When it comes to the gospel, this doesn't work. It's not really a large achievable goal like a building or management project. It's definitely large in terms of what's at stake, but not in terms of the pieces. Eternity is at stake, and it's broken down into small achievable decisions, each one consisting of the same stuff: faith.
The simplicity of the gospel is this: live like God makes and keeps promises. That's it. I don't know if it can be reduced to much less than that. However, even these words and phrases needed to be broken down for the sake of clarity and definition.
By "God" I mean the God of the Bible. It seems to go without saying, but it doesn't. Many Christians don't read their Bibles and so end up by default fashioning a God of their own making in their minds. They piece together what they think, believe, and experience from fragments of religion, Christianity, and the world. What they have actually becomes an idol rather than the true God of the Bible.
When I say that God "makes...promises" I mean that if we read our Bibles we will fashion an understanding of God that is biblical. And the Bible teaches from the very first story of Adam and Eve all the way to the end of the Bible in Revelation that God makes promises. And what do those promises consist of? In short, God loves to step into the background of sin and corruption and make promises about deliverance, rescue, and salvation from the judgment and misery sin and corruption bring. He loves to step into that background, and He loves to make promises like this...because He loves US.
When I say that God "...keeps promises" I mean that whatever promises God makes, He also keeps. He is God. God is not a liar. God always tells the truth. God never errs. God never sins. Therefore God always keeps His promises. Sometimes His keeping of those promises is not quite what we imagined. But because HE is God, and because HE made the promises, HE gets keep them in the way HE originally intended on promising. And that is crucial because it overturns any accusations against God as One who is not a promise-keeping God. He made them...He made them with an original intention in mind...and He'll keep them...in His own time...and in the way He originally intended.
The gospel is about the God of the Bible making and keeping promises. The very first proclamation of the gospel is in Genesis 3:15. It's often called the protoevangelium in theology. (Read a great short piece here from R. C. Sproul about this.) And there God promised Adam and Eve, "And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel" (NLT). God kept that promise when His Son, Jesus Christ, rose from the dead and became Christus Victor, Christ triumphing over Satan, his demons, his power, his control, and his consequences.
Believing in the gospel becomes simply this: living like God made and kept His promise of victory over your sin and corruption through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And everyday of your life from the point of conversion onward becomes studying His Word to see what this means, figuring out what it looks like in your life, and making decisions based upon it.
Perhaps the greatest example in the Bible of this, other than Jesus Christ, of course, is Abraham. Here's how Paul described his situation in Romans 4:13-24.
"Clearly, God's promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God's law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith. If God's promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless. For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!) So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham's. For Abraham is the father of all who believe. That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, "I have made you the father of many nations."* This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing. Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, "That's how many descendants you will have!" And Abraham's faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah's womb. Abraham never wavered in believing God's promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. And because of Abraham's faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn't just for Abraham's benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead."
The key verses are 21-24. They are the ones I've put in bold and/or italics above. And perhaps the simplest definition of the gospel, in my opinion, is found in verse 21: being fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises. This is what God counted as righteousness for Abraham. And it's what God counts as righteousness today for those who believe and live the same way.
In summary, the gospel is quite simple. It's a proclamation of good news. The good news is that God made and kept a promise. And if you want to follow Jesus, you'll believe that God made and kept earth-shattering, history-altering promises about Jesus Christ, from OT prophecies hundreds of years before His birth detailing some of the most minute occurrences...all the way to the resurrection from the grave which sealed your victory over sin and Satan...all the way to the end of the world when He will keep His promise to come back again and get us and take us to heaven with Himself.
But until then, you will show that you have believed the good news once and for all by living each day like God has made and will keep His promises. These are promises that were made throughout the Old Testament, many of them for you since you are a true Israelite in the faith of Abraham. These are promises made in the New Testament, all of them made for you since you are a saint of God in the church of Christ.
Study, read, pray over, memorize, and meditate on these promises. They should completely control and determine the decisions you make about pretty much everything. If you believe God has made promises about your future in heaven with Him, then you'll spend your money differently. If you believe the promises God has made about your children, then you'll raise them differently. If you believe the promises God has made about resurrection from the dead, then you'll choose to go and live in different places.
