This blog has been around for a few years. During those years, the structure and my writing style has change a few times but my heart for why #ApproachGod exists has remained the same. But, it wasn’t until recently that I started really being able to articulate what #ApproachGod is for. Here it is: I want #ApproachGod to encourage conversations that will help build communities that cultivate love, so that people can see that they’re invited, through Jesus, to approach God the Father. The most important part of building communities that reflect Jesus, is the Gospel Message. Actually, without understanding the Gospel Message, a love cultivating community that is pursuing Jesus, doesn’t exist. I think that a lack of understanding the Gospel is one of the main barriers keeping us from having genuine communities where people are loved to Christ.
I could just tell you what the Gospel message is, but where’s the fun in that. And, I’ve written that so many times (I’ll also include it at the end of this article). Here’s three things that we typically twist the Gospel message into, but that it is most definitely NOT…
A Means to Condemn Others
We’ll start here, mainly because I constantly see articles and stories with Christians shouting about what others are doing that doesn’t line up with scripture. Right off the bat Jesus said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” In that passage of scripture Jesus is explaining God’s great love for the world and how He fits into it. He does say that those that don’t believe in Him are already condemned. The implication is that all of us are already condemned, but those that chose to believe that Jesus is who He said He is, can be saved. The point is, Jesus came to save people out of condemnation. Is it important for people to understand the link between their condemnation and the salvation Jesus offers? Yes. But, our commission wasn’t to condemn people’s sin. In being Jesus’ witnesses to a dying world, we’re to address their unbelief of Him, that is their primary sin. Conviction, not condemnation, for any other sin is the job of the Holy Spirit.
How many people do you think actually turn to Jesus by being told, by a stranger, that they’re a horrible sinner? If you do a quick Google search for statistics you’ll see that the declining numbers in the church suggests that technique works on very few people. What does work is loving and serving people. It’s the reason that Jesus acted and taught the way He did. It’s why He said he came to serve not be served, told us to love your neighbor and your enemy and to pray for your persecutor. It’s why He begged God to forgive those that were crucifying Him. He knew that love was a far better invitation than fear. Oh, and that’s why John said that there is no fear in love. We can’t be hell fear mongers and hope dealers at the same time. When we use Jesus, the cross, or the bible as a means to generate fear in others, you’re not teaching the Gospel.
When it comes to unbelievers, they need to see Christ acted out and active in our life. It’s for that reason that Peter reminds us that we ought to honor Christ in our hearts and be prepared with an answer for the hope that is in us. He was saying that people will see and ask. When that happens, the focus for Christ’s goodness ought to be by the word of our testimony for what He’s done in OUR sin filled life. Then we can talk about how that translates to humankind. It isn’t our responsibility to identify the sin in an unbeliever’s life. 1 Corinthians 5:13 relieves us of that responsibility. For the believer, if we’re in relationship with them, the Gospel is still meant to draw them to God, because we’re still “being saved.” If we’re in community with them, we’re called to loving correction, not chastising condemnation.
A Way to Excuse Your Behavior
I think this gospel is for many Christians, the preferred one. I know that it used to be mine. I used to hinge my entire religious experience on the idea of God’s good grace. Honestly, it was the only reason I walked into church after a weekend of partying and drinking. I had this illusion that I could choose to act however I wanted and God would forgive me. While it is true that God forgives all sin, choosing to sin and expecting forgiveness is actually an abuse of grace and not at all what it means to follow Jesus.
When the religious leaders brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, He not only made the point that her condemnation isn’t theirs to deal in, He told her that He doesn’t condemn her, then said “go and sin no more.” After extending His mercy, He offered her grace and expected that if she decided to receive it she would need to stop doing the very thing that landed her at His feet. But, it wasn’t an expectation that she’d simply change her behavior, it was an expectation that His response to her need for love would so impact her heart that it would change her understanding of how that need was to be met.
The Gospel is not our get out of jail free card. The simple fact that you said a prayer (me included) at some youth event when you were 12, doesn’t give you carte blanche to act however you want. Following Jesus is the continued submission to the pressing of the Holy Spirit on your mind and heart. The Gospel played out in your life is the continual acknowledgement of God’s love for you, thorough the daily confession of Jesus, by the repeated submission to the Holy Spirit. The Gospel isn’t meant to provide you with a way to live any way you feel like, it’s meant to provide you with a way to live better than you can imagine and in a way that invites others into the same joy.
A “To Do” List
It just isn’t this. The Gospel isn’t a list of correct ways to behave. It isn’t behavior modification. The message of the Gospel is not “do this, this and this and you can get into heaven.” It’s about heart transformation. It’s the shedding off of the old you and the putting on the new you, through the work of the Holy Spirit. I used the word shedding intentionally. If you’ve ever observed a snake shed it’s skin, then you know it’s a slow process. But, as the old skin comes off, the skin under it is new and so much more vibrant. It’s the same with us. As the Holy Spirit brings conviction in a particular area, we begin the process of shedding it off. It isn’t without difficulty, and sometimes pain, but the new underneath is so much more vibrant. So much so, that it’s actually life-giving; others are moved toward Jesus by the change that the Holy Spirit prompts in us.
If the Gospel is anything close to a “to do” list, there’s only two things on it: Believe and confess. If we believe in our heart that Jesus is Lord and confess with our mouth (and this isn’t just the “sinner’s prayer,” it’s so much more, but also another blog), we’re saved and we can start the process of being saved and living in His kingdom. When we simply make the Gospel a list of ways to behave, we burden ourselves and others with the same thing that Jesus accused the religious leaders, of His day, of doing. We make following Jesus too burdensome and heavy. But, Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden if light; so we ought not add anything to that.
What It Is
It’s John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The Gospel turns hearts to loving God, loving our neighbors and loving each other. The Gospel is God’s love poured out, in the person of Jesus, so that we can be with Him. It’s meant to heal the one relationship that matters above all else, so that we can be vehicles for healing others’ relationships with Him. We use the Gospel to introduce people to the One that closes the gap between them and their Father.
*I‘d love to dialogue with you. But, I want to dialogue with you only if you’ve actually read what I said. If you chose to comment, please start your post with “Timey Whimey” Thanks.
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