The Church Needs Hope & Gospel of Hope
The Elephant Gospel Chapter 6 &7 below:
The Church Needs Hope
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:13, NET)
“There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” Morpheus, The Matrix
Many things are possible for the person who has hope. Even more is possible for the person who has faith. And still more is possible for the person who knows how to love. But everything is possible for the person who practices all three virtues. (Brother Lawrence)
Today I received two phone calls, both from close friends. The first caller shared a prayer need for a man struggling with bisexuality and drug use. “This man is so easy to love,” she said.
I felt myself bristle and was surprised by my silent reaction. I asked myself and the Lord why.
As I learned more about the man, I discovered that he is open about his sin and knows it is sin, yet he continues in it. He is accepted, cared about, and loved by Christians who pray for him and tell him the true Gospel and the truth of its transforming power. Committed Christians, sold out to the great salvation they have experienced, are ministering to him and allowing him to confess his sins to them—without judging him. (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15; Matthew 7:1; Romans 14:13.) They hold him accountable, confront him in love, discipline but do not reject or attack his character. Instead, they show Him Christ’s grace and kindness, which often lead to true repentance.
“This young man would not step foot in a conventional church,” my friend told me. “He knows his shame and would not venture where more shame would be given. He wants his freedom, so he has made the personal decision to just leave his sin at the cross. I'm thankful too that there are places for him to go and not receive condemnation, but rather truth and a way to freedom.”
I realized that I felt jealous. I have rarely, if ever, had this kind of love in the Christian community. In fact, more than one pastor has wounded me greatly in my process of trying to get spiritual help when I shared my history. Even though I had cleaned up, was no longer living that way and was trying to serve God, I was often rejected, treated as an outcast, and hurt deeply once my past was known. I have renounced my sexual sins and am living as close to Christ as I know how—but still I have been unaccepted by most in the church. Those shackles: “Why am I not lovable? What is wrong with me? Where is God?” try to return. It takes effort to have my identity in Christ, the Gospel and love of God be my standard instead of the way people treat me.
I still have the fleshly tendency to tell myself I am better than that bisexual young man, because I have been living a pure life. After prayer and further reflection, however, I decided to rejoice that the Gospel of hope and truthful, unconditional love is being lived out to this young man. My prayer is that he will be so overcome by the love of Christ and the love of Christ’s followers, that he will allow the Holy Spirit to break the shackle of his same-sex attraction.
The second phone call was a dear friend on missionary assignment. She said that she had shared with her mission co-workers a copy of the newspaper editorial she felt led to write years ago that gave testimony of her abortion.
Her fellow missionaries received and loved her. I rejoiced at how they are living the Gospel in response to her. I remembered when she shared the rejection, the shunning, and the outright meanness she experienced from many in the so-called Christian community after this editorial came out initially. She was treated like a leper. Now though, I praised God for the love these other missionaries had shown her.
True Gospel-living Christians exist! They are the ones who embrace the sinner, but speak out against the sin only as the Holy Spirit leads. Tragically, there are many that have been hurt by legalism in the church, or those who speak out in hatred but somehow “on God’s behalf.” The true church is supposed to be a hospital for the sin-sick, where they can find the answer for their sin and the power to overcome it.
For years some church leaders outright discouraged me from telling my story. I was told, “It is under the blood. Never speak of it again.” Believers who knew the extent of my story often treated me with what I perceived as judgment and contempt. I would suddenly be avoided, talked about, sneered at, held back, not allowed to teach, or completely ignored. Being invisible, feeling like I did not exist, was sometimes the worst rejection. This was my elephant stampede: my woundedness further trampled by those I was supposedly to have trusted.
My courage has been challenged as I have struggled to be received and accepted by the church. Telling “the world” how God has forgiven and transformed me has been much easier than telling my story to the “churched.”
I had wanted to be good so I would be loved. I did not fully realize that Christ loves me, even when I am bad—and that as His follower, I am to extend that same grace to others. Most of my life, I received conditional love and did not understand what unconditional love offers.
