What Does Living The Gospel Look Like?

Nov 2nd, 2019 | By | Category: Christian Life, Featured Issues

One of the major themes of Issues in Perspective is that God’s Word gives humanity the insight, discernment, and resources to accurately analyze the human condition.  A major conviction of cultural Christianity, which dominates much of evangelical Christianity today, is that politics is the answer to the human condition.  If we just elect the “right” people to political office, everything will be fine or at least tolerable.  The ringing message of Scripture is that the foremost problem of the human condition is a spiritual one.  Politics rarely solves the core problem, but Jesus totally transforms the individual and the culture.   Today, tragically, “Christians reflect the cultural attitude of vengeance rather than Christ’s countercultural posture of forgiveness. That’s the politics of 2019, for sure, but that’s not the call of the Christian.”  Cultural Christianity is not countercultural.  Following and identifying with Jesus is!

What caused the Greco-Roman world to consider the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Michael Green argues that there were three dynamics of the Greco-Roman worldview that Christians challenged:

  1. Greco-Roman men and women did not regard belief as necessary for the rituals of their religion. So long as they offered the traditional sacrifices, all would be well.  You were not required to believe in the multiple deities of that world.  Most were careful to continue the sacrifices on which the safety of the state and the well-being of society were help to depend.  But a personal relationship with Zeus or Apollo or Aphrodite was a totally foreign concept.
  2. Greco-Roman men and women did not regard ethics as a part of their religion. Hence the debauchery and license of that civilization.  “Conversion” (if it existed in this culture) never demanded a total break with one’s past, a renunciation of all that was wrong, all rooted in the very nature of their deities.  Such a step did not exist in this world.  Greco-Roman philosophy tried to add ethical standards based on terms such as virtue, but such an attempt was never tied to God.
  3. Christianity walked into this world with exclusive claims about Jesus, His Lordship and His ethical claims. Conversion was a radical transformation that involved renouncing one’s past, and adopting an entirely new set of ethical standards all rooted in the character and nature of God.  Salvation was transformational for it involved faith in One who died for your sins, was resurrected in power and One who gave you a new nature with a new power to live.

There is a significant similarity between the Greco-Roman culture of the 1st century and American civilization of the 21st.  Belief in self is the number one belief in the Postmodern, post-Christian America.  Autonomy is the primary ethic of this civilization.  There are no universal, ethical standards binding on Americans, for each is a law unto self.  And much of evangelical Christianity has accommodated to these assumptions.  For many evangelicals, the power of the Gospel and its transformational consequences has been lost.

Let’s review two fundamental propositions of the Gospel that evangelical Christians are to represent and proclaim.

  • First is admitting that the essential problem of the human condition is sin. In 1953 President Eisenhower, borrowing Lincoln’s words, urged Americans “to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow.”  The call for national confession came from Eisenhower’s proclamation designating a National Day of Prayer.  Indeed, he called it a “National Day of Penance and Prayer.”  Can you imagine President Trump declaring “sin as a national failing”?  What has replaced any focus on sin in our culture?  In 1973 psychiatrist Karl Menninger published a book entitled, “Whatever Became of Sin?”  He lamented the growing preoccupation of America with the legal language of crime.  He wrote:  “The policeman has replaced the priest.”  David Bashevkin, an important Jewish educator in New York, declares that “America needs a Yom Kippur—a day to reflect on our guilt, however, defined, and take steps, however small, to make amends.”  He adds, “Embracing the ‘humble sorrow’ of sin can help restore the hope and mercy that genuine repentance brings.”  Sin is an alien idea in Postmodern America.
  • Second is practicing and proclaiming the power of forgiveness. A recent manifestation of the power of forgiveness occurred in a Dallas, Texas courtroom.  Botham Jean was killed by an off-duty police officer, Amber Guyger, on 6 September 2018.  Guyger walked into what she believed was her apartment and shot and killed Botham in his apartment. By now, many have seen the heart-wrenching story of Botham’s brother (Brandt) delivering a courtroom speech of love. He declared, “If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you.”  He told Guyger that Botham (his dead brother) would have wanted her to give her life to Christ.  He then asked the judge if he could give her a hug.  He forgave Amber Guyger.  He overflowed with the love of God.  Ed Stetzer, of Wheaton College and the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center, writes that “While this act of forgiveness is shocking to the world, it has been the centerpiece of the Christian faith for 2,000 years. When Christians are actually living out the truths of the gospel, they show the world a better way . . .  Brandt, who understood the heart and life of his brother Botham more so than anyone else, exhorts the world towards the radical nature of gospel forgiveness.” Forgiveness, at the end of the day, puts the amazing power of the gospel on display.

