A God Centred Gospel
by Brian L. Watts
|In the Beginning, God||
In the Beginning...God
In the Mess...Man
In the End...God
The goal of much modern evangelism seems to be to get people to heaven. In this view, life is perceived to be something like a Monopoly game. The dream card is "Advance to Go"- avoid the hassle of the journey and pick up the money. Getting to "Go" or heaven is seen to be the ultimate objective. But are the needs of man and the goal of heaven the proper starting and finishing points of the gospel?
The first brick should not be man's desires, but God's. God is the author of creation itself, and everything that happens in the created order must also start with Him. Anything that does not start with God is idolatrous and false. Christ, the image of the invisible God, is before all things; in him all things hold together (Col 1:15-17). Anything which cannot measure up to this acid test is a "different gospel."
This has practical implications. It means that the plan of salvation must have originated with God. It was not an afterthought, a late reaction to the unfortunate development of sin in the world. No, the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world, and we were chosen in Him before the creation of the world.
The fact that salvation starts with God (rather than man) does not mean that human beings are devoid of responsibility in a mechanistic system. But human responsibility is just that: the ability to make a response. A responder is not an initiator; he is responding to that which is prior to him. My part in my salvation is but a response - a response to God's prior decree and His initiative in giving me new life and the ability to reach out to Him. As I respond by calling on the name of the Lord, I find that I am saved. Any other starting point will lead to an undue emphasis on man. Evangelism will be filled with human techniques which are calculated to achieve a human response - but which may bear little relation to God's eternal purpose. To believe that my salvation ultimately depends on me, and that the salvation of others depends ultimately on people like me, is a huge burden. The Bible makes it clear that this is truly "Mission Impossible." Mission only becomes possible when its starting point is God. According to Paul, before we are Christians, we are dead in trespasses and sins. We come to a place of faith as we hear the Gospel preached. He further describes preaching as foolishness. What a hopeless scenario: foolish preaching addressed to dead corpses! It does not mean that we do not preach, nor that corpses don't hear - but it throws us back on God without whom nothing can happen.
God comes first. Man cannot demand that God's responsibility is to meet man's needs. Man is a responder, and he has no option but to respond to a holy God, for that is how God primarily reveals himself to man. That holiness manifests itself in one of two ways: wrath or blessing, depending on the state of the one standing before God. To the angels who cried "Holy" in the perfection of their heavenly state, God's holiness was a wonderful blessing. To Isaiah in the same instance it was a source of woe because of his unclean lips. We stand unclean before God, dependent on his grace to change us so that His holiness can express itself in blessing toward us.
But we cannot demand salvation. God, being prior, is the one who makes demands. He commands all men everywhere to repent. We cannot even offer ourselves to him as somehow useful in His service. We stand before Him as sinners, depraved in every part of our lives with nothing in our hands to bring.
The rich young ruler had to discover this. He came to Jesus wanting to know what to do to inherit eternal life. Evangelists dream of having people come to them with that question. We all know the answer to it. Bright young students in Evangelism 101 could be let loose on this man without fear of failure.
But Jesus followed none of our evangelism manuals. He confronted the only man who asked him "What must I do?" with the law, not with grace. Why? Because grace is given to the humble; God resists the proud. Only when we have been humbled in our sinfulness can we become recipients of grace. The law is given to silence our boasting (Rom 3:19). It shows that we can bring nothing to Him but the affront of our sin.
A God-centred gospel produces converts who will endure. If men respond to the gospel because they are hoping for a good life, when tribulation comes, the gospel will be easy to leave behind. If their response is based on an awareness that they are fleeing from the wrath to come, no trouble on earth will deflect them from their goal of salvation. The issue is sin, not happiness.
God, who is before all things, is also the end of all things. The ultimate goal is His glory; our eternal happiness is but a wonderful by-product of His love and grace.
The prospect of eternity in His presence is awesome. The nature of our heavenly existence is largely a mystery, though the Bible gives us enough references to responsibility and service to explode the myth of clouds and harps. What is clearly revealed is God's desire to see his glory manifested in the earth. We could say that the goal is not so much to get us to heaven as to get heaven to us. Heaven is where God is. He desires to dwell with us. Dennis Peacocke has said that it is a profound irony that while God made the supreme sacrifice of sending His Son to bring salvation to the earth, we spend our lives hoping to get off the planet. This is certainly contrary to Jesus' desire, for he specifically prayed that we would not be taken from the world but preserved in it (John 17:15). He loves the world; it is the sphere of all His redemptive purposes.
The end of time culminates in the Son bringing all the created order into subjection to himself, presenting it to the Father so that God may be all in all. What lies beyond the culmination of time remains a mystery. All that we know is that our involvement in history is God's preparation for our role in eternity. History has a revealed end in view. Our responsibility is to work toward that end. Our goal should be to see God glorified in the world. Our prayer is "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven....For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."