“He is the propitiation (sacrificial substitute) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
1 John 2:2-6
Teaching the Kids
This week I’ve been asked to prepare a presentation to a group of teenagers at my church on “relational Evangelism”. My initial reaction was excitement about being given the opportunity to talk about this interesting subject. So I began my preparations, laid out for myself all the things I wanted to teach these young minds, and though about all the things I wanted to say. And then I asked Jesus to bless my efforts.
And then Jesus moved something different in my spirit. I know, I know, we all know people who say “God spoke to me.” I’m not going to be that arrogant. God doesn’t speak to me. I think he moves on my spirit. I think He influences my thoughts. I even believe he somehow whispers into my heart. So that’s what I mean when I say he “moved something different in my spirit.”
So here’s the thing.
I often come to things like this with an attitude of knowledge and “authority” as though I have something to say that these kids don’t know. The truth is that I don’t. The truth is that what I need to do is not come into a conversation with a group of kids as some new authority on things they didn’t already know. The truth is that I first needed to listen to the Holy Spirit and ask Jesus what He wants these kids to know and understand about him. So I dropped my agenda and had to ask Him to take me back to “school” on what I really believe relational evangelism is. And in the process I think our lesson will look more like a conversation and discussion rather than a lecture. We’ll just let Jesus teach us this next few weeks.
What is the Gospel I have believed?
Evangelism is a big word we use in our church circles. We throw it around often times as though those around us should automatically know what it means. We also misuse the idea of evangelism and turn it into a sales pitch that is an attempt at converting people to our brand of religion. The message of Jesus wasn’t one of simply individual transformation (though there is a huge component of individual transformation that is a part of the gospel).
The Gospel I’ve known my whole life has been the good news that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, just like me, and to die for me so I could inherit eternal life and not worry about going to hell when I die. And that is all true, except for something that is not.
Now I don’t think for a minute that the Gospel I was taught didn’t see the rest of the world as important. I just think we were only concerned with eternity and not today. The truth is that this Gospel, while amazing and awesome for the individual, is not really big enough for the whole world. You see, this Gospel doesn’t really talk about world transformation. It only talks about me…as if I were the only one.
Now don’t get me wrong here… the fact that God loves me, that He died for me, and that He has and is and will in the future given me life that last forever, should be good enough. And in many ways it is. I don’t ever want to detract from the personal and relational aspect of this gospel at all. It is deeply personal. It is deeply an individual decision and a journey from new birth to new life all the way into heaven for those who believe.
It is also an invitation into something bigger. You see, the Gospel, as it has been shared for many of us, is insufficient to deal with the problems of the world around us. Evangelism has often been taught as little more than a way to give people a ticket out of suffering, out of this earth, and largely an excuse to not really care much about what happens in and to the rest of the world.
When you are focused mostly on people’s eternal destiny, you give little attention to their present reality.
Jesus didn’t just come for you and your sins. John tells us very clearly, he came for us and them. He came for the whole world. And it isn’t just about everybody getting their ticket to heaven. It’s about something he invited us into in the here and now as well as in the there and then.
The Gospel is an invitation into the “Kingdom of Heaven”.
Now.. this is another problem that many of us have lost. The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t really so much a place we go when we die (although it is)… it is also something that God is doing here and now in the world among us. That’s where discipleship comes in.
Look around you. The world is falling apart at the seams. But what are we doing about it if we are only trying to tell people about heaven when they die? Most people aren’t thinking about heaven when they die, until they are about to meet their maker. So what is the Good News that Jesus came to bring?
Here it is:
Personal salvation leads to followers of Jesus who value global reconciliation, beauty, wholeness and justice.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is this: God loves you and the whole world so much that He came to this world in the form of a baby, the God-Man Jesus so that we wouldn’t perish in our sin and brokenness. He came, he lived, he died a criminal’s death, was dead, buried and came back to life so that we could be saved from this life of death and transformed into people who live an eternal kind of life and in turn, like a virus, spread this eternal kind of life into the world around us.
In a nutshell… God loves the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in His death, burial, resurrection and life would not perish, but would have an everlasting life.
An Eternal Kind of Life
What does Everlasting life look like?
It looks like the kind of Life Jesus lived when he was here. It looks like a life dedicated to restoring dead things. It looks like a life of grace, love, mercy, and peace… hope, joy, reconciliation, and forgiveness. It looks like a life that is committed to being a light in the darkness. It looks like a life of humility and service not power and prideful glory seeking. It looks like the life of a disciple, an apprentice of Jesus. The life that is eternal is a life that gives more than it takes, loves more than it hates, and points people to the source of life itself rather then sucking the life out of people.
If the Gospel you believed is only about you, then it’s just not enough.
It is a beautiful thing to find grace and forgiveness and personal relationship with Jesus. But it is not enough if you aren’t looking for ways to spread that grace and forgiveness and personal relationship with Jesus to others. It’s not enough for you to just get your self covered for eternity… for you to not follow Jesus into the world. If this is your Gospel, then Your Gospel isn’t Big Enough.
The Gospel of personal salvation isn’t the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is only a part of the story. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God is the Good News. It’s about something much much bigger than you or me, but it is also about you and me and the whole world. It is about becoming a disciple of Jesus.
The Good News is that there is a bigger story for you to be a part of then only your own. And this flies in the face of much of Western Cultural Christianity.
An Invitation to Follow Jesus
What we do next is going to matter in the world of the future. We can continue to share a Gospel that only talks about personal salvation, but if we don’t talk about a Gospel that is for the whole world… then it begs the question… Are we really sharing the Gospel that Jesus shared?
This article isn’t to make you doubt your salvation. On the contrary, this article is about you learning how to work out your salvation to include a bigger scope and perspective than your own personal salvation. Jesus saved you so He could save others through you. You were not made for an individual salvation. You were made to be a part of a larger community of faith that one day will celebrate in the Great Kingdom of God beyond this life. There is no such thing as a person who gets to go to Heaven who doesn’t love people or Jesus or God or anything God cares about. Heaven isn’t full of people who simply threw a stick in the fire at youth camp. It’s full of people who follow Jesus all the way there. Some people have been following their whole lives, and some follow at the end of their lives. God’s grace is big enough to cover you for however long you’ve lived without following Him. But the way forward is to follow. He is the only way, truth, or life. And His way is the only one that counts.
The coolest part of Jesus’ Gospel is that you can be a part of that Kingdom now. You don’t have to wait until the afterlife. Life begins now… here.
Are you ready to join me in moving forward?