Pursuing the Simplicity of the Gospel: Part 5

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Shape of the Simplicity of the Gospel (Luke 15)

If someone were to ask you what the forgiveness of sins means, you'd probably be able to give them a simple answer.  Most of would respond that forgiveness is letting go of the hurt someone else has caused you.  And that's very much true.  The heart of forgiveness is making a decision not to let the bitterness and resentment from someone else's offense cause you pain anymore.

While that is part and parcel of forgiveness, how would you answer the question as to how forgiveness actually works?  How is it that we are able to be forgiven by God?  The church as a whole throughout church history has typically made this complex.  The Catholic Church, for example, has been the greatest offender in this regard.  In this theological vein there is one opinion which says that the sacraments, confession, mass, etc. are all pathways to receive God's forgiveness.  Jesus shed His blood to forgive us, but God mediates that forgiveness through human participation in human events.

On the other hand, some hold the opinion that God already grants forgiveness of sins to us all through Christ. But human participation in human events are necessary to maintain and/or enjoy forgiveness of sins.  Both opinions however, make our participation in man-made events inseparable from the forgiveness of our sins.  Both opinions would firmly hold to a belief that forgiveness must be mediated by humans.  

This can quickly trend in a dangerous direction, and in fact, it has.  Making forgiveness complex is in fact antithetical to the gospel of Jesus.  HE alone is the mediator between God and man, and no one else.  In fact, nothing else.  Anyone or anything that keeps a person connected to his or her sins because of anything else other than simply asking for it is complex legalism, since it attempts to convince a person that a relationship with God is based on something other than Jesus Christ's death.

A rediscovery of several key features in Luke 15 will provide a model or shape to the simple gospel. This is no doubt THE key text on the mission of  Jesus Christ. And I love the way Luke introduces this chapter.
1  Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.  2. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such despicable people—even eating with them!  3  So Jesus told them this story..."
Immediately, Luke begins this chapter by introducing us to basically the town mafia. If you've read the series on Pursuing the Humility of the Gospel, you'll recall what we discovered about the tax collectors, or the publicani as they were called back then.  Luke adds to them a group called "notorious sinners," which means famous outcasts.  What is more, Luke even adds the adjective "despicable" to describe them. 

This was a gang of really nasty people, publicly, socially, spiritually, religiously. Back in chapter 5 of Luke, in verses 29-30, we read of the apostle Matthew, who before was a tax collector. He threw a party at his house and invited his colleagues in crime. And there Luke includes the Pharisee's description of those folks as "scum"! 

Don't miss two important truths that come to mind in Luke's introduction to this chapter.

First, notice that the simplicity of the gospel of forgiveness is based on the simple condition of mankind: they are all sinners, all of them notorious to God. All of them are despicable scum. This includes the Pharisees and religous leaders of the day. But the difference, as we discovered in the  story of the Publican and the Pharisee, is that the tax collectors knew they were sinners. They didn't put on any false pretenses about who they were. They knew they were bad folks, outcasts of society, and they didn't pretend to be all religious and pious like the Pharisees.  

Second, notice that Luke makes a special point in his gospel to let us know that Jesus purposefully hung out with these kinds of people. In Luke 5:31-32, right after the story about the party Matthew threw at his house, Jesus makes the statement,

"Healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do.
I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins,
not to spend time with those who think theyare already good enough." 

This is such a key statement for us as a local church. Too often, I'm afraid,I've spent my time attempting to evangelize those who think they are already good enough, instead of those who
know they are scum.  These people were Jesus' targets, and they are to be ours as well as in our local churches. 

The primary reason is that the simple gospel of forgiveness of sins is best understood by those who know their sins are many, like the prostitute we read about earlier. Those who know they are sinners, know how much they've been forgiven of, and as a result love Jesus much more than those who don't  really know how much they've been forgiven of. 

In other words, the church of Jesus Christ is made up of those who really love King Jesus as He ought to be loved, because these kinds of people know what ought to have happened to them, and they feel it in a way other self-righteous people do not.  The church of Jesus Christ stands to be a brighter light to the nations when we pursue the kinds of people Jesus pursued with the kind of simple gospel message Jesus preached to them.  

In the next post, we will work through an outline of sorts that will be helpful in structuring our understanding of the simplicity of the gospel in the message of forgiveness of sins. 

About the Author: Rob is a entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA, where he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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