In old episode of Seinfeld George cleverly attempts to establish his own charity. Since he doesn’t really support any cause except himself he creates a vague shell organization called “The Human Fund”. As he promotes the “cause” he finds that people are generally pretty happy to be associated with this nice sounding foundation.
The sarcastic sitcom makes its point: we like being a part of something that makes us feel good as long as it is also comfortable for us.
This is especially dangerous for Christians, particularly believers living in the West. If we are honest we’ll admit that we can hear the crackling social eggshells underfoot. As we attempt to live as Christians in this world we have a choice to make:
1) Walk on the cultural eggshells, fearing any whiff of being labeled intolerant
2) Faithfully, thoughtfully and winsomely walk, knowing that you may well be labeled strange or out of step.
When thinking about how we declare and demonstrate the gospel it is important to remember that we did not come up with this. The gospel is the great announcement of what happened. We cannot edit the events, air-brush Jesus’ character, or turn down the volume of emphasis upon God’s character. We have been given this faith, we did not create it (Jude 3).
1- You Cannot Remove the Offense without Losing Everything
I used to work in a compliance department. The prevailing buzz was that it was our job to put back into the marketing pieces everything that the sales guys edited out because it was too off-putting. Sometimes we default to evangelical sales guys. We think, “The gospel is really offensive. It could be better received if we weren’t so hard on sin.” The trouble with this is when we pull on that string we unravel the whole thing! Think about it, what is at the heart of the offense of the gospel?
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:18)
What is the folly? What is the foolishness? It is the cross. So, if in effort to remove the offense we would unwittingly remove the substance! There are sharp edges to this gospel. There is blood, death, wrath, sin, greed, and anger. You can’t sand that down without losing it all. Paul continued to preach Christ and him crucified (even though he knew it was perceived as folly) precisely because he knew that this same (foolish) gospel was also the saving gospel:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom. 1:16, see also Gal. 2:21)
2- The Point of the Story is not Congratulations but Confrontation
Sometimes we forget that as we talk about Jesus and what he has done that it is actually a referendum on our performance as humans. Jesus did not come saying, “Hey, great job everyone. I’m here to lead a movement of good people who have excelled in their calling as humans.” Far from it. Instead we read of Jesus saying, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lk. 5:32)
This is a huge point. If we think of the gospel and our mission in the world as Jesus coming to bring us the birthday present for our moral awesomeness then it is not the gospel. It is by grace that we are saved. Grace is a gift. Salvation is from sin, Satan, and death. Part of our salvation is salvation from God himself! (Rom. 5:9).
If our tone is about preserving people’s high opinions of themselves we can be sure we are do not have a very high opinion of the gospel. The gospel does not congratulate but rather confront—and then convert!
3- The Story is Not About Ultimately About Us Anyway
One of my favorite preachers said that Americans struggle with a “Where’s Waldo” approach to the Bible. Like when we look at a picture for that smiling, stripped sweater-wearing guy, we are always looking for ourselves in the passage. The trouble is, the Bible in general, and the gospel in particular is not ultimately about us. The gospel is about God. The story unfolds of God taking the initiative to insert himself into human history in order to rescue rebels like us from what we justly deserve. It is a story of divine love, divine mercy, divine sacrifice, and divine grace. The gospel glorifies God before it does anything else.
This is why it is counterintuitive to edit or invert the content of the gospel. It is inclined toward God, accomplished by God, and magnifies God. To pump ourselves up as the point of the gospel is to give the gospel a flat tire. It’s about God.
4- The Gospel is Offensive But You Don’t Have to Be
Since the content of the gospel is unashamedly offensive (Rom. 1:16) we have to keep in mind that we don’t by necessarily have to be offensive ourselves. In other words, the gospel is offensive because it unseats self from the throne of the heart and establishes God as King. If we have God reigning on the thrones of our hearts we will not be quick to lash out or lack sensitivity in our witness. We come to unbelievers with the sensitivity and understanding that we too have been hungry and hurting from the hangover and lies of sin. We have been wooed by the hiss of the serpent. We know what it is like (Eph. 2:1–3). Therefore, we can identify. We get it. We reach out in truth and love.
George Costanza made it up and it cost him. He ended up having to return the contributions. When we start editing the gospel for fear of offense we lose everything. Without the gospel we have no message, no mission, and no church. We are left twiddling our comfortable little thumbs promoting the Human Fund.
Erik Raymond is pastor at Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Nebraska. He and his wife, Christie, have six children. You can follow Erik on Twitter @erikraymond and read his blog at ordinarypastor.com.