Some tough questions…
I’ve been reading (albiet very, very slowly) The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. In it he poses three very good questions about the “gospel” that we preach. He asks:
?Does the gospel I preach and teach have a natural tendency to cause people who hear it to become full-time students of Jesus?
?Would those who believe it become his apprentices as a natural ?next step?
?What can we reasonably expect would result from people actually believing the substance of my message??
These are some awesome questions that demand some very honest answers. I think if we are to look at many of our “converts” in our churches, evangelism rallies, youth meetings, youth retreats, etc. our honesty will bring about some very difficult answers.
It is my contention that if we are honest with ourselves and the gospel that much of mainstream evangelical Christianity has taught and proclaimed we may need to answer these first two questions with a ?probably? or even worse a ?no.? That is, the gospel we preach does not always have a natural tendency to cause people who hear it to become his full-time students. Meaning, those who believe it do not have ?becoming an apprentice to Jesus as their natural next step.?
The question then is: ?what is missing from our gospel?? I thinkg Dalla Willard is right when he says that we are preaching a gospel of ?sin management? and ?a gospel for death? but not a gospel for “kingdom living.” To be fair though, I do not believe that we have been missing the whole gospel. It is obvious that the gospel is about getting to heaven when you die, but only partially. (before you write me off as a heretic, hear me out here). It’s true, the gospel is about having your sins forgiven, but only partially. The gospel is about Christ dieing for your sins, but only partially.
We have not neglected to prepare people for death. This is totally evident in our “where would you go when you die” questions. What we have done is we have been preaching only a ?half-gospel” of ?getting to heaven when you die.? This gospel, does not naturally have impact on our lives here on earth (except that our gratitude drives us to good works – which is legitimate motivation, just not the best). For some reason, we have grown to believe that the only part of the Gospel that effects how we live our life is our gratidude for the cross. This is evidence in the fact that I heard that during a recent ?evangelism crusade? of a very well respected institution the speaker said, ?God doesn?t care about whether you go to church or not or whether you transform your life, he just wants you in heaven.? What a tragedy!
As Willard questions, ?Can we really believe that essence of Christian faith and salvation covers nothing but death and after? Can we believe that being saved really has nothing whatever to do with the kinds of persons we are? When we proclaim the gospel in this way, the only natural application we usually make toward Christian living is usually at the end of our gospel presentation where we make an almost unnatural footnote that goes something life this, ?Now that you have prayed and had your sins forgiven you should start going to church and start reading your Bible and start living a better life.? The only problem is that the only thing we talked about during our gospel presentation was that they just needed to have their sins forgiven so they could get to heaven. As stated before, the only thing then that motivates them to be devote themselves to radical discipleship is gratitude for Christ?s sacrifice (which again is not in itself inherently evil , but also not our sole reason for following Christ).
I think that other half of the gospel that we have forgotten is and understanding of what it really means to be “born again.” Jesus talks quite often about the need for a new birth in the gospels and we may have lost an understanding of a ?new birth? in our gospel presentations. If we look again at the Gospels and the Pauline theology of the gospel we will see that this ?new birth? is not only for when we die and are made perfect in heaven. But it is also a new birth that occurs here on earth, and is effectual for daily living in the kingdom of God.
I think another misunderstanding with the gospel as we have heard it and taught it is that we have a skewed understanding of our problem before God. We usually teach that man?s problem is that we have sinned (done sinful things – which is of course true! We have all sinned!). Now, it is definitely true that all have sinned. It is also true that our sin separates us from God and that we do indeed need to have our sins forgiven. I would suggest that the problem is that our sinful actions are not the fundamental problem with mankind. Assuming for a minute this is true, what then is the fundamental problem?
I believe if we look again at Romans 5 and 6 we will see a different fundamental problem and a different solution that will give us a clearer picture of what Jesus meant when he talked about being ?born again.?
The first thing we need to understand is our condition as sinful humans. Often as we are sharing the gospel, our focus is on that of our sins. The thought goes something like this: we have sinned, therefore we have been separated from God. While this is true. I think we lose something very important that Paul writes about in Romans 5. Starting in Romans 5:12 we see that the state of the natural man is that of spiritual death. It is from birth that we are born this way. Our then sin comes into the picture as a result of our spiritual death. The person void of any spiritual life only naturally commits sin. So, our problem as human beings is not just a sin problem. But a life/death problem. We are dead, we need to be made alive.
This has obvious implications on how we share the gospel. With being forgiven and being made alive in Christ the goal of the gospel (as oppposed to simply being forgiven) there are some obviously natural results. If someone understands that they are being made alive (here and now!) in Christ, they will naturally view discipleship as part the rest of their life. After all, dead things don’t show signs of life. Alive things show natural signs of life, just because they are alive!