I developed a wrong perception about the church, too. I do love and respect every teacher I have ever had. I have been blessed by strong, mature, scholarly teachers. I recognize that my feelings of shame may have kept me from recognizing the love they offered. But it seemed that often they taught biblical love with their words, but I rarely felt accepted and loved by their actions.
I spent hours each day reading and meditating on God’s Word. I tried to share what I’d learned with excitement and—I’ll admit—sometimes with pride. Sadly. I worked to be accepted but rarely was, no matter how hard I did work! So in all this mess, even with my desire to do right and trying to do right, I was sometimes wrong. Feeling worthless but trying to prove myself was a lifestyle. It stunk.
I felt unaccepted, unloved, and inferior—repeating my childhood feelings without realizing it. And the more unaccepted I felt, the more worthlessness I sensed (real or not); these feelings fueled my efforts to try harder to be accepted and to be lovable. The harder I tried, the more pride I fought and the more rejection I received. It was a vicious cycle, yet I was unaware of it at the time. Looking back, I see my selfish role in those feelings of rejection. Performing for love is a trap and miserable pit. Wanting and waiting for others’ affirmations is a setup for disappointment and disillusionment. It could have led me to death by suicide had not the Lord kept me.
I finally became aware of and got sick of my own hypocrisy. I had not understood myself or what drove me for the longest time. I blamed the leaders of the church because they didn’t seem to love me unconditionally. I often felt more love from unbelievers.
During these long hours reading the Word, I came to know the Lord more closely, even if my motives were more selfish than not. Thankfully with Jesus I can be my true self, and He loves me unconditionally. If my heart condemns me, God is greater than my heart and knows all things (1 John 3:20). God showed me my part in the rejections and I repented. Repentance is a true gift!
The Church Needs Hope
Why does the church often respond badly to the confession of sin? There are scores like me and like my missionary friend who have either had an abortion or suffered abuse and its effects. Jesus restored people like us with gentleness, yet the church community often leaves us in our perpetual pain, rejecting us because of our past. I have done my own share of wounding others too! I am not out to bash the church. I am just as guilty.
Many of us, some without even realizing it, have often been brutal and unloving to large groups of people or individuals: the victims of elephants in the room. Many church members just don’t know how to deal with the people or issues seen as threatening to church life as we know it, things that “aren’t safe.” It is our sin of omission: we have not extended the Gospel or loved as Jesus loves. And what we omit or neglect or forget to do can be a trampling force that crushes the spirits of the shackled and the way they perceive the Body of Christ.
We as believers need to repent of our failure to make His true Gospel—a grace-based, love-oriented story of acceptance and transformation—our main message and lifestyle. We need to love, understand, be compassionate, serve, and get the word out to these millions that God is gracious and forgives. Our lives need to show we know Christ and His forgiveness and grace. The work of the cross brought forgiveness. The miracle of resurrection proved mercy triumphed over judgment.
We who were shackled elephants do not need to join the stampede. Those who may be realizing now that you are part of the stampede—could that, for you, be a shackle?
In my years, I have seen many churches that do not present the true Gospel and follow the Holy Spirit for living. I have observed some discouraging trends.
Many are not taught to understand the doctrine of depravity or the incredible solution found in the greatness of what Christ did for us.
Some are not taught to love Jesus or hear Him.
Most are taught rules to follow instead of a Savior to love.
Many are not taught the bare basics of the Gospel with a solid foundation.
A good number depend on “self” and not the Holy Spirit.
We are a mess, and we need a revolution of the true Gospel so we can worship in spirit and in truth. We need eyes to see as our Lord sees.
Hope for Victims of Sexual Abuse
What if we saw survivors of abuse the way God sees them?
Sexual abuse survivors need the body of Christ to come alongside and love them unconditionally, to minister the true Gospel of grace and connect them to the true love of Christ. They can know Christ and thrive with His Spirit. They need to know that there will be an eternal vindication and justice. God knows and will respond. There are great needs during recovery. Healing happens when we learn and apply the real Gospel.
