Gospel

One Throne—One Gospel

Christ before Pilate-Mihaly_Munkacsy-public domain

Christ before Pilate-Mihaly_Munkacsy-public domain

It's easy to oversimplify and generalize truth. Doing so can make it seem shallow or trivial. But my observation is that teachers who teach well take difficult to understand truth and make it simple. This enables people to gain a good understanding of what's taught and internalize it.

My basic philosophy of learning is that unless a person (myself included!) struggles to think something through, they won't fully understand it or internalize it. Simple questions and challenges to see truth from different perspectives are useful in stirring up productive thought.

I've been writing on a certain track of thought with previous posts (see links below) and want to bring it to a conclusion—there is only one throne and one King of Kings believers need to submit their life to and this is based on the simplicity and depth of the gospel of Jesus.

Believers need to submit their life to only one throne and one King of Kings

A short review

The presentation of gospel truth—the good news of God's redemption for all humanity—is most often given in bits and pieces within a western cultural context. I wrote about this earlier.

A cursory reading of the New Testament (NT) reveals the gospel is presented in five narratives—4 Gospels and a history of the early church (Acts).

The remainder of the NT books explain this gospel narrative and give an understanding of how the truth of the gospel and its theology impact daily life within the church and among people outside the church. 

The larger narrative of God's Story, as it unfolds throughout the Bible, is important for those unfamiliar with the theology of redemption. Even Revelation, the last book of the Bible, is a heavenly narrative of how God's Story will conclude at the end of the Age.

The larger narrative of God's Story is important for those unfamiliar with the theology of redemption

Worldviews and the gospel

Consider again how truth is processed by different people with different world-views. Generally speaking, western thought presents bits and pieces of information strung together until the whole picture is seen.

In MOTROW, information and truth are understood as a whole, while bits and pieces are only seen as part of the whole. When the truth is presented in bits and pieces a disconnect between what is believed and how one lives often happens.

The post-modern mindset is similar to MOTROW when it comes to understanding truth. This mindset may still approach things in a linear fashion, but there's a freedom to associate other truth or information to a belief. This leads to a belief system like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism mentioned in a previous post.

Are you performing well?

A common emphasis in American Christianity is on what is termed a performance-based Christian faith. This is the idea that I need to do something as proof of believing in God or being a Christian. I need to give something to show my commitment to God.

This is often spurred on by well-intentioned calls to the altar—to accept Christ, to recommit your life to Christ, to serve Christ, and so on.

As mentioned in an earlier post, altars are for offering sacrifices and gifts. I see this as an expression of self-focused performance, especially when repeated many times in different services.

Are these responses or calls to some altar of self-sacrifice genuine? Yes, often they are. But the question ought to be, are they necessary?

A common emphasis in American Christianity is termed performance-based Christian faith

Only 2 vows necessary

I realized long ago that there were only two vows a person ever needs to make—one to follow Jesus and the other being joined in marriage. Both are all-inclusive and exclusive. Neither requires any additional commitments because they are all-inclusive commitments.

The call to follow Jesus is simple and requires no further clarification—Matt 16:24; Luke 14:26-27, 33. God's view of marriage, repeated four separate times in the Bible, is just as simple—Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5; Mark 10:7, Eph 5:31.

Some may argue, "But there's more to it than that!" But I ask, does God see it that way?

Reading through the book of Hebrews, I'm reminded of the great access provided for believers in the New Covenant established by God's grace—direct access to God's presence.

This access requires nothing of ourselves as believers—no giving, no doing, just coming into His presence—

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16)

There are no minimum requirements for entering and remaining in the Kingdom of God. The only thing God asks is that we come to Him—Matt 11:28-30.

Access to God requires nothing of ourselves as believers—no giving, no doing, just coming into His presence—His throne of grace

What compels you to seek God?

So, back to the question—altar or throne? How are you compelled to come to God? Are you offering Him something rather than yourself? Or, are you coming to Him in all circumstances, good or bad?

When my children were young and I was a young pastor, I had an open door policy for my children and wife when I studied for messages. I can become so absorbed in studying that I block everything and everyone out.

