The Easter Gospel – Is it an Appeal?

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During the past month or so we have been investigating the law of God in the area of the family. How does God say a family functions? The family is an institution of the kingdom of God here on the earth “beneath us,” a responsibility given to us as we rule for Jesus Christ over the earth. The kingdom runs based on this law of God that we find in the Bible.

However, without the kingdom’s fraternal twin brother—the gospel—our relationship with God that lies ”above us,” the kingdom twin becomes useless, even counter-productive or destructive. I am sensing that after 6-8 weeks of the kingdom twin hogging the stage, although his part is very important (the twins are co-stars!), the audience is desperately missing his twin! 

This is the perfect season to remedy that. As I write this, tomorrow is Good Friday. Even though in the last posting I promised a continuation of the kingdom twin’s time in the limelight, we are going to give him a breather.

Who is this gospel twin, from whom we have heard little these past weeks, and who made his dramatic first appearance on the world stage on this weekend almost 2000 years ago? 

The customary view of the gospel is that it is an APPEAL for us to choose to enter into a relationship with God. We learn the history and the facts of the Christian faith—what Jesus did and taught during His life on the earth, the significance of those deeds and teachings, and then how they affect us and our eternal destiny. Then we are encouraged to choose to believe what we have learned and commit ourselves to living in light of that choice. 

This is not only the method of gospel presentation to those who sit in church pews on Sunday, but this is also generally the method of preparing for the ministry in seminary. The Bible, as the source of this information, is studied diligently in its original languages, and evidence is examined that overwhelmingly indicates Christianity to be true. 

Then these trained ministers relay what they have learned and are continuing to learn about the validity of the Christian faith to those of us who are in their churches. Subsequently, we teach this information to our children. The result of this approach is that we transfer what we have chosen to believe from generation to generation.

This teaching includes all the great doctrines of the Christian faith—the divinity of Christ, the sinfulness of man, the efficacy of Christ’s death on the cross for sin, maybe even the five points of Calvinism, or whatever the distinctives of one’s particular theological system may be.

The characteristic of this approach to the gospel is that its bottom line is the preservation of our free will, our ability to choose, even if it is to choose not to believe in free-will! I am asked to make a decision to believe, to renounce unbelief and exercise my will to choose to believe, because Christianity is more logical and reasonable than unbelief. I have changed what I believe, but not how I believe it!

Do you see that this is still eating the fruit from the forbidden tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, even though I am choosing “good fruit” and not “bad fruit?” I am still operating by choosing between right and wrong, good or bad; still functioning in terms of the holy, righteous law of God—a method of operation that is for the Judge of all the earth alone, and not for man.

The gospel includes our death on the cross in Christ, but our flesh, all that we were in Adam, still remains in our sinful bodies. It desperately does not want to die. It fights to preserve its life, to be as God, to decide right and wrong, to continue to defend its right to choose—its free will—and then it defends to the death the soundness or correctness of its choice. This, of course, is nothing more than living by the law—choosing for myself what I deem to be right. 

Free will is the last, impregnable bastion of the flesh. Earnest Christians will fight to preserve it, because “I’m not a puppet, am I?” The true gospel means death for the flesh, but living by the law, by my freedom to choose between good and evil, requires that the flesh remain alive. After all, I have the responsibility to make “good” choices, both initially and continuously and not “bad” ones, don’t I? This necessity to continue to live as Adam did, by choosing, is nothing more than a subtle effort by the flesh to participate in its own salvation, therefore making remaining alive a prerequisite. It means that it can avoid that painful, ugly, old cross.

If the gospel really is an appeal, then my flesh, though definitively crucified, continues to thrive in my body because it has an important part to play in my salvation.  It must be alive in order for me to choose by exercising my free will. Free will is in the domain of the flesh, in the realm of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, so I can’t “die daily,” or “take up my cross” daily. I have to still be able to choose. 

I may, of course, ironically, choose to believe intellectually that I am a totally depraved sinner unable to choose, saved totally by grace, but that belief is “outside me,” somehow always at arms length, a philosophy, an intellectual curiosity only, that has nothing to do with how I really live, as I continue to choose what I believe. 

In other words, I don’t see myself as a sinner in actual practice, only in theory. “All have turned away from God; they have all gone wrong; no one does what is right, not even one” (Romans 3:12). I have a vested interest in seeing myself as “good” because of my good choices. It is difficult for me to see myself as one whose thoughts are only evil continually. 

This blindness expresses itself in innumerable ways. Disagreements and conflicts are always someone else’s fault. I am defensive when someone speaks the truth in love to me. I am more concerned about the sins of others than I am about my own. In real life I preserve, protect, defend, excuse and promote myself. I love to talk about myself and my family and subtly tell you of my great accomplishments and those of my children.  “That’s nothing, listen to what I’ve done!” is continually in my heart, if not on my lips.

These are evidences that my flesh wants to stay alive at all costs. In practice, I do everything in my power to practically evade the cross that will kill me, eliminating my right to choose, even as I quote Bible verses about total depravity, salvation by grace alone, and taking up my cross and —following Jesus.

The gospel as presented in the church today is often based on this appeal—an appeal to choose to change my view of Jesus, to decide to believe in Him, surrender my will to Him and become a Christian—which means, then, continuing to decide for Him as a way of life. The Christian life becomes a series of choices; you either decide to do what’s right or you do not—to do what’s good or bad. 

In other words, we live by the law. What began as an appeal to choose to believe continues as an appeal to choose to live rightly, and the flesh continues to avoid the cross—to live on as a self-righteous Pharisee if one sees himself as making good choices, and a discouraged, defeated Christian or even a rebellious one if he is not able to do so.

Next week we will look at the gospel as an ANNOUNCEMENT or a PROCLAMATION of what Jesus did, instead of an appeal. The difference is life-changing!

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