By following Christ we replace lies with truth, choose forgiveness and love (the cross), and follow the ways of Christ. Gospel becomes our very lives and recovery. Unloving, judgmental stances that are inconsistent with the true love of Christ hinder salvation, recovery, and freedom. If the church does not return to Christ and His true Gospel, upholding His word, our testimony may be lost.
New Creation and Bridge Builder
Only the Spirit of God convicts a soul. We are to pray and to speak truth in love. We should state our convictions and stand for life—in love. The rest is in His hands. It isn’t my job to convict people. Stating our convictions and bringing people to conviction are different! I pray and trust God because it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. As a Christ follower, my goal must be to care about the person and his or her eternal soul exactly the same way Christ cares.
It is time that we build a bridge to those in the midst of these issues—those who have had an abortion, for instance, even if he or she still maintains their pro-choice stance. There are many who have had one or more abortions and do not think it is wrong at all.
Think about it. Abortion is legal, and our culture paints positive pictures of being pro-choice, so there is little reason for any unbeliever who has had an abortion to feel guilty or uncomfortable about the choice they made. Some are not bothered by it and feel there is nothing to forgive.
One friend told me that prior to accepting Christ as her Savior, she had had two abortions. She told me that the two abortions played no part in her decision to accept Christ because she had had no guilt, negative feelings, or convictions about them. After she was saved, though, The Lord brought her to a realization of the enormity of her decisions. Then she felt sorrow. She asked the Lord for forgiveness and healing regarding these abortions. The Lord brought her to this healing place—it did not happen as a result of the accusation or condemnation of anyone else. Bringing conviction is the Holy Spirit’s role, not ours.
Awake, O Sleeper!
In the book I Saw the Lord, Anne Graham Lotz boldly suggests that the church needs to repent. She writes, “After the horrific devastation of 9/11, many church leaders were pointing their fingers at national and social sins as a reason for what they saw as God’s judgment on our nation. Abortion on demand and the broad acceptance of homosexuality were the grievous sins most commonly noted. But I could not help wondering if the Son of God was focused on His own people, the church, with eyes like blazing fire and feet like burnished bronze.”
She gives a passionate plea for us to consider just how far we have come from the cross, which is the power to change lives. She writes that we are “a people loaded with guilt because while we have a form of godliness we deny the power of the cross…. The church often has not established a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. We have conformed more to the world and have forsaken the Lord by turning our back on Him so often!”
I agree with her. The church is guilty, and I have also been guilty. We must change our focus and message from self to Jesus and His saving work—His Gospel. We need a wake-up call. God has awakened me and there are many who are also awake. I am grateful and encouraged by those who are living and heralding the Gospel.
Jesus has done for me what He did for the woman at the well, and He has been very real to me in this process. Jesus is the best part of my life, the best gift, and the best treasure.
The Lord pursued Adam in the garden. He did not wait until Adam cleaned himself up. He offered the cover. We must do likewise for others. Christ died for us while we were His enemies, and in sin. He rose so we could live victoriously.
Focusing on the Problem
One Sunday in 2013, I attended a church service that coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. The sermon was full of biblical truths on the wages of sin, especially abortion—and yet lacked a clear message of the mercy of God.
Focusing on the sinfulness of abortion is effective in showing us the forgiveness we truly need, but, in my opinion, leaves the listener (particularly a listener with a heavy conscience) with no hope and a mountain of shame. This is devastating, and fails to complete the story by proclaiming the goodness of God and His offer of forgiveness of all sins through Christ Jesus. Salvation is offered by what Jesus has done. Because I felt the focus was only on the magnitude of the sin, omitting the grace of God, I left that church utterly devastated. I am sure that I was not alone, and that there were others who needed to hear the message of mercy!
Jesus gives hope and help to people in need. Needy ones long to feel loved unconditionally. Jesus poured Himself out for us in amazing grace and unmerited favor and mercy. His work was not in vain. Salvation is for any who will believe regardless of their past. We must teach truth covered in love. Presenting the problem without the solution brings shame, condemnation, and hopelessness. Why is the message of grace and mercy through the work of Christ on the cross not clearly proclaimed in every church today?
