I have a friend who is perplexed about the emphasis “we” Christians place on sin.
Well, I admit, sometimes I’m perplexed, too.
Color Sin before Christ is accepted
(Is our mission to call out sin?)
I often read or hear the following rationalizations from evangelizing Christians:
“If we don’t point out their sin, they might be damned to an eternal hell.”
“If we don’t judge them, we’re not doing our job as Christians.”
“We need to take a moral stand in this immoral world without values.”
Jesus tells us not to judge; plain and simple. And Jesus only called out one group of people: the Pharisees. Yet, he also formed individual relationships with at least two of them – Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Instead of calling out sinners, Jesus dined with them. Sharing a meal first century Jewish culture meant acceptance at a deep level.
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2 (Luke 6:37)”
“If anyone hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)
The thing is, no one will listen unless they feel safe, unless they feel loved. And really, it’s never a matter of “they” or “them,” but of he or she; individuals with whom we take the time to establish authentic and loving relationships. Individuals with whom we take the time to learn history and struggles and hurt and pain. Jesus loved first, drew individuals to His heart, creating the desire to follow Him.
If the death of his Son restored our relationship with God while we were still his enemies, we are even more certain that, because of this restored relationship, the life of his Son will save us. (Romans 5:10 GW emphasis mine)
Sin after Christ is accepted
(Are sinners separated from God?)
Christ died on the cross; He took our sins and buried them forever. More important, His resurrection brought us back into a redemptive relationship with our Father. He has restored us into our Father’s arms.
Sin can lead us to an earthly hell and make us “feel” separated from God. But,
All of this is a gift from our Creator God, who has pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through Jesus. And He has given us the same mission, the ministry of reconciliation, to bring others back to Him.It is central to our good news that God was in Christ making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 The Voice)
If God does not hold our sins against us anymore, why do we? How can our sin separate us from God if Jesus took them away, once and for all?
When we focus on sin, we miss the point of the Good News. Rather than fixating on sin, shouldn’t we stress God’s love, His grace and His mercy? Shouldn’t we extend an invitation? Invite someone in and get to know him? Welcome someone to dinner and make it safe for her talk?
If it’s true once people know the love of Christ they desire to transform their lives; if it’s true lives can only transform through a relationship with Christ, then we must love first. For if we judge and expect people to repent before they feel the love of Christ, we task them with an impossible burden, just as the Pharisees did to the people of their day.
It circumvents Christ, ignoring the cross and undermining the Gospel of Jesus.
What will separate us from the love Christ has for us? Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. As Scripture says:
“We are being killed all day long because of you. We are thought of as sheep to be slaughtered.”
The one who loves us gives us an overwhelming victory in all these difficulties. I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love which Christ Jesus our Lord shows us. We can’t be separated by death or life, by angels or rulers, by anything in the present or anything in the future, by forces or powers in the world above or in the world below, or by anything else in creation. (Romans 8:35-39 MSG)
A week or so ago, I posted “Joyfulnouncing Jesus!” and ended that with a question:
How do you personally, define “the Gospel” (feel free either to include that in the comment section, responding, below… or just note it down for yourself for next time.)
Thank you, for considering the question and for the responses that came. They were wonderful, spirit-filled, responses, and I am grateful to have prompted the reflection that yielded them.
I mentioned last time that when the Lord prompted me to go to scripture to find the “Biblical definition” of “The Gospel”…
“As I started to work, and dug into scripture a bit, I discovered some amazing things about these two words we use…. ‘the Gospel’…”
What I discovered was that when we go to the New Testament in original language, there’s this “gap” anywhere the English translations say “the Gospel”. There’s just this big white space corresponding… that what the Gospels SAY is this really cool descriptive VERB of the action… “happy-good-true-heralding”. (Hence the post “Joyfulnouncing”.)
But here’s the thing… the “joyfulnouncement” is always “arrival”, “come-to-us-ness”, and “celebration”. The “good news” part of euangelizo CANNOT be “separated” as an “object” from the “joyfulnounce” part. But often, in English, we do that.
So, the essence of “proclaim the Gospel” (which can never be separated as a concept… the Gospel must ALWAYS be ATTACHED to “announcing”) is something like…
“Hey! Listen! He’s HERE! Love has ARRIVED! Your Lover has arrived!”
So, you see my problem with the “Index Card”/”Elevator Gospel” situation. The “announcing” is of a “relationship”. Just as my old friend put it, when I asked “what someone needs to know for baptism?”… the answer isn’t WHAT they need to know, but WHO they need to know.
This got me thinking two different things…
The first, doesn’t help me at all as “an evangelist”. In the terms my former Pastor/Boss was thinking, an “evangelist” needs to have a “message”, a “script”, a “set of doctrinal propositions” to communicate and persuade someone to adopt. I could never develop such a script.
Nonetheless, there definitely IS, an “essence” to “the Gospel”. I’ve always “felt” it… (messy, sloppy word that, I know… “feelings” not a good guide, etc., etc.) but deep in the soil of my heart, I’ve always “known” it. But when I chase this cat, when I became utterly determined to “find ‘the Gospel'”…
I discovered myself at the foot of the Cross.
