God is a never-ending source of good news.
I believe that one of the biggest shames in modern Christianity is our tendency to define the “gospel” as “what Jesus did on the cross to save me.” It has been my experience that this definition has become nearly universal within Christianity, and it seems to be the extent of the “good news” (which is what the word “gospel” means) we possess.
Which laid the foundation for an interesting question to arise during a Bible study several years ago.
We were studying Luke 9: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the gospel and healing people everywhere.” (Lk 9:1-2, 6)
All of a sudden, the question popped into my head, What “gospel” were the disciples preaching? This was pre-crucifixion, and not only that, but every time Jesus even tried to tell them about His impending death, they didn't get it. So, whatever this “gospel” was that they were proclaiming, it couldn't have had a single thing to do with the death of Christ.
So, what good news were they proclaiming?
I think it was the very same “good news” Paul refers to in today’s chapter: “The Good News came to you the same as it is now going out to all the world. Lives are being changed, just as your life was changed the day you heard the Good News. You understood the truth about God’s loving-kindness.” (vs 6)
A few lines later, Paul expounds further: “We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.” (vs 9-10)
What Paul seems to be saying is that the “gospel” is not about a single event. In fact, it’s not about an event at all, but rather about a Person. Certainly, what Jesus did at the cross is included in the Good News about the kind of person God is—but everything He does is a relevant part of that good news, not just the cross!
At the end of the day, what this means is that the gospel is not (may I repeat, IS NOT) about us at all. It’s not about how we went from being lost to saved. It’s not about how we have been set free from the law. The gospel is the good news about the kind of person God is.
And that’s an everlasting gospel, because the good news about Him never stops! Just when you think you've discovered it all, there will be more to learn. He is an eternal fountain of good news, a never-ending source of wonder. We will never exhaust it nor fully understand it.
The disciples were preaching the gospel before the cross, because the good news about the character of God was being revealed before the cross. (It was also revealed during and since the crucifixion!) Thus, we should never narrow the definition of the gospel at all (if possible), but certainly not to a single event. Our understanding of it should always be broadening, because God is a never-ending source of good news.
He is 24/7 gospel.
God wants you to grow.
I am dismayed when I hear things like the divorce rate is the same among Christians as non-Christians or that the incidence of domestic violence or family abuse is no different inside the church than outside of it. It just seems that if Christians, in general, are having encounters with the living God, that should result in some sort of difference in their lives as compared with the average person.
Perhaps they’re not having encounters with the living God. Or maybe they aren’t getting beyond the “newborn” phase.
That’s what Paul seemed to indicate to his Christian readers in this chapter: “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (vs 6-7)
In these verses, Paul is advocating for something much more than conversion, or rebirth. He is saying that God wants you to grow up. It’s not enough to be introduced to Christ and accept Him as your Savior. That’s only the beginning—and it’s a beginning that’s not supposed to have an end.
Yet it seems that so much of our efforts in Christianity are squarely focused on conversion. We hold crusades and campaigns and seminars in order to attract newcomers to the church. We baptize and confirm and accept into membership . . . but then what? So people have learned just enough about God to know that they’d like to walk through the door, but once they’re across the threshold, do we ever give them another thought?
On the contrary, it would appear that we have spent decades (maybe centuries) in Christianity welcoming “babes in Christ,” but if we never encourage people to mature spiritually, eventually you just have a church full of babies! Thus, it may be no wonder that people, relationships, and situations inside the church look pretty much the same as people, relationships, and situations outside the church. If the relative level of spirituality is the same inside as outside, things aren't gonna look much different.
Some people have a thing for babies, but I must confess, I didn't particularly enjoy the baby stage with my daughter. Even as I loved her and cared for her and nurtured her through those first several months, I longed for the days that are now beginning to come—when she can communicate and relate, learn and discover and grow.
And I think that, in a spiritual sense, God is waiting for that with each one of us. He doesn’t want us to remain babes in Christ. He wants us to grow up! He wants us to let our roots get deeper in Him so our faith can grow higher and stronger. He wants us to accept His working in our lives so we can develop and grow and change.
Otherwise, we’re left with a church full of people who constantly need to be fed and have their messes cleaned up by others. That is not a picture of the abundant life God has called us to. He is waiting to share things with us that He can’t share with babies.
It’s time to grow up!
God is everything.