My wife would remind me of my need to make myself accessible to my children and her., so I didn't elevate my work or my interests over them.

This is how I see a believer's access to God's presence. I can come at any time, in any condition, in any situation and His door is open. I don't need to offer anything or ask special permission.

The Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit are our promised intercessors (Rom 8:26-27, 34) ready at all times to hear us and be our advocates. Nothing and no one stands between believers and God.

How are you compelled to come to God? Are you offering Him something rather than yourself?

Guilt or grace?

Even as a young believer, I felt manipulated to respond to altar calls. I don't like being manipulated with emotion, nor do I want to just do something because it's expected or because I feel guilty about something. 

I'm not against altar calls per se, just the manipulative way they can be used and the assumptions made based on responses to these calls. I'm especially concerned about the self-effort I see people exerting to get into God's good graces. It's just not necessary.

God didn't ask Abraham to offer his son Isaac more than once. God accepted it and declared Abraham as righteous by faith (Gen 15:6; 22:1-18). Jesus only died once to justify those who trust in Him (Heb 9:12-14), this is made clear in several places in Hebrews.

Is there any need for doing something additional? If you think so, you don't understand God's grace. God doesn't manipulate us nor does He use guilt or shame to bring us to Him.

God doesn't manipulate us nor does He use guilt or shame to bring us to Him

Confidence in God and His grace

I laid my life at God's altar and I made a vow to my wife over 45 years ago. I don't need to make any more vows or make any sacrifices to gain the Lord's acceptance.

I approach God's throne with confidence when I am in need, though I still fall far short of perfection. My perfection—my sense of completeness—is only found in my Lord and Savior Jesus. I had nothing to offer long ago and still don't, but He has all I am.

What about you?

Are you going to God's altar and waiting for Him to accept you? Or, are you going boldly before His throne of grace at any time whatever your need? (Heb 4:14-16)

Jesus calls each of us to deny our self and take up the Cross, and then follow Him in faith. He doesn't ask us to make more vows at an altar of self-sacrifice. He invites us to come to Him because of His grace, and as the traditional hymn declares—Just as I am.

God doesn't ask us to come to an altar of self-sacrifice but invites us to come to Him because of His grace

Links of previous related posts—

Many Altars but One Gospel

Altar or Throne?

Go! Get Out of the Bubble!

Bubbles_Juneau
Bubbles_Juneau

No doubt you've heard the phrase, living in a bubble or something similar. It was coined a few decades ago, based on the movie of a boy with an underdeveloped immune system who had to live in a bubble-like environment.

This made-for-TV movie came out in 1976 (The Boy in the Plastic Bubble), combining the life stories of two boys with rare diseases. Of course, the movie dramatized the story (added some fiction) and a romantic theme far from reality.

But the concept of living in a bubble—like an incubator—caught hold as a cultural expression. In real life, these boys were unable to venture out of their bubble-like environments without fatal consequences. And yet, their great desire was to live outside the bubble.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a sterile environment without physical human contact. 

Living in a bubble

It wasn't long before people applied the phrase living in a bubble to other situations and people. For example, the office of the U.S. presidency is bubble-like, with the 24/7 Secret Service guard, and screening of people with whom the president will come in contact.

Today it could apply to people focused on their cell phones, gaming, and social media in a virtual bubble. The phrase came to describe anyone isolated from the world around them.

Living in a bubble can describe anyone isolated from the world around them

Sadly, this describes many Christian believers.

Many Christians live in an insulated Christian world surrounded by other Christians and locked into Christian-oriented media and music. And, many Christians like it this way. They don't want to leave this protective bubble—their faith bubble.

And so, the world around them is untouched by their Christian beliefs and values. Why? Intentionally or not, we've constructed an ivory tower of faith.

Not as Jesus intended

This is not what Jesus had in mind when He spoke of the Kingdom of God on earth. Not at all.

This bubble-like isolation isn't reflected in Jesus' teaching about the kingdom of God. What Jesus intended for His followers is seen in several parables and other teachings.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sent out twelve disciples to "preach the kingdom and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:1-6). Later, in the last year of the Lord's ministry on earth, Jesus sent out seventy others in the same way (Luke 10:1-12).

