Part of the essence of what it means to be a Christian is to be someone who has heard a message, and then come to believe that message in such a way that it transforms your whole life, and you become a spreader of the message too. How do we know what the message is?
Building the message from scripture: We want to get in the habit of building what we say about the Christian life from the scriptures up and to build the way we believe and speak the gospel in the same way.
So, first, lets look at four ways we see Jesus explaining his message. (You could also call this four perspectives on the one message Jesus came to proclaim.)
- Luke 4:14-21, 24:44-48 Here in Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, at the beginning and end of his public ministry, we have passages we could sum up as saying something like this: “You have sin. You need forgiveness. Jesus is the one who provides it. (in 4:18 the word translated “liberty” two times is the translated as “forgiveness” of sins in other uses in Luke, including in 24:47. Click here to see every time this word is used in the New Testament.)
Or we could hear Jesus as saying, “You have sin. I have good news: release from what makes you poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, oppressed.”
The Message?: You need forgiveness, Jesus is the one who gives it. Whether you know it or not, you have an issue. This issue robs you of what you were meant to be—spiritually rich, whole, free, able to see. The issue is what Jesus calls sin. He is the one who provides forgiveness.
- John 1:1-4, 3:3-6, 20:30-31 John brings out this aspect of Jesus’ message: You don’t have life. Jesus is the one who gives new eternal life.
- Matthew 4:17, 28:18-20 Matthew highlighted the fact that Jesus is the true king. His kingdom is in the process of coming to rule the whole earth. We might paraphrase the message from this perspective as something like, “You are in opposition to this kingdom, and must completely reorient yourself by bringing yourself under Jesus’ authority, and trusting and obeying him alone as your king.”
- Mark 3:22-27 In this passage in Mark’s account of the teaching of Jesus we see the part of the message that proclaims: “You are under the power of a spiritual strongman. You need someone stronger to rescue you. Jesus is the Son of God–so he can do it.”
One of the things that binds all of these different looks at the one message of Jesus together is the role played by sin. It is sin that brings guilt and bondage we need freedom from, it is sin that robs us of true life, and renders us spiritually dead and in need of new birth, it is sin that is the essence of our posture of rebellion towards God’s kingdom, and makes us unfit to inhabit that eternal world of perfection, it is sin that gives spiritual powers other than God any authority in our life…sin is bad news. But what about those times when we try to communicate that to our friends and they are basically like, “What is sin anyway?”
What is Sin? There’s lot’s we could say about this, but for a quick working definition, let’s start in the beginning, with the account of the first sin in Genesis chapter 3, and there we can just say that sin is breaking relationship with God by disobeying his word. Or, if we turn to Matthew 22:34-40, we could see Jesus saying that sin is breaking the greatest commands: Failing to love God with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. Loving other people and things more than God and loving yourself more than your neighbor. And Paul points out in Romans chapter 1 that we don’t just stay in a static state of having our affections and emotions pointed at wrong things, but that heart state leads us into all kinds of things which dishonor God and degrade us.
What does Jesus say to those who have a bunch of sin and are willing to acknowledge it?
Here are three episodes from Jesus life which illustrate the answer to this question.
John 8:1-11 What is the message to a person who is caught and exposed in their sin, and won’t run from it or its consequences? “Forgiveness. You won’t bear the penalty of your sin (death). Leave your sin behind.”
John 4:16-26, 39-42 What is the message to a person who God calls out, shows them that he knows all their sin, and that they can’t hide it–and, they’re willing to acknowledge that he’s right? “You can be truly known and truly loved. He will accept you if you acknowledge that his assessment of you is correct.”
Matthew 9:9-13 What is the message for people like those who came to Matthew’s party? If people see their need and are willing to be defined by him as sick and sinful, he will be their soul physician. But, if people claim not to need his healing, or they reject his assessment of their state, he says that he didn’t come for them. As in the other examples…
What does Jesus say to those who disagree? What if people just think this message doesn’t apply to them? Here are three episodes which illustrate Jesus’ response:
John 8:31-36 If people claimed they were free without him, he disagreed. They were not free unless they followed his teachings. And he refused his freeing power to them.
John 9:39-41 If people claimed they could know things and “see” without knowing him, he disagreed. If they claimed to “see” things differently than him, he said they were blind. So the main issue is their need for him. (“In order for God’s grace on sin to be grace on sin, it must uncover sin, but the person who resists this uncovering of their sin binds himself to sin in a new, more defining way.”) He refused his soul-healing power to them.
John 5:39-40 If someone isn’t willing to come to Jesus to get eternal life, then they don’t have eternal life.
Summing it up & Moving forward:
- Jesus assumes that people are fundamentally in disagreement with him when they meet his message: They are currently guilty of sin, which makes them in rebellion against God’s kingdom, unable to have any real connection to God, under the domination of sin and dark spiritual powers, and spiritually dead, without any eternal life. We must know this, and find ways of communicating this to our friends. We need to get very clear on what sin is how we oppose God. The issue is not, are they nice, are they moral, do they feel like they need this message? The message is: You do need this, everyone needs this.
- If someone disagrees with Jesus on this point, he disagrees with them. He resists them, and his basic response is, “then you don’t get what I have to offer.” We have to know the basic promises the gospel holds (forgiveness, freedom, eternal life, God’s kingdom) and find ways of communicating the tragedy of missing those.
If someone says: “God’s cool with me the way I am.” The response of Jesus is something like, God loves you, but you oppose him. In your opposition to him you’ve created a situation where he opposes you now too. He offers you an eternal pardon through what Jesus did by dying on your behalf and rising again, but you may oppose that too and make your opposition to him last forever.
- If someone agrees with Jesus and wants to follow him, he accepts them, no matter what their issues were. So when he says, “Believe in me,” part of what he means is, “believe what I say about you.” Do we find Jesus trustworthy? We must be able to mix with, communicate with, befriend, and persevere in loving all kinds of people, with all kinds of issues.We must communicate God’s free acceptance to any and all who admit their need and want his love. We should be on the lookout for people who are in this state. And we should be ready hang with people God puts in our lives who don’t see this yet long enough that if and when they do come to see their need, we’re there for them to point them to Jesus again.
- So we might say that our message is something like: Even though we’re sinners who deserve to be excluded from God’s eternal kingdom of good, he’s giving us full forgiveness because of what Jesus did. Jesus came to save sinners! Accept it! And find life!