Christianity is in its nature the Gospel of grace. There is forgiveness in Jesus. There is understanding in Jesus. But we must never do away with standards and expectations. We must never do away with consequences and repercussions for our actions and behaviors. There is a bar. This bar is not one of perfection but it is one of Holiness.
The Gospel of grace understands our fallen nature, but we must never take the grace of God lightly. We are extended grace in Jesus Christ not to be forgiven repeatedly for our sins but to be forgiven once and for all of our debt. To be a Christian there must be a commitment to change. To be a Christian there must be an ongoing revelation of Fruit. Our lives should be a living testimony of the power of Christ to change what seemed impossible to change. It should magnify the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ. It is Christ IN us.
The love of Jesus does not condone sin, and to live in sin is to stand in opposition to the Lord, Jesus. We must have a standard. We must know what that standard is. And when we see that a brother or sister is not living a life worthy of the name of Jesus, we must address it. Not with a heart of judgment or self-righteousness, but with the heart of Christ that never left a soul to believe that they were in no need of what he came to bring them. The Gospel is one of grace, love and understanding. We will never be perfect and we will never be completely free of the sinful flesh until we are with Him and made to be like Him. But a standard still remains. The standard is THE Gospel. If we claim the name of Christ and therefore proclaim unity with the Son, we must bear the fruit of the Son. He is the standard. He is the Way. To represent Him means to reveal Him. If we are not revealing Jesus then we must question if we authentically represent Him in spirit or in name alone.
The standard of the cross is not there to loom over us, casting a long shadow of hopelessness and intimidation. The standard of the cross keeps us moving. It keeps us safe. It keeps us alive. Without the standard and without accountability to hold to the standard, we die.
Read Galatians 4
“It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.” (Galatians 4:18)
Christian, what is your passion? What drives the work of your hands? What motivates you to work tirelessly, sacrificially, painfully and at times unceremoniously? What are you zealous for? Is it for your glory or His? Is it for the name of Jesus, the beloved son, or yours? Is your zeal for the Lord dependent on the circumstance or social setting? Is your zeal for the Lord present when no one else is? Does your zeal for the Lord need anything other than the Gospel for it to manifest in your life? Christian, do you know where you were before Christ? Do you know that you were lost but that by the stripes and wounds of Jesus Christ you have since been found? Do you know what you were saved from? Without Jesus you were destined to never know love, to never know joy, to never know peace and rest. You were slaves before Christ, choosing to obey and serve your sinful nature, but in the name of Jesus you are now free! You are free in Christ never to experience slavery and bondage ever again. Is that enough for you to be zealous? Is that the Gospel to you? Upon knowing this Gospel, why would you ever want to go back? What does that former life have to offer you? Have you forgotten the bondage? Have you forgotten the hopelessness before Christ? As a Christian, Jesus must become your everything because before him you had nothing. There was nothing of any enduring worth or value before Jesus. In Jesus, your Savior, you are now truly alive. Don’t go back without an honest reflection of your life before Jesus. Don’t move forward without an honest reflection of your motivation and purpose for serving in the name of Jesus. The Gospel declares that you are alive because of Jesus and therefore everything you do is so that his name, the only name, can become greater while yours continually becomes less. There is no other way. This is the way.
The Gospel is the worst news and it’s the best news. The Gospel means that the life that you’ve known is now over. That the pleasures you pursue for satisfaction are no longer permitted. That your plans prepared to affirm your self-worth and value have now been changed. The Gospel means that in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ you have now been buried alongside the Son of Man. The Gospel means that the authority you’ve once held over your own life has now been passed on to someone else. That the life that you’ve known is over. This IS the Gospel and this IS the only Gospel. The message of any other Gospel is no Gospel at all.
However, with this death of the self comes a new life, incomparable to the life you’ve known and more fulfilling than you could have ever imagined. The Gospel declares to the world that God is God. He is the authority that known best. You no longer have to pretend that you have everything under control. You don’t. He does. He is the judge that can truly judge, fairly upholding an unwavering standard of justice to all people of all nations. You no longer have to be the sole defender of fairness, justice and equality, fighting an uphill battle that only ever gets steeper and higher. He is the God who understands precisely who we are, yet has decided to pursue His love for us in spite of our sins.
The Gospel never declares to you what you want to hear. It never declares to you what you think you can handle hearing. It never declares that you are good and merely in need of subtle adjustments to your daily habits and routines in order to obtain righteousness, peace, joy and persistent strength. The Gospel says give up. Give up your fight to claim authority on your life as if you were God. You can’t and won’t win. The Gospel says that the world we live in is under the watchful eye and in the caring hands of a creator who will not leave the persecuted without a savior, nor the persecutor without a judge and jury. The Gospel is truth and truth does not alter depending on the audience. Truth is truth to the slave as much as it is to the master. We are all under the standards of the living God and we will all be assessed and measured according to the standards of His image we find alive and active within each of our hearts. We don’t need affirmation that we are good. We need the truth that we need a savior from ourselves. We don’t need affirmation that we are special and above the rest. We need the truth that identifies us children of God in a family of others no different than us. The Gospel is a convicting, uniting and empowering truth that has the means to transform our world. But the Gospel must be seen as bad news if it can ever be perceived and believed as good.
