The gospel has morphed over the years in America from the “hell-fire and brimstone” message lodged in so many people’s minds from a generation or two ago to the feel-good, Stuart Smalley “you’re good enough just the way you are” message we see today. There is truth in both messages, but by themselves, neither is good news.
As a reaction to that horribly inconsiderate message of a generation or two ago, we have all but removed the concept of hell, sin, shame and bondage from our collective gospel message in America. Today, God wants to save you from being less than you could be. He wants to make you fulfill all your dreams as opposed to being awash in a sea of meaninglessness. The current American Gospel is that God wants you to be happy.
A little smidgen of truth can be the biggest enemy of the whole truth. In an effort to simplify the gospel, America has cut out those parts that are less than appealing. As a means to franchise salvation, America has streamlined a palatable message. What has that smidgen of truth done to the whole truth? What has it left us with?
A Rock of Offense
We cannot feel the freedom to parse out of the gospel message those things we don’t really like. Is it true that God wants us happy? Absolutely. Is it true that God wants us living up to our full potential? You bet. Is it true that Jesus was the “rock of offense?” That is less clear nowadays, but I’ll go ahead and give you the answer.
Peter and Paul both took the time to quote Isaiah 8:14 in their exposition of the gospel message. 1 Peter 2:8 (you really need to read 1 Peter 1:3-2:10 for the full context) and Romans 9:33 both quote Isaiah 8:14, “He will be a holy place; for both Israel and Judah he will be a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.”
Over and over again Jesus would say peculiar things that do not line up with our neat and clean gospel message of today. Because Jesus explained that receiving the love and forgiveness of God was not about actions but about the heart, He made it much more difficult to make categorical promises based on a person’s actions. That means that our “easy” gospel message today falls short of the message of scripture.
John records Jesus saying two seemingly contradictory things very close together in His Gospel.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
Then just a few chapters later…
If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.
Why would Jesus say at one time that His purpose was to judge, and then another that it wasn’t? Was He confused? Did He forget what He had said? Not hardly.
He was making one of the most basic points about God’s nature: that He resists the proud but is close to the humble (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, etc.). In His time on earth, Jesus lived that mantra out. He routinely tongue-lashed the Pharisees and showed desperate sinners love, mercy and grace.
Gospel of Grace
The gospel of grace, according to Jesus, the New Testament epistles and the Old Testament are all in agreement with one another: we must come to God in humility and brokenness. If we come any other way, we will be rejected.
If we come to God for help, we will be rejected. If we come to God for pointers on how to do better, we will be rejected. If we come to God to learn how to fulfill our dreams, we will be rejected. If we come to God for salvation, we will be saved.
We must come to God in full recognition of our bondage to sin, brokenness, shame and despair. If we come to Him still holding on to the concept that we are somehow a little good inside and that we just need His help to be better, He will openly reject us. Our only means to salvation is through a humility that acknowledges our complete need for Him. For anything less, He will reject us.
And that is horribly offensive. Not just to us today, but to all people throughout all history. No man who has ever walked the earth has wanted to admit that he was broken. We all want to hold on to our pride. We want to save face.
Our generation is not alone in being offended at the true message of the gospel, but it is unique in its almost ubiquitous redefinition of it. The question we must ask ourselves today is, will we be willing to give a gospel message that is offensive?
And even more importantly, are we ourselves willing to be offended by God?
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