Jesus is truth and grace. Sometimes, though, we forget to include grace. Theology, law, and rules are taught, but not grace or mercy. Living in this atmosphere causes us to hide our sin, instead of repenting and thus accepting the free gift of forgiveness. The blood of Christ and His broken body are precious. The gift of forgiveness is readily available at the cross and must be heralded. We need not try to cover our sin with good works. “Truth without grace is brutality and grace without truth is hypocrisy.”
Called to Herald, Not to Hinder
During a spinal surgery in December of 2012, I had an experience with the Lord. It is hard to put in words what I experienced. When I woke up after the surgery, I had a sure knowledge that God is angry at those of His people who are not making the message of Jesus, His shed blood, and death on the cross for the atonement of sins the main message of their lives. I knew He was calling me to first repent and then sound the alarm on this heinous sin of not heralding the true Gospel.
God is not pleased if we diminish the cross of Christ and the majesty and great sacrifices of Christ. I knew that Jesus had died for me because I had been guilty, and maybe was still guilty, of being a hypocrite and blocking others from reaching the cross and a new life in Christ through my own religiosity.
I turned to the Lord with repentance, reverence and fierce determination to obey Him. The Lord was clearly calling me to boast on Christ and give my testimony. I was sobered and seriously affected by this experience.
We will discuss heralding the Gospel more in the next section, but it is important to reiterate this: we cannot herald the Gospel, or represent it well to others, if we are ourselves missing the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is my hope that we will place our faith only in Christ’s work, and then consistently live the Gospel out in day-to-day life, within our family and within the church. I do not want to live religiously, self-righteously, unloving, or unforgiving. Not one more day. I want to give grace. I want to live in victory.
Dear Father, help us to become more like your Son Jesus, like He was with the woman at the well—more loving, accepting and merciful yet bringing people to the truth by kindness, compassion, and a gracious Spirit. Give us forgiving hearts and make us bridge builders boasting on the cross of Christ as we give our testimony. Help us love the rejected, those whom others have given up on, and those who are outcasts. Let us share your Gospel in spirit and in truth so people receive living water. Help us be humble and Christlike. Thank you for your example and forgiveness and the hope that it brings. Keep changing us, LORD. All our hope is in you. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Gospel of Hope
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:1-4, NASB).
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8, NIV).
Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone (Proverbs 31:22, NLT)
“Mark what I say again. You may know a good deal about Christ, by a kind of head knowledge. You may know who He was, and where He was born, and what He did. You may know His miracles, His sayings, His prophecies, and His ordinances. You may know how He lived, and how He suffered, and how He died. But unless you know the power of Christ's cross by experience—unless you know and feel within that the blood shed on that cross has washed away your own particular sins—unless you are willing to confess that your salvation depends entirely on the work that Christ did upon the cross—unless this be the case, Christ will profit you nothing. The mere knowing Christ's name will never save you. You must know His cross, and His blood, or else you will die in your sins.”—JC Ryles
The big church was packed to overflowing at the funeral of a long-time family friend. I felt sad that he was so young and died so tragically. My sadness extended to his family, our community, our church, and America. So much at stake, so much lost.
The service beautifully honored the family and the deceased, speaking of God’s Word, including Jesus’s death and resurrection. But then the pastor said: “I believe if our friend could speak to us, his message would be ‘be good.’”
I thought that he may have said those words as a warning to us, because it is true that not living righteously has its negative consequences. We are to respect God’s laws and obey them for our own good. They are made to protect us, not steal from us. Following the law does not save us eternally, though it does save us from the earthly consequences of wrong choices.
But even if that was the pastor’s intent, he never finished the story. Jesus and His death and resurrection were spoken about, yes, but the need for Jesus, and the fact that we can never make it on our own by our own goodness or works, was not discussed at all the whole service.
I realized then that in order for us to understand what the true Gospel is and how it impacts our lives, we have to understand what it isn’t. Too much damage is done in churches, both to believers and to nonbelievers, when the Gospel itself, the core of our faith, is misrepresented. This is what sets the elephants stampeding.
