One Way to Think about the Gospel
Until recently the emphasis on justice and social action has been largely ignored in evangelical communities due to a misunderstanding, and therefore domestication, of Jesus Christ. Often we fail to recognize that part of what Jesus was accomplishing was offering a new way of being human. It was a new way of being human for the ancient Jews, as well as believers today, which differs from the versions offered by much of Western society. The radical individualism of the Western world has influenced the way we perceive Jesus and his ministry. So much is the case that we refer to him as our “personal Lord and Savior”—an expression found nowhere in the Scriptures. Part of Jesus’ ministry was indeed to save the lost individual, but also the greater community that through him would become the family of God. But because we have fashioned Jesus into one primarily concerned with the individual, those outside the church walls have been largely ignored.
Undoubtedly, our perspective of Jesus has distorted our perspective of others and ourselves. Jesus told the masses they were to be the light of the world. But do we view others, and ourselves, as “the light of the world”? Our perception of people will have a powerful impact on them, for one’s perception is not easily hidden. Our neighbor is a child of God, the apple of their Father’s eye, so the way that we treat them ought to be in a way that is pleasing to God. We can reason, however, that if we don’t view ourselves as cherished and held by God it will be difficult to view others in that way. Thus paying attention to the need for social action will also be difficult.
Justice and social action is something we should embrace as an indisputable goal; however, it shouldn't be the goal—the goal ought to be God himself. In recent years we’ve seen a discontinuity between two generations. The former generation placed a high emphasis on one’s personal relationship with Jesus, while the current generation places a high emphasis on social action. There must be a balance of the two. Jesus was about both relationship and action. His inauguration of the Kingdom of God was (is) about removing evil from our external world, while also removing evil from our own hearts. So to follow Jesus is to live between the tensions of both. We can’t, on the one hand, be quick to refrain from destructive behaviors while individualizing Christianity and we can’t, on the other hand, indulge ourselves without control while being active against child labor. What we need is balance, what we need is integration.
Through himself, Jesus has offered a reflection of and way through which people can become, and in some sense already are, image-bearers of God. And if through his ministry Jesus has instituted a new family, the family of God, then our ties to one another are thicker than blood and connected for all eternity. We must then be concerned with both removing evil from our hearts and the world. Despite popular thought, nothing about this is “radical.” This has little to do with “being radical for Jesus.” It’s more of a matter of simply asking, does my life make sense in light of the gospel of Jesus? Am I living, as the apostle Paul says, a manner of live worthy of the gospel of Jesus?
Living a life with God means embracing all that he is and all that life offers and calls you to. He is not a God of either/or positions, but rather both/and. This both/and position of personal piety and social action represents a full, integrated gospel of Jesus and pushes us toward holistic reconciliation with God and our neighbor.
What is a way that has been helpful for you to think about the gospel?