Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
Note: the following four posts are taken from the my presentation at the 2015 gathering, which has been broken at logical break points into a series of smaller sections.
All churches claim to be preaching the gospel. We can either accept that as a given and live with the confusion of disparate messages or we can come to some yardstick that is able to distinguish the true gospel from the false. In this session I want to hold before us such a yardstick by asking what I consider three essential questions of the gospel: The question of identity, the question of occupation, and the question of direction.
If you are prepared to accept the New Age claim that all roads lead to God, a claim that is as old as the serpent’s temptation of Adam and Eve, then why bother trying to sort true from false. All is true; nothing is false. At least that is what adherents to that doctrine preach. However, ask Adam and Eve, ask Cain, ask those who refused to hear Noah. Where did their road lead?
If you are looking for a firm foundation, one that will stand through all weather, then distinguish true gospel from false you must. It is to this end I ask my three questions.
We began this gathering asking “Who are you? ” To answer that question we generally supply name and place of residence. But what do those things say concerning who you are? Those names are usually without meaning in that they are not something you have earned by demonstration of character. “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead,” wrote John to the Church of Sardis. And as for place of residence, that also says nothing of who we are, whether or not we dwell in our rightful habitation.
Peter, writing to “those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithinia” identifies them as ”...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” (1Peter 2:9-10)
“You are the people of God” says something about who you are. You have crossed a frontier as real as any border crossing, and you have not come under a tourist visa. You have an identity that can only be obtained in truth, in righteousness; one that can’t be bought, faked, stolen, or used as a disguise. All this has happened because you have heard the voice of Christ proclaiming the good news of release to the captive, calling to those in the darkness, “Show yourselves,” and has made you to inherit the desolate heritages.
However, most proclamations of “The Good News” that is heard today, and that has been heard for centuries in the past, consists of an imposed dualism. For example: “The good news is that Jesus died on the cross to save you from your sin. The bad news is that he can’t accomplish that until you die.” “The good news is that Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God come on Earth. The bad news is that it won’t be realized until the end of the world.” “The good news is that Jesus has defeated Satan, our adversary. The bad news is that our adversary will retain his power over me in this life.” “The good news is that God looks at me through Jesus’ blood that he shed on the cross. The bad news is that it won’t make an iota of difference in how I behave.”
Many of these dualistic statements are implied “facts” rather than forthright statements. But whether implied or stated directly they wield a power over the lives of their adherents that stands in the way of realizing the power of God and the power of the gospel.
The oft quoted scripture that does indeed announce the good news is
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send the son to judge the world but that through him the world should be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already because he does not believe in the authority [name] of the only son of God. And this is the judgement that the light has come into the world, and men have loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God. (John 3:16-21)
This passage, though often quoted, is just as often misunderstood. The misunderstanding begins with not perceiving God’s purpose in sending the son. Most teaching you will hear states that God’s purpose in sending the son centered upon the cross. In other words, he came to die, to be a blood sacrifice. But this is far short of what Jesus accomplished then and continues to accomplish today. This leads to the second, and equally important, area of misunderstanding.
To understand God’s purpose, we need to understand what John was saying when he wrote the words we translate as “believe in” which is so intimately connected with receiving life. In his enlargements on the subject of receiving life in chapters 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10 John is careful to point out that life is to be had only in a relationship with Christ where we hear his voice, where we walk in the light wherewith he has enlightened us, where we believe in his authority, and where we act upon what he says to us with the knowledge that this is the way to life and the way of life. Note: I have used the alternate rendering “authority” rather than “name”. You encounter the authority of the only son of God when you experience the reproof of the light John speaks of. To turn away from that light is to spurn his authority. The only way to “believe in the authority of the only son of God”, is to accept that reproof and to turn from your evil ways to now walk in the light.
When “...whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life...” comes to mean a static acceptance of Jesus’ death on the cross as a substitute for my eternal punishment instead of the full understanding of Jesus’ purpose, we arrive at a state of moral impotence illustrated by the dualistic statements above.
To Be Continued...
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