Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Gospel (Page 3 of 4)

Getting the gospel right

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.

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Health, wealth and prosperity is not the gospel

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.

A comfortable life

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.

Everyone’s a winner!

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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Does God have a clue…?

This evening I have a video for you by a South African author and speaker called Andre Rabe. Rarely am I genuinely moved by a YouTube video, but when I saw this one a few days ago, it touched something deep inside me. Find yourself some peace and quiet for seven minutes, make sure the video is playing in HD (you can change this in the settings by clicking on the little cog below the video), and be blessed.

God’s favour and our desire for control

Yesterday I posted about how I fear many people may be mistaking success in various forms as a sign of God’s special favour. (If you haven’t read that post yet, you’ll probably want to do so before you read this one.) Today I’ve been thinking about the whole issue some more.

In yesterday’s post, I laid out the main reason why I think this approach to God’s favour is wrong-headed: because it assumes that the favour of God looks a lot like success as the world defines it (health, wealth, career advancement, etc.). I also pointed out that the New Testament writers warned the faithful to expect trials, suffering and persecution rather than success, and that many of those who were most faithful to Jesus’ commission to preach the gospel endured great hardship and ultimately paid for their faithfulness with their lives.

The question I’ve been pondering is this: where does this belief in God’s favour as a source of success come from? And why is it so pervasive? Here’s where I’ve got to in my thinking.

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Favour frenzy!

Favour is something of a buzzword in evangelical circles nowadays. Everybody wants God’s favour on their lives. When things are going well in some area or another, we’re quick to claim that this is evidence of God’s favour. If someone is in a tight situation, facing some kind of difficulty or needing a breakthrough, we pray for divine favour to be upon them. Or, if we’re really in the fast lane of faith, we don’t just pray for it – we release God’s favour over their lives as though it were some magical substance we carry around in our pockets to dispense on whom we will (on God’s behalf, of course).

What kinds of things are taken as signs of heavenly favour? Financial increase, career success, physical health… even finding a parking spot just when you need it: all these are sure indications that God’s favour with you.

Or are they?

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