The Gospel that is Not

Today, NoSuperHeroes welcomes Chance Faulkner. He resides in Canada with his lovely wife. Chance is a recent newlywed and graduate of the Emmaus School of Biblical Studies. You can follow him on his blog and Twitter. He also runs a photography business.

We live in a time in history where, more than ever, it seems that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is assumed. We Christians pay so much attention to what we need to do for God and do not put nearly enough emphasis on what Jesus has already done on our behalf.

Therefore, in the church today we often move beyond the gospel and turn instead to what Christian Smith has termed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”.

In its basic form, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” says to try harder, be better, pick yourself up from your bootstraps, and use God as an enhancement tool towards living a better life.

We prefer to see Jesus as our life coach who helps us be better people, rather than the Savior who saves sinners by doing something for us that we could not do for ourselves.

So rather than motivating people with grace, we motivate them with works.

Even if we think we understand the gospel, when we assume that our congregations, small groups, and friends understand grace and therefore skip right past it and go straight to application, we are still motivating them by works and not the gospel.

I have seen countless friends grow up in the church youth group, hearing so many rules and commands without hearing the explicit motivation and reason behind the commands. Christianity becomes “being a good person who follows the rules”.

We preach topical sermons on money, marriage, and relationships, but Jesus is completely absent from them. This breeds Christians who try really hard, being a good person who follows all the rules.

When we succeed, we become full of pride and look down upon those people who are not doing as well. But when we fail, stumble, are struck by tragedy, dominated by habitual sin, or are crushed by life’s circumstances, we become angry and bitter with God because he is not treating us fairly for our good works and giving us what we “deserve”.

So we either try even harder to be better, or we despair and give up all together. We leave the church without ever experiencing a true relationship with Christ.

In John 8, Jesus’ command to the women caught in adultery comes after the grace that he gives to her. He doesn’t forgive her conditionally based on her promise of better behavior, but instead her motivation for behaving better comes from the free, unmerited gift of grace that he gives her. She is not obligated to live this way so that God will love her, but she is free to live righteously because God has already loved her. (for more thoughts on John 8 read my blog)

In Ephesians 3, Paul has a beautiful prayer for the believers. Those in the Ephesian church were mostly Gentiles, new Christians coming out of a culture where sex and sensual pleasure played a vital role in worship, including temple prostitution and cults that were violent, orgiastic and ecstatic. This is the lifestyle these people are coming out of, and probably still struggling with. If there was any church that seemed like it needed the most “behavior control”, it was these guys. Yet check out what Paul prays for them:

“so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17–19)

Do you see what Paul just did? He didn’t pray that they would try harder, becoming better people, but he instead prays that they can BELIEVE better. Only in understanding the love of Christ can we truly be motivated in our hearts, dealing harshly with sin.

God has done something in Christ that you could not do for yourself.

While you were unclean, he made you clean. While you have sin, he gives you his righteousness. This is good news. This is the gospel.

So in light of this amazing, marvelous good news, what are you going to do about it?

Let’s start by preaching Christ crucified and not Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – the gospel that is not.

chance faulkner

Chance was born and raised in Peterborough,Ontario, Canada. He has eight sisters and four brothers. After high school he completed a Discipleship Training School (DTS) with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Germany, then participated in a nine month intensive Bible course with Emmaus School of Biblical Studies (ESBS) in North Carolina, where he met his wife Mary Austin.

This is the second post from a member of the Emmaus School of Biblical Studies. Tom Phillips, leader of the school has previously posted “A Faithful God, A Doubting Heart, and a Good Journey.