Friday, March 18, 2011

It's not about you...

We are called to proclaim the gospel in our life as church and in our individual lives as Christians. This Gospel is simply the good news about Jesus Christ. One of the difficulties is understanding just what precisely is this good news?

There are two major distortions of the Gospel that are common in the church today.

The first is what is often referred to as ‘the spirit-filled life’. In this distortion we are lead to believe that we have the ability to lead a God pleasing life on the basis of personal decision, spiritual experience and a Christian life style. Any difficulties that we face in this regard are put down to lack of faith, weak self-discipline, or not having the Spirit.

The second one places an emphasis on the intellectual endeavour where through the gaining of knowledge and understanding one comes to a true comprehension of God, his will and his Word, which enables the individual to then lead a Christian life in service of God. Here wisdom and knowledge are key. Any problems are put down to lack of knowledge, immaturity, and, again, weak self-discipline.

Now there are many variations on these two themes, but the main problem is the same. In every distortion of the Gospel the centre point and the key to everything is the individual involved. The individual’s experience...the individual’s knowledge...the individual’s understanding...these all lead to the individual leading a self-disciplined life of ‘Christian’ or ‘Christ-like’ behaviour. It is all about the individual’s works and ability. There is no need for a God or Saviour in this since one can simply draw from within their own resources all that is needed to live this divine life.

In this context John 3:1-17 is both a breath of fresh air in the stale atmosphere of “Do-It-Yourself” salvation and a new broom ready to sweep out the accumulated theological rubbish from our understanding of the Gospel. So what is this Gospel?

As we said at the beginning, the gospel is the good news of Jesus. The word Gospel literally means ‘good news’. What this good news is and does is simple.

The Gospel begins in the Law...the 10 every other passage in Scripture that highlights the reality and presence of sin in us, in our lives and in creation. The Law reveals our sin, our failure, our need for a Saviour, rescuer. The Law explains the reality of death, broken relationship, personal weakness. The Law makes us see what we really are. Not individual’s with a ‘free’ will, but slaves to sin and death. Not people with an inner source of strength and purpose that will enable us to rise up and above and become better and more Christ-like, but people doomed to repeating the same old mistakes because our inner resources are corrupt, imperfect and weak.

The Gospel breaks into our lives in the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is his fulfilling of the Law, his obedience of the Father’s will, his innocent suffering and death, his ultimate resurrection which gives us a will which is ‘freed’ from the power of sin, death and the devil. The sacrifice of Jesus in life and death is the complete and total fulfilment of God’s Law and he does this for you and me...not just for himself. All that he endures is payment for our rebellion and disobedience.

The Gospel finds full expression in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is not our strength that creates and powers the Christian life. Only the Spirit can work His fruit and gifts in us. Only the Spirit can produce in us actions and attitudes and words which are God pleasing. Only the Spirit can sustain in us the faith in Jesus that this good news in true. It is not about what we do, but what God is doing in us and through us by means of the Holy Spirit.

In the end, the Gospel is all about God. It is the story that points out all that he does for you in love and out of love with no expectations. The power of John 3:16...

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. found in the simple fact that it expresses the truth of the gospel. It highlights why God did it…what he did…for whom he did it …and what the benefits are…and yet makes no demands nor expresses any expectation for any person apart from the invitation to believe. God gives …freely, lovingly, without strings. That is why Paul writes later in his letter to the Ephesians:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. is to re-emphasize that this is not about the individual...the works...the self-discipline...the level of wisdom...or of spirituality. The Gospel is about God...his love for you...his grace given to you. This is the gospel that is yours. Yours for life and yours to share.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Great expectations...

The temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4 is not just a record of the struggle between good and evil, between Jesus and Satan, but also highlights the popular expectations of who the Messiah was to be and what he was to do. It was believed that the Messiah would:

Provide economic uplift for the community...If the Messiah would provide economic prosperity, they would quickly follow him…feeding of the 5000…the crowd wanted to make him king.

Establish his identity and authority by performing miracles. The use of miraculous power would be a divine identity badge…If he would act out some public, undeniable miracle in the temple area then the high priest would at once proclaim him the true Messiah. It is not by accident that he was asked, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you” (Matt. 12:38.)

Seize political power, drive out the Romans, and reestablish some form of the kingdom of David.

The problem was if Jesus had accepted the above popular view of the Messiah, and proceeded to carry out its agenda, the nation would have been at his feet, but the plan of salvation would have been destroyed. On the other hand, he presented himself as the Messiah according to God's will and refused this popular view of messiahship. As a consequence he faced opposition, hostility, and rejection. Ultimately this lead him to a way of sorrow, suffering and death. In this way God's plan of salvation was completed.

Today, people still hold similar views of Jesus. They look to him for prosperity, material blessings and provision. They look to him for miracles as proof of his existence and power. They look to him as the basis for societal, cultural and government decreed morality.

Jesus never promoted any of these expectations. He was quite open in his opposition to them. His call was to a living relationship with God and with others. Not one of superiority or charity, but of mutual recognition and respect, of love and compassion, of walking with one another, of being people of grace. Living in grace means that much of what we ask of God can really come from us. Needs can be met by reducing our expectations or generously sharing with those in need. Miracles can occur through the kindness of strangers and in the everyday occurrences of life. As for power, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others become our model. As we become more Christ-like the earthly powers cannot prevail.

Ultimately the devil's temptations were ones which challenged Jesus to ignore the power of God that already existed within him through Word and promise. He wanted Jesus to look for the grand and glorious, and live up to the expectations of others. Jesus refused to fall into the trap and walked the way of God, the way of servant. Through his service is our saving.

We too are called to live and walk as servants. Servants of God who are called to serve the people around us. Through our service, God works his grace in others.