The Restorative Heart of Jesus (Part 1)

The Restorative Heart of Jesus (Part 1)

I recently asked a group of people this question, when you look at Jesus in the gospels, what do you see? How you answer that question will greatly affect not just your worldview and perspective on life, but even in your way of thinking within your worldview and belief. The writer of Hebrews went so far as to say that Jesus is the “exact imprint of His nature” (Heb. 1:3). So once again, what we perceive when we look at Jesus in the gospels, should also affect what we think about God.

There are two post resurrection accounts in the gospels that I believe give us a good picture about who Jesus is and what his heart is for people. I’m going to look at both of these in a two-part blog (this being the first). When we understand this, it should then cause us to believe what God the Father’s heart is for people. That Jesus is in to restoration and so therefore, God is a restorative God.

The interesting thing about the post resurrection accounts is the fact that Jesus, after defeating  death, hell, and the grave through the power of resurrection, decided to even pursue any one of His former followers who had abandoned him and left him in his darkest hour.

The first account is that of Thomas.

Have you ever been defined by one weak moment in your life? Have you ever had a nickname that you couldn’t seem to shake no matter how much you changed? This is the story of Thomas. He has one moment of weakness in regards to analytical doubt, and throughout the rest of church history, he is forever nicknamed “doubting Thomas.” We read about this post resurrection account in John 20:24-29, where it says:

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

What I love about the restorative heart of Jesus in this narrative is that Jesus doesn’t give up on Thomas even though Thomas has given up on him. Though Thomas is full of doubt and his rational-analytical mind is getting the best of him in this moment, Jesus comes to him and reveals himself as the Resurrected Lord to once again, ignite lasting faith in Thomas. So many times, we forget that Thomas had left everything he had and followed Jesus for 3.5 years. Just like many others, he had placed his faith and trust in Jesus as Messiah and things didn’t turn out the way he had anticipated. Thomas had pre-conceived ideas of what the Messiah’s kingdom was to look like, and crucifixion was not a part of it. At one point, Thomas was ready to die for the sake of Christ (John 11:8-16).

Church history tells us that Thomas went on to be a great missionary to many neighboring countries in the Middle East as he proclaimed the Gospel message in ancient Babylon, where Iraq is today. He then went to Persia, present-day Iran, and continued to proclaim the message of Jesus and His resurrection. He eventually ended up in Malabar on the west coast of India in 52 AD. It is said that when the Portuguese landed in India in the early 1600s, they found a group of Christians there — the Mar Thoma Church –established through Thomas’ preaching a millennium and a half before. Finally, Thomas traveled to the east coast of India, continuing to preach the gospel unashamedly. He was killed near Mylapore in about 72 AD, near present-day Madras. Tradition tells us that he was thrown into a pit, then pierced through with a spear thrown by a Brahmin. He who had so fervently proclaimed his unbelief carried the Christian message of love and forgiveness to the ends of the earth in his generation.

This disciple who would forever be known as “doubting Thomas,” became a great evangelist and missionary for the cause of the Kingdom and followed Jesus to the point of his death. Had Jesus not revealed Himself to Thomas in his moment of weakness and doubt, imagine how different Thomas’ story could have ended up.

I believe this narrative of Thomas reveals several things about the restorative heart of Jesus that should shape our perspective about God.

  1. Jesus isn’t offended by our analytical minds or doubt.
  2. Jesus will often meet us in our place of doubt and questioning.
  3. Jesus reveals Himself in unique ways to each of us.

“Christianity offers not merely a consolation but a restoration — not just of the life we had but of the life we always wanted but never achieved.”

– Tim Keller

Written by: Timothy Woodcock

Pharisees In Unusual Places

Pharisees In Unusual Places

Last year I preached a series at my church called “Kingdom Come.” Throughout the series, we took an in-depth look at what the Kingdom of God looks. Prior to Jesus announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, there came a strange man with wild hair and a very peculiar diet from a desert community who also announced that the time of the Kingdom was about to be fulfilled. His name was John the Baptist.

