We are supposed to be working our way through the Scriptures, slowly but surely addressing those passages that seem relevant to the ultimate redemption discussion, but somehow I’ve been getting sidetracked by other distractions important to the discussion, and I confess I’m going to get sidetracked again today.
As a way to begin with today’s distraction, I want to tell you three one-sentence stories I have heard recently.
First, I met with a guy who told me that what keeps him up at night is a concern or worry that he is “doing enough” in his Christian life.
Second, I have a friend who has started going to church and said he is there with everyone else to try to “become a good person.”
Third, I heard a pastor talk about his daughter, who, when asked what God thinks of her, responded, “I think He’s really disappointed.”
Read those again.
If you’re like me, all of these stories leave you unsettled. They seem to contain a message of performance, as though what God wants from us is to do good, try harder, accomplish more, be better. They indicate that some people think their standing before God or their relationship with Him is based on what they do, such that they lie awake at night worrying about it, or think that God is really disappointed in them for not doing or becoming all that He wants them to do or become.
Of course, this not the message of the gospel.
And yet, it seems like what we often hear at church is good advice on how to be a good person, or how to follow God better: Read your Bible more. Pray more. Be a better father. Be a better wife. Share the gospel. Tithe. Serve. Do. Do. Do. Maybe we don’t intend it this way, but if the above stories are any indication, it seems we put such pressure on people that it keeps them up at night.
Of course we agree that’s not the message of the gospel. We do things not because they earn us any favor with God but in response to what God has done for us. We don’t want other people to feel pressure and we don’t want to think we feel pressure to do and be, or that somehow the church needs to rethink the way it is presenting the gospel, and so we want to explain away the above stories. Those people are mistaken, or maybe took something the wrong way, or maybe they have their own performance issues and it’s not really what’s being presented in church that makes them feel this way.
If these were the only three stories I could think of, maybe that would be true, but I can’t help but think: these are people in our churches! These mindsets are the product of the version of the gospel being presented somewhere, a version that makes people live in fear and anxiety. Apparently people are worried they’re not doing enough, and maybe even worried, because they’re not doing enough, that they will only make it into heaven by the skin of their teeth, or worse yet, they will end up being one of the ones “shut out” from the presence of the Lord and consigned to hell for all eternity.
Certainly it’s not true of everyone but I think the performance-mindset is pervasive enough to deserve discussion. And I feel like a contributing factor is the ever-present fear that God will abandon some people forever. That maybe God might just abandon me forever. I need to work hard to be good to prove to myself and to God that I really, truly have been saved, that I really, truly have put my faith in Jesus, because if I haven’t, the consequences are eternally dire.
I just don’t think that’s the gospel message. Somehow I just can’t believe that we should live in fear that the all-loving, all-powerful, all-wise, infinite God of all creation who desires all to be saved will finally and forever consign most of humanity to on-going torment . . . or finally and forever consign anyone to on-going torment.
The gospel message should not put on pressure that keeps you up at night.
The gospel message should bring the greatest feeling in the world . . . which is not laughter, or love, or joy, or peace, or hope, although certainly the gospel brings those things as well.
The greatest feeling in the world is . . . relief.
The gospel brings not pressure but relief.
And that is good news.
It is really good news, really.
(This distraction is going to need another couple days.)