Friday, February 26, 2021

The Wavering Severity of the Gospel


 A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the Actual Gospel, and I mentioned a statement I’d heard that we Christians can be rough on people concerning their utter sinfulness. Maybe, this person said, the preacher’s too hard on the congregation with his constant sin bashing. The long-time believer surprised me when he threw in, “It’s not like we’re ax murderers or anything.”

This is where the severity of the Gospel begins to waver. Surely he wasn’t insinuating ax murderers are the only condemnable sinners. If you want to know who needs a rescue from sin, just take a walk down the Romans Road. If you’re unfamiliar with Christianese, the Romans Road is a quick and easy way to explain the Gospel by walking a sinner through selected verses in the book of Romans. If you want to know how I feel about Christianese, read this: A Beginner’s Guide to Talking like a Real Christian

Now, don’t think I’m opposed to repeating comfortably memorized scripture when you’re sharing your faith. Go ahead and do it. There is nothing more perfectly designed for reaching the lost than the Word of God. Here’s that walk through Romans:

3: 23 …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
6:23 …the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
5:8 …God demonstrates His love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
10:9 …if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
10:13 …whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Is it that simple? Yes. Can a sinner repeat these verses three times and go to Heaven? No. Can a believer forget, or never realize, the depths from which he was rescued? I don’t know—that’s God’s call. I do know people who never did anything horrible and seem to feel they deserve to be saved, but they’re not sure those other people—the ones who sin big—are entitled to God’s grace. I’ve never met a redeemed ax murderer but if I did, he’d probably be sure about it. He’d understand the severity of the Gospel.

I call it severe because it’s strict in its application. You can’t choose the lite serving instead of the mega platter. It’s difficult for a rebellious heart to grasp, and harsh in its demand of death as penalty for sin. It causes irreversible and ongoing destruction to the sin nature of an individual, and eventually to the overall effect of sin in the world.  Another definition of severe: plain, unelaborated. Nothing added. That’s the Gospel.

I use the word wavering not as an indicator of the Gospel’s lack of stability. It is not unsteady nor does it fluctuate. But sometimes we believers can waver. We disregard the fact that we were hell-bound sinners. We thoughtlessly suggest salvation is for church people, not for the freaks who insult our sensibility. Or just as misguided, we insist that sin is sin and it doesn’t matter if you tell a white lie or bludgeon someone to death. God’s got it covered.

 Wait, doesn’t He? Does it matter if I sin big or sin little? No, it doesn’t matter—not when it comes to settling my eternal destiny. To the person at the other end of my little lie, or the blade of my ax, it matters severely. The guy I lied to can forgive me if I go to set things right. The other guy, well, he’s dead.  If he could, he’d say my sin against him was much, much greater. Will God forgive me? I can ask Him. From prison. Does God redeem imprisoned, entirely guilty murderers? Of course. 

Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

But didn’t Jesus teach that if we think about sinning then we’ve already broken the law? You know, lust in your heart and all that. Do you suppose He meant having a bad thought is the same as having an affair? Ask your spouse. Jesus was telling us we’re sinners, even if we don’t carry through on every evil deed we imagine. We’ve broken fellowship with God with just a thought. Kind of makes you forget about the ax murderer. None of us has a chance of getting away with anything.

Will there be good people in Heaven who never did anything worse than tell a white lie? I’d like to meet that person. But yes, good people will be there. Not because they were good, but because they met the One who put an end to their self-righteous speculation of their own goodness. Will there be murderers in Heaven? I hope so. Otherwise, it’s a thin Gospel God poured out for us. Of course, it isn’t that kind—not lean or wimpy. Not at all wavering. But it is gloriously severe. 
What other kind could rescue us?

Friday, February 12, 2021

Nothing to Offer but...

I haven't blogged much of late. I stated the reason why in a post last November. Here is my conclusion, then and now

I Corinthians 2:2 – I decided to know nothing among you except Christ, and Him crucified.

I won't go on about political sinkholes, plagues, pestilence, wars—either foreign or domestic, famine, economic resets, or any other maddening consequence of the deepening darkness. Enough! I have nothing to offer but the gospel of Christ. And so, having nothing else to say, at least for now, I will share a series of posts I wrote over the last few years about, you guessed it, the gospel. The following is the first blog post I wrote with “Gospel” in its title. For the next few months, I'll share all my past "Gospel" blog posts, and maybe I'll write a new one. God willing.

The Actual Gospel

Is there more than one?

Last week my Sunday school teacher used the term the actual Gospel, and it yelled, “Hey, I’m a title!” Titles do that. After class I told my teacher I was stealing, uh, borrowing it. I placed it at the top of the “things to write about” pile in my head and went to church.

I wondered why my teacher felt the need to use this idiom. He said it in reference to what's available in the wide world of Western Christianity. What American seekers of all things Godly are apt to find, or not find, when they walk into a church. 

"We need to make sure we're giving people the actual Gospel," he told us.

Was he lumping his students into the church of the itching ears the Bible warns about? Did he think we might have trouble distinguishing the real thing from the counterfeit? Would we settle for something soft and comfortable? Diluted? I scratched my ears and shook my head.

Now, when I watch a TV preacher or pick up the latest bestselling self-improvement book, I expect to hear the truth, yet I sometimes find myself disappointed. Sorry, but I don’t want to learn how to be a better Christian. Well…yes, I do. But not from somebody who’s got a formula for success. As far as doing all the things Christians are supposed to do and getting all the things Christians are supposed to get, who came up with that list?

Celebrity Christians aside, when I walk into a sanctuary I expect I will hear the actual Gospel. But my teacher brought up the fact that many churches in the post-modern, post-Christian, totally relevant new world I so easily forget about are filling itching ears with facsimile gospels, just like the Old Book said they would.

What I hear at church on a regular basis seems quite the opposite of telling people what they want to hear. A few weeks ago I heard a comment that maybe we can be a little tough with the Gospel by telling people they need Christ because they’re sinners. My pastor would say something like dirty, vile, rotten sinners. But when I hear that, I don’t take offense. It makes me really, really happy. No, grateful. Not just grateful. Free. And freedom is what keeps me coming back for more.

The Gospel—there is none but the actual—is not about telling somebody they’re so loved, so perfect just the way they are that God can’t take His adoring gaze off them. And it’s not about telling people they’re so up to their necks in evil nastiness that God can’t stand the sight of them. It’s about God being so good and loving and forgiving that He desires to rescue us. God liberated me despite the depth of my sin, but He also disregarded the general goodness that might leak out of me before my death. Am I rotten? Yes. Wonderfully made in God’s image? Yes. That’s why He rescued me.

So how does that add up to freedom? Because my sin has let me go. It’s powerless. Because my goodness has let me go. It’s powerless. Don’t tell me I can sin less by being good. Don’t tell me I can improve my goodness by sinning less. If I’m good it’s because I’m forever bound to His goodness. If I’m escaping the sin that still calls my name it’s because I’m eternally bound to His righteousness. If all that being bound sounds like the opposite of freedom, then you don’t understand grace. If your itching ears entice you to forget about sin, to set your own moral gauge because God just wants you to be a good person, then you don’t know the actual Gospel. 

If you're under the impression you're too good for Hell, find a new church. If somebody’s harping on your vile, corrupt, evil self without telling you how to get free, then you’re getting suckered. Find a new church. But if you’re hearing that you’re vile, corrupt, and evil and somebody’s got to pay for it, keep listening. If it's the actual Gospel, you're about to find 
                                                  out who paid the price of your freedom. 

                                                                                      Spoiler alert: It wasn’t you.