Every promise you read about, study, memorize and meditate upon is fulfilled in the work and ministry of Jesus Christ. Every promise flows into the cross and empty tomb, and back out of it. Every promise should lead you there, then out of it, then back into it, again and again. And this is because those two places were where God demonstrated His ability to make and keep the single greatest promise of all regarding the death and resurrection of His own Son! If He kept those promises to His own Son, won't He also keep any other promises He's made to you...who are also His sons and daughters?
Keep the gospel simple. Fix your focus on the promises of God. Do not waver in your belief about those promises no matter what life looks like. And every single day, always be convinced that God is able and willing to do exactly what He promised.
First, He left heaven, where He counted it no big deal to be equal with God. He took on the form of a servant, being born as a baby like all of us, living in a human body like the rest of us, hungering and thirsting like we've all done, sleeping little as many of us have experienced, bleeding and dying like we all do. And He did it all in order to become like us, to learn obedience like we have to, in order to be able to identify with us, in order to be able to help us when we're weak. This is called partnership.
Second, before He went back to heaven, He spent His last evening in prayer for those who were His disciples. He prayed that we'd be kept from the enemy's grasp. And He prayed that we would all become as unified together as He and the Father were, so that the world would come to know Him as the Savior. He prayed for our protection. He prayed that we would be sanctified by His word and His truth. He prayed that we would know the Father's love for us just like He knew it. This is called prayer.
So it seems that the two most simple ways in which we can put legs on the gospel in order to run faster and farther into the world for the sake of the mission is partnership and prayer.
"Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back on the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other's burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important" (Galatians 6:1-3).
That's exactly what Jesus did. And that's exactly what partnership with other people looks like. Thus, this is what the gospel looks like. When we live like Jesus and do life like this, I can't help but believe that we will experience the kind of results on our mission that Jesus experienced on His while He was on this earth.
"Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because..." (Rom. 1:8). "I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 1:4). "Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God's people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly...I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God's power for us who believe him" (Eph. 1:15, 16, 19). "When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father...I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit..May you experience the love of Christ..." (Eph. 3:14-16, 19). "Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ..." (Phil. 1:3-5). "We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God's people" (Col. 1:3-5). "We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our Gd and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 1:2, 3). "Dear brothers and sisters, we can't help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing" (2 Thess. 1:3). "I always thank my God when I pray for you...because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God's people" (Philemon 4, 5). "Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere" (Eph. 6:18). "Never stop praying" (1 Thess. 5:17).
This is exactly how Jesus prays for us. Which means this is exactly how we ought to pray for one another. When we pray like Jesus and live life like this, I can't help but think that the blessings we experience on our mission will be the same as the apostle Paul and Jesus Christ did on their mission.
The mission is a journey. A journey requires walking and running. Walking and running requires legs. And the legs of the mission are partnership and prayer. Run with these same legs Paul and Jesus used, and we will find the same success in our mission as they had. Keep it simple.
It's something I've abandoned recently in order to focus more heavily on planting and building the local church I am leading. But in God's providence, He's planted me in a cabin on vacation with some of the most amazing and interesting books that are like a spiritual IV to my arm.
Here's a list.
- Tentmaking: The Life and Work of Business as Mission by Patrick Lai
- Great Commission Companies: The Emerging Role of Business in Missions by Steve Rundle and Tom Steffen
- Business as Mission by Tom Steffen and Mike Barnett
- On Kingdom Business: Transforming Missions Through Entrepreneurial Strategies by Tetsunao Yamamoto and Kenneth Eldred
- The Gods of Business: The Intersection of Faith and the Marketplace by Todd Albertson
- Profit for the Lord: Economic Activities in Moravian Missions and the Basel Mission Trading Company by William Danker
I've already begun scanning On Kingdom Business, and the preface and introduction alone were a steroid to my heart in this area. My mind is back on the race track of the business plans and models I've either already created or have at least begun planning.
Starting with my own children, I want not only to give them a business they can run themselves, but also the art and skill of business itself. I think that next to Jesus Christ and godly advice on a future spouse, this is the third greatest gift I could ever give them as a tool to glorify the first, provide for the second, and pursue the mission globally and locally.