“Be good” is not the message of the Good News. The Gospel message is “Jesus is good.” Jesus is God; He took our not-good, sin, so we could be made good, righteous in Him through faith. It is all the work of God and not of man. Man cannot earn salvation; God alone accomplishes it.
Powerless Without Christ
When I was swimming competitively, we often heard our coach screaming at us: “Don’t ever say ‘I can’t!’” If we whined that we couldn’t do the training, we were assigned extra laps and other work as a consequence of our unbelief in our abilities.
But as it usually does, the Kingdom turns this concept on its head. Yes, God has showered you with abilities and talents, but He wants you to allow Him use them through you, recognizing that nothing you do can save you—and without Him, you can do nothing (John 15:5, my life verse). We must believe in His abilities to flow through us
When we surrender to Him and do as He leads, giving up trying to do it all alone, we find His yoke is easy. (Matthew 11:30) Ironically, I find this one of the hardest verses in the Bible to really live.
I am powerless to change myself from the inside out. I have had to plead for God to do what only He can do. And He has. And is. I am learning to depend on God to change me and I seek Him to accomplish what needs done in me to experience the Gospel exchange. It is not always easy to admit my sinful thoughts, but God already knows. And the sooner I stop pretending and take it all to Him, the greater the relief and the less I suffer. The Lord has been so gracious and merciful and faithful to me. He has brought me to trust Him and depend more fully on Him daily. How thankful I am.
In my heart, I know I'm doing everything I can to recover from the multiple sexual abuses, my own sexual sins, occult abuse, abortion, church judgments, and the post-traumatic effects on me. I am different from many who have had an abortion. I wanted our baby. I desperately tried to fight for her or him. I gave in to it out of fear and intimidation and other sad reasons too great and lengthy to explain in these pages. But God in His mercy has forgiven me! I have forgiven myself, my husband, and others in order to make peace with myself, my past, and my God. I have repeatedly, confessed, repented, renounced, and prayed the Scriptures. I have prayed and others have prayed for me, too. I’ve had years of counseling. I’ve prayed as a family intercessor, breaking generational curses. And I have come to the conclusion that even after I’ve done all I know to do, I cannot fully and completely accomplish what is needed. But God continues His work, doing what only He does best.
I am powerless, but God has the power. This is the secret of hope. My powerlessness for God’s power. Understanding my weakness to overcome is the beginning of finding the secret of hope. Where I can’t, God can. Where I am hopeless to accomplish His will, He will do it through me. He is my hope. Last night my husband and I watched a Billy Graham video. Mr. Graham said, "you cannot change your past but you can change your destiny. God can change your past. He can forgive all you have ever done."
Another of Billy Graham’s quotes: “Salvation is always ‘good news.’ It is news of God’s love and forgiveness—adoption into His family— fellowship with His people—freedom from the penalty of sin— liberation from the power of sin. Salvation is an act of God. It is initiated by God, wrought by God, and sustained by God.” That’s the true Gospel. Conversion from our self-pride and dependence on works of the law is a work of God’s Grace. An increase in the grace and wisdom of God upon our lives comes by the Spirit of God working to bring us into all truth and obedience. John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
I spent way too much time trying to earn my salvation in my own strength. “Be good to be loved” was my heart cry. But this is the works Gospel, which I call the Galatians “Gospel,” and it is part of my story that has never been satisfying or effective. I believe it is a “believing, obeying-to-be saved lifestyle” that the circumcision group of Paul’s day lived.
At times, the works Gospel gives a false sense of self-assurance and goodness. But this ideology depends on self for righteousness, and not Christ. The works Gospel hinders the true Gospel. Paul says it is cursed and that many are deceived by it, relying on their own righteousness to save.
Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. For I would have you know, brothers, that the Gospel that was preached by me is not man’s Gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:8-9, 11-12, NLT).
Paul knew the Galatians were missing the true Gospel because they were trying to gain their salvation by the things they did—just as Paul had done until God mercifully opened his eyes.
