Over the years, there has been a pendulum swing within Christian culture (I talked about this a bit in The Finishing School…) . Just in the last couple hundred years, we went from fire and brimstone to the prosperity gospel message, but we’re starting to see another reactionary shift. The latest trend is to make sure it’s clear that Christians will suffer. I’ve seen this message and I’ve seen many attempts to refute it but here’s the reason I think we keep bouncing back and forth. In an effort to correct what looks like bad theology, we overemphasize one part of the story.
One day on Instagram I saw Christian influencer A share an opinion that was in direct response to Christian influencer B. “B” decided to screenshot the rebuttal and say why it wasn’t true. “A” decided to screenshot what B had shared of the screenshot. It made me so sad to see how their original hope of defending God’s truth had dissolved into taking a personal offense and responding very publically. It honestly embarrassed me that this could be where we’re headed in terms of defending what we believe. (The good news is, the needed shift is so slight and would only require a little thought and humility).
It seems like our mission has shifted from defending the gospel to making our gospel message play defense according to what others are saying. What we share is reactionary to other people rather than foundational to truth.
I realize that posting this is really ironic because it is in response to what’s out there right now but I hope it’s clear our mission and message are not responsive but stand on the gospel, not filtered through what I heard one day that I didn’t agree with.
Defending the truth of the gospel is different from defensively rebutting someone’s inaccurate telling of the gospel. One offers the full picture. The other nails down so hard on the missing piece that the scope is totally lost.
If someone’s whole message neglects Jesus’ love or if someone’s whole message neglects suffering, it’s not the full message.
- A biz team leader says “God just blessed our team with so much volume today. God is good.” If she doesn’t also recognize that God is good on the hard days too, something’s missing. And someone’s rebuttal will emphasize verses on suffering.
- A theology buff spends all their Instagram warning people that suffering is coming so get ready. If the message never touches on God’s unwarranted blessings, something’s missing. And someone’s rebuttal will emphasize verses on God’s love.
The Gospel is not fluid like our emotions. It doesn’t bend when we change our thinking or hear someone say something. But often our messages sure become fluid.
It’s easy to make our main message what we feel like is lacking in the world. Again, it’s reactionary. It’s a response to something outside of the gospel and therefore shifts the perspective of the gospel.
As you listen to teachers, notice it. Don’t fixate on finding it, but recognize it. Is this the full gospel or do they just have an axe to grind? And ask yourself what the full picture looks like.
Philippians 1:15-18 says “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
This tells me a few things. It’s possible to share the gospel with selfish ambition. Not every person sharing has pure motives. Thankfully, the second thing I took away is that Paul says despite motives, he will rejoice in the gospel being shared. My prayer is that it’s the full gospel that is heard.
So, how do we make every effort to defend the gospel instead of getting defensive about the gospel?
KNOW THE GOSPEL
This might seem obvious but when we know the full scope of the gospel, our ears will be perked when things don’t seem right. Our church isn’t perfect but one thing I’ve seen them do well is manage the tension between two things that many feel you have to choose between. Managing the tension between truth and love. Sovereignty and choice. Resting in the Lord and taking action. Right now, I’m reading through the Bible in 100 days. It’s a LOT of reading (and listening!) and I can’t say I’ll do it this way often but I love getting the full scope of Scripture in a relatively short time frame. Seamless Bible study from Angie Smith was also a very simple but helpful way to see how all of Scripture points to the Gospel.
SHARE THE FULL GOSPEL
Don’t pick and choose what you think someone needs to know and what they already are going overboard on. I don’t think it’s terrible to emphasize something depending on what season you’re in. The person who feels lazy probably needs the reminder to take action more than the person who is always serving and doing. While the person always serving may need the reminder to rest. But here’s the thing. If we’re lazy, we still need the true message of rest. And if we’re serving, we still need the true message of serving. We can still do either apart from God’s way. I think we keep swinging from extremes of the pendulum when we keep our messages one extreme or the other.
TRUST THE HOLY SPIRIT TO CHANGE HEARTS
We aren’t everyone’s Holy Spirit. We don’t need to decide what they need to hear most. We can trust God with that. When Jesus gives The Great Commission in Matthew 28, he says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” He doesn’t say teach them to observe the commandments you feel are most important. I know that’s nitpicky, but I’ll be honest, this is comforting to me. I know there are times I share what I judge to be most important instead of just resting in all of God’s truth. We don’t change hearts. God does. How cool we get to be a part of that if we are willing.
As I thought about this, I was reminded of a section in my book, Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday, that I think expresses the reason we struggle to stay humble but why we should. It has to do with our kids but I think it works for engaging with God’s other kids too.
ABOUT TO LOSE MY … DIGNITY
Speaking of human masters, when they come without experience, let alone the ability to read, I lose it. There are daily instances where the actions of my kids seem to violate my dignity. They demand water and part of me feels like I don’t want to respond to their every whim. I’m in charge and those demands make me feel like things are backwards. I’m simply putting things in their rightful place by overthrowing the two little dictators calling the shots that can’t even wipe their own behinds.
This feels right to me. God put me in charge of these kids. Key word: In charge. I’m not their employee that they can boss around. I’m the boss. But then Paul goes poking holes in my plan. In Philippians 2:7 he said Jesus “stripped Himself of all privileges and rightful dignity.” He loved us so much that He gave up all dignity that was deserved for a bunch of sinners. Me. His dignity was “rightful”. He earned it. He deserved it. But He gave it up because of love.
Am I willing to do this in my own life and forsake my so-called dignity when called to it? Can I take two seconds to evaluate if a situation is calling me to give up my dignity? Is this a time I need to stand firm for their little souls or would my relentlessness simply be in the name of my own pride?
As I have recognized this in my own life, I’ve been able to chill out. I’ve been able to be a bit more flexible knowing it doesn’t make me a doormat, it makes me Christlike.
PRAY FOR DISCERNMENT
The Lord is faithful to give us wisdom when we ask, so let’s ask! Remember when Solomon asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3)? God made him the wisest man that ever lived. And James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Let this be a daily prayer we lift up to the Lord!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject! Have you seen this play out? How else can we avoid a defensive gospel?