We'll see where all this takes me this week!
Those Christian leaders who are fallen or who do sin are too numerous to count. Probably because all of them fit this category.
So now let me ask two important questions.
1. What does the gospel of Jesus say we should do for those who sin against us? Who sin at all? How does the gospel say we should act toward those who are fallen?
This is the most significant question. The answer is the foundation to everything else in the Christian life. It easy. Ephesians 4:1-3 says we are to forbear with everybody.
"1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love.3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace" (NLT).
Ephesians 4:31-32, the last two verses in the chapter, teach us to forgive everyone who sins against them, and not dirty them up in our minds or in the minds of others with an angry, unforgiving heart.
"31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you" (NLT).
That's how we treat people who are fallen, and people who sin.
2. What does the gospel of Jesus say about our attitude toward our leaders who are fallen and who sin?
The answer to this is just as easy. Read the same verses again. Leaders are no different. They are people too. And just because they are in positions of leadership does not mean that (1) they are suddenly not fallen any longer, or will not commit any sin, nor does it mean that (2) they are to be treated differently than we treat other Christians (the only exception being the case of what seems to be very gross and public sin as dealt with in 1 Timothy 5:19 ff.).
But what do we do? If our leaders sin, or if they portray some fallenness, we act shocked, so surprised that they could ever possibly allow themselves to stoop to that level. Then we allow our esteem of them to drop. Then we talk bad about them. Then we stop following them. Then we leave the church.
And where do we go? We go to another church....where fallen leaders lead.
You know, when it comes down to it, you've only got two solutions if you're mad at your local church leaders. You can leave and go to some other local church where fallen men are leading there too. Or you can leave and go nowhere else, and be led by your own self...where you are a fallen man too. Either way, you're going to be following men who are fallen.
This is why Paul writes what he does. Leaders are Christians too. They are persons. And they are to be treated no differently than we are to treat anyone else in the body of Christ. Believers are to forbear with leaders and their fallenness, in gentleness, humility, and meekness. And believers are to forgive their leaders when they sin.
I recall being a leader in a local church where I was not given the benefit of this treatment by half my church members. Even though there was no evidence that I had actually sinned in any specific way, I was treated with hatred. There was no forgiveness offered to me, and no forbearance shown to me. I've been a leader in another church where I most definitely did sin. And in return I was called all manner of names that even my Heavenly Father doesn't call me.
The conclusion of the matter is this. If you are a Christian and you belong to a local church, your biblical responsibility is to follow your leadership. The Bible makes this plain in passages like Hebrews 13:7 and 17, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, and other similar passages. But nowhere does the Bible claim that the leaders you follow have arrived at some special dispensation of no-longer-sinning. 1 John 1 makes that clear enough. John calls anybody who makes such a claim a liar, as well as one who calls God a liar.
Leaders are fallen. They sin. But they are your leaders. And they love you. They labor as those who must give an account. And if you're convinced that this doesn't describe your leader, then you have one of two options.
First, stay and love your leader, gently challenging them with the biblical standards, becoming their best friend, working as long as you have to in order to love them like Jesus loves you, in order to see them mature into God's fullness for them.
Second, reaffirm your love for your leader, then find another leader whom you do believe fits the biblical qualifications and descriptions for leading a church, remembering that they are fallen to, and not getting all bent out of shape when they sin.
When you remember that leaders are people too, you come more easily to grasp the Golden Rule in Matthew 7 where Jesus taught us to do for others or do to others whatever we want other people to do for us or to us. It's that simple. You'd never want to be treated without forgiveness or forbearance, so don't treat your leaders that way either. You'd never want the cold shoulder for something you've done, so don't give the cold shoulder to your leaders. You'd want love and reaffirmation when you've fallen to sin, so give that to your leaders. Do to your leaders what you'd want other people to do to you.
This is the gospel of Jesus Christ in living color in the local church.
Here's how it works. Someone ticks me off. They make me made. They offend me.
Or perhaps they offend a family member or friend of mine.
