Friday, October 28, 2022

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.     

Friday, October 14, 2022

The End of the Gospel


In years past I wrote several “gospel” blogposts. The first was inspired by a Sunday School teacher who referred to the “actual gospel.” This term jumped out at me as a title, and I wrote about it. More writings followed. 

I wrote about other subjects—the condition of our society, the advancement of science as it pertains to the human condition, the darkness around us. But my favorite subject has always been the truth and light of the gospel.

After the passing of time, and the downward spiral of our world, I came to the conclusion that I had little else to say except this: I have nothing to offer but Christ crucified. The statement based on I Corinthians 2:2 summed up my feeling that there was not much left to write about. This decision was my own. It was not necessarily God’s will for me, and I knew that. I knew it all along. But my writing became sporadic. I stopped working on an unfinished novel. I blogged occasionally but lost the discipline of sticking to a schedule. And as happens when a writer doesn’t write, I became a bit hopeless, a bit cynical. I sabotaged my own sense of completeness.

But what does it matter if I write? Other writers, many others, impart their influence and encouragement with far more skill and talent than I could ever offer. All the great deliberations have been expressed within the binding of a book or the glow of a screen. My little voice means nothing. And yet, I am compelled by my Creator to live out His design for me. To offer Christ crucified the best way I know how, with words on a page.

An end, or a pause, in my writing does not mean an end to the gospel. It carries on by the will of God, continually changing the world around me, with or without me. I’d rather it be with me.

But while I struggle to pen these words, the world is not changing for the better. We’re being pushed, seemingly crushed by those rulers, those authorities, those powers of this dark world. (Ephesians 6:12) They want to end the gospel. To silence us and, to some extent, we have become silent. But not completely.

There are still churches that preach the gospel above all else. Still pastors and leaders who will not cower but lift up the name of Jesus as the only hope of conquering evil. Still teachers and writers and students of Scripture who won’t bow to societal pressure or accept the lies of cultural shifts. And while the church in general remains either cautiously vague or thoughtlessly uninformed, there are those willing to voice a properly discerned warning to the lost and saved alike that the end of the age is near. This is not the end of the gospel, but the gospel of the end, which is the same as it was at the beginning, unchanging and eternal. Now and always we are called to, with honesty and humility, speak the gospel.

For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. I Thessalonians 2:3-4

I feel the need to repeat myself, and so I’ll rerun my “gospel” posts over the next several weeks. Afterall, I still have nothing to offer but Christ crucified. But that doesn’t mean I can’t keep saying it over and over in every creative way the Lord impresses upon me. So, while I’m posting reruns, I’ll set my mind on writing anew, knowing I can do nothing without Christ who strengthens me. I’m one of those believers who discerns the lateness of the age, and it seems I spend more and more time smiling at the sky in anticipation of the Great Return. But I can’t just stand around waiting. I’m not out of time, or inspiration, or words. It’s best for me, for all of us, to be busy about our Father’s work, to run the race, and to finish strong.

The end of the gospel is a non-issue. It can’t be stopped. The gospel of the end is no different than the beginning. It will not be silenced. It knows no end. But our days are numbered.

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10: 8-10