Thursday, May 08, 2014

Do You Believe Bad Good-News?

The Christians relationship with God is founded on the gospel.  Gospel literally means "good news."  Our relationship with Jesus (and our very being!) is contingent on this good news.  How well we embrace this good news determines, in large part, how mature we are as believers.  Without this good news, our lives as Christians come apart at the seams.  One major part of the ministry of any church is helping members know and believe this good news so that they can know God more deeply and therefore have life that is truly life.  

Here's the problem:  most of us don't really believe the gospel... at least not fully.  Many many times we become suckers for substitute fake gospels, bad versions of the good-news.  Keep in mind, I am not talking about some people "out there."  I'm talking about you, the guy or gal reading this right now.  And I'm talking about me, the guy writing this article.

The first step, as best as I can tell, in dealing with these false gospels is to identify them, asking God to show us.  How do we do this?  Read on.  

In their book How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp, identify seven common Christian substitutes for Jesus.  These are things, though they are not necessarily bad in themselves, but can easily become a substitute for the gospel.  Which of these do you tend towards?  Which one do you thin you're falling into right now?

1. Formalism is the outward observance of religious practice, without a changed heart and without a changed day-to-day life.  "Formalism is blind to the seriousness of my spiritual condition and my constant need for God's grace to rescue me...  [A formalist] sees church participation simply as one healthy aspect of a good life.  He has no noticeable hunger for God's help in any other area.  For him, the gospel is reduced to participation in meetings and ministries of the church."  

2. Legalism is similar to formalism, but with this added twist: a legalist thinks that various religious observances are the basis of his or her relationship with God.  You would think the legalist would have a harsher view of God, but the reality is that the legalist's god is only harsh toward the sins they don't struggle to commit.  The legalist substitutes the real Jesus for a Jesus who agrees with them all the time.  The legalist substitutes the real gospel, for a gospel where we remain completely in control.  The legalist forgets about sin and grace.  

3.Mysticism is the seeking of an experience with God.  Again, just like rules and just like forms, experiences with God aren't bad things, but when the experience becomes more important than God Himself, we've fallen into an idolatrous mysticism.  The idolatrous mystic "reduces the gospel to dynamic emotional and spiritual experiences."  Jesus gets replaced with the god of desire.  This is akin to lust.   In lust, a man seeks a woman to satisfy his desires, but, as C.S. Lewis points out, he is not really seeking a woman.  The woman is only the "apparatus" through which he pursues his desires.  Similarly, idolatrous mysticism uses God to get good feelings.  

4. Activism is defines being a Christian by activity, especially service and working for community change.  But the problem is that we don't serve a cause but a King, a Person.  And the real gospel tells us that the greatest problems we know (sin) is inside us.  "Whenever you believe that the evil outside you is greater than the evil inside you, a heartfelt pursuit of Christ will be replaced by a zealous fighting of the 'evil' around you."  Activism reduces the gospel to Christian causes.  

5. Biblicism replaces "communion, dependency, and worship of Christ" with a "drive to master the content of Scripture and systematic theology."  Biblicism seeks to make the good news about memorizing and mastering a set of knowledge, rather than a changed heart and deepened love for God and neighbor.  

6. "Psychology-ism" reduces the gospel to healing emotional hurts, rather than bringing forgiveness and repentance from sins.  Again, healing from emotional hurts is a good thing, but when it becomes the ultimate thing, we have substituted the gospel.  The real gospel sees our main problem as moral and relational, psychology-ism sees our main problem as unmet needs.  "But whenever you view the sin of another against you as a greater problem than your own sin, you will tend to seek Christ as your therapist more than you seek him as your Savior."  

7. "Social-ism" is when we make fellowship, acceptance, respect and position within the Church the reason for being a part of the Church.  This fake gospel says that when we have fulfilling relationships in the church, close friendships, we are getting what Jesus has offered us in the gospel.  Again, it is not that fulfilling relationships are a good thing that we often find in the Church, but there is always the danger of confusing the Church with the Savior.  This is because so much of what we experience as communion with Jesus comes in the context of the life of Church.  But as important as that is, we also have person and individual closeness and communion with Jesus.  Jesus forgives our own sins.   We individually respond to him with thanksgiving and love.  

Tom Bost

Senior Pastor/Rector
Church of the Good Shepherd 

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