It happened just today. My son came home having been bullied by a girl. He was absolutely humiliated. They were playing some sort of game at school today that involved kicking a ball. When it came his turn, he kicked it, and it happened to go out of bounds, striking a girl in the back. So she proceeded to chase him all over the school yard until she caught him by his hair, pulled him down the ground by the hair, and with some of the foulest language imaginable prefacing the word b----, she demanded an apology from him, asking another guy to come over and hold him down until she had hurt him enough.
I was infuriated. I felt my blood pressure rising. I wanted to go to school tomorrow with him, find the girl, and....
That's when the villanizing began. She turned into a foul creature in my heart and mind. I demonized her, envisioning her as some hateful, demon-possessed creature, intent on the destruction of my son. I felt hatred swelling up inside toward the girl. I wanted to teach her a lesson with some severe physical force. Then I calmed down, and the Spirit brought to my remembrance that the anger of man doesn't accomplish the righteousness of God.
That's just one example of how it works.
It happens too often in the local church...at least in my experience. Someone does something that somehow brings them down a few degrees or levels in our respect. The way we used to view them in our minds and hearts degrades. The enemy enters in, takes advantage of the offense or the occurrence and begins to make them out to be a villain, if not a demon. Conspiracy theories about the person are born. We begin imagining them doing all sorts of other evil, perverted things.
Then we may take it to another level. The way we think about them has gone unchecked, and this leads us to talk about them...in a bad way...but in the name of Jesus, of course. It most often occurs in conversations where we want to appear holy and caring for the person...perhaps in a prayer meeting or something like that. But the way we talk about them doesn't really uphold respect and esteem for them as someone for whom Christ shed His blood.
This turns into gossip...then slander...then villainy...the demonizing. The relationship degrades both personally and conversationally. And we grow to believe about them and treat them as if they are evil, vile villains who are quite possibly oppressed or even possessed by demons, if not Satan himself.
The most frustrating way in which this has occurred recently is the treatment a pastor friend of mine receives in his local area. He's a Calvinist. So what. He was ousted from his pastorate along with 30% of the church because he preached the Bible...and they got convicted. I've never seen my friend angry, sinful, hurtful, or vengeful toward these people...or anyone else for that matter. And I was there on the night he got ousted. There was nothing but calm, peaceful, love and care for the people who were hurting him.
But gossip and slander has circulated in the town to the degree that out of all the other pastors in his area (a couple of dozen in his denomination I think), only two will give him the time of day. The others hate him. On one occasion he attended another local church in town where a state denominational representative was preaching. This man began talking to my friend. But the pastor who seems to hate my friend interrupted the conversation, pulled him aside, and began to pass along the gossip and slander about my friend...whom he'd never met before in his entire life, by the way. What was so sad was that the pastor stood up in the pulpit and declared his sadness regarding the fact that no pastors had been attending the meetings when the denominational representative was preaching...completely ignoring the fact that my friend was sitting right there in the congregation...and completely neglecting the reality that my friend had just prayed with the pastor and the denominational representative. That's just hateful. My friend has been villanized and demonized.
Contrast this with how Jesus treated sinners. My favorite example is Judas. In Matthew 26:50, when Judas is headed Jesus' way to betray him, Jesus greets him and calls him, "friend." That is breathtaking.
Here this guy was...about to become the son of perdition, and pave his way to hell by betraying the greatest and eternal example of love in all of world history, and Jesus calls him "friend."
There's no vitriol.
There's no hatred.
There's no rebuke, reproof, or correction.
There's no condemnation.
There's no rejection.
There's no villanizing.
There's not even any demonizing...even though Satan himself entered Judas.
There's just gentleness. Just like we'd always expect from Jesus.
In Luke 7:34 the worst thing people could say about Jesus is that He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
In Luke 23:34 the greatest gift He gave to the very people who were murdering Him was forgiveness. He prayed, "Father, forgive them, because they have no idea what they're doing."
So the gospel seems pretty simple. Christians should be friends to everyone, since everybody's a sinner. Christians should be gentle to everyone, including those who might even betray their lives to a horrific death. And Christians should forgive anyone and everyone who hurts them, no matter how terrifying that hurt may be.
No exceptions. Ever.
