The Gospel is a terrible love story. At least the way we often tell it to people.
Ugh he just loves me so unbelievably much.
He pursues me even in the simple ways of preparing me my spiced chai before I wake in the morning.
He tells me everyday how great his love is for me.
Everything that is his is mine.
But he tells me that if I do not choose to love him back.
He will hurt me. And make sure my life is torture.
So I live with him, and love him back. Because I am afraid what would happen if I don’t.
That is not the kind of love story that I want to hear. It is not patient. It is not kind. It is filled with envy. It is boastful. It leaves a record of wrongs. And thank goodness this is not the love story in which I live in.
Visiting with a friend the other day, she began to share the gospel she has always heard to me.
“There is this God. He loves you so unbelievably much. The Bible is like a love letter to you. He gave everything for you, including his own life. Then he gives you the choice to follow him and love him back. But if you don’t chose him, you are damned to Hell forever.”
“And that is why I have struggled with my relationship with God.”
The root issue is not that of hell. It is not that of the story of what Jesus did. The problem is that so many people in America have sucked dry the depth and beauty of the story of Jesus until it is merely a get out of hell card. It is not about relationship to many Americans. Instead of professing faith in Christ and waking up the next day deep in love with wide eyes toward a heavenly father who adores them, many feel the acceptance of Christ to be flat.
“I’m not going to hell anymore. Well that’s good. I guess I didn’t even know I was going to hell though until someone told me, but that crisis has been averted.”
That’s all. Not going to a place that many didn’t believe they were going to until they believed they were and then being restored to what life was like before they knew hell existed. In essence, to many, Christianity is about getting really scared and then being told there is a way out.
So often I hear the church present “plan of salvation” as the gospel itself.
But this is not true.
This is not the gospel.
These are two very different things.
If I was to continue on planning raising support to go to Taiwan to tell them how much Jesus loves them, but if they didn’t love him back they are going to Hell. Well, I would be one terrible missionary.
It’s not that hell isn’t important. People need to know about the state of the soul, they need to know about the hard parts of Christianity and Jesus. It is absolutely critical that people know that Hell is a real place and a real punishment. Yet that’s not the gospel. The gospel is actually bigger then just the plan of salvation.
The plan of salvation is a specific part of this engrossing love story of God and His people. A God who is coming to redeem a cursed earth, establish justice where injustice has reigned, heal those with a fractured heart, and save those perishing from sin. That is all of humanity. Every single person on earth is in a state of undeniable sin. We are selfish, we are arrogant, we do things we don’t want to and we want to do things we don’t.
We are in need of a savior, and we have one who loves us very much. First we have to realize that we are sinners though. The first story makes a victim out of the person who is loved unconditionally. That so often used quote, that C.S. Lewis eluded to in the Great Divorce, “Hell is locked from the inside.” The issue here is not the fact that denying Christ will send one to hell. This is undoubtedly true, regardless of the Zim-Zum millennial arm-chair theologians who banter that love wins, hell is real, it is scary, and it is bad.
But this isn’t the heart of “The gospel”
It is the heart of the plan of salvation, we are in need of a savior, we are sinners, and we need to be saved from hell. Yet the plan of salvation should be placed inside of the larger framework of the good news. The story of Adam and Eve, Israel, Jesus, the atonement, man’s redemption, and Jesus coming back. Why?
The gospel includes more then just our salvation. It is this beautiful good news that life doesn’t have to be the way it is. A painful, heartbreaking life.
The problem with merely boiling down the gospel to the plan of salvation is that in the end, Christianity becomes a numbers game. And endless simulator designed to create the most “Converts” Yet the way Jesus came was to make deep relationships with humans and turn them into disciples. A “Plan of Salvation.” oriented gospel is just not deep enough. Nor is it hopeful enough.
While the thought of Heaven is beautiful, the bible actually is written so we can live on earth now. This isn’t saying that we necessarily need to follow into “Bringing the kingdom doctrine.” The earth is cursed. One look at mosquitos will tell anyone that.
Instead it’s the fact that Christ came to give us a relationship with God, a holy spirit that lives inside of us, renewed minds and the ability to not sin as much as we used to. Christ came to make life abundant now, to be a solace and a friend in times of need. The gospel is so beautiful, but it doesn’t end at the point of salvation. The gospel is the huge overarching story of the bible.
Recently we watched Interstellar. Try describing that movie in three sentences. It would probably sound something like,
“So the earth is dying and the crops won’t grow so a guy goes into space to go and find a planet to live on. It doesn’t work very well because of time travel and stuff or something with physics? And then he goes to a really trippy room and it turned out he was the ghost all along.”
Interstellar is a work of art. A beautiful film that moved me to tears as I watched Matthew Mcconaughey wept and wailed as he watched his children grow up on video tapes. In hours he lost decades. It is absolutely tragic. Deep. Beautiful. It takes several hours to tell the story, weave in all the subplots, and show multiple perspectives. To describe it in a few sentences is just not justice to the source material. In fact one may think it is a terrible film purely based on a written description because so much cannot be described in just a few sentences.
So if a two hour movie about space can’t be described very well in a handful of sentences, why would we EVER expect the entire summation of the story of God and His people to be fleshed out in detail in a simple conversion? A handful of moments and the God of the bible is suddenly fully known? Even Paul said that we see now as through a dimly lit mirror. Yet we have taken the plan of salvation, melted it to the smallest elements, and then called it the Gospel.
This isn’t to say “The sinners prayer.” is wrong, or evangelizing on the streets or through sermons is by any means a waste or ineffective. It just means, we have to start letting people know they are hearing the plan of salvation, and then following up with them. Giving them a phone call the next day and saying, you now know a part, perhaps the most important PART of the gospel. But let’s walk through the rest of the good news. Because that is why Jesus is such a good thing. That is a reason to get up in the morning. That is truly something filled with hope.
This distinction between gospel and plan of salvation is made very clear in the book “King Jesus Gospel,” which I recommend if you want to know more on this subject.