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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Gospel Life Disconnect in the American Church

A friend posted a great quote on her blog:

“No amount of activity in the King’s service will make up for neglect of the King Himself.”–R.M. M’Cheyne

What a great quote. It kind of reminded me of this passage of Scripture:

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42 ESV)

But it also reminded me of these two passages:

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23 ESV)

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)

Anyway, the quote got me thinking about something that has been on my mind a lot. Often (in America at least) we preach a truncated gospel. We preach about creation and the fall, that every person is a sinner, that none of us can pay the price of our sin, that we need saving from the consequence of our sin (in particular eternal death), that Jesus came to pay the price of our sin, that through trusting Jesus (believing in Him and following Him), we can be saved (in particular from eternal death). And then we often stop here. And from here, many times a person becomes a Christian and then is groomed to focus the rest of their lives on sharing the gospel with others who do not yet know and trust Jesus. The result can be a joyless and awkward performance-driven striving to live “on mission”.

There is a hugely obvious missing link here. The key lies in this question: What relevance (beyond evangelism) does the gospel have in the life of a Christian after he or she is “saved”?  In other words, what does life with the King Himself look like?

The truth is that the gospel has implications in the life of a Christian beyond being saved from eternal death. We are not just being saved from eternal death, we are being saved to eternal life with our Good and Perfect God of the Universe! He is the God of love who created us. That life starts here on earth. We get to enjoy fellowship with Him and with His people, and He by His Spirit is transforming our hearts and character into His likeness. He is in the process of leading us into our new identity in Him as children of God and co-heirs with Christ. He is leading us into freedom from the things that have been bondage to us—like our sin and the sin committed against us. He has promised to not leave us as orphans. He has promised that all of the things that He is doing and allowing in our lives have a glorious purpose that He is bringing us to that makes everything worthwhile (and that is saying a lot considering the type of suffering there is in this world!). This brings comfort and joy in this life that supersedes (and often defies) our life circumstances. The more we meditate on Him, learn about His character and promises in His word, the more we communicate with Him through prayer and song, the more we fellowship with His people, the more we feel and experience the reality of this comfort and joy in this life. And we live in tremendous hope beyond this earthly life because we are promised to one day be with Him--finally unburdened by sin and suffering and completely free to enjoy our Creator in whose presence “there is fullness of joy” and at whose “right hand are pleasures forevermore”. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

The Bible has much to say about this aspect of our salvation.  We see in books like Romans and Ephesians where the first section focuses on how God saves sinners and then the books transition into how the reality of this good news affects the life of a believer in community within a family, in a workplace, in a church, among neighbors and as citizens of a government. We are exhorted to live out of the reality that God so scandalously loved us while we were His enemies that He sacrificially gave of His life to rescue us and that He continues to love us scandalously by graciously transforming us from one degree of glory to the next in this life time. This has profound implications for the life of a believer! We are not left on our own to deal with our sin and wounded-ness alone, but rather God by His Spirit helps us by teaching us truth and empowering us to change as we behold Him and His character and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are equipped to help us with the unique gifts God has given them for the purpose of loving and helping others in the Body of Christ (and we have the privilege of using our unique God given gifts in the same way)! We are called to forgive others as God has forgiven us and to love others as God has loved us. We are called to participate in the unity of God the Father and God the Son through God the Spirit, alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we live by the Spirit in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, the Spirit grows us and transforms us and produces in us spiritual fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. We become disciples of Jesus.

Interestingly, this concept is contained in the Great Commission itself (the foundational text for the “missional” life):

“’Go therefore and make
disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”(Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

This life of abiding in Christ and experiencing the realities of relationship with Him and His people is the life of a disciple--it is the point of being saved! EVERY CHRISTIAN NEEDS THIS! There are no super-Christians. It doesn't matter if you have been a Christian for decades or whether you are unusually gifted or whether you are in leadership or whether you are famous. There are no self-sufficient Christians. Every human being is wounded by this life and its trials and sorrows. Every human being is wounded by their own sin and by the sin committed against them. Some appear more “needy” than others, and yet we all are in great need.  The truth often is that some are better at hiding and denying their neediness, or white knuckling, or being distracted through life than others.

But so many times, God’s people are taught to believe in Jesus and then to go and make disciples without really even learning what it is to be a disciple, to live a gospel saturated life, to live in gospel community, or to grow in the knowledge of Jesus through studying the Bible! Of course the result is often joyless "obedience" or walking through the motions, performance-driven despair, and even an agenda-driven awkwardness at best and lack of love at worst.  Sharing our faith becomes more like selling a product. It feels like one of those awkward pyramid scheme pitches. Church becomes a big business of producing converts who in turn produce converts. And all the while we secretly feel condemnation because we do not know joy, we do not feel brotherly affection, and (although we are quick to say that we want to live for the glory of God) we have no idea what the glory of God is! Sometimes we feel "used" by God and His people (in a negative sense) because we are so focused on "doing" rather than first experiencing the riches of an ongoing relationship with God and His people. We are slower to open ourselves up to one another and we are slower to humbly listen to counsel from one another, preferring our independent lives or engaging in “community” so long as it is the warm and fuzzy conflict-free type.  We live in fear and hide our true lives (especially our weaknesses and sins and struggles) from each other.  As a result, we are quicker to part ways when disagreement and conflict arises because we do not invest in living out the gospel in safe communities where we image God to one another in humble, persevering, and sacrificial gospel love.  Our definition of “success” becomes the numbers of “converts” we have, rather than actually experiencing and showing others how to experience the riches of knowing Christ and growing in things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control by His Spirit!

When we abide in Christ and the application of the gospel in our lives every day, sharing our lives and our faith with others becomes a bi-product of our love for God and our love for people. We want to share about who God is because He is revealing marvelous things about Himself to us! And we want to serve and bless people who know Him and people who don’t because we start to see God’s creation through His eyes of love. And the Holy Spirit births in us sincere, authentic, and unforced love for others. And we find ourselves even loving those who are difficult to love or those who have hurt and betrayed us. Living “missionally” (aka a life of efficacious love that demonstrates the gospel to others) becomes an unforced outflow of the gospel life of a disciple.

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