One of the great facts of life is that no matter how much is said and heard about Jesus and the Gospel, the majority will still struggle to understand what it all means. Yes, some of the biblical stories are well known, and yes, at certain times people may rehearse those stories—evidenced by the number of biblical stories being televised at certain times of the year—but despite that, the majority still have trouble internalising what they have heard. Which is why, more commonly, people put their own twist on what it means to be a person of faith.
And that is commonly achieved in two different ways.
The first way is to deny God and remake him in our own image. As a consequence it is very common to see and hear the following attitudes towards God and his Church. “All religions are the same. They are just different pathways to get to the same goal.” “My religion is private. I don’t need to go to church.” “I lead a good life, I am a good person, and if God is good, he’ll let me in to heaven anyway.”
Now, of course, none of these sayings are consistent with the message of the Bible. Indeed, they are contrary to what God has tried to teach his people. Yet, they are examples of what happens when people are uncomfortable with God’s message and try to make the gospel more palatable for themselves.
The second way, of course, is to accept part of what is taught, and struggle with the rest. And the attitude of not being good enough for God is a good example of the acceptance of the belief that we are all sinners, whilst at the same time, denying that God would willingly sacrifice his son, in order that we can be saved.
So, as we can see then, there are common views regarding the Christian faith, which are contrary to the teaching of God, the Bible and God’s church, which are prevalent in the world today. Is it any wonder then, that just as Adam and Eve tried to hide from God in the garden when they realised they were naked, so people try to run and hide from God today too.
And that is why it is vitally important that if we claim to be people of faith, that we get it right. And the passage from Mark’s Gospel gives us a few points which may be helpful.
Now the passage tells of a time when Jesus was walking alongside a lake and when a crowd gathered around him—and he used the opportunity to teach them. And, as he was walking along, he came across Levi, a tax collector. So, he went to Levi’s house and had a meal with Levi and a number of Levi’s friends described as “tax collectors and sinners”. At which, we are told that the Pharisees expressed their disgust, wanting nothing to do with mixing with those they considered to be the lowest of the low. And that, in turn, gave Jesus the opportunity to teach again, telling those present in no uncertain terms that the reason he had come was to save “sinners.”
What we have in this short passage, then, is the whole crux of the gospel—what it means, and the commitment that God requires of his people.
So, what’s it all about? It’s about the fact that God’s creatures—all of us—are sinners. We all make mistakes, every one of us; not one of us is perfect. But it’s about the fact that God has a solution to the problem of our sin—a way in which, when we get to judgement day, we can be treated as innocent of all wrong doing. It’s about the solution to the problem of sin, which entails the direct involvement of his son—the person we know as Jesus. And the reason for his involvement? Because there is simply no other way.
It’s about the fact that Jesus came to tell people the truth; that he wanted people to know what God (and his solution) was all about. He wanted to give them a choice, so they could choose for themselves. It’s about the fact that Jesus chose, at times, to be with the people society considered to be the worst in the world. In other words, Jesus came as much for them as for the people who were considered to be “good”. And it’s about him standing up to those who would preach a different gospel, because they found God’s gospel unpalatable—specifically, the Pharisees who were far more comfortable with their own interpretation of God.
So, of course, when we understand what God and the gospel are about, then the remarks and attitudes we see and hear so often in our society are shown to be the nonsense that they are. “All religions are the same, they are just different pathways to get to the same goal.” “My religion is private. I don’t need to go to church.” “I lead a good life; I am a good person. If God is good, he’ll let me in to heaven anyway.”
Indeed, they reflect so poorly on the Christian gospel, and are so damaging to the real gospel, they we shouldn’t be prepared to simply let them go. At their heart is the idea of making God in our own image, and that is not a very healthy attitude to take.
Having said that, it is true that none of us can truly understand the mind of God. If we could we would gods ourselves. But God has given us some clues, and some very big clues, about what he and his gospel are all about. And it’s not our job to change and adjust it to suit ourselves. Rather it is a matter of grasping what he has given us with faith, and running with the solution to sin that he has offered.
So, the majority of people struggle to understand what it all means. We may struggle ourselves. But that is no reason to change the gospel to mean something other than what God has said. On the contrary, who God is, and what he has done, are the very things that should be grasped by faith and shared with those who have yet to respond to the message, as it was originally intended.
Posted 3rd May 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis