The traditional approach to preaching the Gospel is to gin up faith in Jesus. This faith is expressed through a creedal prayer. You know; the sinners prayer. Through this they are forgiven for sin and granted eternal life through the sacrificial death of Jesus.
Jesus constantly preached believe in me or you shall perish. Others have preached the same. But to conclude this is gospel preaching simply causes problems and wasn’t the way of John the Baptist and Jesus. The Kingdom is the context. This helps us understand what we should preach and how.
The context of telling listeners to believe in Jesus was what John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples preached: the Kingdom of God. They described the way of the Kingdom and its likenesses. Then at various times they would comment on believing in Him. Why do you think?
Missing the point of their preaching, we miss how to preach the Gospel ourselves. Remember they preached the Kingdom. They taught what God wanted in the lives of the people. Doing what they taught, required faith that what they were saying was true. You wouldn’t obey if you didn’t believe. They were who they said they were, which gave their word authority. So believing is central but not first. Preaching the Kingdom is first which requires faith to carry out.
Doing what He says presupposes belief. Sometimes we remind the listener why they should trust Christ. But the leading edge of our preaching is the will of God. The need to know what God wants and then why they should believe the message. The Sermon on the Mount and “…the least of these…” scripture in Matt 25:31-46 are a good sampling of Kingdom preaching.
Of course a thorough study of the Gospels will clearly demonstrate the will of God. This is what they preached. Basically, “This is what God wants so do it!” Obedience to this requires trusting who Jesus is; he has authority to command.
Here are the pros and con of preaching faith in Jesus without the Kingdom:
They believe they are forgiven and free of the power of sin and the consequences.
They believe the Holy Spirit resides in them: Counselor and Helper.
They are told it is not by works but faith in Jesus which keeps them from pride and condemnation.
This can launch them into the mystery and mysticism of the faith.
They believe they are forgiven when they are not. They are still under the power of sin and its consequences.
They believe the Holy Spirit resides in them when He doesn’t.
They believe they are saved because they believe and are not compelled to obey Christ.
They are free from guilt which rightly should lead them to repentance.
They are launched into a deception that God is leading them when He isn’t.
This is devastating for the individual, the church and the community. We have inadvertently duped many into believing they are heaven bound. They think they are safe from judgment and aren’t. As a result the church looks bad. They profess Christianity with disastrous results in the community. No wonder we sport the black eye of hypocrisy!
My experience of preaching the will of God expressed by Jesus is that it results in guilt of sin and a desire to do right. New people come into church, hear His word and come to me for baptism. They hear and are struck at heart and want to transform. If they are resisting the Lord they know it is the evil that resides in them that refuses and are convicted of sin. Acting in accord with the will of God requires faith. No action; no faith; no salvation! And again, No action; no faith; no salvation!
When one hears the will of God; so loving, so invasive-taking the whole life, partnering with Christ in His way of sacrificial love: they are challenged, enlightened, encouraged, and recognize their condemnation and need of forgiveness.
When I was seven, I recall going to a church for a few months. They picked me up on a little bus. I remember waiting in the morning California sun for the bus and thinking “I do not want to be good now. I like being bad. I’ll be good later.” I believed but did not want to obey. I knew faith required living a new way. How did I know this? It is even obvious to a seven year old.
Are we inadvertently convincing those who disobey but “believe” that they are saved?
For many the concern over this is that of works. But this is a misunderstanding also. The works he spoke of were the religious duties. For the Jew it was the circumcision, ceremonies of cleansing, tithing, sacrifices and celebrations. For the Protestant it is believing the creed and doctrines, baptism, tithing, bible reading, prayer and the like.
The action that God requires cannot be fulfilled by a check list. It is not less that God is requiring in the message of Christ but more. All! He will have nothing less than total commitment and all of your heart.
It is a mission of fulfilling the command to love; to friend and enemy. It is a daily fulfillment of the law of love. You may fail at times but we do not situationally turn it on and off.
John 14:21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” NIV
So who loves Jesus? Who gets revelation from God? Yes, the one who obeys! Obeys what? THe new heart and Spirit of love.
John14:23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. NIV
And in whom does God reside? Yes the same, those who obey! And what does it say of those who don’t?
These are the words of our Lord!
Jesus’ mission is our mission: Compassion! This is salvation.