In one of the passages about John, he comes into contact with a group of Pharisees and Sadducees who had gone out to the wilderness to see if the claims about John were true. His interaction with them is quite alarming as well as entertaining. In Matthew 3:7-10, it says: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’”

For John the Baptist, the Kingdom of God was an announcement that the Messianic Age had come with both salvation and judgement. There was salvation offered to those who would turn from their ways and allow the Kingdom rule and reign of God to govern their lives. For those who would rely on their man-made, religious systems and ideologies (Pharisees & Sadducees), there would be judgement.

Growing up, I always associated the Pharisaical spirit as being connected to legalism. Whenever someone was being judgmental and legalistic, I have to confess that I was quick to pull the “Brood of Vipers” card and call that person out for being what I believed to be Pharisaical. However, as I began to thoroughly study the Gospels, I realized that the Pharisaical spirit isn’t so much connected with legalism, but has much more to do with self-righteousness and antagonism toward anything that looks or sounds different than its own view or perspective. Legalism just happens to be one of its manifestations.

With this understanding in mind, I’ve come to realize how often I too have been Pharisaical. I think all of us can identify with a self-righteous attitude, and we often allow ourselves to become antagonistic toward differing views and perspectives. This tendency is most evident in our current society that does most of its interactions via social media where everyone feels they have a platform to express just how right they are and how wrong everyone else is. Unfortunately, it’s often Christians who scream the loudest through their rapid finger-typing rebukes, setting the world and the Church straight… for the glory of God, of course.

I’ve surprisingly found Pharisees in just about every theological corner, ready to defend their so-called ‘right interpretation’ of things, and antagonize and harass all those who may see or interpret through a different lens. I’ve met people who are emphatic about the grace message and liberation, and yet have a Pharisaical spirit. I’ve met Pharisees who adhere to pacifism and the Kingdom message. During last year’s election season the Pharisaical spirit was rampant in both those that adhere to conservative policies and those who adhere to liberal policies.

My hope is that we as Christians can soon realize that unity does not mean uniformity nor conformity… and we will learn that we can love, appreciate, and journey in life with people who think, interpret, vote, and perceive things differently than us. We don’t have to cower on our positions, but we also don’t have to be self-righteous and antagonistic toward those who differ from us.

The Apostle Paul had to deal with this issue in Romans. Many so-called Christ followers were getting bent out of shape about what people were eating and drinking. His words in Romans 14:17-19 would do us well in the 21st Century – “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building.”

I believe the greatest thing we can do for the sake of our witness in the world is not to venomously contend for what we stand for and what we stand against, but rather to be defined as a people who walk humbly and seek peace in all situations. Stand strong in your convictions, but realize that standing strong in your convictions doesn’t mean attacking those with different convictions.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Micah 6:8

Written by: Tim Woodcock

The Gospel Of The Kingdom

The Gospel Of The Kingdom

I grew up in the Pentecostal/Charismatic church world and we were taught a lot about going to Heaven and what we had to “do” to get there. Many of our songs were about going to Heaven and it seemed like all of the joy and fun was “over yonder” or somewhere in the “sweet bye and bye.” I do not remember hearing about the Kingdom of God being within us or that the apostles in the book of Acts preached around 18 or so sermons and not one of them was about the afterlife or going to Heaven or hell. Now, that does not mean there is not an afterlife or a place called Heaven and one called hell, but just that it was NOT their message.

As a matter of fact, Paul tells us in Acts 20:26-27,” I testify to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men, for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” The interesting thing about this statement is that in all of Paul’s writings we have no mention of hell and only one or two of Heaven, because that was NOT their message. Paul’s message is seen in Acts 28:31, “Paul boldly proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught things pertaining to Jesus Christ, with all openness, no man hindering him.” Paul’s main message was the gospel of the Kingdom and how it pertains to Jesus Christ and this is what he was sharing at the end of his life, and what someone tells you at the end tells you what they have deemed as the most important.

