So, a good friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an article about the remake of the Left Behind movie. The review was as good as I could have hoped when a desire is made by Hollywood to remake a “Christian classic” so that people in the movie industry can line their pockets. You can find the review here.
That said, it brought up something that I’ve often talked about and thought it was a real thing but, it appears, it is not. I speak of the “apology gospel” or the “gospel of apology”. See, the crux of the first movie (you’ve seen it, right?) is when the lead role comes to faith in Christ. If you’ve read any of my posts you know how I feel about this and that it’s important that people understand what they’re saying when they say they have faith in Christ. Jesus himself placed a lot of emphasis on this in Luke 14:20-30, where he makes the point that no one jumps into something without first counting the cost to see whether or not they can complete what’s before them. People who do so are, in the eyes of the creator of all eternity, unworthy to enter into his rest.
So, what is this “apology gospel” then? I know you’ve all heard this. It starts off as a great conversation about Jesus or a great sermon about any number of topics but at the end there’s a bit of an odd transition, and you can see that everything before was all fluff – filler to get to the point. They say that Jesus is the son of God and that is important for you to know. They say that there are these things called “sins” and that everyone has committed them, and then apologize for having to tell you this, but you (even YOU) have maybe committed one of them as well. Maybe. Probably. BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS! See, Jesus represents his Dad and has come here to save you from him. And there are some great benefits to this as well! See, he can fix your marriage. Financial woes? Man, we used to drive an old beater, but now we have a new Lexus! You know how my wife, Nancy, had that horrible accident, or you know how Joan couldn’t have kids? Now that she’s found Jesus my wife is all better, and Joan now has 7 kids! Praise God! So, would you, you know, consider Jesus too? He’s just up in heaven right now, waiting for you to choose him over porn, or that movie with an “r” rating, or, I don’t know, Pepsi. All you have to do is to close your eyes and follow along with this prayer thing. What? You don’t want to say it? That’s alright, just listen to what I say and “really mean it” and squeeze my hand, or raise your hand, or wink your eye for Jesus. That’ll be his cue and he’ll rush in the door to your heart and you’ll be a Christian forever! Yay Jesus!
Those references? Heard them all. The Lexus one? Yup. The sickness one? Totally. Even the one about being barren. All of the “wink your eye” or “squeeze/raise your hand” as well. It’s all well and good, and churches, and even people, have little notches in their mind that they carve out to show how many people they’ve “brought to the Lord”, but it’s all for nothing. Absolutely nothing. Remember what I said before about Jesus and “counting the cost”? Every one but one of Jesus followers were murdered for their belief. Murdered. Their families were bereft of them because of their belief. John, the only one who didn’t die that way, had been placed inside a cauldron of boiling oil and emerged unharmed, so they banished him to an island to stop him from talking to people about Jesus. Further converts were dipped in wax and set on fire to burn alive at parties for the Roman emperor. Many were tossed to the lions or simply murdered in the street. Even today we have Christians in other countries who are murdered for their faith, stalwart defenders of their belief in Christ, even to death. Children of Christians are raped and murdered, their Christian parents crucified after watching their children violated before their eyes. Yet none of them recant their faith. This is pretty far from the “daddy got a new Lexus” and “every day is a Friday” mentality of the common American gospel of apology mentioned above. So, what is this message by which we have to count the cost of our discipleship, understanding that those who “put their hand to the plow and turns back are unworthy of the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62)”.
The word “gospel” means “good news”. While it could be “good news” to have a new Lexus, that really means less than nothing in the grand scheme of God’s design. This goes all the way back to the Garden, where life first erupted on this planet of ours. God created the entire universe for the purpose of displaying his communicable attributes like longsuffering, mercy, and grace. He created everything and it was “very good”. The only thing that wasn’t very good was that man was alone. He created for him a helper, out of his side. He was incomplete without her and she without him. They worked together in union to glorify God. They then broke God’s only rule at the time and ushered in an entire history of pain, disappointment, and death. Pain in that we all equally share in the knowledge that we cannot ever please God on our own anymore. Disappointment in that we all know that what we see here is a fraction of the perfection that was available before the fall. And death since the consequence for sin (violation of God’s commandments), the just due for our crimes before him, is death. God, being perfect and the creator of all things, has the authority to define the rules and we, his creation, are to follow them. We have free will and choose of our own volition to disobey, though it’s not that we can even do it on our own, because our very nature – the who and what we are – leads us to divorce ourselves from dependence on him.
God, knowing this, promised to Eve, our first mother, that he would send a savior to save us from His wrath. He required that we have faith in him that this savior would come, and that we do our best to follow his commandments, but that it is the faith that God not only will send a savior but that he would be sufficient to exonerate us from our sins before him that is the main thing. Days turned into weeks, weeks into years, years into centuries. Things got so bad at one point that God erased the history of the Earth that was in a flood, destroying and burying all life outside of those whom he chose to save in the Ark.