Thank God that while YOU and I were villains, enemies of God, helpless, ungodly that Jesus Christ died for us (Romans 5:6, 8, 10). And thank God that the Father is eternally unchanging in His gentleness and kindness to us no matter what kind of sin we commit against Him.
Also see: "Judas, Jesus' Friend" by John Schmidt
In 1 Corinthians, Paul uses three analogies with the local church to help them understand how they...and every local church...functions.
The first two of these analogies occurs in1 Corinthians 3:9. Here's what Paul writes: "For we are both God's workers. And you are God's field. You are God's building" (NLT). The point in the context Paul is making is simple. Whether it was Apollos or Paul, both are simply workers, planting and watering among the same field of God's people...working and building on the same building of living stones, the church.
The third analogy occurs in 1 Corinthians 12:12 and 27. In that verse Paul writes, "The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ...All of you together are Christ's body, and each of you is a part of it." (NLT). The context here is, of course, spiritual gifts. And Paul is explaining how each saint in the church has a spiritual gift. The Spirit's design in all of this is for all the saints to use their spiritual gifts through loving one another, which will have the effect of making them act as one body...rather than just a collection of various body parts.
Now, while the contexts of these passages does not make this explicit point, there is one kernel of truth inherent in each of these analogies which helps us see a bigger picture which the Spirit surely implies. And here's the point: the church of Jesus Christ is built and grown in process, and that process is all about progress.
A field grows...over time...until it matures...and is ready to be harvested.
A building is built...over time...until it's completed...and ready to be occupied.
A body grows...over time...until it reaches adulthood...and is ready to take on life.
And all of this is only made possible by the grace of God, which Paul prays over the Corinthian church, as well as every other church to whom he writes.
Grace is God's love poured out on us because of what Jesus has done for us. God is always pouring out that grace on us. God never changes. So there will never be a time when God is not pouring out grace on His precious saints.
Grace is the water and fertilizer which grows the plants in the field to full maturity.
Grace is the cement and labor that builds us together into a completed structure.
Grace is the vitamins and minerals that grows the body into adulthood.
Since God's grace will always be pouring out upon us, we will always be growing...we will always be in the building process...and we will always be in the maturing process.
This means things will always be getting better!!! They HAVE to get better...or else God's grace is not really being poured out on us. Or else God is not God. Or else God is not good.
The one thing about process is that it can be maddening when there's no progress. But since GOD is the one pouring out grace, there will ALWAYS be progress. There cannot NOT be progress. Or else God is not God. Or else God is not love.
YOU will always be in process.
YOU will always be in progress.
YOU will always be in grace.
So be patient with yourself.
Be patient with one another.
STOP imposing standards or rules of grace upon one another such that you actually become separated from one another if those standards or rules are not followed...right then...in your time frame...in your world.
Since this is GOD who's doing all the work here, we are all on HIS time frame...we're all in HIS world.
So stop putting your own time frame on yourself, also. Live in God's grace each day. Simply make it your one aim to receive the love He has for you. THIS will change you. THIS is what speeds up the process. THIS is what produces progress. It is God's LOVE that compels you...nothing else. Not your efforts...not your resolve...not your resolutions...not your plans...or your strategies. It's just God's love.
So receive it. Expect it to take a lifetime, since it's a process. And definitely expect progress, since it's a process.
God loves you more than you can ever imagine. You WILL grow. You WILL grow UP in Jesus. You WILL succeed. You ARE a super-conqueror. You WILL win. You WILL persevere.
Praise God for grace!!!
Miscellanies on the Gospel Most Significant Post by Readership: Gospel-Motivations in Overcoming TemptationSunday, June 06, 2010
I really dislike the bumper stickers, t-shirts, and anti-drug paraphernalia with the slogan, "Just Say No." It's not enough. It doesn't tell the whole story. It says "Say no to drugs" but it doesn't tell us what to say "yes" to.
If we stop to consider for a moment why we say "no" to sin, we may find some surprising observations. Do we say "no" because we were raised by our parents to do this? Or is it because our church, pastor, or denominational tradition has instilled a culture of "no" in our hearts? Or could our "no" be a result of some uncomfortable feeling we get when we encounter something that runs contrary to our personal culture of comfort?
