Friday, January 3, 2014

Can we tone down the Gospel?

"And they're off!!!"
    I was on my best behaviour that day:  for some reason, I have a reputation as a theological pit bull and my anonymous sister in Christ had done her level best to put the muzzle on, pleading for my utmost patience with her new friend.  I understand:  we've all been there, introducing people we love and esteem greatly, and it's our greatest hope that they love each other as much as we love them.  We arrange the place, the time, the atmosphere... and if we could borrow God's heart-changing power for just a second, it might be scary how far we would go to make them get along!
     I shook his hand and waited for a good moment to start with some gentle inquiries;  this man professed Christ, but it's tragic that in America in the 21st century, that and $5 will get you a mocha at Starbuck's, but nothing else.  I asked about the gospel and we were off to the races, galloping down the trendiest and most relevant perspectives on what can only loosely be called theology.  Of course, the further we went down that track, the more distant Scripture became in our rear view;  but the lowlight I want to respond to today was one I know you've heard, both in theory and practice:

"If we tell them about sin, judgment and hell, they won't like us and they'll think God is a big meanie!"
     I don't want to immediately dismiss the usual motive behind this approach:  just like my sister-in-Christ, when we speak to the lost, we have two people we love, we introduce them and earnestly desire that they would love each other as much as we love them.  Obviously, this is not a bad motive and one could easily classify this as "love for neighbor" (i.e. the lost individual);  their best interest and greatest good is to know and love Jesus, so how can we not present Jesus in the most winsome way?
     But there's something else that transcends love for neighbor, another law that is the greatest commandment:  "Love the LORD your God with all your heart..." (Mt 22:37).  Our role as messengers of Christ to a lost and dying world is not primarily for them... it's for Him and our love for Christ necessitates that we obey Him (Jn 14:15, 21, 23).  And furthermore, we are not left to guess how we are to promulgate His gospel;  the Scriptures are replete with the essential context of God's message of salvation, namely His sentence upon sin.  From the second chapter of the Bible onward, we learn He must judge and punish all disobedience.  All of God's prophets and messengers start with this clarion call to humanity; so there's an extremely relevant blueprint for evangelism (and a dire warning) tucked away in Ezk 3:16-19:
"And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.  If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul."
     We have heard a word, the final word, from God in the Person of Jesus Christ (Heb 1:2).  If a person
"He said what?!?"
neglects or spurns Him and His gospel, they do not turn from their wicked way (Jn 3:18) and lie under God's condemnation for sin.  It is required by God that, just like Ezekiel, we warn them and accurately convey His sentence of death upon them for their sin.  That's an inherent part of the job description of "messenger" many seem to have forgotten... they just deliver the message.  They don't get to change it, soften it, edit it or add to it.  The maxim "Don't shoot the messenger!" is predicated on this fact;  when you have to give your boss the bad news of coworker's insubordination, you sure don't want him to blame you for your coworker's words!  
     But if we do take it upon ourselves to polish up the message, their blood will God require at our hand.  So as much as we would desire the objects of our evangelism to love and know Christ, it comes back to the reality that the final outcome of each encounter really isn't up to us;  God has commanded the means of His salvation (the gospel in its full context;  Rom 1:16) and sovereignly planned and effected the result (Jn 1:12,13, 6:44).  His Holy Spirit convicts folks of their sin (Jn 16:8), not us.  In closing, listen to Paul back up Ezekiel with the exact same analogy:
"Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." (Acts 20:26-27)
May we follow in his footsteps and innocence.

Photos courtesy of Paulo Camera, spotzilla

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