Pursuing the Simplicity of the Gospel: IntroductionMonday, July 02, 2012
Sometimes...no...much of the time, it seems that we as human beings have a wired knack for making things more complicated than they need to be. When I read the New Testament afresh, especially the gospels, and especially the gospel of Luke, things tend to become much more simple to me.
I love reading the apostle Paul. He's a deep, deep thinker about the things of Christ. But he's also difficult sometimes. He's a deep fellow. But Luke seems to be a simple fellow. Luke, you'll remember, was a physician who travelled with the apostle Paul during a couple of his missionary journeys. They knew each other very well, evidently.
And the point I want to make here is that for Paul the gospel, while simple, was very deep. But for Luke, the simple gospel was...well...simple. When I want to go deep in the love of Christ, I read Paul. When I want to come up for some fresh air, I ascend the ocean of Christ's love for me, come to the surface, get in my sea plane, and ascend into the clouds to get the big picture of Jesus Christ and His work forme. That's what Luke allows me to do.
We Tend to Make the Gospel and Evangelism Too Complex
I remember about 20 years or so ago, I had just graduated high school and I had entered into Evangelism Explosion to learn the method and be a trainer. I had to go through a twelve week course, if I remember correctly. Now, I'm a geek by nature, so I enjoy the detail of things, especially things theological. I am one of those who definitely tends to make things more complicated than they need to be. And I enjoyed the 12 week class that was designed to teach me how to understand and share the gospel with the lost, then train others to do the same. The problem is, I fear it created a "system"of sorts around the gospel, making it more complex than it really needed to be. In my estimation, when God saves you, you are immediately ready to evangelize other lost people.
Take the woman at the well in John 4, for example. She sat by the well talking to Jesus, then left the well a redeemed woman, and immediately went down into her hometown and told everybody about Jesus and then led them all back to Him. And how about the 72 disciples Jesus sent out to preach? They had only just been following Jesus for a short time, yet He turns around and sends them out to preach the gospel!
My favorite is about Saul who, before he changed his name to Paul, got knocked off his horse, was carried back to Ananias' house, then according to Acts 9:19-20, "stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, 'He is indeed the Son of God!'"
Paul's own model became the example the Thessalonian church followed. For as we read there in chapter 1 of 1 Thessalonians, they "received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit," and as a result, they "became an example to all the Christians in Greece," so that "the word of the Lord is ringing out fromyou to people everywhere, even beyond Greece, for wherever we go, we find people telling us about your faith in God" (vv. 6-8).
Why did these people go from sinners to evangelists so quickly? In short, because it's all so very simple. As the blind man in John 9 said, "But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!" (v. 25). One moment, they are going their own way, living their own lives, pursuing their own selfish desires. And in the very next moment they are going Christ's way, living His life, pursuing His desires. It's that simple. They were lost and then they were found.
It's the simplicity of what happened that produces such a simple response to what happened. The simple reason why these people and many others since then have turned immediately from sinner to evangelist is because, simply put, they were forgiven of their sins. And when they were forgiven, their sins were washed away, done away with, never to be remembered again, and they were changed, transformed in an instant, a brand new creature, a new person. Their minds and hearts, cleansed from sin through forgiveness, were able to function as they were created to in the first place: to go out and seek people to worship God.
Forgiveness transformed the operating system of their heart, if you will. They went from an operating system rife with viruses and malicious software that had been hacked and hijacked, to a new installation of an upgrade forever more free from all the crapware. In your local church is this what you are pursuing? Is it the simplicity of the gospel?
Your local church should believe and practice the fact that Jesus kept the message of good news pretty simple. And they should also believe that because it is simple, the devil and his idiots are working night and day to junk it up and make it more complex than it needs to be. You see the devil knows that the more complex he can make the gospel in our finite little brains, the less likely we are to relish it and share it with others. He knows if he can add all sorts of other theological assumptions, presuppositions, distinctions, and implications to it that he'll accomplish two things.
The Two Things the Devil Hopes to Accomplish by Making the Gospel Too Complex
First, we'll begin to be distracted with all that other stuff instead of the core of the good news, which is forgiveness of sins. He knows that in focusing on it too much we'll begin to talk about them more rather than tell more people. He knows that he can get us sidetracked with things that are important to know, but things that we let become more important than telling others about the simple good news.
Second, the devil knows that we will feel like we have to add all that stuff into it the simple gospel when we share it with others. He's so smart! He knows that when we are sharing all that other stuff with the good news that it actually turns into confusing news to the one who's listening. And so we fall short of accomplishing our mission: to seek and save the lost.
He knows that many of us will fail to retain the simplicity of the gospel in our hearts, and that we will fail to retain the simplicity of the gospel in our evangelism to others. He knows we'll make it convoluted to a lost person who simply needs to hear the simple message of simple forgiveness of sins. This is the course church leaders should desire to chart for their local churches.
The assumptions, presuppositions, distinctions,and implications are all absolutely important. But they are like any otherkind of knowledge in that they come progressively through a process. Too often I've tried to add all that other stuff to the simple message of the simple gospel to a simple sinner. All I ended up doing was confusing it, making it more difficult for a sinner to understand the gospel than for an SUV to drive through a keyhole. It was like explaining calculus to a 3rd grader. They're not ready for it!
That's why Paul prayed for the Ephesians that they "might grow in your knowledge of God" (1:17). Growth implies process and progress. It never implies getting a bunch of really important stuff all at once. He prayed for them, "that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him" (v. 19). Growth in the knowledge of God has a beginning, which again implies progress and process.
So the greatness of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ must begin with simplicity. And that's just what Paul himself does for the Ephesians in chapter 1 when he writes, "He is so rich kindness that he purchased our freedom through the blood of his Son, and our sins are forgiven" (v. 7).
In this series of posts I've entitled "The Simplicity of the Gospel" I want to turn your attention back to Luke again, to see the simplicity of the gospel in the forgiveness of sins. And then I want to apply that to a pursuit of a biblical vision for the simplicity of the gospel. What I want to in this effort is to first present a sort of survey of Luke's narratives about Jesus when it comes to the simplicity of Jesus' message. And then I want to apply that simplicity to one particular story in Luke to help you get your arms around what that simplicity looks like, because it does have a shape. It's not like the simple life forms you learned about in biology, where there's this shapeless amoeba floating around in goo. It it simple, but it has a definite shape and form and we'll look at that.
In the next post: A Survey of the Simple Gospel 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.