Life began again, and, as before, people started off well and quickly went after their own desires despite what they had just witnessed God do to the world. People had families, families begot cities, cities begot nations, nations begot kings and monuments. God, again, chose a fledgling nation so he could showcase his glory through them. Promised people beyond number but the founding father of this nation never saw any of this develop outside of a life in the wilderness, where the only land he owned was where he buried his wife, despite having been shown the land that his descendants would inhabit. He had 2 sons, one because he was frustrated that God didn’t act when he wanted him to, and the second was the child that God had promised to him. His son, likewise, had two sons – not exactly the grand nation that was promised, but he, as did his father, had faith. His second son had 12 sons and they entered Egypt shortly before his death. Those 12 sons had their own children which begat more and more until the number reached about 2M at the end of 400 years. Then God stepped in and brought them into their own land through more miracles and promises fulfilled. Just as before, they fell back into old habits. New laws were given and broken, promises and covenants were made and within a generation merely forgotten. No one, it seemed, would care about the God who had saved them so many times before. Eventually they were even completely removed from their capital city and it was razed, though, as he had promised, he kept a few who trusted in him who were able to inhabit the land but their sovereign nation was removed.
Then 400 years of silence.
Suddenly a star, a birth to a young teenage couple, and a promise is fulfilled. God has entered the universe as a man. Jesus is born to this couple, is raised in relative obscurity, living among the people he intends to save. He sees their pain, feels their loves and experiences their disappointments. He eventually begins his ministry with the same message as was relayed in the garden, “Repent and believe” but now starts with something new “for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”. No more prophets, no more confusing messages, God himself is here to proclaim the good news. God is going to take the punishment that we deserve for our sins. God, acknowledging our inability to save ourselves, has revealed that his plan was to do it for us, on our behalf. His authority is challenged and, as we do with all things we don’t understand or that threatens our power, we murdered him. The only good person to ever walk the earth and we murder him because we’re afraid of his message. God uses this, knowing that it would happen (he spoke about his impending crucifixion numerous times before his eventual arrest and conviction), used it to not only show what he had said was true, but in his resurrection, confirmed to all that the sin debt of all who trust in him have their sins likewise forgiven through him.
That is the gospel. That no matter what you’ve done in your life, you will never, ever be able to meet God’s holy standard (never lie, never steal, always trust that God will give you want you need, never look at another person to whom you’re not married with lustful intent, always keep God at the forefront of your mind, never trust in something else to meet all of your needs, etc), so he took it upon himself to do it for you, and in the end all you need to do is to trust that he has done so.
Wait, isn’t there some magic formula? Where’s that sinner’s prayer? I can tell you this, it’s nowhere in the Bible. God never gave us a specific way to pray because he knows our hearts, that we’ll turn it into an idol and worship it. Have you ever been to a Southern Baptist revival? It’d be a lot like that. John Calvin was dead on with that – that our hearts are factories for idols. See, it’s not about the method but the intent. In trusting in Christ we’re admitting a lot of things here. We’re admitting that God exists and that he has not only an interest in our lives but wants to be directly involved. We admit that everything we know about the universe is wrong. We admit that we are incapable of determining the right path for our lives, but are instead are dependent on an outside force to direct us and to determine that for us. We freely acknowledge our own sinfulness and that we are untrustworthy, even to ourselves. We also admit that we are the worst judge of others since we can’t even be certain of our own intent most of the time. But the end of it all – knowing that this is the cost for admission, we clearly understand that it is not us who keep ourselves in his good graces but him alone who holds onto us. Even when we sin. Even when we do horrible, stupid things, he holds onto us. That’s how we can handle losing family members, and children, and cancer, and death, and accidents, and shootings, and natural disasters, and on, and on. Because Jesus endured this as well, and overcame them all. It’s not about tricking someone into saying some stupid speech or squeezing your hand for Jesus, it’s about knowing the creator of the universe, knowing that he suffered in ways we could never imagine, all for his love for us, and us living our lives in a manner where we try to bring him glory. We read his word because we know he wants us to know about himself, and we learn about who he is through what he’s shared with us. We love other people who hate us or our message, not because it’s a way to be better than them, but so that we can extend to them the same love that God extended to us. We tell people about Jesus, not to get another notch in our belt of glory, but because we were as they are, lost and confused – blind to their own sinfulness and seeking to justify themselves, and we want to show them that, despite their often angry and spiteful retorts, God loves them through us, and wants to save them from their own body of death. That is the gospel.
All this false gospel of apology does is to create people who think they’re saved but inoculated from hearing more about it because “they’re good” and they “did that”. It creates a whole army of people who never really trusted in Jesus outside of participating in American Religiosity who say that they were “Christians” but who are now atheists or Hindu or any other thing. They have no need for repentance because they believed the lie that their acceptance of a false message about Jesus bought them into the body of Christ. As Paul said, though, those who have left us reveal that they were never part of us to begin with. Why not? Because we are secure in Christ because of Christ. He will allow us to falter and even to fall from grace in the eyes of others (and in some cases, ourselves), but only to show us our dependence on him and never release us from our salvation within him. What a sad world we live in where this needs to be hidden behind an wall of idols to make people want to come in.
It breaks my heart.