The problem of not understanding the gospel is that because people don’t understand God’s unconditional love they can never run to Him when they sin so they always end up running from Him.
I receive many emails from people who have grown up in the Christian church but never heard or never understood the gospel. Their experience was more about being moralistic than being a saved person. And for a great many people this understanding wasn’t their fault because they were taught that you had to be good for Jesus to love you and if you erred or sinned God wouldn’t love you.
The result of this understanding about God was that the focus of their relationship with Him was always based upon themselves and their performance. Their relationship with God was active, or based on what they did and didn’t do, but the joy of the gospel is our acceptance by God which is always passive.
Let me explain; in Colossians 1:13, 14 we read, “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Notice, who delivers us out of the dominion of darkness; it is God. We have no active role in our deliverance it is fully and completely through the grace of God that we have redemption and forgiveness of sins.
Only when Martin Luther discovered that salvation was passive or accepting on our part was he able to break free from discouragement, moralism and legalism. All his life he had believed he had to “do something” (be active) in his salvation, but when he finally understood salvation was a gift he accepted it and found the joy of being born again.
God has delivered us “from the dominion of darkness,” is a phrase that sometimes confuses us as Christians. We see that dominion as drunkenness, debauchery, sexual deviance and things along that line, but Biblically it is anything that we allow to take the place of Jesus in our lives.
The problem for many of us is that we use religion as a means of not allowing Jesus to be Lord of our lives. We say we will do everything that He asks or our church asks of us and then we are free to live our own way. We think following the rules and being moralistic will cut it with God and allow us to ignore His true calling for us.
Let me be frank; all of our self-righteousness, obedience, law keeping and everything else we do to earn merit with God falls far short of the Pharisees. You think you are spiritual because you’ve memorized some Bible verses? The Pharisees memorized the Torah. You think you are keeping the laws of God? Well the Pharisees leave you in the dust with their meticulous law keeping and yet Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:20
Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:20 that if you are going down the road of being moralistic and legalistic you better realize what exactly you are in for. You will have to exceed the greatest legalists of all time and you and I both know we can never do that.
Notice, we have been delivered out of the dominion of darkness into “the Kingdom of His beloved Son,” and according to Matthew 5:20 we will never enter that kingdom through our own righteousness (active righteousness). So, the question is how are we transferred from the dominion of sin to the Kingdom of God? Verse 14 of Colossians 1 reads, “In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
It is the active righteousness of Jesus that brings us redemption and the forgiveness of sins. My heart melts with sorrow when I read some of the emails that I mentioned earlier. People have spent a lifetime in sorrow and uncertainty because they believed they could never be good enough for God. These people worked so hard at being good but inside they felt dead and defeated because they understood they were failing.
But, I feel even worse for the people who write me to attack the gospel. They are so wrapped up in their beliefs and teachings that they dare not stop to see how beaten up and broken they really are. They don’t accept that all their outward activity and actions don’t earn merit with God. They miss the whole point of Scripture that they can’t be saved through their own merits.
Here’s the good news. We are all hypocrites and mess up constantly and God understands and accepts that. We can only understand and accept grace when we come to the place that we are not good enough or able to do enough to make God love us. The wonderful truth of the gospel is that God loves us in spite of us. God doesn’t love us because Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, Jesus died on the cross because the Father loved us.
When we look in the mirror and are honest with ourselves we know we fall far short of what God would have us be. All our striving and working and obeying just don’t fulfill the requirements of being all that God longs for us. But, when we look to the cross we see the way home to God. All our works, legalism and deeds we can lay at the foot of the cross along with all our other sins and we can simply embrace Him.
We meet Mary, Lazarus’ sister, three times in scripture and all three times she is at the feet of Jesus. She sits at the feet of Jesus to learn, she anoints the feet of Jesus and falls to His feet when He comes to resurrect Lazarus. As Christians we put our trust in Jesus and accept His grace and the result is we are rescued out of the dominion of darkness and saved into the Kingdom of the Son.
If you’re striving to be good enough and to work hard enough to please God, lay that burden down and truly please Him by trusting in His atoning death for you at Calvary. God loves you more than you can ever know because His love is greater than anything we can imagine. That is the nature of God.
* Please remember our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted for their faith. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/