I believe we have made the gospel far too complicated. For me it's been like peeling off the layers of an onion to get back to the basics of, "Christ in me the hope of glory." (Col 1:27) So I set out to simplify and unscramble Christianity for myself. In that process I narrowed it down to three distinct areas.
- Core Beliefs
- Commitment & Purpose
- Liberty and Distinctiveness
Before we touch on these three areas I would like to set the stage by sharing with you a story. I was hiking with a longtime church member who had some struggles in his personal life. Along the trail I stopped and asked him why he thought I invited him on the hike.
"Oh, it's because you want to straighten me out on my drinking alcohol."
I stopped and wrote in the dirt the word, "Deeds." Then I explained to him, "if you think I brought you here to straighten you out on your deeds, you're completely wrong." At that point I put a big X through the word deeds.
Then I wrote the word, "Need," under the word deeds. At this point I began to explain that he was trying to fulfill his need in an illegitimate fashion and that if he wanted to know how to fulfill it in a legitimate fashion we would have a very hearty conversation.
My dear friend is like so many in our churches, lacking understanding in the application of our core beliefs. So what are those core beliefs?
I call them the naked Gospel. They are the absolute essentials that no one should be without in their daily lives.
My CREED is the Bible. It has veto power over all my decisions. It is the white line down the center of the road that keeps me from veering to the left or the right. It gives me a safe zone to conduct my life in and a clear path before my feet in a mixed up world. Isaiah 8:20. My friend had not relinquished his veto power to God's Word, have you?
My EMPOWERMENT is Grace. Grace is God's presence with me tapping me on the shoulder, whispering to my conscience, helping me to understand how to apply the Word of God in my everyday life. Most of us resist this Divine influence and consequently we remain in charge instead of the Lord. My friend was neglecting or resisting this Divine influence, are you? 1Corinthians 15:10
My LIFE is of Faith. Faith is not only a belief in God's Word but a complete surrender of all our known choices to the will of God in the moment; it is a total dependency upon Jesus Christ for the power to implement God's will in our life, all motivated by love and not reward. Acts 9:6
My DENOMINATION is Christ. The church is merely an instrument to bring us into a living experience with Jesus Christ and to help others find this daily life in Christ. "Upon this Rock I will build My church." Matthew 16:18
My SALVATION is in Christ Alone. A Mennonite pastor was trying to convince me to become a member of his church. He was covering all the cultural uniqueness of their religion. I didn't want to offend him but I did want to bridge the gap in our conversation. So I asked him if the following statement was true or false. "All of Christianity is valueless unless I am in Christ and Christ is in me." To which he responded, TRUE! Then I asked him, "Why isn't this the center of our conversation, for doesn't the Bible say, "You are COMPLETE In Him?" Col 2: 10 Shouldn't our religious distinctiveness always be secondary to our God centeredness? If so, why isn't it the hallmark of our life?
In concluding this section on core beliefs I must state that if your gospel doesn't remove your personal PREEMINENCE--BEWARE!
Commitment & Purpose
My commitment is to live a life of holiness in Christ Jesus. Isn't this what John 15 describes with the illustration of the vine and the branch? As the great hymn says, "Wholly Thine."
Then it becomes our purpose to bring others into oneness with God, as Christ was one with His Father. John 17. It means to work for the purity, peace and unity of God's people and their unique distinctiveness, as we learn to live apart from worldly ways.
I call this the gospel in action. Keeping in mind that our primary purpose should always be Jesus indwelling each and every believer.
Liberty and Distinctiveness
The best RELIGIOUS ANALOGY I've ever heard:
Philip tells of walking across a bridge and seeing a man standing on the edge, ready to jump off. He ran over and cried out, "Stop! Don't do it!"
He replied, "Why shouldn't I?"
"Well, there's so much to live for."
"Well, are you RELIGIOUS?"
He answered, "Yes."
I affirmed, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?"
"Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
"Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
"Wow, Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
"Baptist Church of God!"
"Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God or Reformed Baptist Church of God?"
"Reformed Baptist Church of God!"
"Me too! Are you reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation 1915?"
His new friend replied, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."
To which Phillips retorted, "Die, heretic!" And he pushed him off the bridge.
Yes, it's funny!
... But it's no laughing matter!
We do this all the time in Dress - Diet - Music - Entertainment - Recreation - Politics - Modesty - Courtship - Schooling - Worship Style- Lifestyle - Reforms - Interpretation of Beliefs...
When others don't line up with our ideology of the gospel, we often tend to think like we are the fourth member of the Trinity and try to align them exactly with how we believe, and where we are in our journey. If they don't believe as we do or conform their ideology to ours, we attempt to become their junior Holy Spirit. Lord help us!
May I honestly say that I have never met a perfectly balanced Christian in my entire life, including myself! Even John the Baptist, because of his cultural understanding had theological error. John honestly believed that Christ was coming as a reigning King. Now if John could be imbalanced in his understanding, perhaps we need to give room to each other for honest growth in their journey of understanding as well. Not as an opportunity for the flesh but for discovery and growth in each other's unique pilgrimage the Lord has them on.
It was Patrick Henry exclaimed. "Give me liberty or give me death!" Paul described it this way, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." 2 Corinthians 3:17
There are so many people who want us to live under their external protocol instead of focusing on a daily God centeredness. However, Paul exhorts us to knock off the infighting or you will be emptied of the power of Christ in you. 1 Corinthians 1:11, 12
While on a hike with a pastor friend, I asked him how much time we should ask God for if we were to put together a committee of well-meaning, good intentioned, faithful church leaders, seminary professors, and dedicated church members--in order to get a unanimous agreement on any or all of these issues. He replied, "1 billion years." I think he underestimated :-)!
To insist on total agreement on everything is to insist on heaven before its time. There are over 800,000 words in the Bible and to think one person or group of individuals has the sole correct interpretation on all these areas-REALLY? Shouldn't we give to every person the liberty and freedom to follow God, as they presently understand it?
Typically what I have found is that this third area of issues, issues, and more issues becomes the focus and replaces the first area of core beliefs and experience in Christ. We alienate fellow brethren in making these peripheral issues more important than the inward oneness with Jesus Christ and its demonstration in our daily life. How sad!
The hardest task in my life has been to peel away the layers of religion in order to find God. Now I belong to God and I want you to as well!
PS For the complete version on CD see our website: empoweredlivingministries.org