Here are His final instructions to those who would lead the church after His departure—

But the Holy Spirit will come on you and give you power. You will be my witnesses. You will tell people everywhere about me—in Jerusalem, in the rest of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world. (Acts 1:8 ERV)

This is echoed in all four of the gospels and termed the Great Commission. Jesus intended for His followers to be empowered and go out with His message to the world around them.

Jesus wanted His followers empowered to go into all the world with His message

Getting out of the Christian bubble

For the "Boy in the Bubble," leaving the bubble put him at risk for his life. But it's different for us followers of Christ. Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

We need to engage people who have different values and beliefs than our own. Here's a blog post by Pastor Cary Nieuwhof that addresses this— The Evangelism Conversation No One Is Having.

I've posted similar or related articles related to sharing your faith without being aggressive or overbearing. But, we still need to get out of our faith bubble to engage people who don't share our faith. How will they know if we don't share God's redemptive message with them?

Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

One simple question— 

Are you willing to get out of your own faith-bubble to engage people about faith?


5 Foundational Truths of the Christian Faith

In a previous post, I pointed out that a general understanding of Christianity often revolves around moral goodness. Moral goodness in and of itself is certainly not bad, but it is not the basis of genuine Christian faith.

And yet, true followers of Christ ought to be good examples of moral goodness. But what is this moral goodness based on? It is not relative to any culture, nor is it gained by upholding certain laws. It is not even based on what a person believes.

But what a person believes and why they believe it is important.

5 Foundational Truths of the Christian Faith

There are at least five basic, foundational truths essential to genuine Christianity. This is from an evangelical perspective. The work of Christ's redemption is received only by faith because of God's kindness and favor referred to as grace.

  1. Jesus is the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith
  2. Jesus is the core of the Essential Gospel and the core of our Christian faith
  3. Jesus personally calls us to follow Him
  4. Jesus gave one all-encompassing command—to love one another as He loved us
  5. Jesus gave one primary mission to His followers called the Great Commission

Do you see the constant in all five of these foundational truths? It's Jesus!

Instead of rattling off Scripture references to base these on, I'll give a few references followed by some questions. Why?

Western Christian believers have a tendency to take in biblical knowledge without fully understanding it. This may enable someone to spout Bible references and beliefs, but it doesn't necessarily lead to internalizing truth.

When the truth is internalized it becomes embedded in us and readily available to share with others. But for a truth to be internalized a person needs to process the truth through their own thinking. This often involves some form of struggle to gain understanding.

Jesus the Cornerstone

There are several places where Jesus is referred to as the Cornerstone. One of those is found in Ephesians 2:20 another is in 1 Peter 2:4-8.

Why would this be an important and foundational truth of the Christian faith? 

Has this truth been foundational for you?

The Essential Gospel

The Essential Gospel—He Came, He Died, He Rose—is laid out in my book, The Mystery of The Gospel: Unraveling God's Story.

The key is to understand who "He"—Jesus—is. When Jesus asked His disciples who they thought "the Son of Man" is, Peter made an important and accurate declaration in Matt 16:16.

What are the two things Peter declares about Jesus?

Do you understand the significance of these two truths?

Jesus' call to follow

This basic invitation to follow Jesus is found in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matt 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) and is preceded by the revelation of who Jesus is and His relating the Father's plan for man's redemption.

What are two things Jesus says need to happen if we want to follow Him?  

What do these expressions mean to you?

The supreme command

Jesus gives one general command that He calls "new" in John 13:34-35, and it is by this we are to be known as His followers. 

What is different about this new command of Jesus and the command to love our neighbor as we would our selves (Mark 12:29-31)?

Our Mission

This final instruction of Jesus to His followers is found in all four of the gospels and the beginning of Acts. It is not optional. It is our primary mission and the heart of God for the world.

The first place we see the Great Commission is in Matthew 28:19-20. The other ones? Here's a hint—look at the end of the other three gospels and the beginning of the book of Acts.

Can you find each occurrence of it? How is this foundational truth at work in your life?