What is the Gospel of The Kingdom? Well, first of all it was the Gospel that Jesus preached. Nearly all of His parables and analogies were about the Kingdom of God, “the Kingdom of God is like a man, like a seed, like leaven,” etc. His main message, focus, and prayers were about the Kingdom being “at hand” or a very present reality right in front of them for the King was now here. What has confused the Church for many years is that in Matthew’s gospel it is called the Kingdom of Heaven and in the rest of the New Testament it is called the Kingdom of God, even though these terms are interchangeable and have the same meaning. The reason for that is because Matthew’s message was aimed at reaching the Jewish people and they could not say the name God, which is why you will see them even write g*d for it was forbidden to say. This has caused people to think that Jesus was talking about how to go to Heaven when that was not His point. He was talking about a new King and a new government that was manifested through love and service and not like the Kingdoms of this world whose genesis was fear, violence, domination, and control.

For Jesus taught us all about the Kingdom of God, but never actually told us what it was. Jesus did tell His disciples,” I have a lot more for you that you are not yet ready for, but when the Spirit of Truth comes He will lead you into all truth. So Jesus let them know that more understanding of what He taught was coming once the Holy Spirit was indwelling them. There is no verse in the Bible that says go to Heaven, but there are many that talk of receiving eternal life and entering and inheriting the Kingdom. It is the Apostle Paul that tells us “what” the Kingdom of God actually is in Romans 14:17, “The Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” So, the day I realized that, I started putting righteousness, peace, and joy everywhere I saw the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven and it finally became clear. We are to seek first, righteousness, peace, and joy in every area of our lives, and righteousness, peace, and joy by the Holy Spirit is within us.

The Kingdom of God (Greek=basileia) is God’s rule, authority, Kingship, and foundation of power within us by the Holy Spirit. This is a present reality and not something off in some millennium, for it is within and all around us, and Jesus prayed that Heaven would be on Earth and not that Earth would be in Heaven. This does not mean that when we physically die we do not go there, but that the gospel of the Kingdom is about bringing “there” here right now. I believe that what has confused us are the verses that say things like, “they that do these things will not inherit the Kingdom of God, such as liars, fornicators, thieves, perverse, wrong doers, fearful, heretics,” etc. The problem is that our behavior is not what got us in Heaven as citizens, but Jesus’s behavior. We cannot save ourselves by good works and we cannot disqualify ourselves by bad works. It is by grace through faith we are saved and NOT by works, period. So we do not get ourselves “THERE,” that is Jesus’s work alone – all we do is agree with it by faith.

If we interpret the Kingdom as just going to Heaven by doing or not doing certain things then it disqualifies most people from ever going, but when we understand that you do NOT get an inheritance after you die, but while you are still living because someone else died, then that changes everything. Inheriting the Kingdom is a present reality right now and not an afterlife perk. Now our behavior is still important but not to get us “THERE,” since Jesus took care of that in His finished work for those who are reconciled, but our behavior does determine how much of “THERE” flows through us here, which is what “inheriting” the Kingdom looks like. An example would be that God wants to flow through me to my neighbor to bring the Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy to his life, but I have stolen from him and lied to him and fornicated with his sister. This behavior would disqualify me from inheriting righteousness, peace, and joy in those areas of my own life and that would affect what I can release to him because it would disqualify me in his eyes also.

The Gospel, or good news, of the Kingdom encompasses all of the other things called the Gospel. There are several things referred to as the gospel in the new testament, such as the gospel of God, of the Son, of grace, of Paul, and of Jesus Christ. These are all a part of the Kingdom of God and all of them are good news, but the main message of Jesus and the apostles was the good news of the Kingdom of God. Many teach that the Kingdom of God is something that is only manifested after a World wide war and preceded by a mass exodus of the righteous from the planet. Yet Jesus taught that their generation would see the coming of the Kingdom age clearly in Matthew 16:28, “Truly I tell you that there are some of you standing here that will not taste death till you see the Son of man coming in His Kingdom.” This could NOT be speaking of anyone 2,000 years in the future unless you believe that there are some 2,000 year old people walking around on the planet, which sounds more like the “Highlander” or “Underworld” movies and you believe in vampires, werewolves, and immortals. This already happened for Jesus rose from the dead and went to Heaven and poured His blood on the mercy seat and then “came back” and breathed the Kingdom into His disciples in the person of the Holy Spirit. They saw Him come to them and establish His Kingdom in their hearts for His Kingdom is not from this world but it is for this world.

