KB Categories Archives: Evangelism

God is the Point of the Gospel

Johnathan Michael Jones:

Selfishness has crept its way into the church over the years and has become detrimental to the point that Western culture has adopted a false gospel: a gospel that makes humankind the center and the point rather than God. I remember a conversation with a friend years ago in which I suggested that God is primarily about his own glory. My friend responded by saying that makes God sound as if he is stuck on himself. My response was, “He is! Who else would he stuck on? You, me, or someone lesser?” God is the point of the gospel; the gospel is not even about humankind at all but solely about God’s glory. Even the story of redemption among his people points to his own glory and pleasure.

Our selfishness is manifested in many ways. A common prayer among many believers, for example, is for God to glorify himself by working through us, i.e. we desire him to work through us more than we desire him to work so that he is glorified. What if he decided to answer our prayer in that regard but to do so through someone else other than us? John Piper has written a book entitled God Is the Gospel. The truth is that we should desire God to work despite us rather than through us. Consider the story of Joseph. Fourteen chapters of Genesis are devoted to this story. It is a story with which many are familiar and a story that teaches valuable lessons; yet, it has become a story that effectively promotes therapeutic moralistic deism in which we gain insights from the text and believe that if we make the right decisions living a decent life, we will be blessed as Joseph was. What is fascinating about the story of Joseph, however, is that while Joseph takes up the most space and is the main character,[1] he is not the point, for that role belongs to Judah. In fact, the reason God placed Joseph in a place of authority through his trials and circumstances was to eventually preserve the life of Judah who likely would have died without the help of his brother. Though Judah is not mentioned as often as Joseph, it was through his line that the Messiah would come. The role for Judah, although seemingly small, was the most important role. For many of us, we would not be okay with that. We pray for God to move but desire him to move so that we receive at least a little recognition. We spend our time ministering and claiming a desire solely for God’s glory as a mask that hides our selfishness.

It is vital that we realize God is the point of the gospel, not us. When we realize how God-centered the gospel is and when our perspective changes, other things in our lives also change. I would like to suggest four aspects that change in our lives when our perspective on the gospel changes.

Our Prayers Change

First, when our perspective on the point of the gospel changes, our prayers subsequently change. We stop treating God as a genie in a bottle and asking for what we want (in our selfishness). We stop praying on the foundation of what we want and begin to pray based on what God desires. Furthermore, our prayers are not even founded upon our good or the good of humanity but rightly the pleasures of God. It is likely, when we consider how we pray, that we realize our prayers are usually selfish, i.e. we pray based on our good more than God’s pleasure and delight; yet, when our delight is rooted in God’s delight, our prayers are subsequently affected. No longer do we pray for God to use us but rather to use us or anyone he chooses. If you want God to use you, ask yourself why. Is it so that he receives glory and pleasure or so that you might be seen, albeit for the supposed glory of Christ. There is surely a fine line between a desire for God to use us and a desire for people to see God using us. When our perspective on the gospel shifts to a solely God-centered and God-exalting gospel, our prayers change.

Our Joy Changes

Our joy also changes, for we find our joy in God’s joy. Even in matchless persecution, sickness, suffering, and even depression, we live with a hope and joy like none other because it is not rooted in circumstances. Often, we can claim the joy of Christ when situations are at least okay. It is difficult to realize God’s joy, however, when circumstances are dire. By joy, I do not intend to imply happiness but rather a supreme satisfaction and delight in God. Joy does not mean freedom from difficulty including sickness, financial trouble, loss of job, legal troubles, or even depression. If joy in Christ meant that life would be absent of these, many Christians over the centuries have been cheated. Joy in Christ does not mean freedom from trials but freedom despite them. Without a proper gospel perspective, circumstances will rule; we will not know the joy of the Lord; and we will continue to see the gospel through the grid of ourselves, thus asking questions like, “God, if you love me, then why did you do this?” Questions such as this are indicative of the wrong perspective on the gospel. God is the point of the gospel, not humanity.

Our Reason for Evangelism Changes

When our perspective on the gospel changes, our reason for evangelism also changes. Prior to my shift in perspective years ago, I believed that I was to preach the gospel so that the lost are saved; this, however, is only a half truth. The gospel is not about people but about God. When our perspective on the gospel changes, we preach out of an abundant joy in the Lord; our overflowing satisfaction in Christ then causes us to declare who he is because we have tasted and seen that he is good (Ps 34:8). Evangelism, thus, becomes about declaring God, not convincing people to trust him. When people see as we have seen, they then trust him. It is not our job to save people. We have no power to do so. It is our job to know God and to make him known. Why does God save people? For his glory. Why did Christ die? For God’s glory. Why do we preach the gospel? For God’s glory, not the salvation of humanity; people’s salvation is a biproduct of declaring God. When we realize that God is the point of the gospel, our selfishness fades away and we declare God because we want people to know who he is, not just receive salvation from hell.

Our Desire for God to Work through Us Changes to a Desire for Him to Work However He Wishes

In our metamorphosis from selfishness to God-centered selflessness, we certainly desire God to work but to work however he wishes and through whomever he wishes. We have the privilege, in the body of Christ, of being used by God. Nevertheless, our desire should not be for God to use us but for him to work in any way he sees fit whether through us or through someone else and whether through our church or another church. As a minister, I openly confess that this is difficult, for I want God to use me in that to which he has called me. A proper gospel perspective, nonetheless, should cause me to seek God’s work and simply do that to which he has called me irrespective of how or even whether he uses me. He has called me so I must go and do as he commands regardless of the outcome. What if his call was as clear as this: “Go and preach, but there will be no visible outcome. You will be tortured; and no one will come to know me, but go.” What would be your response? I dare say that would be difficult for most people. Is not the call of God enough? Should we not go, and should we not preach on the sole basis that he has called? While we should desire God to work, we should not try to dictate how he works. We should seek his glory and simply obey.