And this is true of every other single person I’ve ever known who “gets it”… who has entered into the beams of “grace”… who has gotten past the elementary principles of the world and eats meat rather than drinking milk. There is an “experience”… in every single one’s life that I’ve ever known, even though this experience can happen in a vast array of symbols, environments, traditions, styles, idioms, cultures…. every person who brings this testimony seems utterly unique, yet utterly parallel, that…
There is a one-to-one encounter with Jesus, and in this encounter (which is undeniably REAL, though seldom, if ever “material”), Jesus’ love in its Infinite magnitude, washes over and through the person. We can never effectively speak of, describe, the experience of another in these moments… but for one friend it was at their kitchen table one evening… for another, it was at the edge of the Miami River after throwing themselves into it to drown three times, and failing… for me, it was in prayer, at the Cross, looking at His eyes, face, hands, and hearing those words “Father, forgive them…”
In each and every case, what came about was the absolute “realization” (as in… “a truth becoming REAL to the individual”) of Jesus’ specific, individual, personal committed Infinite love for that person. It’s the “supernatural spark of the living connected relationship” between person and Jesus! It is a “moment”, an “experience”, a “realization”… after which, life is utterly changed and can never go back as it was.
And, of course, that spark, that moment, is “ineffable”… no matter how hard we try. That MOMENT, that RELATIONSHIP, is… as I’ve come to embrace it… “the Gospel”. And THAT, is simply lightning I’ve never managed to put in a bottle. I can talk “about” it. I can describe the circumstances, even the “feelings” to some extent. But the experience? The reality itself? No way… no words I know can wrap around that living Divine Spark.
The closest I’ve come is to invite someone to consider the following notion… “Jesus’ love for you, personally, is so great, so committed, so passionate and intense, that if you were the only person in all of time ever to have fallen… He would BEG Our Father for permission to come, take your place, and suffer all that He did… leaving His throne, living a sinless life, being rejected, betrayed, tried, condemned, tortured, and murdered in disgrace… all of that, just because He loves you that much, and wants you seated with Him at His throne.” Just imagine!
And, even more challenging for many… “The Fathers’ love for you, personally, is so great, so committed, so passionate and intense, that if you were the only person in all of time ever to have fallen… He would grant that permission, and DESIRE that Jesus… His Beloved Firstborn Son… leave His throne, come to earth as mortal man, take your place, and suffer all that He did… just because He loves you that much, and wants you seated with Him at His throne.” Just imagine!
Now, I’ll be honest… I “got” the first part of that… the “Jesus loves me this much” part… when I was very young. But it wasn’t until I was older… much older… and my daughter was grown with children of her own, that the FATHER approached me with the extent of HIS love! He challenged me… I could imagine, fairly readily, giving up my OWN life for someone I loved, yes. But! Could I imagine, even for one moment, loving someone so much that I would turn over MY DAUGHTER… my most beloved, who has never deserved such treatment… to the sufferings of Jesus, not for her own life debts… but for the sins of others?
Gentle Reader, that was a hard afternoon for me. I had never thought in those terms. I had never imagined the true depths of the FATHER’s love for us! For YOU, alone. For ME, alone. For him, and him, and her, and her, and them… alone.
Why? Because this is Who He is, and WHAT He is… He is not merely “a loving god”. He IS LOVE! Love Himself! He has no other way to be. No love happens but from, by, through Him. No one and nothing can love or be loved but by the “wiring” and “energizing” of Grace, of God Himself!
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Anyway, sorry, Gentle Reader. I get carried away with the magnitude of it all… God’s love… just… wow.
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But as to the Second Thought on Evangelism… on euvangelizo… on joyfulnouncing…
Suddenly today, I realized that my problem is that it’s like a “Fanfare!”, a “Trumpet Call” like Reveille, or Taps, or Ruffles and Flourishes, or Call to the Post. Here is a particular and peculiar sound, that has a specific meaning!
Well, for some reason this morning, this concept of “Fanfare” kept kicking me as I thought of drafting this post. I didn’t know why, but just let it roll on.
And then… the “trumpet will sound”… at the coming of Jesus ahead of us…
And then… the trumpets of Jericho…
And then… the Shofar… that the shofar or shofars travelled in front of the Ark of the Covenant, playing fanfare and calling the people to worship….
And something, suddenly, went “click” for me. (And I share it here, not to convince you… or persuade… or even “educate”… simply to share this thought, and see if it “fits” for you. If not, throw it away…)
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Suddenly, John the Baptist lit up in m spirit as a human “Shofar”… like the trumpet call in Godspell that introduces… “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” There he was… John, the Herald… a human ram’s horn… making way for He who would follow… for the joyful arrival of the King!
A “voice crying in the wilderness” announcing… not a new “religion”… but the person… The Person… The Relationship of Unimaginable Inexpressibly Infinite Love and Embrace of Love Himself!
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And, what has all this got to do with us? Simply this…
Perhaps we are all called to be human Shofars… perhaps we joyfully announce the Arrival of the Beloved… and embrace one another, and total strangers, aliens, sinners… in the grace and acceptance of our expressing the Spirit’s Infinite Love for them. Perhaps we transparently reflect and refract that “lightning in our own bottles” to light up the dark places.
The Good News isn’t Bad News! Thieves, cheats, fraudulent tax collectors, adulterer’s, prostitutes… didn’t go traipsing miles up and down dusty rocky hills to John at the Jordan to be made to feel bad, guilty, miserable and worthless. Zaccheus (a wee little man), was bubbling over with joy upon being called down from his perch by Jesus, even though he was so snubbed by his townspeople they wouldn’t even let him get a view of the street!
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Anyway, that’s getting into the next post… This has just been about the “Lightning in the Bottle”.
Next time, a bit more on, “The Good News isn’t Bad News!”
Let me again, leave you with a question…
I’ve heard it said that “repentance” has to come before “forgiveness” and “reconciliation”.
Think a moment, and ask yourself…. is this true? Or not?
Until next time then… Grace to you — The Little Monk