Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Truth > Experience

9/11.  It's just two numbers with a slash between them.  But you will seldom find two numbers, if spoken in that order, that will have a greater emotional impact on a person.  After all, who gets emotional about numbers?  But 9/11 has been used as a trigger for fear, revenge, nationalism, xenophobia, a rationale for war and enduring military presence in hostile nations... and all this is just how 9/11 is viewed in the U.S. let alone the world at large.

For all the things that 9/11 has come to represent, one must always remember that it's actually nothing more than an event.  As the very structure of the numbers themselves indicate, two great skyscrapers (and a lesser building) in NYC came tumbling down by the work of terrorists, the Pentagon was attacked, and a plane crashed somewhere in PA.  These are historical facts.  The effects of 9/11 on citizens in the U.S. and elsewhere, while related, are NOT the same thing as the event itself.  This is a crucial distinction that must always be remembered: the actual account is not the same as those things that resulted from it's occurrence.

"The core of the gospel, the historical facts of what God did in Christ, is often down-graded today in favor of a more mystical emphasis on the private spiritual experience of the individual.  Whereas faith in the gospel is essentially acceptance of, and commitment to the declarations that God acted in Christ some two thousand years ago on our behalf, saving faith is often portrayed nowadays more as trust in what God is doing in us now... [The gospel] is the good news about Jesus, before it can become good news for sinful men and women.  Indeed, it is only as the objective facts are grasped that the subjective experience of the individual Christian can be understood."   --quoted from Graeme Goldsworthy, The Goldsworthy Trilogy, pp.20-21

So there you have it.  One of the major mistakes made when presenting the gospel is confusing what Goldsworthy calls "the fruits of the gospel" with the gospel itself.  In other words, many are guilty of presenting "peace of mind", "joy in my heart", "the excitement of ministry", etc. as the gospel.  We ask people, "Don't you want to experience the love of God?".  Or we invite our neighbors to "try Jesus" and know "the peace that passes all understanding".  There are many variations of this approach.  The bottom line is, so often we are inviting people to the RESULTS of Christ's work on the cross and in His resurrection, but we are not giving sufficient emphasis to the cross nor the empty tomb itself.

For all the things that Christ has won for us- fill in the blank with whatever promise is now ours in Him- none of it is true unless first He lived a sinless life, died on a cross for our sins, was buried, and then was raised bodily from the dead.  Jesus and His work is the focus of the gospel- not us, nor our blessings.  So in all our efforts to evangelize and fulfill the Great Commission, I propose this maxim: Lead with the Promiser, not the promises.

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