If you still aren't sure where these expressions of the Great Commission are, then check this post out—What Do You Not Understand About "Go"?

What's your view on these 5 foundational truths?

This post is not intended to be a complete guide to the Christian faith, that would require much more attention.

If you're looking for that, find a good book on biblical theology, such as—What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and Patterns

Because I'm a proponent of intentional, relational discipleship and biblical theology, I see the Christian faith as a way of life, not a set of beliefs.

The Bible is our source for truth, but remember what Jesus says—

You carefully study the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. They do in fact tell about me... (John 5:39 NCV)

What are your thoughts on these five foundational truths?

I'd like to hear them and also your responses to the other questions in this post.

Please feel free to share it with others. Thanks for reading!

The 3 R's of the Gospel

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

Some things just can't be improved on. Not that people don't try.

The 3 R's of education—reading, (w)'riting, and (a)'rithmetic—are still essential to a sound, practical education. Various approaches and strategies of learning have been tried, but the basics, and even the old one-room schoolhouse environment, have great merit.

Fads and trends come and go in most areas of life, especially when it comes to diets. The basics of good nutrition, limiting calories, and regular exercise are still fundamental to good health.

So it is with the Christian faith, especially its core—the gospel. Different paradigms and approaches are popular for a time, but the redemptive story of God's love is still the most simple and powerful element of Christianity.

Sharing the gospel

Over the years, I've heard sure-fire ways to share the gospel. The idea being that someone would have to believe once they heard one of these approaches. The problem is one size doesn't fit all.

Another difficulty is being so focused on the approach, we fail to connect with people in a personal way. They sense this and resist or outright reject what we offer.

When I was wandering in spiritual lostness, and under the influence of a mind-altering substance, I was approached by a couple college guys. I was in a different reality and mindset than them.

After sharing their plan of salvation with me, they tried to fend off any resistance I might have. They told me, "You can still have a sports car and be a Christian!" I was not in the least interested since I subscribed to the popular mantra of the day—turn on, tune in, drop out.

As addressed in my book, evangelism and sharing the gospel are too easily reduced to, "Jesus died for your sins." While this statement is true, it doesn't tell the whole story—the gospel story of redemption.

The 3 R's of the gospel

The essential gospel (my version) has three elements— He (Jesus) came, He died, He rose. These three essentials are also expressed in what I'll call the 3 R's of the gospel—relationship, redemption, and restoration.

Although these are echoed throughout the Scriptures, the Apostle John sums up these three elements in his first epistle—

  1. Relationship— 1 John 1:3
  2. Redemption— 1 John 1:7
  3. Restoration— 1 John 2:1-2

Relationship

Relationship with God has always been at the heart of the gospel. For starters, humanity was created in God's image (Gen 1:26, 27). Abraham, the man of faith, was a friend of God and seen as righteous because of his trust in God (James 2:23). And faith itself is about relationship—

Without faith no one can please God. Anyone who comes to God must believe that he is real and that he rewards those who truly want to find him. (Heb 11:6 NCV)

Jesus called His closest followers friends (John 15:15) and was condemned for being a friend to tax collectors and sinners (Matt 11:19)

Relationship with God should always be a priority when sharing the gospel. Relationship is at the heart of redemption.

Redemption

Redemption reveals the heart of God. This is expressed in the first eighteen verses of John (John 1:1-18), which summarizes the whole book of John.

It's easy to get caught up with terminology and definitions when explaining redemption. A simple way to describe it is the act of rescue and reconciliation. This is expressed in 2 Cor 5:17-19.

If our intent in sharing the gospel isn't reconciliation, then we're missing the point—a point illustrated by the three parables of Jesus in Luke 15.

Restoration

I sum up the idea of God's work of restoration as the end which is the beginning again.

What was lost in Eden is restored by Jesus on the cross. The redemptive work of Jesus restores humanity to a state of innocent relational trust, which Adam and Eve knew in the beginning.

This points us toward the end of the age, as seen in the book of Revelation. We look forward to the Lord's return for His restoration of all things (Acts 3:19-21; Rev 21:3-5).

