A Pressurized Gospel
My earliest Christian formation taught me the urgency of “evangelism,” which in that stream of faith, focused heavily on Jesus’ “great commission,” which included the mandate to “…go and make disciples of all nations,…” (Matthew 28:19).
For us, that meant trying to “convert” people—convincing them to “ask Jesus into their hearts” by praying a “sinner’s prayer”—confessing their sinfulness and putting their trust in Christ’s saving work. The urgency came with an ultimatum to pluck souls from the fires of hell before it was too late.
Imagine the anxiety a sensitive soul feels under such a pressurized gospel. Interpreted that way, Jesus’ own words felt toxic. Many became so turned off by the E-word (evangelism) that we had to abandon it. And yet Jesus DID come with good news that turned the world upside down. I wonder, how might we recover his Christlike gospel?
Lately, my friend (Craig the “evangelist”) shared how he frames good news, and it sounded remarkably like Jesus’ banquet invitation! In four points,
God loves everyone!
I would have always said that. The “four spiritual laws” (from my first gospel tract, composed in 1952) began, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” But if we dug deeper, this came with an ominous caveat: “God loves you, BUT as a sinner, your default destination is the Lake of Fire. Forever. The gospel is that Jesus will save you from hell if you’ll just ‘pray the prayer.’”
But what if Jesus’ message is more like, “God loves you. God loves everyone. No buts.” Even if we’re feeling “lost” (like confused sheep) and find our lives unravelling (“perishing”), God loves us—all of us—from start to finish. No ultimatum. No threat. Just God’s all-inclusive, uncondemning love (John 3:16-17). And therefore,…
God in Christ has forgiven everyone!
“Sin” (alienation) is a universal problem, no doubt about it. Straying from perfect love is common to the human condition. Despite our best efforts, our next stumble is inevitable. BUT at the Cross, we find that God in Christ has forgiven everyone—even while we were still ungodly, still sinners, still enemies (Romans 5:6-11). It’s not, “if you repent, God will forgive you.” Rather, the grace-gift of reconciliation precedes and inspires our repentance! We love God because God first loved us! (see 1 John 4:19). By the way, God’s story of redeeming love had already been revealed through the prophet Hosea, dramatized in his marriage to unfaithful Gomer—it makes for great reading.
The party has already started!
The Hebrew prophets’ favorite imagery for God’s coming kingdom was a “banquet for all peoples” (Isaiah 25:6). And when Jesus began preaching his gospel, he both preached and lived this theme. The host himself had come to announce that the banquet we’re waiting for has already begun. The gospel is not a threat—it’s an invitation to a party that’s already started. His servants are delivering the evangel—the good news message. Namely,
Come join us! Everyone is welcome!
The message I once shared was exclusive: IF you respond in my prescribed way, then God will welcome you to his banquet. The truth is quite the reverse. Your seat at the banquet is reserved, dinner has been prepared! Come join the party ASAP! Why? “Because if you don’t, you’ll burn?” NO! Because you’re already hungry—for love, for grace, for belonging! Come meet the One who’s been waiting to welcome you and even to serve you (Luke 12:37). Are you ready? Then come, “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). Now that’s Good news worth sharing!