The Mystery of Messiah
God’s plan has always included His sacrifice, rather than the mere fulfillment of the Law; it was, is, and will always be grace. The Lamb was slain before the foundations of the world (Revelation 13:8). God gave the Law to Moses to demonstrate the way to live and to govern social, civil, and spiritual activities. But the Law was never meant to be the sole focus. The Jews became extreme Law followers by adding hundreds of regulations and rules. They thought that if you could follow the Law perfectly, you could reach God. In doing so, they took their eyes off of God. God’s real purpose for the Law was to show us that we can’t follow the Law perfectly. We need a Savior. The Messiah. The Law was woven into the salvation plan of God like a mystery—the mystery of Messiah.
When Paul saw Jesus in His glory and power on that Damascus road, he understood the mystery. He had been dead spiritually, steeped in the laws of God, but he did not know God. From that moment on, he was changed, and salvation power became a reality in his life. The rest of Paul’s life heralded the fact that he had experienced the true Gospel: his life was dramatically altered from thinking he had arrived in his self-righteousness (Pharisaism) to living fully in Christ.
Paul realized through that Damascus road experience that even those who have a shameful past have hope.
“We then may know the hope by which He has called us, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:18, ESV).
When we turn from sin, confess Christ as Lord, receive His salvation, and surrender to Him, we can know God in the same way Paul did.
One of my greatest realizations, as I have repeated like a broken record, has been that Jesus knows me all the way through and loves me enough to die for me—even before I changed—and He still loves me like this. The next generation needs this message, not a false doctrine or false religion.
Many who are born again (saved) are locked in a passionless religious box like the Pharisees. Modeling the Pharisee produces a weakened lifestyle that does little good for anyone. I lived this way for years. A mixture of the two gospels is a power-stealing mix. The power of God at the cross through Christ is the power of the true Gospel. The counterfeit has power that attempts to distort and destroy and thus becomes Satan’s greatest threat to the church.
To have the most powerful force on earth available to me but be entrenched in a mixed or false gospel lifestyle is tragic—and life-weakening and God-opposing. I was unaware of how much I was deceived by a works encroachment on the true Gospel in my life. The church environments I had experienced caused me to accept a works mentality apart from the Holy Spirit and that mentality became, for a time, my norm. I believe my experience is a common experience in America.
I so often witness Christian churches, schools, and families teach rules and laws that heap condemnation, shame, works-based principles, and guilt on children. The emphasis on how much Jesus loves and wants a relationship with them, what the cross is, and why it had to be is often either not the main message or missing altogether. What are we doing? Living in grace and faith, running to the cross for forgiveness and overcoming our sins through relationship with Christ by faith—this is the essential Gospel. Anything apart from this is not “Gospel truth” and just leads to more shackles. Are we teaching the Gospel of the Shackled Elephant, or the Good News, the true Gospel of grace where victory, restoration, and overcoming abounds?
Your performance alone, no matter how good it is, cannot please God. God knows our motivations. You can’t please God without holiness. Jesus gave His whole life for us… therefore He demands our whole life. Most people can’t really say that they have given Him their whole life. Are you really saved, a true Christian? Or do you just look like one?
A works-based Gospel has no transforming power. If we miss the true Gospel, we will not be able to represent it well, or herald it well, to those around us. A real experience of the power of the true cross of Jesus will replace pre-conceived ideas of Him. It did for me, and has for millions. It is the difference between “false religion dressed in Christianity” and True Gospel Christianity!
False Religion Versus the Gospel
False religion says, “Be good.” Gospel says, “God is good.”
False religion says, “My works cancel my sin.” Gospel says, “Only Christ’s works atone for my sin.”
False religion says, “Pay your own way.” Gospel says, “Christ paid.”
False religion says, “You must earn it.” Gospel says, “Receive the gift of grace.”
False religion says, “Keep working.” Gospel says, “It is finished.”
False religion says, “Hide your sin.” Gospel says, “Repent and be forgiven.”
