When I look at the tragic events that have occurred in our country over the last few months, both terrorist-related and accidental, it drains me of strength. How can we respond to the suffering of families affected by Grenfell Tower? How can we respond to the vicious anger and brutality of those who wish to murder others for politico-religious ends?
One of the things that has greatly comforted me recently is that, actually, we don’t have to come up with the ultimate answer for the world’s pain. Jesus already did, in the gospel. And what an answer it is!
We believe in the God who loves unconditionally, who is so merciful, He died on the cross to save those people who had rejected Him. We believe in the God who came down to earth, not as a king or a ruler but as a humble servant; a humble servant who preached about restoration and transformation.
God wants to restore the hurting, bring peace to the afflicted, soothe the wounds of society and heal the broken.
And Jesus didn’t just offer a clever, theoretical answer to pain when he preached the gospel. He also gave each of us an invitation. When Jesus came to earth, the good news that he preached was that, in his person, the kingdom of God had arrived.
And so his invitation was a simple one: enter that kingdom, repent of our sins and so become part of a movement, building heaven on earth. Be restored. Become the people that God designed each of us to be: working for love, justice and mercy in every situation. Learn to stand for the oppressed and the poor; be a voice for the voiceless.
In short, Jesus invites us to be transformed, and in turn to be used to transform the world.
In a world increasingly divided, suffering as we are as a nation, ever more uncomfortable with the status quo, in a culture that is lonely and empty and desperate to experience sacrificial love, how is it that the Church is struggling to get our message heard when it is a message of such incredible hope, a message that society is crying out to hear?
You only have to read headlines like this or watch the news for a few minutes to realise that, however great the hope we may hold, it is not being communicated to our nation – at least, not in a way that compels people to listen and respond.
So why is this? Why aren’t we being heard?
I think it could be because we are struggling with the gospel. We have, perhaps, forgotten the full vision and breadth of the hope that Jesus came preaching.
What do I mean by that? So often in our culture of church, we understand Jesus’ gospel message as being about the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life; often when we think of the gospel we understand this to be the good news that Jesus offered us.
But while the forgiveness of sins certainly is part of the good news, it isn’t the whole story.
When Jesus preached the gospel, he didn’t simply preach about the forgiveness of sins. He preached the necessity of repentance, and the forgiveness of sins in light of the fact that God’s kingdom had arrived. I believe that the arrival of God’s kingdom was the major news of the gospel, and that repentance is a necessary consequence of that.
I think we often truncate Jesus’ gospel, and to my mind it has led us into the situation we now find ourselves. Because our gospel focuses almost exclusively on the gift of forgiveness and eternal life, it has become somewhat selfish. The gospel is now all about what God has done for us, while the truth of the gospel is that it is the most amazing, gracious, unmerited gift.
That isn’t to say it’s easy, or that it’s all about us. Matthew 16:24-25 says: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'”
When we preach the gospel, we don’t often talk about the need to lose ourselves and I think that affects our mentality as a Church. The need to lose ourselves becomes an optional extra; something we tag on to our faith if we want to be ‘super’ Christians or to really please our pastor.
Transformation costs. The kingdom of God never advances without sacrifice. Paying that cost and making that sacrifice at times seems to no longer be the ‘bread and butter’ of the Christian faith.
This leaves us struggling to transform our society. It leaves us struggling to communicate our message of hope. And I’m afraid it leaves us in the uncomfortable situation of church attendances dropping.
When Jesus preached the gospel becoming a part of his kingdom and laying down our lives to build that kingdom wasn’t an optional extra. When Jesus preached the gospel that was the good news. Sacrificing ourselves to serve the outsiders and the poor is the invitation we all accepted when we said “yes” to Jesus.
It was never only about ourselves; the gospel has always been a message of hope for those who are currently outside it.
I truly believe that it’s when the Church grasps the breadth and beauty of Jesus’ gospel that we will be truly empowered and equipped to transform our nation and see people believing in God’s great hope for the world.
This topic is something I explore much more in a book I’ve written called The Selfish Gospel – Be transformed by giving it all, published by IVP in June. Purchase the book online or in store today.