The Kingdom is like candy, it is now and later, for the Kingdom has to be now for it is within us, and yet it is also later for when the King returns at the resurrection, there will be the full manifestation of Heaven on Earth. This has always been God’s desire from the garden of Eden and now we get to be a co-laborer in the universe’s greatest renovation project, for Jesus is the Savior of the world and not from the world. The Jews believe that when their Messiah comes to the Earth, which He did by the way, that He would transform the Earth in what they call the “tikkun olam.” This is what we are here for, to be agents of change and to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here and has come among you. So I want to encourage all who read this blog to spend time studying the Kingdom of God and to make up your mind to be an active participant in our Father’s World and realize that you are here to make a difference and release the life and essence of the Kingdom everywhere you go.

Written by: Jamie Englehart 

New Covenant Evangelism

New Covenant Evangelism

What did the disciples of Jesus preach in the early church? What was the good news they were sent out to spread to all nations? Isn’t that the message we should be spreading to our family members, friends, co-workers, and others we meet? Would it surprise you if the gospel that is preached by most people today is not what was preached in the bible? That’s what we are going to explore.

Sinners-Prayer Salvation

If you were to ask most Christians in the United States today what the Gospel is, in its simplest form they would most likely say “People are sinners and therefore will go to hell when they die. Jesus died for their sins. If they pray, and ask Jesus into their hearts and accept Him as savior, they’ll be saved and go to heaven.”

This concept of being saved by saying a prayer came into existence back in the mid 1950’s when Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ released a pamphlet that contained what has come to be known as the “sinner’s prayer.” This pamphlet was very successful, and some form of it is still being distributed on street corners today.

Over time, different groups have come up with their own version of the prayer. This is Billy Graham’s:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.”

Many church organizations have adopted their own version. This one is common:

“God, I know that I have sinned against you and deserve punishment. But Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. I place my trust in You for salvation. Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness – the gift of eternal life! Amen!”

One thing these prayers have in common is that they are focused on the death of Jesus.

Jesus’ Death Does Not Save Us

The “sinner’s prayer” focuses on the death of Jesus, but Jesus’s death does not save us. That may sound dangerously heretical to some, but let’s look at a few passages of scripture that show this.

Romans 5:10: “For if, while we were enemies we were reconciled to God, through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved through His life.” (NASB)

According to this passage, the death of Jesus does one thing, the life of Jesus does something else. The death of Jesus reconciles us to God so that we can have right relationship with Him, but we are saved by His resurrection life.

The definition of reconciliation is the restoration of friendly and peaceful relations. Reconciliation opens the door and makes it possible to have right relationship with God, but It’s because Jesus was raised from the dead and now lives, that we can walk through that door.

In this next passage, we again see the effects of the cross as reconciliation, not salvation.

Colossians 1:19,20: “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross…” (NASB)

In this passage we discover that not just people, but ALL things have been reconciled to God through the blood of the cross.

Let’s look at one more passage, this one showing again that the resurrection of Jesus is what saves us.

Romans 6:8, 9: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.” (NASB)

According to this passage we now live with Him because Jesus overcame death, never to die again. We will live with Him forever because He Resurrected, not because He died.

The Living King and the Gospel of the Kingdom

The primary message preached in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John was “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”, not “Jesus died on the cross for your sins.” The expressions “the kingdom of heaven” or “the kingdom of God” (they are interchangeable) are used 99 times in the new testament. There is something that doesn’t align when our message is “Jesus died on the cross, you accept Him as savior, and then you’re saved,” when their message was, “the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

The Gospel of the Cross is not wrong. We do know that we are sinners, Jesus died on the cross for us, and without His death we could never be saved, but there is a more profound truth in what was preached in the New Testament. The gospel message preached in the new testament was the kingdom of heaven is here among us, right now and is within our reach.

