Breathe, Church.

Imagine a young hockey player has the opportunity to sit down for coffee with their NHL hero and ask them for some advice on how they got to where they are today.

The hockey god sits back, strokes their mullet and goes on to give some choice advice: Have the instincts of a ninja, reflexes of  a fighter pilot, accelerate like a Formula 1 car, change direction like a hummingbird and be able to leg press a Honda Civic. Then work harder than everyone else, want it more than everyone else and in the end, do something that sets you apart from everyone else. 

The best possible advice given in the best possible way might inspire you – but it will never take burdens off you. In fact, advice – including wise and loving advice, actually puts burdens on you. Advice, by nature, hands out work.

The gospel, in contrast to advice, does not hand out work. By its own definition, “gospel” is a life changing, status altering announcement of something that has come into your life as a result of someone else’s work.

The New Testament writers didn’t invent the word “gospel” – it was a term already in use in the Greco Roman culture. For example, there is an ancient Roman inscription that reads: “the beginning of the gospel of Caesar Agustus” [1], an announcement asserting that things were going to be different on the basis of an event and in this case, it was the birth of a new emperor.

Gospel comes from two Greek words: Ευ which “means good or prosperous” and αγγελίῳ meaning “one who announces” – hence “good news”.

The first time Mark’s gospel records the voice of Jesus, He says something life-altering. His words were “repent and believe the good news.”

Jesus did not come announcing good advice, but good news. The good news is that God came in Christ to save us from our sin, the reason we all face inevitable death. Humanity was created with dignity, but is fallen. Original sin is the rejection of God in favour of being god. The good news is that rather than leaving us to eventual damnation, God incarnated in Christ to go to the cross and provide redemption. Christ’s perfect life, atoning death and divine resurrection is the good news. This is why the Christian faith is not about following good advice – but following a King.

If Jesus message was “repent and behave” then the main actor in salvation would be you,  the one earning God’s acceptance would be you and the one keeping you in God’s grace would be you.

Breathe, church.

The gospel, by definition – is not about you. The gospel is about something that has been done for you. This is why there is a massive difference between how Jesus and the religious leaders related to people. Jesus called for repentance, whereas the religious leaders called for increased religious performance. Repent means “reverse course.” 

What did Jesus give as His basis for reversing course? Believing, not behaving.

Jesus said “believe” the gospel. In Greek, the word for believe (πιστεύετε) could also be translated, “put all your confidence in”.  Jesus calls you to put all your confidence in His work, enabling you to rest in the assurance that God accepts you, because Christ is enough. Dead religion demands a contribution of your work, which offers no assurance that God accepts you, because no matter what you’re doing – it’s never enough.

If our pulpits and dinner tables become places of constant invitation to marvel at Jesus, we invite our churches and our children into rest and renewal. If on the other hand, we were to assume Jesus but never actually preach Him, our pharisaical, behaviour driven understanding of repentance will offer no rest or renewal. If the ethics that flow from our life faith eclipse the Christ of our faith, we have reduced the Christian life from following a Person to following precepts. 

The scriptures teach that the same grace that offers us forgiveness in Christ also teaches and empowers us to live, increasingly, as imitators of Christ. [2] The question is, how does that happen?

Breathe, church.

While it may seem logical to conclude that the imitation of Christ is a mere function of behaviour, Jesus presents repentance as being propelled by belief. Becoming an imitator of Christ is set into motion by belief in the saving grace of Christ. Therefore, the Christian life is lived out the way it began: by grace.

The gospel is good news for us precisely because our salvation isn’t riding on us. When the scriptures call the church to daily repentance [3], this is not a life steeped in guilt but propelled by gratitude. The Christian life is not a cold exercise in begrudgingly following rules, but a liberating journey of renewal as we gladly follow our King.

Whether in pulpits or around dinner tables, may we aim to get our churches and our children to marvel at Christ  – because their desire to imitate Him is downstream from revelling in His gospel.

Breathe church.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, spiritual maturity comes from marvelling.

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ .. that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. ~ Ephesians 3:14-21

 

Press on,

Paul


[1] Dittenberger (ed.), W. Orientis Graecae Inscriptiones Selectae. Leipzig: S. Hirzel. pp. 1903–5.

[2] Titus 2, Galatians 5, Philippians 1, Colossians 2, Ephesians 3

[3] Matthew 6:9-13, 1 John 1:5-10

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