False religion says, “Big sins can’t be redeemed.” Gospel says, “All repented sin is redeemed because Christ is the Redeemer who takes all guilt.”
False religion says, “I am better than you.” Gospel says “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
False religion says, “I would never do what you did.” Gospel says, “I am no better than anyone, given another’s life I could do what they have done.”
False religion says, “Compared to you, I’m righteous.” Gospel says, “Christ’s righteousness is imputed to me.”
The list goes on. False religion bashes some sins and exalts others. It believes that depending on grace is too easy or cheap. It perverts the truth, causing people to believe they can do whatever they want—God’s forgiveness is sufficient, right? It accepts and exalts temporal pleasure. False religion causes hardheartedness, bitterness, pride, and judgments that wound.
The Gospel, on the other hand, is the repentant sinner being redeemed by Christ alone and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which results in good works as the fruit of receiving Christ’s heartbeat. He took our death. The Gospel brings healing, help, hope, and heaven. It does not boast in its own works, but exalts Christ’s work with humility and thanksgiving.
False religion holds us as a captive hostage. The Gospel is truth that sets us free.
In the Gospel of Mark especially, it is evident that Jesus often dealt with the hypocrisy and legalism of religious leaders while He was on earth. He knew hearts. He challenged them with compassion, truth, healing, love, mercy, and grace—and sometimes righteous anger. He was hated by religious leaders for breaking their man-made laws, which were based on their misunderstandings of Torah.
When Jesus seriously dealt with me about my hypocrisy and legalism, He clearly revealed how I had hindered His Gospel and dishonored Him. It grieves me how I have hurt Christ. I do not think I am alone. So many in the church hide behind piety while protecting a putrid past. Instead, we need to show the world what Christ has done for us.
I discovered that Christ’s work on my behalf—and that alone—saves. The true Gospel of Christ alone dramatically changed my life from relying on self to depending on the indwelt Holy Spirit. From living in bondage to living by His mindsets of grace through relationship with Jesus. Without a grace mindset, I tend to look down on others as the first disciples may have looked down on the woman at the well. (See John 4.) A condescending attitude sends people running. It did then and always will. Together may we learn how to change—just as the first disciples learned—from Christ.
Jesus lived love and modeled love for every race, gender, and sinner. Since He is perfect and sinless, He is good—for He truly is God incarnate. He came to earth to save us and lift us up and release us from what holds us down: sin.
God Changes Us
For if a man is in Christ he becomes a new person altogether-the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new. (2 Corinthians 5:17, JB Phillips.)
May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it! (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, MSG.)
Clearly, God does a work in us that brings about a dramatic change that we desperately need. He has done it all. He has adopted us into His family and He wants us to start living as members of His family right now. Through the indwelling of His Spirit, He begins to shape us to be the people that we were always meant to be. He patiently molds us through our daily experiences to be more like Jesus. In the process, we can experience a closer relationship with the Father and make Him more the focus of our lives.
He changes us from the worm to the butterfly. We cannot change ourselves. He asks us to stay in His cocoon until He is finished. Our part is to stay with Jesus, under His arm of protection. He is our refuge. The Christian life can seem complicated. God wants to change our lives.
The phrase “But God” contains two power-packed words. When my life seems out of control and I see no hope, He steps in and takes control. The greatness of infinite God working on man’s behalf to do for man what man could not do. “But God” is to say the impossible becomes possible because of God.
What Jesus has done for me and offers to the world is greater than anything this world offers. This is the story of the Bible and my story, too. God loves us so much that He gave himself to make a way for us to be reconciled to Him and know Him. There is no greater love. (See John 15:13; 1 John 4:8-16.)
I eventually experienced a removal from the religious system I was in, and the poison the enemy had tried to plant in me was eradicated. My faith and foundation is now dependent on the finished work of the blood of Jesus Christ in a greater way than it has ever been. It was then that I wanted to do whatever the Lord directed me to do to advance His Kingdom. The greatness of my salvation, through a greater understanding of the cross and resurrection as the fulfillment of God’s Covenant transformed me and my faith.
