faith it is a great thing but we also need to point people to the reason we are doing that in the first place...that we ourselves were a lost people until we came to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
I think the most powerful statement you said was, "If the Gospel is a new lifestyle of good works and service it offers wonderful ethics to a perishing world, but it offers nothing by way of salvation." This is so true because we can see many people who do good things for our world but are missing the element of salvation. I know that statement that I have said can be taken wrong and I don't want to add confusion. I think there are awesome organizations that care for orphans, feed the hungry, bring water to places that have none, give medicine to help cure people of diseases, and the list could go on and on. These are all great things and as Christian I believe we are called to care about these things but we must remember that is not the end goal. If all we do is give someone water, give them a sandwich, and a bed to sleep we have done a good deed but if we don't eventually share with them God's truth the way of salvation then we have missed the ultimate point. We may have provided for a temporary need but we have missed out on their ultimate need...salvation.