In his Essay On Forgiveness, C.S. Lewis picks up on how Christ’s forgiveness sets the tone for our own posture towards others:  “Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night, “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.” We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what he says.”  As Stetzer correctly observes, “Lewis boils it down to a straightforward yet difficult truth: ‘To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.’  Following Stetzer, what is so radical about forgiveness?

  1. Forgiveness is countercultural. One reason why acts of forgiveness such as Brandt Jean’s are so shocking is because they are countercultural.  Vitriol is winning the day. Our anger and bitterness result in the justification of “counterpunching.”  Jesus’ insistence upon forgiveness is truly countercultural.  “Jesus calls his followers to sacrificially turn the other cheek. Jesus puts no cap on the limits of our forgiveness—70 x 7. We can’t use another’s sin as an excuse for our own.  This is why forgiveness is countercultural. More importantly, this is why forgiveness–in the vein of Jesus—is supernatural.”
  2. “Forgiveness does not eliminate the consequences of sin. Does forgiveness condone or excuse sin? This is what we believe—why our culture—and even many Christians—struggles with forgiveness. We believe offering forgiveness negates accountability. But this is a lie.”   Theologically speaking, this is not even biblical. On the cross, Jesus cried, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus wasn’t excusing the sin of humanity that nailed him to the cross—he was taking their punishment.  There were and are consequences to sin.  But forgiveness frees us from seeking vengeance or retaliation, for Jesus took upon himself the ultimate judgment for sin. We don’t have to express, “We hope they get what they deserved.” Jesus took it on the cross.  That is why Brandt could surprisingly say, “I don’t want you to go to jail… I want what is best for you.” In short, he wanted for her what Jesus desires for all—redemption and forgiveness.  “There are present and temporal consequences to sinful behavior—regardless of how inconsequential or heinous they might be. For Guyger, she received a sentence of 10 years. That was her consequence.” Forgiveness does not negate consequences, nor an insistence on justice.
  3. Forgiveness is a fundamental apologetic of the gospel. What else can display the reality and power of the gospel of Jesus more than his followers living out his call to forgive?  “Its counterculture and supernatural nature confronts onlookers with their own limitations. It sets them in search for the source of such love beyond the idols of our material world.  In this respect, these acts of forgiveness are even an apologetic to the church, a call to us to reciprocate the very forgiveness we applaud.”
  4. Forgiveness frees the soul of the one forgiving. So many examples of forgiveness come out of the African-American church—from Mother Emmanuel to today. “They have been longer on the margin of society and they remind us of the power of forgiveness. Many have been more wronged.  Forgiveness makes the road to healing possible, but not instantaneous. It is the opening, not the conclusion.” This is where the church needs to step in as agents of reconciliation in this ongoing process of healing for victims even after they’ve forgiven.  “There’s this misconception that forgiveness is a one-time act—forget and move on. What a wonderful world it would be if this were the case. However, we each have both our own and our collective memories that we carry throughout life. The pain others can cause us, although lessened by the power of forgiveness, may continue for decades.  But the beauty of the gospel is that we have the opportunity to continue to reflect God’s very nature of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation through a heart and mind committed to forgiveness and understanding that we live in a fallen world.”



Stetzer:  “When we are able to say with heartfelt words that we have forgiven those who have harmed us most, we have understood not only the power of transformation but also the gravity and enormity of what Christ did on the cross.  Brandt forgave Amber. It reminds us of who Jesus is, who we are in Christ, and points the world to a different way.”

The story of forgiveness in the Amber Guyger case has one more stunning component:  After visiting with the parents of Botham Jean, Judge Tammy Kemp returned to the courtroom with her personal Bible in her hands.  She approached Amber Guyger at the defense table and handed her the Bible, pointing out John 3:16, saying, “You can have mine.  I’ve got three or four more at home.  This is the one I use every day.”  Then, Guyger, convicted of murder, reached out her arms and the judge, “still in her black robe and pearled necklace, wrapped in an embrace.”  Compassion and grace filled that courtroom in Dallas.  Supernatural forgiveness carried the day.  Justice was served but the forgiveness of Jesus Christ marked the power of that movement.  Both the problem and the solution of the human condition were exhibited that day.

See Ed Stetzer, “He Hugged the Woman Who Shot His Brother: The Power of the Gospel in the Botham Embrace” in Today in Christian History (3 October 2019); Sarah Mervosh and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs in the New York Times (5 October 2019); Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, pp. 203-233; and David Bashevkin in the Wall Street Journal (4 October 2019).

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2 Comments to “What Does Living The Gospel Look Like?”

  1. Peter Wiebe says:

    Great article, however, let’s not just single out President Trump, because seriously, can you see any possibility of any of the Democrat Candidates for President declaring “sin as a national failing”? Let’s look a little further than just attacking the current President when nothing, I mean nothing, better is being presented. Just name one current candidate that would be an improvement of our sinful circumstance in North America.

  2. Arlie Rauch says:

    Good emphasis and examples!