So you think you believe the gospel, huh?

Despite the increasing opposition to Christianity, let’s face it, in western civilization it’s pretty easy to proclaim Christianity as one’s established religion.

What is the gospel? It is God’s rescuing his creation from the ownership of sin that happened at the fall through his work in the Son. It is recognizing the fact that something went terribly wrong in Genesis 3 that disconnected all mankind from eternal communion with God and subjected creation to futility (Romans 8:19-21). The gospel is the good news of redemption, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with the Father and hope of enjoying him forever (See Eph 1:3-14). The gospel is sourced in God’s work through the Son, whose sacrificial atonement on the cross nailed the debt of sin for those who believe and whose resurrection forever expunged the condemnation associated with that required payment. (The first 8 chapters of Romans pretty much sums this up.)

I think its safe to say that if you’re a Christian, you might automatically nod or even get a little smug since you probably would rattle off different iterations of this description. You wouldn’t hesitate to say, yes I believe the gospel because I believe that Jesus died for my sins.

arrogance1-2But do you really believe the gospel? See it’s one thing to know facts about God’s work through Christ in rescuing what was lost. But it’s quite another to live as if that is true. It’s one thing to say that it took the work of God by the Holy Spirit to bring us into union with Christ completely on his work, but quite another to put assurance in that work and not on ourselves. It’s one thing to verbalize that you were dead in your trespasses and sins, cut off, unable to even respond to God without his intervention, it’s something else all together when we act like we can qualify the gospel with our contributions.

Here’s a little test…

1) Do you feel like you’re a good Christian because you haven’t committed any egregious sins?

If you’re proud of yourself that you’re not like those who have fallen into error, chances are you believe that you had something to do with your righteousness. That’s not believing the gospel but our own works

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one my boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) Continue reading

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Should we call the prosperity gospel something else?: a subtle deception

money on the altarThe Gospel Coalition posted the first article in a series on the prosperity gospel. As I read through, 5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel, and I’ll get to these points in a minute, I couldn’t help but think that calling it prosperity might be a bit misleading. Why do I say that? Because in reality, proponents of prosperity teaching don’t refer to it as such. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that many proponents of prosperity teaching would reject the notion that the aim of our Christian existence is to get rich and would be quick to label the Creflo Dollars of TV fame as charlatans. So I think by labeling it “prosperity gospel” might have the impact of turning a deaf ear to it’s troubling foundation.

Herein lies the subtle deception of prosperity teaching. The premise of what is called a prosperity gospel is simply put: material blessings are a sign of God’s acceptance and favor. One does not necessarily have to believe that riches are the goal to buy into prosperity teaching. This is evident in looking at the five points outlined in the article. More than anything, I think that many people who buy into prosperity teaching are well intentioned about the Christian faith and strive earnestly to live that faith out. But I believe the main contributor to prosperity promotion is a lack comprehension of what material blessings meant in the Old Testament. It is evident in the teaching (which I myself embraced for many years, that prosperity teaching fail to consider that the whole theme of Scripture is rooted in God’s redemption of his creation in an elaborate scheme that involved calling out a people called Israel as his own. This only serves as the basis of how he will unite Jew and Gentile as equal heirs to his promises fulfilled in Christ.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll highlight a couple of the five points in relation to point I’m making that prosperity teaching is more about the material blessings as the basis of genuine faith. But I encourage you to read all 5 points; Continue reading

The Great Commission, Great Commandment, and our Humanity

Super ChristianAfter hearing a sermon on the Great Commission this past Sunday, it reminded me of these quotes from two books I’m reading and reinforced that being a witness does not require us to be super Christians, with big capes like we have it all together. You ever feel like you don’t measure up to be an effective witness for Christ, loving God and neighbor as you should? Well neither did the first disciples. And they were with Jesus!