If you've ever seen The Matrix, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that sometimes I feel like we live in a state of altered reality—and every now and then, somebody pulls back the curtain, and we can see the true reality of our lives in this world. That’s exactly what happened to me as I read this chapter. Once again, I was immersed in the reality that there is so much more to this life:
“If you are then ‘risen’ with Christ, reach out for the highest gifts of Heaven, where your master reigns in power. Give your heart to the heavenly things, not to the passing things of earth. For, as far as this world is concerned, you are already dead, and your true life is a hidden one in Christ. One day, Christ, the secret center of our lives, will show himself openly, and you will all share in that magnificent revelation.” (vs 1-4)
Why do we so easily forget: When it comes to this world and this life, we are already dead. And that’s where the paradox comes in, because the moment we surrender our grasp on the things of this world, we find ourselves truly and totally alive. That means we can be alive even when we’re perishing or in the midst of great suffering or persecution. If we could only remain in the awareness that we have nothing to “live for” in this world, our eyes would be opened to the true reality of our situation—that each and every day is but an opportunity to live totally for Christ, who is “the secret center of our lives.”
This point was driven home even more as I continued to read and came across this stunning declaration: “In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.” (vs 11) Really? Does it really not matter if we’re a slave or a free person?
Apparently not. Paul continued: “Slaves, your job is to obey your masters, not with the idea of currying favor, but as a sincere expression of your devotion to God. Whatever you do, put your whole heart and soul into it, as into work done for God, and not merely for men—knowing that your real reward, a heavenly one, will come from God, since you are actually employed by Christ, and not just by your earthly master.” (vs 22-24)
I must admit that I was a bit astonished that Paul didn't say, “Slaves, your job is to work for your freedom, because everyone knows that slavery is wrong.” Why wouldn't that be Paul’s advice, especially since he’s the one who said that in Christ, everyone was equal?
Once again, this is where the curtain was pulled back for me. It is precisely because Paul believed that, in Christ, everyone is equal that he could tell slaves to determine to be the best slaves they could be. Our equality in Christ is not manifested in our situation, but in the way we live in our situation. For as Paul so beautifully said in verse 24, we are actually employed by Christ.
This is true for everyone. I don’t care if you are an actual slave with a master or if you only feel like a slave when you walk (as a “free person”) into your place of business every day. Those who have chosen new life in Christ have chosen Christ as their master—no matter what they spend their waking hours accomplishing. And if Christ is our true employer, then every single thing we do should be done with the motivation of doing it for Him.
If we have chosen new life in Christ, then God is everything. He is not just someone we see at church for an hour a week. He is not just someone we may spend a few minutes talking to every day. If we have chosen new life in Christ, then He is the secret center of our lives. And that means that everything we say or do, we say or do with Him and for Him.
He is either everything . . . or He’s nothing.
God opens doors.
As I read through today’s chapter, I was struck by this statement from Paul: “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.” (vs 3)
I think what continues to surprise me about statements such as these is that they seem to be so different from the requests I often hear from Christians these days. For if we were sitting in chains, the door we would likely be asking God to open would be one for our release, not one for the spread of the gospel.
In fact, I have recently seen a number of stories going around on social media sites about Christians in foreign countries who are being wrongfully imprisoned for their faith. Invariably, the request that accompanies these sorts of stories is for the Christian’s escape. I don’t think it would ever cross our minds to pray, “Thank you, God, for giving this Christian an opportunity to share the gospel!”
I’m not trying to say that it is wrong to pray for injustice to be overturned. I”m sure many first-century Christians prayed for Paul to be released from his chains—but that certainly didn't seem to be Paul’s concern. Even as he was in jail, he was hoping and praying for opportunities to tell his captors about God.
He was praying that God would open doors.
God does open doors. All the time. But I wonder how many open doors we miss simply because we’re staring down a closed door that we expect God to open. How many open doors do we miss because we’re praying about the wrong door?
God wants to open more doors in your life than you can imagine, but He knows which are the best doors to open. And sometimes, those open doors of opportunity might lead to (or come about as a result of) situations and circumstances that we would prefer to avoid. Sometimes (okay, who am I kidding, most of the time), we think we know better than God.
What door are you praying for God to open?
Is it one that will benefit you?
Is it one that will advance the gospel?
The secret is, the only doors God opens are ones that will accomplish both of those things. However, what we think will be for our benefit and what God knows will be for our benefit aren't always the same things. That’s where trust comes in.
Pray for Him to open the doors, and He will. And even if the door He opens isn’t the one you expected, remember that He knows what He’s doing.
He will never steer you wrong.