Cheapening the Gospel

canstockphoto21657814We’ve made the Gospel all about life after death, and in doing so we’ve cheapened the Gospel.

The Gospel is cheapened when we make the stakes very low. Think about it: if the Gospel is right, believing in Jesus means we avoid Hell and get to live in Heaven for the rest of our lives. If the Gospel is wrong, we die and it’s all over. We just fade into nothingness. Which really isn’t so bad when you think about it.

So you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by believing in Jesus. Put like this it’s just a risk/reward calculation.

There’s more math involved than faith.

Whatever else it is, it’s not the Gospel when we’ve got no skin in the game, when it requires nothing of us, not even faith.

An all-about-heaven Gospel let’s you skip over the teachings of Jesus, especially the hard ones, and focus on his Virgin birth, sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection. Historic creeds like the Apostle’s Creed do exactly that, as do evangelical salvation formulas like the Four Spiritual Laws and the Roman’s Road.

The Gospel is cheapened, however, when we can ignore the hard teachings of Jesus and still be considered followers of Jesus.

Some dismiss the hard teachings of Jesus because they are too hard, especially for a regular person.

Loving our enemies, refusing the sword in the face of violence, trusting the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sin instead of doing ourselves—only a truly holy person like Jesus is capable of these kinds of things.

Some dismiss the hard teachings of Jesus because they are just unrealistic period. They consider them idealistic and utopian and unworkable in the real world.

When evil has an army, the righteous have to counter with an army or get massacred. When the righteous get massacred, evil wins.

True enough–except that is exactly the story of Jesus. He faced evil without a sword, and wound up on a cross. Everyone thought that evil had won.

Except it didn’t. It got exposed.

When darkness is exposed to the light, light wins and darkness loses. Every time.

When Freddie Gray was killed while in police custody, some people reacted by throwing rocks, looting, burning buildings and destroying property. It was understandable, but it was wrong.

It was countering darkness with darkness, and it only led to more darkness. It hurt poor neighborhoods and made it even more difficult for residents living there. It also gave reason for some to try justify the actions of the police officers involved.

Instead of exposing injustice it only added to it.

It would have been completely understandable had the members of Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston responded similarly. They had just had friends, family members, and their own pastor gunned down by a white man who was filled with the darkness of racism, fear and hatred.

But they didn’t respond similarly.

The people in that Bible study welcomed him, perhaps as he had never been welcomed before in his life. He reportedly told police that they were so kind, welcoming, and decent that he almost didn’t go through with his plans.

Even when his hatred overwhelmed his humanity and he pulled out is gun, they still reacted as I imagine Jesus would have. One man, Tywanza Sanders, bravely stood between the gunman and his aunt.

“You don’t have to do this,” he said. Words of grace, not hatred. Words that invited him to life, not death.

Tywanza Sanders died, but his death wasn’t a defeat. It exposed the darkness as the evil that it was, and showed what true life is all about.

When family members were allowed to speak to their loved one’s killer in court, none offered words of hate. They all offered words of grace, forgiveness, and mercy.

They too exposed the darkness to the light and showed what true life was all about.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but it’s what true followers of Jesus do.

They all showed that the hard teachings of Jesus aren’t unrealistic at all. They showed the power of turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, and not returning evil for evil.

They did it because they knew the hard teachings of Jesus are not optional parts of the Gospel but integral to it.

The reason they were able to do it was because they knew they were going to heaven when they died.

Knowing that we are going to heaven when we die doesn’t free us to do whatever we want.

It frees us to actually do what Jesus said.

It’s not easy, but it’s also not cheap.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / carmenbobo

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