“Matthew concludes his gospel with the Great Commission. To his worshipping, yet doubting, disciples, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples” (vv. 18-19). The one who has all authority has chosen not to use it himself. The one who has all power has chosen to give it away. The one who has just conquered sin, death, and the grave has turned over the next stage of the kingdom to this group of fearful and doubting followers, who have demonstrated over and over again that they are more concerned about themselves than about Jesus, about their agendas than about the kingdom, about their reputations than about ‘the least of these,’ and about greatness than about servanthood. Yet it is to these men that Jesus gives the responsibility to make disciples. The gospel is entrusted to them. The mission of the church is given to them. The fate of the poor, the needy, and the oppressed is delegated to those followers who, even in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, continue to doubt. And that continues to be God’s plan. It is through the church that the kingdom grows and spreads over the earth.”  – Glenn Kreider, God With Us: Exploring God’s Personal Interactions with His People throughout the Bible. Continue reading

How Do you Know if You are Experiencing God’s Favor?

I came across this blog post today 4 Things Jesus Didn’t Die For. I found the first point, the American Dream, pretty compelling;

He didn’t die to make you healthy, wealthy, secure, and comfortable. This may be your current state, but don’t let that to lead you into thinking it’s a promise. God blesses those that belong to him, sometimes with temporal comfort but spiritual chastening, and sometimes with temporal suffering but spiritual flourishing.

However, there is a devastatingly harmful teaching present in churches across America, which claims that physical “blessings” are a sure sign of God’s favor. Not only does this fly in the face of the entire Bible, but it is also a grievous offense to those Christians going through immense persecution in countries all over the world, often in impoverished circumstances. There is only one sure sign of God’s favor: the death of his Son.

Christian, Jesus’ death means he has taken on your sin, in exchange for his righteousness. God has shown us “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7) These are the only riches you are promised in this life; the joy and peace that comes with knowing that you have a good, loving God that has saved you at the infinite cost of his only begotten Son.

It’s taken a long time in my Christian walk for me to realize that we’ve kind of missed the boat if we think favor translates into my life looking pretty good. In fact, sometimes favor means just the opposite.

To be sure, this kind of thinking has some important ramifications for our Christian walk. When we are fooled into thinking that favor means things going great in our lives, we’ll think the Christian who is suffering or otherwise can’t cut a break is not experiencing God’s favor. This may result in a superior attitude against other Christians, especially if our life is going pretty good.  You can hear this in the “favor ain’t fair” mantra spoken with an attitude, as if we have anything to brag about. Or if we are the ones in that situation, we might wonder what we’ve done wrong, why is God mad at us or even worse, does not love us. These are all lies of course. Scripture is full of characters who experienced hardship and persecution by believing the promises of God and being obedient to his will. Continue reading

The Unhelpfulness of ‘God Always Answers Prayers’

If there’s one thing that can be said of many Christians, is that we hate tension. Now some are more comfortable with it than others. But on the flip side, a disdain for tension can drive us into Cliche Land, where we resolve the tension with trite, but unfortunately not well thought out, sayings. One prime example of this is “God always answers prayers – yes, no or maybe”.

Now, what is typically meant by this is that you will either 1) get the answer you were expecting; 2) get the opposite answer with a denial or 3) Get a maybe…Stop! Would a maybe be the same thing as not knowing?

man praying at altarAnd that’s exactly why such a response to someone wrestling with unanswered prayers is not helpful. The reality is that until we know definitively, there is a period of time for which we have no idea what that answer will be. I actually think that “no” is not really an answer either, as I wrote about here. But as for the not knowing, I am often reminded, both in my own struggles with unanswered prayers and hearing of other accounts of the not knowing, that such a period can extend for a really long time.  It’s a long time of waiting…a long time of hoping…a long time of discouragement…a long time of not knowing.  Nothing will trivialize that struggle more than someone saying, God always answers prayer, with yes, no or maybe. Would you tell that to the childless woman who wants nothing more to be a mom and has suffered multiple miscarriages? Or to the parent with the wayward child who has drifted away for years? It’s kind of insulting when you think about it. Continue reading