5 A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.
6 God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.
7 O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness; Selah:
8 The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9 Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary.
10 Thy congregation hath dwelt therein: thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor.
11 The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.
Fatherless. Widows. The Solitary. Those bound with chains. The weary. The poor. These groups have nothing to do with nationality or ethnicity. These are conditions of people all over the world. God LOVES these people. Often the work of Christians or churches fails to do the work Jesus Christ has prepared and commanded us to do. Christians are very busy people and churches are very busy places. However, today too many people who have no father are left without any positive male figure in their life. Too many widowed woman are left without emotional or financial support. Too many people die in overcrowded prisons with no visitors, no correspondence and no hope. Too many people are burdened and weary from overwork and stress, no one to lean on or share the burden. Too many people have no homes, no food and no shelter, left unassisted in the hopeless world of poverty.
It is a fair statement that we as Christians and we as the Church are not doing our job. Instead of making excuses or pointing the finger, we must repent to God and to our neighbors. It is not good enough to have a portion of a ministry dedicated to these people. These people are our ministry. Many people are suspicious of the gospel and the Christians that carry it. They are angered by the hypocrisy. They are angered by the judgment and hate. They are angered by the lack of constructive and effective efforts to create change in neighborhoods, communities, cities and the world. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news not because it helps us to get what we want. It is the Good News because it is the final answer of hope for everyone in want.
Instead of working on how to refurbish the image of Christianity and the Church we must each turn our eyes upon Jesus and ask Him to show us each how we have failed to carry out His command to love. The only way to resurrect the image of Christianity, to be in the crowd or”great company” of those that publish the Good News, is to refocus our attention onto God, who loves those people, and Jesus Christ, who became these people. Our image and the world’s perception of us is not the issue. The issue is our disobedience and our reckless mishandling of Christ’s message. We begin to worship and honor God by loving the broken, weary, lost people. By loving these people we will again be the bearers of the best news, not only because these people need help, but because when we were in their condition, Jesus Christ helped us.
God never desires partial healing. The healing of the Lord is complete and all encompassing. There is sickness in this world, and Jesus Christ came to overcome and conquer it. Jesus Christ did not come to redirect or guide the world into a better way of living; he came to completely restructure the world into a new way of living. When the healing power of the Holy Spirit enters into this world there is no remnant of the passed life with him. What remains are faint and distant memories of a former way of life that hold no place in the present. This healing power is so unprecedented that the only natural instinct upon receiving it is to share it with anyone and everyone you come into contact with. Upon receiving healing from the Holy Spirit there is no “I have to” share the gospel out of duty or obligation. There is only “I have to” share the gospel because the world needs this power and healing I have also graciously received.
However, one must constantly be aware of what is actually being shared. All we can share is Jesus Christ alone. He is the power. He is the healing. In nothing else is there the power for transformation and change that is in the name of Jesus Christ. If the gospel is shared in power and in truth there is an unequalled healing in store for the entire world. The gospel shared in power and truth will change lives completely and will unmistakably yield good fruit. However, if the gospel is misrepresented, healing will be overpowered by suffering and pain. Good cannot win because the good news was not preached. The gospel cannot and will not be effective if it is not received as it was established, in truth. Anything short of the truth in the gospel is dangerous and will not result in healing.
As one seeks to share the gospel out of a desire to heal, one also learns to avoid those who share a gospel of lies that will only prove to destroy and prevent healing. Christ is all and is in all, and when sharing the gospel there is no message other than exactly what has been lived and shared before. The reason for the stable and consistent nature of the gospel’s integrity over the years is that it is only in the natural state of the gospel that the world has experienced its healing effects on the suffering of this world. After experiencing the healing truth of the word, the choice to dilute or weaken the gospel for any reason whatsoever becomes completely ridiculous. The gospel of Jesus Christ is truth and the healing it promises is real. Clinging to his truth will result in the truth of complete healing, whereas being distracted or overcome by falsity will only result in progressive sickness and pain.
The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
Support for belief in the Virgin Birth can be traced backwards through five important events in the history of the Christian Faith:
- The Ascension
- The Resurrection/The Crucifixion
- The Gospel
- The Virgin Birth
In our final week reflecting on the virgin birth of Christ, let’s consider what that event means for faith in Jesus.