These are the primary elements of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

  1. 2000 years ago, Jesus died
  2. He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven
  3. He now sits at the right hand of the Father and has established a kingdom that will never end.
  4. He is now King and Lord of that kingdom and everything that’s under His authority is now part of His kingdom.
  5. Everyone who bows to the King, becomes a citizen of His kingdom

In the Gospel of the Cross, the resurrection and enthronement are not taken as foundational to the gospel and are seen essentially as “add-ons.” He resurrected to prove that His death was valuable, and that He was God. He ascended into heaven and sat on the throne as a reward for dying on the cross.

I want to reiterate, I’m not saying that the cross wasn’t important. It is critical to our salvation, and we wouldn’t be saved without it, but in the Gospel of the Kingdom, everything is part of the gospel. He died, yes, but He also conquered death and we now live with Him! He ascended into heaven and we ascended with Him! He sits on His throne and the Father has given Him all rule and authority so now we reign with Him!

THIS is the good news! It is life, healing, wholeness, joy, peace, reigning and overcoming. The gospel is not about Jesus’s death, it’s about Jesus overcoming death!

New Testament Evangelism

Peter’s evangelistic sermon in Acts 2 on Pentecost mentions Jesus’s death, but only in the context of His resurrection.

Acts 2: 23,24 “…this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” (NASB)

In the rest of Peter’s sermon, his primary message is that Jesus rose from the dead and is now king over His kingdom.

Acts 2:29-38 “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on His throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore, having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (NASB)

What caused the Jews to be “pierced to the heart” and repent? The answer is found in verse 36:

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord (king) and Christ (savior) —this Jesus whom you crucified.” (text in parentheses added)

The Jews that heard Peter suddenly came to the horrifying realization that they had killed the king and savior that had been promised to them and prophesied about for over 1000 years! They came to understand that Jesus had established His promised kingdom by His resurrection, ascension, and enthronement. Realizing who Jesus was, 3,000 of them repented from rejecting Him, submitted fully to the king of the kingdom, and entered into eternal life with Him.

The Gospel of the Kingdom and Evangelism

What are the implications of this for evangelism today? In 21st century America, if you were to ask most people how they’re doing, their most likely, honest response would be, “tired.” People are busy almost to the breaking point. They are struggling and working every day, trying to make a life worth living. But deep in their hearts they know there’s something they are searching for that’s just out of reach. Almost anyone you ask will tell you that they know there must be more to life than what they’re experiencing. Everyone feels the weight of the chaos and disorder of their own lives. Everyone wants to “get off the merry-go-round.”

The simple reason for this is that, before we become Christians, each of us lives in a kingdom of our own making. The quality of our lives depends on the kind of kingdom we have built for ourselves. We sit on the throne and rule over a kingdom we have built using the natural skills and abilities we have gained through life. We also bring to that rulership our pain, shortcomings, and sinfulness. Ultimately, we all fail miserably as kings.

People don’t know it, but what they want is to step down off the throne. They want to be free of the burden of carrying the weight of trying to rule over a dysfunctional kingdom they built for themselves. A kingdom that they were never meant to rule over, and was never meant to be in the first place.

Your understanding of this will radically change your approach to evangelism. You don’t need to convince the guy sitting in the cube next to you who loves his wife and kids, has his elderly mother-in-law living in his home, and goes to a job every day to provide for them, that he’s a horrible sinner who needs to repent or he’s going to hell. What you can tell him is that he can give up trying to run his own life. Tell him there’s a different kingdom he can step into that’s all around him and freely available. A kingdom that’s full of life, and love, and hope, and joy, and peace. A kingdom that can be entered into simply by stepping down from his own throne, and bowing His knee to the TRUE King. And how much more effective that message will be if your life is a witness to those kingdom realities.

