My back deck has the potential for an incredible view.
We sit above a small valley, so I ought to be able to see lights below. The direction our deck faces ought to give me a full panorama of Mount Hood.
I don’t get to see any of that. The property just below ours is full of beautiful, giant trees. They give us privacy, but they also block the view.
If I stand in just the right place I can see slivers of the valley below, and maybe even catch an edge of Mount Hood. I know there’s an incredible view there, but what I can see is just a fraction of what’s there.
Christians have this same problem with the Gospel.
The Gospel is important. To Christians it’s the central thing. Everything in life ought to be oriented around our understanding of the gospel. Yet, for many exactly what the gospel is remains muddy. Worse, many people think they are clear on the subject, and they don’t realize they are only seeing a sliver of the view.
This matters more than you think. If you’re only seeing a sliver of the view, and you’re making life decisions on the basis of what you see, you may be missing out on something incredible.
Did Jesus teach your gospel?
The most well-known telling of the Gospel goes like this:
Humanity has sinned. That sin separates us from God. But God made a way! Because of God’s grace extended through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, we can be saved from sin. When we accept this gift, and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior, we’re saved from hell and judgement. We’re given new life now and access to heaven and eternity with God forever.
That’s the gospel as it’s often taught. That’s the gospel sketched out in tracts and on T-shirts. It’s easily supported from scripture. For many of us it has provided incredible hope and courage.
But—and this may come as a shock—none of this was taught by Jesus. Not directly. It’s not wrong. It’s just profoundly incomplete. If you had the opportunity to ask Jesus what the gospel was, you’d hear something different, something bigger. It might sound something like this:
Don’t fear! The kingdom of God has come among you. Follow me, do what I teach you, so that you can live within this new Kingdom now, and be a part of expanding the reign of God in this world.
Note: If that’s news to you, and you’d like a little Bible on that, check out these passages: Mark 1:14-15, Matthew 4:23, Luke 4:43, Luke 17:21, Matthew 6:9-13 along with an incredibly thoughtful Biblical study by Dr. Mark Roberts, here.
The first gospel story–The Salvation Story–is a part of the second. It’s a focus on something I can do (accept Jesus) and the benefits that brings me. It highlights two key moments in a person’s life, but if it’s the whole story, it leaves us with very little direction for the rest of our lives.
The second telling–The Kingdom of God Story–is the big, wide-open view that can change everything for you.
Where is your gospel leading you?
Whatever view you have of the Gospel is incredibly formative for your life. Think about how these two different gospel stories impact us.
The Salvation Story has a certain set of outcomes.
- This gospel produces decisions. Everything is built around getting people to decide for Jesus. Churches feel successful when they can track a growing number of decisions, and many churches have become incredibly good at getting them. (It’s part of what makes organized Christianity feel like a machine sometimes.)
- This gospel story inevitably focuses on the end result of a person’s life. Salvation or judgement. Heaven or hell. These are undoubtedly powerful ideas, but if we’re honest, for most of us they seem pretty far removed from our daily lives.
- In this story you are primarily responsible to choose, by an act of will. In some communities that is accompanied by a responsibility to behave in certain ways in order to validate the decision you made. Once you’ve chosen (and then behaved) what is there for you to do, other than help other people make that same decision?
- This gospel asks us to focus our thinking on spiritual reality, things like the soul, religious behavior, heaven, theology. Interesting, for sure. Important, you bet! But unless you have a way to connect the dots from these to daily living, they won’t matter much to you. (This is demonstrated by survey after survey that shows that evangelical Christians, who believe “all the right things,” don’t have markedly different lives than the non-Christian community around them.1)
- Inadvertently, trying to live according to this gospel story leads to compartmentalized living. Religious activities, religious conversations, religious music all matter more than the rest of life—which, unfortunately, is the part of life most of us have to spend most of our time in.
Contrast this with the implications of the Kingdom of God Story:
- This gospel produces disciples, people who are committed to learning how to live (now and forever) from Jesus. It’s not just about what you choose; it’s about who you are becoming.
- This gospel announces the beginning of a new way of living, instead of focusing on the end result of your life.
- In this story, you are responsible to live as a follower of Jesus, your whole life informed by Jesus’s teaching and guided by your growing relationship with Jesus.
- This gospel asks you to think about your entire reality including your choices, your relationships, your work, your words, and see them all as a response of worship.
- This gospel suggest that every moment of every day is sacred.
- Trying to live according to this Gospel story leads toward integrated living, where your entire life is encompassed by God’s reign.
Which gospel do you believe? Does your gospel produce decisions or disciples? Does it provide you with a hope for life after death, or does it give you more–including a plan for your everyday life? The Gospel wasn’t meant to just change your eternity. It was meant to change your every-day life. This correction of the story isn’t trivial. What you believe about this dramatically alters how you live, and what you think is important.
Take the Next Step:
If you’re interested in learning more about this, read this thoughtful Biblical study on the subject. Note what is different in this presentation than what you were taught. Reflect on how this understanding of the Gospel might change the way you live.
2. Take Action:
Pray the Lord’s Prayer [text] every day, as a mission statement for your day. You may not have realized it, but this is a core passage explaining Jesus’ understanding of the Gospel. Let these words shape your daily life. (If you do this would you let me know how it goes?)
3. Comment below:
What’s helpful or unhelpful about the gospel presentation you learned growing up, or have heard most frequently?