Thursday, 19 April 2012

What kind of gospel are we sharing?

I’m becoming more and more convinced that our perception of God really effects our evangelism. So if I’m serving/ witnessing out of a sense of obligation and duty, or if I’m trying to justify myself through my performance, then my understanding of God is far too weak. Most likely, I’m afraid of God.

On reflection,  think that last year I served God out of a sense of obligation. This can be a particular challenge when you have a particular role or title. Last year, when  I was evang sec for Queen’s CU, I wasn’t motivated by grace and I didn’t try and motivate people to share the gospel because of grace. My understanding of the gospel was that Jesus died for my sins, to secure my forgiveness. I may have assented to other truths of the gospel, but at a heart level, this was pretty much all I thought the gospel was about.

Now the knowledge of this led to me several unhelpful conclusions (this is far more crude than I actually thought and felt at the time – we are complex people, and we often only realise the error of our theological understanding once we come out of that period of time. We can know correct doctrine, but at a heart level be believing something entirely different).  

Firstly, I really wasn’t convinced that God could love me. Why would God love a wretched sinner like me? And if God did love me, then surely he couldn’t like me very much. I was part of the cause for the death of his son. To be honest, I didn’t like me at all, imagine doing that to Jesus!

This year, I’ve received lots of teaching to rectify this misunderstanding.  Fundamentally, that this understanding of God is deficient of Christ. It polarises the trinity, it sees Christ as a reluctant sacrifice, it sees forgiveness as the sum total of salvation, it shows sinful introspection and an ironic sense of self importance.

Secondly, I felt a huge sense of obligation to pay God back. I realised that I was saved through Christ’s work alone, but that now I needed to work hard to keep being accepted by God. I was driven by guilt. I used to think to myself and probably say to other people(!) ‘look what Christ has done for us, even dying for us on the cross, how possibly can we be too lazy or disinterested to tell people the gospel? People are perishing, and here we are, keeping the message to ourselves.’

Lots was wrong here! I don’t think I really got my head around what justification by grace actually means! I got confused between justification and living in response to God’s forgiveness and acceptance. I felt like my standing before God was dependent on my performance – feeling elated when things when well, and despairing when things were going badly. No doubt, this fearfulness of God in my heart would have been translated into my evangelism, which could easily sound like ‘you need to escape!’ Rather than ‘come to Christ, he’s wonderful.’

For me to believe that when I first put my faith in Jesus, I at that moment, received forgiveness, acceptance, the very righteousness of Christ(!), the certain hope of eternity with God in the new creation, the very presence of God living inside of me, adoption as a daughter of the Father, a sister of Christ, an heir to the kingdom, and every spiritual blessing in Jesus; and to suggest that Christ was absolutely thrilled to do it out of intense love for his bride, that he is utterly devoted to us and that he didn’t want to stay in eternal relationship with his Father unless we could enter into it and enjoy it too, would have seemed utterly audacious and perhaps even heretical! And yet this is the gospel! Thanks to our older brother and saviour who has shared absolutely everything he has with us, by uniting himself to us in a unbreakable bond of love and compassion.

Now I’m more and more convinced that if our perception of Christ in God is deficient, and we are living legalistic lives, then our gospel presentations will come across the following way: God is ruler, we have broken his rules, God is rightfully angry at our sin, but Jesus has died to rescue us from sin, if we believe in him then we can be forgiven for our rule-breaking.

This is part of the gospel.

But it isn’t the whole gospel.

We want people to become followers of Jesus don’t we? Then we need to expose what Jesus our God is like. Do our friends know how intriguing Jesus is? Do they know that he called himself the prince of peace and yet he threw furniture down the temple stairs? Do they know that Jesus claimed to be the son of God, but was always accused of not being religious enough?

Do they know that Jesus turned social conventions on their head, by befriending tax collectors and prostitutes? Or that Jesus is the loving, compassionate, offensive, controversial, radical, selfless, authoritative, irresistible, crucified and risen saviour? Do they know that even though they sick and broken and insecure, that Christ came exactly to take upon himself all of their brokenness? Do they know how good the gospel is, and how good we believe it is? Have we ever called them to ‘come to Christ?’ Jesus isn’t the means to an end – he is our end goal.

I really think that our wrong perceptions of God will translate into a narrow explanation of the gospel. But what a warm gospel we have to share, and in what a warm and compassionate manner will we share it, when our heart are won again and again by the outstanding beauty of our saviour?!

I’d really recommend that you listen to this. Be amazed again at how Christ feels about you! Isn’t this a gospel that you long to share?