That’s it! No tears. No mea culpas. No beating of the breast, or making themselves feel bad enough to convince God, (and everyone else), that they really mean it. Just the simple act of taking a huge sigh of relief, asking Jesus to take His rightful place on His throne, and passing their burdens on to Him. There may be tears, but not because they feel bad about themselves. Rather, because they feel a relief they have never felt before.

If you still want a prayer, try this one:

Lord Jesus, I’m tired. I no longer want to rule over my own life. I’m weary from trying to carry the burdens of a life I was never meant to carry. I willingly give rulership of my life over to you. I am asking you to come and sit on the throne of my heart. Amen.

So, what can you, as a Christian, offer the people of the world? Offer them freedom. Offer them hope. Offer them LIFE. And they will come. Everyone is looking for it, and the Lord has given it to you to give away.

By: Steve Marusic

Christians Love Sin

Christians Love Sin

Wait a second, we have been forgiven of all our sin and the Bible tells us to “love the sinner, but hate the sin,” right? Well of course, so why do you say that “Christians love sin?” Let me start off by saying that the Bible actually does not have a verse in it that says to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” St. Augustine has a quote that is similar, but not exactly that; and Gandhi quotes this, but it is actually not in this context. It’s funny, so much of what we hear and see in the world becomes gospel because many of us haven’t actually studied these things out for ourselves. But I digress, on to the point.

Before I became a Christian I was a wild and crazy sinner. The way I lived my life, I knew I was wrong for much of it, but I did “what seemed right to a man” (Proverbs 14:12) and darkness and destruction was the result. By the time I was 31 years old I was on the ground begging God to forgive me and help me change. Something supernatural happened, the presence of God came into my house that night and I was forever changed. I knew that Jesus Christ was Lord. I knew that He loved me at my worst. I knew that I was forgiven. The best part of all for me, was that I knew that I was a new creation. I listened to an audio bible that I had, day and night for several weeks before I stepped foot in a church. I was so happy to know God, all I wanted was to do work for the Kingdom and tell people about Jesus.

Sin was the last thing on my mind. But then I found myself around Christians.

I remember it clear as day, I was excitedly talking to an older man and telling him about my conversion and about all the awesome things God was doing in my life. He was happy for me, but I remember like yesterday, he said “you’ll come back to reality soon.” It was such a hit to my joy. What do you mean I will come back to reality soon? Well, after finding a church and getting around a bunch of men who had been Christians for much longer than me, I quickly found out what he was talking about. So many of these guys “struggle with sin” and many of them looked at me as weird when I told them I no longer did. That I was a saint, and I am free from sin. That I wasn’t perfect but God isn’t focused on my sin, so why should I be? I just wanted to know Him and His will for my life, I don’t have time to even think about sin and even when I do, I thank Him for His forgiveness and I move on. I remember some old guy getting absolutely MAD at the things I was saying. “What are you saying, you are perfect and not a sinner?” The Bible says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”   (1 John 1:8) The verse he read is in the bible, albeit he was using this verse in a way that is out of context. John isn’t saying we will always have sin, he is making the point that if we see no need for salvation, for the blood of Jesus, because we have never sinned- than we are deceiving ourselves.

The simple fact that I believed the good news, that I was a new creation in Christ, that I had been set free from sin and had become a slave of righteousness, that I was hidden in Christ, that I was predestined to be holy and blameless and above reproach. All of these statements come from the same Bible that this man was reading, but because of what he had learned his whole life and his experience, because it didn’t measure up to what he believed the Bible says and his experience, he found a verse in the same Bible that basically gives him excuse to settle where he was at and to believe the lie that he was still a sinner. So many denominations and streams in the Body of Christ, because of their systematic view of God and humanity and their experience have caused them to believe the lie that we are still sinners. When I read the New Testament, I see that Paul writes to the saints. He never once writes to the sinners. And though sometimes when he is writing a letter to them, it is to correct some of the things they are teaching and/or doing, such as sinning, but he doesn’t say they are no longer saints. He goes out of his way to remind them of what Jesus Christ has done for them. He reminds them that they are clean, so why would they live as though they are still dirty?