Keep it simple and true

Much more could be said but isn't necessary. Sharing our faith and God's story of redemption should be both simple and true, not clever.

God desires a relationship with all people, and we, His creation, were created for that purpose. Relationship with God comes through faith—trusting in Him and His work of reconciliation on the cross.

Deep down, everyone knows they need restoration. King David declared, "He restores my soul" (Psalm 23:3). This is what a world wandering in darkness seeks, and we followers of Christ are charged with sharing it with them (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8).

When was the last time you shared the gospel and your story of faith with someone?

What Do You Not Understand About "Go"?

Final instructions tend to emphasize what's most important. Even in directions for how to put something together, a series of summarized instructions are given in bullet points.

When parents leave their children with a babysitter, nanny, or grandparents, they relay what's seen as essential information. Things like, "Here's their jammies, dinner, diapers...." Or it might be, "No playing ball in the house, make sure they go to bed by...," well, you get the idea.

What were Jesus' final instructions to His followers? They're summed up in a word—"Go!" But somewhere along the way, this seems to be lost in translation or just ignored.

Jesus' final instructions repeated 5 times

The final instructions and teaching of Jesus to His followers are summarized in what is called the Great Commission. It's found in each of the four gospels and in Acts. It's a mandate for action throughout the world for the benefit of all people. This requires the church to go!

Here are five places the Great Commission is found and a brief summary of its content—

  1. Matt 28:19-20– Go, make disciples... teaching them what Jesus commanded
  2. Mark 16:15– Go into all the world... proclaiming the gospel to all people
  3. Luke 24:45-49–Proclaim repentance and forgiveness (the gospel) to all nations
  4. John 20:21-21– Jesus sends the apostles as He was sent by the Father
  5. Acts 1:4-8– Receive power to be the Lord's witnesses to all the world
3guys_Indo
3guys_Indo

Three to Go!

These three young were sent off from their YWAM base family in Jacksonville, FL for a two-year mission in a small province of Indonesia. It was great to see their excitement and commitment, which was affirmed by those gathered to send them off.

I had the privilege of being a small part of equipping them for their mission. They learned and served together for two years, and were challenged by their base director and one of their teachers to go. And so, they did.

Never intended to be optional

A cursory reading of Acts reveals this mission to go was central to the church's existence and growth. It was understood to be an essential element, not an optional one. But somewhere along the way things changed.

Initially, the church did not venture out of Jerusalem. What changed that? Persecution. A great persecution broke out after the fiery Stephen was martyred (Acts 8:1). Then the church went out as the Lord intended.

This mission is seen throughout the Book of Acts with the first intentional sending out of missionaries recorded in Acts 13:1-3.

How did "Go" become optional?

Reading the letters to the seven churches in Revelation (Rev 2:1-3:22) we see a change. What happened? I see two general trends also present today—complacency and compromise.

Compromise can come in many ways, but syncretism and tolerance are common. Things get included or excluded with a detrimental effect. How do you deal with compromise? The truth of God's Word is most effective in preventing and correcting compromise.

Complacency is harder to change.

How does it settle in? First, we get comfortable. It's hard to be comfortable when persecuted. Comfort leads to an unconcerned attitude. Unconcerned is a synonym for complacent, and unconcerned quickly changes to unengaged.

Photo credit: Sergei Kutrovski
Photo credit: Sergei Kutrovski

How does "Go" become essential for you?

3 things to jump-start you into engagement—

  1. Awareness– you need to become aware of the need throughout the world. How? Learn about the state of the unreached and unengaged around the world. Learn through research in books, websites, and people interested in world missions. [see list of resources below]
  2. Acceptance– understand the need, and become willing and committed to be engaged. As you learn, contact cross-cultural missionaries and mission agencies. They'll be glad to share their passion for the nations of the world and the mission to Go!
  3. Action– move forward by faith to support, and send or be sent. Get involved with missions at a local level, be ready to go on a short-term mission, and engage people of other cultures with the gospel where you live.

Where to start?

Here are resources to get you started and engaged—


This post was edited and revised from an earlier post on my former website. It follows a couple previous and related posts below—

The World Has Changed

MOTROW