The Gospel’s Good News–And Why Even Some Christians Don’t Believe It


In trying to usurp the role of God, Man walked away from God and created a rift. To counter, God showed Man what it would take to cross that rift and return home to Him. That answer was called the Law. All Man needed to make the Law succeed was to do all of it perfectly.

Problem with the Law: No one got it right. Ever. In the end, what the Law accomplished more than anything else was to show the impossibility of doing it. The Law was a bridge too far, and no one could cross. God showed Man what was needed to make it across, but Man failed utterly.

Peace and rest in JesusExcept one man, Jesus. He kept all the Law perfectly. He achieved the holiness that comes from doing all the Law correctly. And when He had crossed that metaphorical bridge over the rift and reached the other side, Jesus announced, “It is finished.”

Except a lot of people don’t believe it is finished. Even Christians. Therein lies the problem.

Every Sunday in churches across the world, people sit in chairs, pews, and even on the bare ground and wonder what they need to do to cross the bridge. Because the rift is still there, and if they don’t cross the bridge, they remain separated from God. The rift they know. It’s that the bridge has been crossed for them that they fail to grok.

This sitting in church Sunday after Sunday and sometimes days in-between and wondering how one is going to cross that rift is one of the greatest plagues on the modern Church. It’s a sign that even though the Church has the Good News of Jesus, it’s not sinking into people.

The major difference between Christianity and nearly all other religions is that those other religions demand people cross the bridge using their own power, their own religiosity, their own supposed holiness. What methods people use varies from religion to religion, but one thing stays the same: people utterly fail to cross the bridge on their own.

In the Christian faith we have the Good News, or what we call the Gospel. That Good News first heard by the people of Palestine 2,000-plus years ago proclaims that Jesus has come on our behalf, and He will cross the bridge for us. He will keep perfectly all the Law, and not only this, but He will be the sacrifice of blood demanded as recompense for Man creating the rift in the first place.

Jesus came, lived, ministered, and accomplished.

Jesus did it all. It is finished. No more recompense necessary. No more need to cross the bridge on our own. Jesus did it all for us.

The question is of holiness, that which is required to approach a holy, perfect God who has set a bridge across the rift. The answer is in Jesus. His holiness in keeping all the Law and satisfying the debt becomes your holiness and mine. For those who come to Jesus as their hope for crossing, Jesus imputes His holiness. By being in Jesus, we have crossed the bridge and been counted holy and debt-free because God sees what Jesus did for us, not what we try to do for ourselves.

In the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, the stoner rock band releases its newest album the band members believe will be bigger than The Beatles’ White Album. Spinal Tap’s album is entirely black. No band name. No title. No cover information. Nothing but blackness. Trying to wrap their heads around the concept, they ask, “How much more black could this be?” To which comes the answer, “None. None more black.”

How much more holy can a believer in Jesus be? None. None more holy. Jesus did it all on His own for us. Nothing we can do on our own can make us more holy, more acceptable to God. It is finished. We can’t add to what Jesus did, either. Jesus took care of it all. Our ridiculous contributions add nothing. The Bible calls our feeble attempts “dirty rags.”

The fancy word for trying to cross the bridge on our own religious merits is Pelagianism. It should be better known as AbjectFailure-ism. Weirdly, while some people reject Pelagianism, they’re OK with a modified form of it. Saying that Jesus got us mostly there but adding our own merits boosts us all the way across is the mockery of Jesus’ “It is finished” known as Semi-Pelagianism.

Those who love what Martin Luther started in the Protestant Reformation get a hoot out of mocking–for good reason–the stupidity that is Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism.


You see, we have this problem of should-ing in the Protestant Church. Christians who say they believe Jesus when He says He finished it all don’t actually believe. Instead, Church leaders and other well-meaning busybodies tell us we should tithe, should volunteer, should read our Bible ___ number of times a day, and should pray ___ times a day too. We should have a monthly date night with our spouse, should avoid the wrong kinds of movies, should do this thing or that action. Should, should, should. The result? Too few Christians believe that Jesus said He finished the job and paid the price so that we can lay down all these shoulds and live truly free. Instead, we get a message that shoulds all over everyone.

That’s not Good News. It’s removing the chains of the Old Testament Law that Jesus said He fulfilled and freed us from and putting on chains we make out of a mistaken reading of the New Testament. We exchange one imprisonment for another. We’ve just added a coating of Jesus to the chains.

That’s the crazy thing about the Gospel. You and I don’t have more lawful requirements to fulfill. This is what makes the Good News a scandal. The idea that we can’t add anything to what Jesus finished galls people. It angers because we want to be proud of our own religiosity.

The group Jesus opposed more than any other were the Pharisees. They insisted they had crossed the bridge on their merit. When Jesus pointed out that they’d failed miserably, they sought to kill Him. That’s how much they worshiped their own religious pride.

Each of us has his or her own Pharisee inside that insists we can keep the Law and not fail. There’s an American version of that Pharisee too, one that tells us we have other laws to keep such as being beautiful, successful, empowered, in control, and masters of our own American Dream.

