The Game Changing Gospel

Three Crosses and Silhoutted Person in Prayer at Sunrise

Through the gospel God exerts his power to transform lives and change cultures. I am of the opinion that the church does not need another summit or conference on racial reconciliation or multi-culturalism; what’s needed today are preachers who will prophetically proclaim the gospel.  When the gospel is preached to people whom the Holy Spirit has prepared to receive it, they receive it, and they demonstrate their faith in the gospel by walking in “newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)  Let me suggest that anything short of this (changing or accommodating our music styles, or creating night club like atmospheres in our sanctuaries, etc.) will not bring the needed flame of radical revival, but will produce a mere reshuffling of the same old deck of lukewarm cards.

I love this section from George and Woodward’s book, The Mark of Jesus. Using an example from the history of the church, George and Woodward challenge us to consider afresh the power of the gospel to change our lives. They write:

The Testimony of Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr effectively depicted and defended the lifestyle of Christians. In his First Apology (c. A.D. 155), Justin challenged Emperor Antonius Pius to take a good, hard look at the way Christians lived. Justin apparently did not fear that an investigation by the emperor would find the Christians to be hypocrites: “It is for us, therefore, to offer to all the opportunity of inspecting our life and teachings, lest we ourselves should bear the blame for what those who do not really know about us do in their ignorance.” Then, in a marvelous passage, Justin described how the power of the Gospel had transformed Christians at the very core of their aspirations and desires:

Those who once rejoiced in fornication now delight in continence alone; those who made use of magic arts have dedicated themselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who once took pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a common fund and share with everyone in need; we who hated and killed one another would not associate with men of different tribes because of [their different] customs, now after the manifestation of Christ live together and pray for our enemies and try to persuade those who unjustly hate us, so that they, living according to the fair command of Christ may share with us the good hope of receiving the same things [that we will] from God, the master of all.

According to Justin Martyr, Christians turned their backs on sexual immorality, on the making of money as a life avocation, and on yielding to racism. Rather, they shared their goods even with those whom they had formerly disdained for racial reasons—those who belonged to other tribes. Many Christians were living in unity and were intent on seeing their non-Christian neighbors come to Christ. They prayed for their enemies with the hope that they might likewise become followers of the true God. They believed that only those persons were worthy to be called Christians who actually obeyed their Lord’s teachings.

As for those persons who did not obey Christ’s teachings (hypocrites), Justin Martyr offered little comfort: “Those who are found not living as he taught should know that they are not really Christians, even if his teachings are on their lips, for he said that not those who merely profess but those who also do the works will be saved. For he said this: ‘Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’”Justin Martyr, therefore, viewed “apologetics”(the defense of the faith) in a somewhat different fashion than we often do, if we limit its scope to the presentation of the “theistic proofs”or historical arguments for the resurrection of Christ. Certainly Martyr made the case for fulfilled prophecies in Scripture, the reality of Christ’s miracles, and the truthfulness of the resurrection. But Martyr was not hesitant also to make the point that many of the Christians he knew obeyed Christ’s teachings. This would mean that any hypocrisy charge regarding them would not stick. He wrote: “Many men and women now in their sixties and seventies who have been disciples of Christ from childhood have preserved their purity: and I am proud that I could point to such people in every nation.”

Justin Martyr’s presentation of how Christians actually lived out their faith received confirmation of sorts from a surprising quarter. Pagan critics, while condemning Christianity as an irrational faith that attracted the weak-minded, on occasion paid backhanded tributes to the Christians by describing them as those who kept their word and shared their goods with each other. Undoubtedly, the early church had its hypocrites who by no means followed Christ in the way Justin Martyr indicated. At the end of the second century, Tertullian complained that he knew Christians, including members of the clergy, who ran after money and church offices rather than seeking to follow Christ’s teachings. For many early Christians, not following Christ’s teachings indicated a person was worse than a hypocrite; the person was a “non-Christian.

You are all one in Christ

Galatians 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Whereas the flesh tells me that life is all about me, the Holy Spirit teaches me that life is all about God.  Through faith in Jesus Christ we not only receive from the Spirit the ability to worship God in truth, but we receive the capacity to love and serve like Jesus did.  Nowhere on earth is the love of Jesus more beautifully portrayed than when the church reaches outward and across sectarian lines to embrace and fellowship with one another in a genuine display of Christianity (Acts 11:19-26).  Only when our lives are God centered will the phrase “you are all one in Christ Jesus” truly have meaning.

I like Timothy George and John Woodbridge’s thoughts on Galatians 3:26-28, below.  They write:

The three pairs of opposites Paul listed in this verse stand for the fundamental cleavages of human existence: ethnicity, economic capacity, and sexuality. Race, money, and sex are primal powers in human life. No one of them is inherently evil, yet each of these spheres of human creativity has become degraded and soiled through the perversity of sin. Nationality and ethnicity have been corrupted by pride, material blessings by greed, and sexuality by lust. This has led to the chaotic pattern of exploitation and self-destruction that marks the human story from the Tower of Babel to the streets of Baghdad and Beirut. But the good news of the Gospel is that those who have become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ have broken free from enslavement to these controlling forces. A new standard and pattern of life now distinguishes the baptized community from the environing society all around it. Here, as nowhere else, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). (Taken from George and Woodbridge: The Mark of Jesus)prayer in unity