I remember for the longest time, ever since my conversion around age 11 or 12, I would find myself around other friends, neighbors, or acquaintances who, for some reason or another, would make me feel uncomfortable, almost like I was walking on thin ice. When I was a teenager, sometimes it was their rock music. Or it might have been because they watched rated "R" movies. Later in life, it might have been the presence of alcohol that made me feel uncomfortable enough to say "no" to sin and temptation. There have been other issues throughout my life that fit this category.
But the bottom line is that my rejection of temptation and sin was never properly rooted in and motivated by the gospel.
And as such, it was merely a behavioral modification.
I was saying "no" without the right motivation. Thus, I have been able to come to an explanation as to why there has been such a lack of joy for so many years as a believer. How can there be joy when the gospel is not present?
Consider two incredibly massive problems with trying to reject temptation and sin without being rooted in the gospel.
1. First, an absence of gospel-motivation cannot identify the temptation correctly to begin with.
When the gospel is not the lens through which we view sin and temptation, we will wrongly associate unrighteousness or wickedness with something which may or may not be inherently sinful. This is how self-righteousness, legalism, and Pharisaism begins and breeds. Alcohol, for example, is not inherently sinful. But being controlled by it is. However, when the gospel is not the root of our heart's desire to reject sin and temptation, it cannot help but distort alcohol into something that is inherently evil and sinful.
The point here is that the heart cannot discern properly because the proper motivation is not present. Perhaps a local illustration will be helpful. Down here in the south we have a plant called kudzu. With leaves growing upwards to the size of an adult hand, it functions as ground cover and a very effective weed control. But there's a downside. If left untended and unpruned it will grow out of control and envelop everything....until it is cut back. Our rejection of temptation and sin is much the same. Like kudzu, rejecting temptation has a purpose. If the purpose is forgotten or ignored, our hearts, like the kudzu, will eventually run wild and overtake anything and everything. Though a trifle of an illustration, I trust it helps elucidate my point so I can lead into the second problem.
2. The second problem is that an absence of gospel-motivation does not root the rejection of temptation in a desire to not lose joy in Jesus.
Herein lies the essential issue. The reason Christians say "no" to temptation and sin because they will do anything not to sacrifice or lose an ounce of their joy in Jesus Christ. The gospel-motivated Christian fights to keep that joy.
This is where the rub comes in for the Christian, for as he or she is around unbelievers, they will mildly persecute him. To the unbeliever, the Christian is a "fuddy-dud" and a "party-pooper." The Christian is a hater of all that is fun. He despises all that represents happiness. And how the Christian responds to such accusations will be very telling about his motivation. The only answer that will stand the test of the gospel is something like this:
because I am unwilling to do anything that will
interrupt it or bring it to an end.
And what you're suggesting will do just that!"
In order to illustrate this issue, use the following illustration for yourself and those who persecute you. Undoubtedly you've probably heard of many an unfortunate scam involving senior citizens who've been "scammed" out of their retirement money only to live the rest of their natural lives broke. Imagine sitting across from the older couple and persecuting them with the same sarcasm:
who don't want to have any fun!
Just listen to the guy's pitch,
give him your money, and have some fun, for goodness sake!"
How cruel! What a shameful thing to say! And the unbeliever would feel just as shameful if he knew the reality of what he was suggesting. Sin is a scam! Let's say it again.
Tell yourself that. Tell the lost person that. Tell that to whoever or whatever tempts you to sin. To give in to temptation to sin is just as stupid as to knowingly give in to a financial scam in which you know you will lose your money!
It's all about the joy! Joy! Joy! Joy! Joy in Jesus who died to save us from sin! Joy in the Father who for some strange reason elected us to experience His eternal and unfathomable love! Joy in the Spirit who strangely determined to open our eyes and awaken our minds to reality.
If God and joy in Him is not the primary motivation behind saying "no" to temptation to sin, then our negative responses to sin are not holy. They are merely modified behavior responses.
Such modifications keep us from sin, to be sure. But only temporarily. One of two things will happen if joy in God is not at the root of saying "no" to sin and temptation.
First, the child who is trained this way will (like I did!) grow into an adult who cannot bring himself to take part in (some) sins while also not able to have any deep and genuine joy.