Whether an American Phariseeism or the old-fashioned original kind, that Pharisee in us is both deceived and a damned liar.

Jesus condemns this self-righteous, “don’t need your help Jesus because we’ve got this bridge crossing thing covered on our own” Phariseeism every time He can.

In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the younger son tells his father that he wishes dear ol’ dad were dead and demands his inheritance, which he then blows on hookers, booze, and partying. Eventually reduced to coveting slop intended for pigs, he crawls back home demoralized.

At first sight of the prodigal, his father runs to him and tearfully welcomes him with open arms because he loves that messed up ingrate kid so much.

Meanwhile, the elder son stands by dad, pissed, because he never whored around, didn’t squander his inheritance, and was here at home all along, dutifully keeping his own nose clean.

Which of the two sons gets the stern lecture from the father? You’d think the younger, but you’d be very, very wrong.

Jesus also tells the story of a farmer who hires some men at the first of the day to come work in the field after those early risers agree to the wage. But the work is too big, so later in the day he hires more. Then even more. Near the close of the day, the farmer is still hiring.

Finally, the day ends. The farmer pays everyone he hired the same money, but the men who worked from the early morning, who agreed to work for that amount, are hacked off. They insist they acted like the best kind of workers and not like those who frittered away most of the day and only came out to work near sundown. How can the farmer give everyone, fritterers included, the same pay?

In both parables, Jesus points out self-righteousness: We’re scandalized by God’s ignoring of what humans do to try to cross the bridge, incredulous that He looks only at what Jesus has done.

Like the father of the prodigal, God stands at the end of the bridge over the rift with His arms open. In fact, when we hear the fancy spiritual word repentance, all it means is that God has His arms open and simply wants us to cross the bridge and come home to Him. And because the bridge was already crossed by Jesus and the bridge itself paid for, being in Jesus means we’re already considered to have crossed and paid. There’s nothing more to do but rest in the arms of Father God.

No more tragic figure exists than the person who believes Jesus is God but who spends all of life trying to be a “good Christian.” To him or her, I say this: Stop trying! It is finished. Jesus did it all. Rest in Jesus’ success. If you try to perform on His behalf, you’re usurping the role of God again, which was the very error that started this mess!

Some folks will object to this post on the grounds that we need to be slaving away to perfect ourselves to look more like Jesus. But the promise from God is that because of Jesus’ finished work, that’s not our job but God’s alone. He is both the author and finisher of our faith. It’s all on Him to make us look more like Jesus and none of it on us. Can the pot mold itself? No, only the Potter can mold it as He sees fit.

It is finished. All we have to do is acknowledge our failure to get across the bridge on our own and our desperate need for Jesus. Then we can head home and fall into the embrace of our Heavenly Father.

And that’s the Gospel’s Good News.

Forgiveness That Isn’t?


Keith had seen Franklin Fastener, his great-great-great-grandfather’s company, through many trials in his tenure since taking over from his dad at the tender age of 30. The company made the best nuts and bolts in America. Which is why it pained Keith to think that he might have to close it down on his watch. Too little business coupled with too much competition from China. So when ConHugeCo asked for a bid on a massive project that would keep Franklin rolling in dough for another decade or more, Keith was ecstatic. He spent three months working hand in hand with ConHugeCo’s people to ensure the bidding went smoothly and the multinational got everything it asked for—both immediately and in spades. So it came as a terrible shock when the winning bid went to Shin Dao Manufacturing. Keith went home an hour later and cried for the first time in as long as he could remember.

Kendra first spotted Zach when he prayed for an elderly couple after the service. She was new to the church then, but it was impossible for her not to notice the tall, handsome, young man. Something clicked inside her when their eyes first met. It took Zach almost a year to ask her out, but when he did, she was convinced that this was finally The One. Zach was loved by many and could not be more respected. He had a job in banking and seemed to do no wrong. After a couple months of “by the book Christian dating,” Kendra thought she might finally hear the three words every gal longs for, but instead, Zach said he didn’t think that the relationship was working for him, and he walked away.

Rebecca had the house, the means, and the love of children to start a daycare in her home. Her husband, Rick, encouraged her to go for it, especially since many in their neighborhood were struggling to find good daycare. Though Rick has a solid job as a security specialist for a large computer company, he and Rebecca were planning to give her daycare income to some friends who were missionaries working in an orphanage in Uganda. But Rebecca’s elation and godly hope soon turned to despair. There would be no daycare in her home because the state would not license her. Why? Because in Rick’s youth he had been convicted of felony computer hacking before he turned his life around, and the state would not issue a daycare license if a convicted felon lived in the home.

Keith, Kendra, and Rebecca. Three burned people.

'Parable of the Wicked Servant' by Domenico FettiThen Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
—Matthew 18:21-35 ESV

We know well this passage about the unjust steward who received forgiveness for his massive debt but would not forgive another for a much smaller one. My pastor preached on it yesterday and talked about forgiving those who sin against you as a bedrock discipline for true disciples.

I wondered about those cases when no sin is involved, though. That comes up often enough to merit some discussion. In fact, I discussed these same cases with three friends after the service.

