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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How Do You Love the Gospel?

I hear a lot of people talk about their love for the gospel. But then, I also hear a lot of talk about how people “love” ice cream, their cars, their mates, their pets, and the NFL.

I’m pretty sure there’s a difference in each case.

There are different ways to love. Some of them are a million miles from the others. So what are people talking about when they say they really love the gospel?

I’m going to give you three different ways. There are probably more, but I’ve seen these three a lot.

Type 1: The Good Old Gospel

Some people love (what they call) “the gospel” the way they love Christmas. For them, it’s the “old, old story”, the “grand old gospel”. It’s warm, it’s comforting, it’s familiar, and it’s sentimentally satisfying. They feel happy when they hear it recited each Sunday and disappointed if they don’t hear it. Just hearing it makes them feel faithful, secure and obedient.

They even like fire-and-brimstone preaching because it strikes them as thrillingly defiant, and in any case they know they’re safely on the far side of any risk themselves. At the same time, they don’t really worry much about whether or not there are unbelievers present to hear it. They don’t feel anything is missing if deep teaching in their church is replaced with quick-hit “get-saved” messages. For them, it’s all good so long as “the good old gospel is being preached”.

They say they really love the gospel, but really they love it in much the same way old ladies love Royal Doulton figurines; as an aesthetic exercise, without regard to functionality.

Type 2: The Gospel as Life Preserver

But not everybody’s like that. There are people who love the gospel the way people love life preservers, charitable societies and universal health care; because of the good it does for people. It gets people out of hell and sends them to heaven. It makes them moral and gives them a reason to live. It organizes their lives and even their thoughts. It makes them better people, on the whole. And it makes them one of us.

These people thrill to numbers, to tracts, to altar calls and to missions biographies and to dates and signatures in the flyleaves of Bibles. They love the gospel because it saves souls.

Type 3: The Gospel as Doorway

These people love the salvation message as a doorway. No matter how ornate and welcoming a doorway is, its real function is to open the way to richer and better places beyond. It’s a way into a whole living space where one can move, grow and mature. More importantly, it’s the doorway into relationship. It makes one a beloved one among beloved ones, a saint among saints. And above all, it is the way into relationship with God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

People who love the gospel this way love it because it’s not the end of the story, but rather the beginning of a wonderful new life that waits to be explored, appropriated and enjoyed. It is the doorway to heaven, because heaven is to see and know God. But relationships are ongoing things: they grow, they develop, they mature, they increase. The doorway of salvation is not the stopping point for people who love the gospel of Christ, for Christ is the goal of their gospel.

One of the hallmarks of these lovers of the gospel is that they don’t just love evangelism; they love discipleship. They don’t just long to see people escaping death but growing into fullness of life. They know that the course isn’t completed until all believers come into that fullness.

The Key Question

When we say we “love the gospel”, who is it we are really loving?

If we love the “good old gospel”, we are really loving only ourselves. We are indulging ourselves in sentimental traditions but not spending much thought on whether or not those traditions are actually communicating the gospel to others or achieving the Divine purpose.

If we love the gospel for salvation, then we are loving mankind. Yet we don’t love them much. We love only in a blinkered and myopic way, seeing only the objective of rescue but not any further potential. We may even be lazy, willing to do just enough to get the saved “across the line”, so to speak, but unenthused about the work of taking him or her any further, and really, uncaring about the whole question of why the Lord has saved him or her in the first place.

Only if we love the gospel as what it is — a doorway — are we genuinely loving God. For then we are loving it for its utility to him in achieving his declared purpose — namely, to bring men and women to ongoing life and relationship with him, to constitute them as worshippers and faithful saints, his eternal companions, friends and beloved ones.

Convicting Bit

So do you love the gospel?

Just how do you love it?

Want to know how to tell? Ask yourself this: how are your personal resources and the resources of your local church being expended? Are you focusing on recycling the message, but not concerning yourself with who is present to hear it? Are you notching your gun for each “soul” saved, but taking little thought for their lives beyond? Or are you focused on what gives the Lord what he desires — true worshippers, true disciples, true saints, a Body worthy of our great Head

So do we really love the gospel?

And should we not start to love it the better way?

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