He has surely forgiven me, and it is a happy day when I reflect on the fact that my sins are washed away and I am clean. Most every day I have to remind myself because Satan works relentlessly to try to return me to the feelings of guilt and shame so familiar to me—right back to the elephant shackles. The enemy wants the true Gospel to be hindered. Let us fight him and not each other.
We Can Know
My husband and I were sitting at our gate in the airport, waiting to board. I felt contemplative, and so I glanced at him, hoping to connect in conversation instead of just staying quiet. “What are you thinking?”
“About this song, actually,” he replied.
It was Eric Clapton’s “Tears of Heaven,” which was written about his young son who died. In the moving lyrics he questioned if they’d be reunited in heaven, longing to see his boy again. He was looking for peace and wondering what eternity held.
I was moved. “How sad,” I said. Our story was so different from Eric Clapton’s, but our heartache was so similar. We had lost a child, too, and would do anything to see our baby again in heaven. But I realized, too: We had hope. And I questioned if such a famous songwriter had the same hope we shared. Had the message of hope ever been clearly communicated to him? If so, had he experienced Christ’s comfort in his torrential grief and loss? The Gospel is so important, so life giving, so imperative. Do people miss the Gospel by their own choice, or because the messengers are obscure, unclear, and hindering to their message by leaving Christ out of the picture?
We can know beyond the shadow of the doubt that the Gospel is true. In 1 John 5:13, the Bible tells us, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (emphasis mine). When we believe in His name and the power of His blood shed on the cross, that knowledge and assurance is ours. So is the responsibility to share it with others.
That day was a first for me in really knowing through that moment of intimacy with my husband that I had forgiven him from my heart, and truly comprehending that we both knew that we will see our child in heaven one day—not because of what we’ve done, but because of Christ!
The Victory of the Cross
The enemy wants the Gospel not to “feel” true or “be” true to us. He works relentlessly to try to convince us to believe lies like these:
“You are so sinful that Jesus would not forgive you!”
“You are actually pretty good in your own right, because you follow all the rules! You don’t need the cross.”
“It’s just no use —you should just give up trying altogether.”
Whatever Satan’s ploy, his goal is to diminish the cross and the forgiveness of sins based on Christ’s work, because Satan knows the arsenal of God’s power for man is at the cross. The greatest reversals are possible there.
The truth: We all are guilty of sin and all need the cross and the Gospel, whether it feels true or not. Satan accuses, condemns, works to deceive, and tries to wreck our faith. He tempts us with things that seem to look good, perverts the grace of God, and tries to sabotage our freedom, especially by weakening our understanding of the cross and its power and victory. He hinders our repentance. He wants us to miss what Christ came to give. He often tries to trap us in our own works or sins and force us back into the bondage of trying to earn our righteousness in our own strength or in lies that say we can never be different.
We do not earn salvation. It depends on Christ alone. Once we know Christ, He abides in us. Our relationship with Him grows as we depend on Him and learn of Him by His Word, prayer, and fellowship. We must preach Jesus alone for salvation.
The two extremes in life—those who think they may be too far gone for God’s mercy and those who think they are so good they rely on themselves for salvation—are missing the life of Christ. Both need brought to the cross, where Christ’s forgiveness of sins is offered, His lovingkindness is magnified, His mercy meets with justice, and salvation can be received. His grace and glory await.
He loves us right where we are and right as we are. Jesus died while we were still sinners. The greatest place of victory is the cross. The cross brings forth the resurrection and mercy hope. It holds the secret.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you that the victory over sin and death was won by Christ: that He took sin, death, hell, the works of the enemy, and every curse for us. Our sins demanded death. Thank you for paying our debt! Please forgive us your people for living as though we are good enough on our own, which belittles the greatness of the cross and the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice and love. Forgive our pride and ingratitude! Help us to know the true Gospel of grace and abandon the idea that somehow we can be good enough on our own. Because of you, LORD, there is hope. Help us walk worthy of you as we have been called into your Kingdom (1 Thessalonians 2:12). In Jesus’ name, amen.