After tracing the story backwards from the Ascension, to the Resurrection and Crucifixion, to the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels, we find ourselves at the place where the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus can be believed, where the Gospels and the writers of Gospels begin in the flesh. Whereas Matthew and Luke both include the story of the Virgin Birth in their narratives of Jesus Christ, the prophecies that the Messiah would born to a Virgin in the specific town and from the exact line that God had guided and blessed since the first man of Eden no longer seem historically unbelievable. The impossible becomes not only possible but plausible, and the life of Jesus Christ stands as the one and only Savior of the world, born to direct us to the hand of God at work in the world we live in. “With God all things are possible,” as the angel Gabriel told Mary, and as one traces these landmark events in the Christian faith back, including the virgin birth, one finds that God does not require belief purely on blind-faith in the impossible, but rather we discover a greater faith in the impossible becoming possible through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We live in a world of abundant and overpowering distractions. Take a moment to count how many different voices are calling out to you to do, to see, to go, to buy, etc. Sadly, the God of all creation has a tendency to blend too easily into this crowd of voices. We are busy beings, trying to do as many things as we possibly can every day, week, month and year. Found within this busyness is, for many, a Sunday morning church service. Within this service is a language so grand and powerful that for an hour we forget the limitations of this world and our spirits are infused with a hopeful confidence that seems strong enough to do just about anything. Within that church we speak of God as the creator of the heavens and the earth. Within that church we speak of God as the first and the last and the beginning and the end. Within that church we speak of Jesus Christ as the redeemer who pays our debts and gives us rebirth.
This tone and these words are not normal. We often don’t use them outside of the church walls. In our daily lives we display an insultingly lackadaisical approach to the presence of that tone or the meaning of those words. Do we really understand what it means to say that he was the beginning and will be the end? Do we really understand what it means to profess faith and submit to the creator of the heavens and the earth? Do we really understand what it means when we bear the name of Christ? Are we truly identifying ourselves with the cross where Christ became the ransom for our sins? The truth of the Gospel is extreme. It is unreasonable and illogical to react to it in any other way. The reaction to the Gospel has to be extreme. Hearing its claims must move us to fall to our knees in complete submission. If we profess faith in the Gospel yet live in a way not far removed from the life that preceded the encounter with the Gospel, we have misunderstood that Gospel. If we profess faith in the God of the Bible and are yet convinced of our own power, or yet in control of the direction and course of our lives, we have misunderstood the Gospel. If we profess faith in the cross of Christ and continue to strive for perfection, to attain salvation through our personal record, we do not understand the Gospel.
The Gospel of Christ is extreme in its claims concerning the nature of the living God. This God does not need us for anything, nor does he have to listen to our opinions at all. However, he continues to use us, bless us, and listen to us because he loves us. The Gospel of Christ is extreme in its claims about the life and sacrifice of Christ. The message of the Cross does not give us new guidelines to improve our lives or free passes to find peace with the daily sins that plague us. The message of the Cross is that faith in the sacrifice of Jesus creates a being different from the old, that can never go back. There is always movement with the cross of Christ, but just as Christ carried his cross forward and never back, forward motion into deeper union with Christ is the only acceptable outcome of our faith. The Gospel is not just another idea, voice or message amongst the thousands of messages we receive on a daily basis. It is THE message. It is THE good news. To understand it for exactly what it claims requires us to broaden our scale of measurement to a point so big that at a certain point we disappear, and only Christ remains
The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is unique and unparalleled. The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ not only has the ability to heal the brokenness of a single human life, but can also heal the brokenness of the world. This Gospel can and will reverse things we believed irreversible. To those who have experienced this strength of the Gospel, it is a direct encounter with the living God. However, due to the sin in our lives, this experience can become overpowered by temptations. We are called out of his presence into a life willing to forget the power we were once so overcome by. The world allows for and often encourages compromise. In many instances, compromise is not only welcome but necessary to function as loving neighbors and stewards of the peace in Christ by which we live. However, to compromise the integrity and truth of the life and message of Jesus Christ is to reject it entirely. If we compromise the truth of the Gospel we alienate ourselves from the truth that saves us. We take up a position of opposition to the message of salvation, and take on the role of opposition to the mission of Christ and his Church. The power of the Gospel can and will heal, but only if left in its original state. The moment the message is doctored in even the slightest way, the power of the message of the Gospel is removed. Jesus lived and spoke truth. Only the truth he spoke will set us free. There is no power in a half-truth Gospel. As Jesus taught his disciples, we as Christians are in this world but are not of it. As we profess our faith in the cross, we do not identify with this world. The life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ were of a world of righteousness, justice, love and truth. This is not a truth we contribute to, or respond casually to. This truth is the bedrock upon which our entire being is built, and that foundation, once compromised, will ultimately result in the collapse and destruction of everything built upon it.
The church must always welcome and embrace all who come to seek the face of God as it has always been, with love and gentleness. However, the church must reject entirely those who seek to redefine the Gospel as something it never claimed. To preach the Gospel in truth is to preach the power of God that can and will change and heal what is broken. To preach the Gospel of half-truth is to remove God from the equation, and to become a proponent for the advancement of sin and its destructive power in this world.