In the examples above, ConHugeCo simply chose another winner for their bid, while Zach decided that his relationship with Kelly was not going to lead to marriage. Keith and Kelly felt the brunt of those decisions, and ultimately felt terrible and suffered for the decisions, but again, no one sinned, so by the Bible’s standard, there was nothing or no one to forgive. In Rebecca’s situation, Rick had been forgiven years ago. And the state was just abiding by its own laws in an attempt to protect children.

In these three cases, each person feels wronged. But is forgiveness merited? And to whom?

What do you think? Why?

The Forgotten Prayer of Jesus


One of the final prayers of Jesus before His crucifixion:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me….”
—John 17:20-23

Gordian KnotThese are the words of God Himself in the Flesh, Jesus Christ, and yet that prayer carries a bitter irony: We Christians are far from one. If our oneness is to be the very representation of the Trinity’s own oneness, how then is it possible for us to be so fragmented and hostile to those people who share and affirm our belief that Jesus Christ came in the flesh?

It makes me wonder how much better would be the state of Christendom today around the world if we spent more time in genial, wise conversation with those who disagree with our particular interpretation of doctrine or biblical interpretation. Instead, we go to great lengths to prove our “foes” wrong and believe ourselves the best people to deliver that correction.

What does it mean to work toward ensuring that Jesus’ prayer of perfect oneness matters in how we conduct ourselves with brothers and sisters who disagree with us?

Take one position that divides Christians across the country. It may not seem like a make or break doctrinal stance, but I’ve witnessed the most terrible things done in the name of this disagreement: the consumption of alcohol by Christians.

For some Christians, anyone who drinks alcohol might as well be the devil’s own spawn, Christian or not. That said, I drink alcohol. I have a glass of wine with meals now and then. Sometimes I might have a beer.

The Bible says this about wine:

You [God] cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
—Psalms 104:14-15

And with all due respect to those who would like to see Prohibition return, grape juice doesn’t have the same ability to gladden the heart of man as a good glass or two of a fine Pinot Noir. Let’s get real here.

That said, I perfectly understand those who shun alcohol, especially when they’ve had a bad past with it. Alcohol killed my own father. I fully support anyone’s decision not to drink wine, beer, or spirits.

Yet how these two sides can tear into each other! Especially when a glass of wine with dinner somehow gets conflated with “do not get drunk with wine.”

And should I go into the battle over the continuance/cessation of the charismata? Or of credo- vs. paedobaptism? Can we talk about eschatology? Don’t our positions on those doctrines make an enormous difference in the fundamental ways in which we believe and how we practice the Faith?

Can we disagree and still be one? Or will the group in power run roughshod over the other?

How many issues have we made divisive in the Body of Christ? And what about Jesus’ oneness prayer?

So alcoholic drink consumption, despite the fact it can be used as club in some Christian circles, isn’t a major doctrinal issue for many. Or any of those others I mentioned. OK, what else then?

My post “Better Than a Beating” discusses how to handle someone who is 90 percent accurate, but not 100. Fact is, each of us has been at 90—or even less. In fact, some of us may just now be reaching that 90 percent stage. Growth means leaving behind what we were and becoming more like Christ is. That’s a continual refinement that won’t be complete until we draw our final breath. Agreed?

So what about the worst of the worst Scripture manglers out there? Well, even they have common ground with us if they conform to the following biblical test:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
—1 John 4:1-3

Do we know anyone who believes and confesses that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and yet he or she still professes some wonky theology?

If we do, then our role is to go to that person and try to win them to a more fully developed and Scriptural theology. Isn’t that what Christ would do? The Bible seems to say that it is:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
—Matthew 12:18-21

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
—Luke 15:4-7

The Bible adds this:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
—2 Peter 3:9

If the Scriptures says that Christ is gentle with the bruised reed and the faintly glowing wick, if He is willing to leave the many to rescue the one that wandered away, if He is patient with us and with our progress toward Him, how is it that we so rarely exhibit those same traits toward others, especially perceived theological foes?

One final statement concerning the Scriptures just noted—please read this again:

“…a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory….”

That final phrase should warn us that the patience will some day turn into judgment for those who will not acknowledge the full truth of Jesus Christ. One day, there will no longer be any excuses, and those who dragged their heels will have no recourse.

But that day is not yet come. Until then, we are to work at being one. And it is work. No one said restoring people with flawed personal beliefs and practices would be easy. Too many of us, particularly those best equipped to handle truth correctly, often consign the flawed thinker to perdition ahead of Christ’s own, final pronouncement.

Do we believe that any one living, breathing person is beyond redemption? If so, then we have nullified the blood of Christ. If Christ has had mercy on you and me, how then can we fail to show mercy to others, even those who some would say are our enemies because their beliefs are not yet fully conformed to truth?

All God can ask of you and me is that we do not give up on those who are lurking at the fringes, no matter how great or small they might be. Justice is His alone and He will execute it at the right time. Until then, the prayer of Jesus for oneness should ever be before us. Because when we are one, the world can see His glory.