Is Your Gospel Holding You Back? Faith Hacking #2

Why Still So Tired?

For all the weary and over-burdened, we were told that if we followed Jesus then his “yoke would be easy and his burden would be light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

But often times we don’t feel that way.

We haven’t found that kind of rest in Jesus. We feel still feel disconnected, tired, and stuck. We feel overwhelmed, lost, and forgotten.

We believe in the gospel, but the peace and joy has worn off.

A Problem with the Gospel?

It is easy to believe this is just the nature of things.  Eventually the vibrancy of faith fades and the urgency of hope dissipates.

People tell us to embrace a childlike faith, but often we feel the need to grow up and take an honest look at life.

But what if our problem wasn’t with our faith, or with Jesus?
What if our gospel is holding us back? 

The gospel can hold us back if we only hear part of the gospel.  This can happen in two ways. We can either hear about the “gospel of salvation” or the “gospel of the kingdom.”

Only a Gospel of Salvation?

The “gospel of salvation” focuses on individual sin.  This gospel looks back to the cross as the place that God forgives our sins.  And this gospel looks forward to heaven as the reward for believing in Jesus.  And both of those things are good news.

But too often the “gospel of salvation” leaves us wondering how we are supposed to live right now.  What should I be doing with my life right now? How do I find meaning and purpose right now if the goal of everything is just life in heaven in the future?

But in the meantime people give us a list of things to do (evangelize others, serve in the church, minister to the outcast).  And all those activities are good things. But too often they can feel like another burden to bare, another law to keep.

It is easy to be discouraged, wondering how to make sense of the “peace and rest” that Jesus promised but now feels so elusive.

Only a Gospel of the Kingdom?

But maybe some of us focus more on the “gospel of the Kingdom.”  This focuses on the here and now.  God is on mission to transform the world, and we are called into this work.  This perspective looks more to the resurrection of Jesus as the place where new creation springs forth.  And of course this also is good news for us.

But too often focusing on our work to bring God’s kingdom to earth can burn us out.  We can feel that every burden of the world, every injustice against the innocent, every evil  action, is somehow our responsibility to fix.

No wonder we feel overwhelmed and burned out.  No one could ever carry that load.

The Gospel of God with Us

But the good new is that the gospel IS NOT primarily a plan for our personal salvation.  The gospel IS NOT primarily a plan for God’s kingdom come.

The gospel is not a plan at all. The gospel is a PERSON.

For the gospel is Jesus Christ himself, God become human—in order to dwell with us, in order to be with us.

4 Ways We Know The Gospel is a Person

  • The Apostle Paul describes the essence of gospel in terms of the person of Jesus (not a plan for salvation or God’s kingdom come).  He does this in 1 Cor. 15:1-5 where he describes not a plan of salvation, but the live of the person Jesus.

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I [gospeled] to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

 

  • The Gospel of Matthew has the bookends of “God with us.”  At the beginning an angel tells Joseph that the son Mary will bear will be called “Emmanuel”, or “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).  At the end Jesus himself say,  “Behold, I am always with you, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

 

  • The Gospel of John begins by telling us that the Word of God (John 1:1) took on flesh and lived—or dwelt— among us (John 1:14).   The idea of God dwelling with humanity echoes the Old Testament Tabernacle which was made so that God could live with his people.

 

  • Lastly, all the books in the Bible that tell the story of Jesus are called “gospels”.  This is because the early church understood that the entire life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was the good news of God for them.

The person who is Jesus is the good news, the gospel of God.

Faith Hack: The Gospel of God with you

Can we hack our understanding of the gospel?

Can we move our understanding away from a “plan” that accidentally leaves us as burdened, tired, and restless as ever?

Can we move toward the gospel as the good news that a person, the very person of God, has come to us, to be with us.

Can we place the good news of salvation and the good news of God’s kingdom come within the person of Jesus who comes to us?

How would your life of faith be different if you focused on Jesus who IS THE GOSPEL? What would be different right now, no matter what is happening in your life, to believe that the good news is that God is with you?