Jesus Is Not Only at the Center but Everywhere

It is not uncommon to hear Christians speak of God in terms of capacity in their lives, i.e. he is a number on a priority list, or he is the center of what occurs in their lives. Jesus, however, should not be number one on a priority list; he should be the entire priority list, the first and foremost person and being in every aspect of life. He should not simply be at the center of life but rather everywhere in life: the center, the inside, the outside, the edges, everything. The gospel, the metanarrative of the Bible, and even the message we are to proclaim is not centered around humanity or even the salvation of humanity but around and about triune God himself. Salvation is a God-honoring, God-exalting, and God-glorifying result of the gospel; yet, God himself is the point of the gospel. When we realize this truth, our perspective changes; when our perspective changes, our lives change.

[1] This is not meant to imply that the Joseph accounts are not real.

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Eucharist & Evangelism

Donald P. Richmond

Millions of people throughout this country and the world receive a benediction, a blessing, at the end of Divine Service. These benedictions take on a variety of forms depending upon each season of the church year, denominational distinctions, or biblically informed personal preferences. One of my favorite benedictions is “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Having received Holy Communion, the Eucharist, love, peace, and service, are commended.

In fact, given the nature of Holy Communion, love, peace and service, are not just commended, they are commanded. This is emphasized inSt. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian Christians who, while highly gifted, often failed to live a graced life. Instead of properly evaluating their responsibilities to other Christians (and the world at large), as participation in Eucharist clearly calls us to do, they exclusively focused upon their own needs.St. Paul suggests that some of their members were overfed while others went hungry. Their self-centered actions were an affront to God and resulted in both personal illness and social discord. The admonition to “love” and “serve” were ignored, Christ’s Lordship was not honored, and peace was compromised.

The late Dr. Robert E. Webber has written that any Service of Worship, whether Holy Communion is given weekly or not, should always at some time focus upon Christ’s sacrifice, suffering, and propitiatory death. As such, if Webber’s analysis is correct, this emphasis will always commend and command us to love, peace, and service. Christ’s sacrifice always challenges us about the sacrifices we are called to make in order to effectively be and share Christ’s good news.

But how are we to proclaim this peace? How does Christ call us to share? How is Christ’s death (and, of course, resurrection and ascension) to be lived through our lives? St. Francis ofAssisiis purported to have said, “Preach the gospel and, when necessary, use words.” St. Francis makes a good point. Gospel calls us to social action.

And this is precisely the problem. How should we act? In what ways should Christians be socially engaged? Frankly, I believe that most Christians have entirely misapplied the Bible’s emphasis about caring for the poor, marginalized, oppressed, and downtrodden. It is not that we have not sought to do so, but, rather, it is the very manner by which we seek to enact change that is (at best) highly suspicious. Reacting to the gross inaction of many evangelical Christians of the late 1950’s – 1970’s, we have now gone to the opposite extreme.

A number of years ago my very socially active and aware cousins asked me if I believed in Liberation Theology. I told them that the Bible does not in any way contain a system of thought called Liberation Theology, but that the Bible was very much concerned with a theology of liberation. This led to a very fruitful discussion about the distinctions between the two– and there are very significant distinctions.

Christians today often think that social action must be decidedly social. Engaging in a variety of efforts that help others, we believe that we have somehow proclaimed peace. Having taken some action, we naively assume that it is gospel-action. This is not the case. We must proclaim good news through means that are biblically reasonable and responsible. Words and actions are called for, but they must be actions that are properly ordered. Proper social action must be entirely gospel-action or the Bible’s emphasis upon social concern will inevitably be reduced to a form of social gospel. The outcome of doing God’s will in our way, at least in this context, inevitably results in do-gooder Christianity. Such actions are “stillborn” regarding gospel-intention.

Let me be blunt. The peace we proclaim through word and deed must always and without exception have evangelism as its intention. Christ must invariably be our emphasis. Consequently, gospel-action of a social nature must have Church at its center. Evangelism must be the actions of the Eucharistic Ecclesia, the Ecclesia which says “go” and “serve” because we have participated freely in Christ’s body and blood “given” for each of us. We go, serve, and proclaiming peace, as Christians who love others because Christ first loved us. His actions prompt ours. While attentiveness to the needs of others is always to be encouraged, it is doing God’s will in God’s way that imbues such actions (by God’s grace) with redemptive value. When we hear benedictions such as, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” we must respond as the Church in Christ’s name.

I celebrate the return of social concern and action among youth today. I relish the challenges proposed by those who oppose the status quo of comfortable Christians. I acknowledge my own need to be challenged. Nevertheless, if we are going to take action let us do so in Christ’s name. Let us return to the gospel that is not just social, but, rather, truly good news of Jesus Christ. All social action is not salvific action. All social action is not sanctifying action. To receive a true benediction, we must “go” and “serve” and “love” from the heart of our Eucharist fellowship.

The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, is an examining chaplain with the Reformed Episcopal Church, Anglican Church in North America, and a widely published author.

 

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