As I have been working on my sermon series inspired by Caleb Kaltenbach’s book Messy Grace, I have really been challenged on a personal level. I have read the book twice now (the first time was for a review) and as I interact with the material again I am really turning things over in my mind. The primary focus of the book is Christians dealing with the LGBT community but I think Caleb’s conclusions would benefit us in our relationships with others as well. On page 58 he writes the following:
The gospel isn’t about who God is against. It’s about who God is for.
I sat here at my desk and read those two short sentences over and over because I believe they speak a truth that many of us in the Church have forgotten. It is a truth that I sometimes forget. Yesterday I wrote about the Pope and some of the things he said on his recent visit to the United States. If you read my post then you may remember me saying that one of the dangers we face (as Christians) is elevating our desire (need) to be right above our command to love. Once again, I believe it is crucial that we do not abandon apologetics and solid theology, but we can’t be so consumed with our pursuit of them that we forget our calling. We are to point people to Jesus.
The word gospel means good news. The Greek word it is translated from is εὐαγγέλιον (euangélion). The more I think about that, the more I wonder, “Am I really telling people the good news?” When I preach, teach, or just talk about Jesus to others, am I really giving them the good news? There are many times when our evangelistic (same Greek word) efforts consist of us telling others what they are doing wrong and how those things will lead them to hell. Oh, we include the fact that Jesus died for their sins and has made it possible for them to escape eternal damnation, but we seem to focus on the bad part of the good news. I don’t know if that makes sense to you or not, but when I thought about how I have approached evangelism in the past, it hit me like ton of bricks.
I used to think that it was a preacher’s job to go out and tell people that they were going to hell unless they changed the way they were living. So much of the preaching that I heard focused on the fact that we are all sinners and doomed to hell. Now don’t misunderstand me, I do believe that we are born with a sinful nature. I do believe that there is a hell. I do believe that Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead to save us. I believe all of that. I believe it is important for us to convey that. However, I believe that many of us have made hell the most important part of the equation. Love and grace and mercy get mentioned in passing, but the bulk of the message is “you’re a sinner and you’re going to hell.”
There HAS to be a balance between TRUTH and GRACE. Caleb says this over and over again in the book. We can’t sacrifice one for the other. We have to tell people about sin and its consequences but we have to show them grace at the same time. Caleb says that the fine line between the two is where we love. It’s where we get our hands dirty. The truth is, we cannot change a single soul. Only the Holy Spirit can convict people of sin. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to transform lives. I can’t force anyone to believe in Jesus and choose to follow him. What I can do is show them how he has changed me. I think I do that when I love people just as they are. Once again, I’m not saying that we never address sin. We have to. However, if we don’t begin with love, then I think we are damaging our efforts.
How can we honestly tell people that Jesus loves them if we aren’t willing to love them? Where is the good news in that? Can we see how absurd that is? Do we really believe that we can say, “Hey, Jesus loves you and he died for you,” when our attitudes and actions tell the person that we hate them or that we’re disgusted by them? Jesus reached out and touched those who were untouchable. He loved those who were unlovable. THAT is the good news. He never told people to remain in sin, in fact, he said quite the opposite, but he was willing to touch them as they were and let them experience grace. That is our challenge. We’re not going to get it right 100% of the time, but I believe that we should strive to. Think about it the next time you’re talking with someone about Jesus. Listen to what you’re saying. Are you really giving them the Good News?
Grace and peace