 

Don’t miss the other 4 “faith hacks” coming out the next couple of days (the first one is here). Subscribe and receive a free gift about how God’s glory doesn’t mean God hates us.


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Who is God Really? Faith Hacking #1

Our faith bogs down when we don’t know who God really is.

Sometimes we think God is so distant that he can’t make a differences.  Or we think God is so vaguely everywhere that God is really nowhere at all.

But we need to hack these understandings of God, take what is good, get rid of what is not, and see that God is more and better than merely distant or vaguely everywhere.

A Distant Star?

A neighbor once asked me, “When you think about God, do you get a picture of an old man behind a desk running the universe?”

Have you ever thought that? Many of us have from time to time.

God is in charge.  God is in control.  God is important.  And in charge,  in control, important people tend to sit behind a desk.

And certainly the Bible tells us that God is sovereign over all things, that God is high and lifted up, that his ways are higher than our ways.

It’s like God is a distant star hanging in the heavens.  If we look up at God as we drift along the ocean of life then hopefully we can navigated by God’s distant light.

The Distant God

On the one hand we should affirm that God is in charge and in control.

But on the other hand, when the storms of life come, rocking our little boats back and forth, the “Distant God” provides little comfort in our terror.

This view of God can’t fill us with a “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) if he is so far away. Our faith easily becomes resigned and withdrawn. Our hope becomes shallow and depressed when God is so distant.

The Enveloping Cloud

In response to the “Distant God” we can over-compensate and think that God is everywhere all the time. We image that God is in everything, working through anything.

God is not a distant star. God is an enveloping cloud. God is close enough to touch, taste, and feel at every moment in life.

Floating on the ocean of life we don’t need to look up to the heavens for a guiding star.  God is all around we, tell ourselves. God is everywhere.

God is nowhere

Again, it is true that God is everywhere.  “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (Ps. 139:7-8).

But claiming to see God everywhere can obstruct our ability to distinguish the illuminating work of God from shadowy semblances.  This kind of thinking, when absolutized, fails to distinguish good from evil in the world.  It can become wishful thinking that just looks away from pain, hurt, or suffering.

The Gracious Gash in the Universe

Our faith needs to hack these two understandings of God. We need a better way of understanding who God really is.

God is not just distant.  And God is not just everywhere.

The truth is, God is coming to us. As Joshua Ryan Butler says, God is a pursuing God.


Let’s just look at the baptism of Jesus.

 

As Jesus was coming out of the water, he immediately sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Heavens Torn Apart

In the Bible, the tearing of the heavens meant God was coming down to save his people. “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down” cries Isaiah (Isaiah 64:1).

With the appearance of Jesus God is not distant. God is not an abstract entity off in space somewhere. God is coming down to us in Jesus, right now.

The Spirit Descended on Him

Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation, now the Spirit hovers over the one emerging from the waters of the Jordan, the one who will confront chaos and darkness. 

Through Jesus God is beginning a new work of creation, tearing open a new possibility for a wandering and estranged world.

It is as if

God has ripped the heavens irrevocably apart at Jesus’ baptism, never to be shut again. Through this gracious gash in the universe, he has poured forth the Spirit into the earthly realm.”
(
Joel Marcus, Mark 1–8, Anchor Yale Bible, 165.)

Faith Hack: The God who comes to you

Can we hack our understanding of God to make room for the God who comes?

God is not merely distant. God is not merely everywhere.  God is coming to you.  And God is coming to rescue you where you are, to bring new creation right where you are.

God coming to us is not merely as aspect of who God is. It is the defining characteristic of God. God always longs to be present and intimate with his people, with you.

As John 3:16-17 says,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

How would your life of faith be different if you believed God is coming to you right now? Can you hack your faith to make it work better?

 

Don’t miss the other 4 “faith hacks” coming out the next couple of days. Subscribe and receive a free gift about how God’s glory and holiness doesn’t mean God hates us.


 If this post has been helpful or thought provoking, please consider sharing it. And please subscribe. Thanks.