We have no more excuses, not because we’re under judgment, but because we are free.
— Ken Blue and Alden Swan, The Gospel Uncensored
A couple of days ago, Matt B. Redmond reposted a fantastic little article from a few years back on his blog Echoes and Stars. Here’s a paragraph to whet your appetite:
Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who go to “wing night” alone. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge. Christmas is for the son, whose father keeps giving him hunting gear when the son wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for whores, adulterers and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune – they want ‘home’ but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray.
Christmas is about the gospel of grace for those who need it.
Go and read the whole thing. This is what Christmas is about.
He will come to the world’s sins with no lists to check, no tests to grade, no debts to collect, no scores to settle. He will wipe away the handwriting that was against us and nail it to his cross (Colossians 2:14). He will save, not some minuscule coterie of good little boys and girls with religious money in their piggy banks, but all the stone-broke, deadbeat, overextended children of this world whom he… will set free in the liberation of his death.— Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of Grace
The ‘good news’ is not, first and foremost, about something that can happen to us. What happens to us through the ‘gospel’ is indeed dramatic and exciting: God’s good news will catch us up and transform our lives and our hopes like nothing else. But the ‘good news’ which Paul announces is primarily good news about something that has happened, events through which the world is a different place. It is about what God has done in Jesus, the Messiah, Israel’s true king, the world’s true Lord.
— Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone – Romans Part 1: Chapters 1-8
Read the first line of the above quote again: the gospel is not primarily about something that can happen to us. I put that in bold because I’ve come to realise that it’s of fundamental importance. It’s so important, in fact, that if we get it wrong, we risk not only misunderstanding the entire point of the gospel but utterly misconstruing God and our relationship to Him. This is not hyperbole: I really believe it’s that serious, and I want you to see why.
There are many areas in which I do not see eye to eye with John Piper. His theology and mine diverge on some important aspects.
But when it comes to why the message of health, wealth and prosperity is corrosive and contrary to the gospel, he nails it. Preach it, John.
This brief post is a follow-on from yesterday’s post about the tendency to make the gospel into a promise of success in this life.
I recently read the following comment left by a reader on a theology blog (I wish I could take personal credit for it, but I can’t):
I have often commented that it’s nothing short of bizarre that so many people believe that a comfortable life will be the end result of following a man who was rejected, mocked, tortured and killed – and promised the same to his followers.
Jesus was despised and rejected, largely shunned by the rich, the powerful and the successful, and ultimately unjustly tried, subjected to cruel torture and murdered in a most gruesome manner. And yet many people today seem to think that placing their faith in Jesus will (or at least should) result in a life of ease, convenience, and material wealth and blessing. And, as the above comment says, he told his followers to expect their fair share of persecution, trial and suffering (and, for some of them, a death as gruesome as his own, if not more so). To my mind, you have to be really determined not to see the monumental disconnect here.
The reason for the gospel being made into this type of winning package? Suffering and hardship are never going to be an easy sell. In fact, as soon as you make the gospel into something to be sold, this is more than likely where you’re going to end up, because people will only buy something if they think it sounds attractive (I wrote an earlier post about this). A cross and death (whether literal or figurative) don’t sound remotely attractive.
The gospel is not a too-good-to-turn-down package deal with a string of enticing benefits to be enjoyed this side of the grave. It is the announcement of the good news that God has made Jesus both Lord and King, has reconciled his fallen children to Himself and is renewing the whole of creation. This is not an offer to be sold; it’s a settled statement to be announced.
Be a winner!
This, according to the values of our post-modern Western world, is what we should all be aiming for. This is what we should all aspire to: a good job and enough money to live in a nice house with 2.4 children, have a nice holiday each year, and fill our leisure time with entertaining diversions. And extra kudos if we can manage to achieve some level of fame as well.
The sad thing is that many churches and Christian leaders appear to have bought into these values lock, stock and barrel. Few are perhaps as bald-faced in their embrace of the capitalist ethos as Joel Osteen, author of multi-million bestseller Your Best Life Now, but many are essentially selling the same package. Invite Jesus into your heart and he will change your life! He wants you to fulfil your destiny! He has an amazing future in store for you! Translation: pray a prayer and get your ticket to heaven safely stamped, then you can rightfully expect God to make you successful.
In my experience, Psalm 37:4 is possibly one of the most abused and misused verses in the Bible: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart”. I don’t want to get into a study here of exactly what this verse means, but I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t mean “Live a good Christian life and God will make all your dreams come true”. Which is, funnily enough, precisely what a good number of Christians and churches seem to think it means.
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