Second, eventually the soul will wonder just why it is saying "no" to start with. And when it can no longer find a reasonable explanation it will not be able to help but experiment with sin...and the degradation begins.
Both results are what we often observe in the lives of those who are or were raised under fundamentalism and more particularly, it's more legalistic reflections. But as sad as it is, the medicine...no, the cure is the real gospel. Not the one that gets people out of hell and into the pew. Not the one that is preached evangelistically to get people down an aisle. Not the one that is printed in a tract and handed out to people on an inner city street.
No, the gospel that must be injected into the soul of unbeliever and believer alike is the one that infuses us with real and lasting joy...and joy that would rather have the body suffer and even die than lose even the most microscopic particle of happiness in and blessing from God....a joy that would rather gouge out an eye or cut off a hand than give in to something that deceptively presents itself as happiness yet promises its undoing with absolute certainty.
In the end, if joy in Jesus and a desire for His presence and His glory in our lives is not at the root of all our rejections of sin, then we will be left as nothing more than a powerless person with no ability to affect real and lasting change in our heart and no experience of real and lasting joy.
At Church in the Boro we launch Life Mission Groups this week. We're really excited about what will eventually become our right arm of equipping our people for the mission.
We designed a Church Planter's Core of Life Mission Groups which we believe will prepare any member in our local fellowship to become a part of a church-planting team in the near future when God begins the duplication process in our lives.
Part of this core is a trilogy of Life Mission Groups called Reconxiled, combining the reconciliation of exiles back to God. Reconxiled One is subtitled, "Stories" and is intended to be the communication arm of the first part of our mission statement: "Reconciling Sinners to God." Reconxiled Two is subtitled, "Embracing Grace" based on the book by the same name, and is intended to communicate the second part of our mission statement, "Reconciling people to each other." Reconxiled Three is subtitled, "The Truth Project" based on the DVD series by the same name, and communicates the third part of our mission statement, "Reconciling the World to King Jesus." We begin Reconxiled One next Monday night at 7:00 pm with my co-partner, Mike Allen, former student-missionary to China with his wife, Anna. You can watch the intro here.
The aim in Reconxiled One: Stories is two-fold.
First, we want to evangelize pre-believers (my new favorite replacement for unbelievers), by communicating the overarching story of the gospel in the Bible through the smaller stories of redemption. Creation, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the Promised Land, the Kings, the Prophets, and the Cross are the eight stories that we will unfold to those not following Jesus so that they can get the big picture story right and answer the questions so many of them have so often.
Second, we want to teach believers how to evangelize over a period of time using the stories God has given us in the Bible. I think I've too quickly shared God's amazing story, and too often expected them to repent and believe before they have time to hear the whole thing. Through this method, we work alongside the Holy Spirit who saves at any time He so chooses, using the truths and stories He's inspired in the Bible. And since all the stories whisper of Jesus Christ, this could happen on any night, during any story, or anytime in between. My efforts along these lines are not new. They have been practiced before by the likes of New Tribes Mission, a missionary organization who made famous chronological evangelism training that has become part of the DNA of so many churches and Christians. Along with what I've learned through them over the last twenty years, I've also utilized the following resources.
- The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones & Illustrated by Jago.
- Salvation Belongs to Our God by Christopher J. H. Wright.
- The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative by Christopher J. H. Wright.
- Living by God's Master Plan by Michael Lawson.
- The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament by Edmund Clowney.
- God's Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts.
- The God of Promise and the Life of Faith: Understanding the Heart of the Bible by Scott J. Hafemann.
- According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy.
- The Unity of the Bible: Unfolding God's Plan for Humanity by Daniel Fuller.
- The Unfolding Drama of Redemption by W. Graham Scroggie.
- The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments by Walt Kaiser.
Following the next three days will be posts on parts one through three of the first story on the first night. I welcome your input. I need all the help I can get as I undertake this new venture. Much of what you'll read in these parts is taken from The Jesus Storybook Bible, as I believe it is perhaps the simplest and best storyline on biblical theology in print. I'm merely adapting it for use with adults and teenagers.
Pray for us as we press on in the mission of reconciling sinners to God.