I have heard evangelicals say that Christians should focus on the gospel – other concerns should be forgotten for the sake of the gospel. Others say the church should focus on both the gospel message and Christian actions like feeding the hungry, helping the abused, etc.
What if the gospel looks different from what we have been taught? If they are both right about a single-minded gospel focus, and about helping those who need it? What if the gospel actually includes, among others, feeding the hungry and helping the abused?
As a young evangelical, I attended classes where I learned to “witness.” What that actually means, is that I was taught a formula to repeat to others:
1) God made you perfect
2) You sinned – it messed up your relationship with God and you should be punished.
3) Jesus was punished in your place
4) Accept Jesus so you won’t be punished, but go to heaven instead.
I don’t disagree with any word in that. But the fallen nature of man don’t just mean that I do wrong in God’s eyes, and need to be forgiven.
It also means that others are doing wrong against me, and I need a God who promises to dry every tear.
It means that I do wrong against others, and I need a God that can change me from the inside.
It means that the earth is full of pain and problems – illness, natural disasters, human error, even when no direct sin is involved, and the earth is waiting for salvation too.
As such, I propose a gospel that looks more like this:
1) Instead of “God made you perfect”, “God made everyone and everything perfect”.
God had a whole creation to relate to, but it seems only one class of being – humanity – could love God back.
2) Instead of “you sinned – it messed up your relationship with God” “Everyone sinned. It messed up everything.”
Sin messed up your relationship with God. It messed up other people’s relationships with God. (The red wavy line in the picture stands for a messed-up relationship.)
It also messed up relationships between each other: Your sin influences your relationships, and other people’s sin against you influences your relationships – firstly relationships with the person whom you sinned against/ who sinned against you, and indirectly messing with other relationships.
Other people’s sin against you causes you pain and tears. Your sin against others causes them pain and tears. (Divorce, arguments, unfaithfulness, back-stabbing, rape, murder, assault…)
Sin (both of others and yourself) damages even your relationship with yourself. It could lead to self-hate and self-harming, suicide, or simply no desire to take care of the self.
Sin indirectly causes even the planet to be cursed. (“Thorns and thistles”, droughts and floods, ilness, pollution…)
Then, God stepped in, in the form of Jesus, to solve the problem which causes so much unhappiness.
3) Instead of “Jesus was punished for your sin”, “Jesus came to solve the whole sin problem.” (Not just yours, not only on the cross.)
Your relationship with God? You can be forgiven. Your relationship with others? Jesus can make you new, and them new, so you and them can stop hurting one another. Jesus can heal your pain and hate and self-hate.
Even our planet itself is eager to see the revealing of the children of God. (Rom 8:19)
“Let your will come on earth as in heaven” is about God – and us working with God – solving not only the sin problem but all the tears and brokenness caused by it.
4) Accept Jesus, because his plan is good and right and saves from the effects of sin, creating a world where God (who is the Good, the Wise, who is Love personified) is in all. (1 Cor 15:28)
Jesus came not only to take the punishment and forgive sin (2Cor 5:21; 1Jn 1:9), but also:
> To proclaim that his kingdom should come on earth (Lk 10:9 & 11:2) and within us.(Lk 17:20-21)
> To set an example of the kind of life we should live. (Heb 12:3; 1 Jn 2:6)
> To make right our relationship with Him. (Eph 2:18; Col 1:21)
> To make people new from the inside, so they can participate in His justice, mercy, and healing.(2 Cor 5:17; Col 3:10)
> To beat death – to die and come back to live Himself, to beat Satan by that. (Heb 2:14-15; 1Jn 3:8b)
> To make the whole earth new. (Rom 8:19, Col 1:20)
> To wipe every tear, to bring healing. (Lk 4:18; Rev 21:4)
There are certainly some more, but this is enough to get the picture that the gospel has real-world implications:
If God wants and enables you – with the forgiveness and healing of Jesus – to live right and bring healing, it means you will help those who were treated badly. The gospel tells you how to treat the hungry, the marginalized, the person who is bossed around because she is a woman, the poor person who needs medical help, the environment, the immigrant, the criminal who needs a second chance, the person who never had a first chance. It tells you how to think about racism, sexism and ableism.
Pure religion is “helping widows and orphans and keeping pure” (Jas 1:27), in the power of Christ. Social justice is not an add-on after you got the gospel right: It is part of the gospel. The gospel is not only about repairing your relationship with God, but also repairing relationship between yourself and others, people and the earth, other people to one another and God. It is about establishing God’s kingdom of justice and mercy on earth, as it is in heaven.
It is being plugged in to the God who is justice and love and truth – with the justice and love and truth overflowing to others and to the world. Conversion is not saying a rote prayer, but aligning your will and plans with the One who is bringing this great kingdom.