“You talk a whole lot about Jesus,” an interviewer said to me. I was glad to hear this remark, for talking “a whole lot about Jesus” is my intention. He continued, “But when are you going to talk about the gospel?” That is when my face fell like ice-cream sliding off a cone. I couldn’t give him an answer, because for me, Jesus himself is the good news of the Christian gospel.
Just what was it that my interviewer wanted to hear that he considered “the gospel”? I think (this is my best guess) that he wanted me to use my pen and platform to give some type of revivalistic altar-call. I think he wanted me to talk exclusively about how we get to go to heaven when we die. That was his definition of “the gospel.”
I’m guilty of serious oversimplification here I know, but for many believers, the gospel is a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. It is a heavenly bus that carries the beloved over the horizon of death into glory-land, and Jesus is reduced to being the bus driver or the ticket agent.
Now, hold your fire (and your fiery emails); I’m not saying there are no pearly gates or that there is no heavenly dimension to the gospel. I’m just saying there is more to it than that. The gospel is more than an insurance policy whereby one has to die to enjoy its benefits. The gospel is for today as well.
The good news that Jesus proclaimed in the deserts of Palestine was not one that simply got people into heaven; it was one that got heaven into people. “Do you want to go to heaven when you die” was not his invitation. His invitation was “The kingdom of God is at hand. Follow me.”
It is awfully easy for we who are Christians to get distracted from this, but Jesus did not say “Follow a particular church denomination, pastor, or preacher.” He did not say, “Read the Romans-Roads, walk the revival aisle, and pray the pre-printed, scripted prayer.” He did not say, “Memorize the Creeds and go to Sunday School or attend Catechism.” He said, “Follow me.”
The essence of Christianity is not the baking of our pies-in-the-sky or some hoped-for rescue lest we are Left Behind.™ Its core is not the Ten Commandments, the New Testament, or the interpretations of today’s Christian leaders. The crux of Christianity is Christ. All these others things – well-intended as they may be – should point us to him, not distract us from truly following him.
Think of it like this: When I was young I had a little Brittany Spaniel named Max. Max was loving, energetic, smart, and apparently suffered from Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder. He was so excitable and eager he couldn’t stay focused on anything. He probably would have benefited from some doggie-Adderall.
What I remember most about Max (and your dog may do this too) is what happened whenever I tried to teach him a new trick. Say I threw a ball for Max to retrieve. What was he doing at the time? Not paying attention; no, Max was chasing a butterfly or eyeballing the neighbor’s cat, or in the split second it took to throw the ball he had gnawed the tires off my dad’s car. He was always distracted.
I would go over to him and point at the ball, knowing, that if he would just see it – just once – he would go get it. “Max, get the ball!!!” I would say, and then I would wildly shake and point in that general direction. But where would Max look? Exasperatingly, he would always look at the end of my finger, and never get an eye on the ball.
Let’s not lose sight of what is most important. If we are focused on anything except Christ, then we are focused on the end of the finger. Look beyond these pointers to the One who is the beginning and end of our faith. Look to the One who is the very definition of the gospel.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.