Being a Christian doesn’t mean we are perfect, we worship the one who is. And because of all that Jesus Christ did by living as a man, dying on the cross and raising from the dead, we have been made new creations. I believe this is what we should be focusing on. The fact that we are new creations and that Jesus Christ has made a covenant that we take part in by faith. If at our absolute worst Christ was willing to die for us… why do we still focus so much on sin rather than focusing on the fact we are made new?

Jesus says “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.” (Matthew 12: 33) Do you see what I see? He tells us to “make the tree good… and its fruit will be good.” In other words, when we focus on the fruit, whether it is good or bad… we judge them according to what we see, we are told to live by faith and not by sight. I believe we should be telling people that they have been made good trees, which is what produces good fruit.

So many Christians are known for what they are against, not actually what they are for.

So you might see a Christian who is “against abortion,” and telling people that “abortion is murder.” Okay, so what? I am not for abortion at all, I think it is horrible but does telling people that they are murderers and that God hates them for what they are doing actually change anything? I remember a few years ago I knew a Christian man who would do the whole sign holding thing on the corner, standing in front of PP and he was so consumed with anger about all the bad things going on in the world. I couldn’t get him to see the error of his thinking, but I did help him change his perspective a bit. I told him, rather than telling these scared and hurting women that they are murderers and whatnot, do you think you could tell them that “God loves them and their baby.” Maybe a sign that tells them how loved they are, maybe offering to give them a hug, maybe talking to them and finding out about why they are so scared, maybe that is a better way to prevent abortion rather than being an accuser and telling them how evil they are. (He did this for a few weeks and then moved on to another topic that consumed him and caused him much anger).

I look at the life of Jesus and how he would call things that weren’t as though they were, in fact he called Peter a rock before he denied him three times. The entire pattern of God throughout the Bible, when He comes to establish a relationship with people, he gives them a new name. We are told that David is “a man after God’s heart” and look at his life? Many Christians today would look at David and say, “you aren’t saved, look at all the things you are doing.” But that is not the reality. I don’t say these things to minimize sin and its consequences. I say these things because I don’t believe sin is our biggest issue, or at least I don’t think correcting people’s behavior is the solution. If we focus on the exterior problems we will never get to the root, which is that people believe that they are sinners, and if they believe that they are a sinner, what will they do? They will sin. In the church, we need to tell people that they are new creations. That they are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, they have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, how much more can they live victorious and full of peace and joy now. I am not saying that because a Christian believes in Jesus, that they will never have the urge to sin, or they don’t sin. I am simply shifting the focus to Jesus and who we are in Him. Whatever we focus on will get bigger, so when we focus on the “new man” we will start to manifest the things of a new creation. The fruit of the spirit will be more present in our lives.

Christians need to be more known for what we are for, not what we are against. We need to actually be teaching believers that they are more than conquerors, that they are overcomers. We need to speak life into people and encourage them that they are capable of reigning over the old man that didn’t know God. The very fact that they believe the gospel is proof that they are capable because the Holy Spirit lives in them. The world around us needs to know the joy of what it means to walk around as a new creation. The bible says “all of creation is groaning for it.”

Written by: Andrew Strobel 

Where The Story Begins

Where The Story Begins

Many believers have been taught the story of the fall in the Garden (Genesis 3). Many have centered their presentation of the Gospel with this as the backdrop. The concept being that since mankind messed up we needed Jesus to right our wrong. All of humanity was impacted by the fall and in need of rescue. This is true, humanity was impacted and surely needed rescue. In steps Jesus and that rescue takes places. I’d like to focus more on the original backdrop and how it connects to the way we see the Gospel and present it to others.

Humanity’s story begins before the fall and even before the Garden. Our story begins in the heart and mind of God. Before humanity was created God already had servants (angels) so the mentality that we are just meant to serve God is slightly skewed. Yes, we do serve but that was not the purpose for our existence. We were created for family. God created humanity for a family of loving relationship. We were not created to be playthings that are divinely controlled for His amusement. We were not created to bring glory through our destruction and demise. We were created solely for the heart of relationship.

When we go back before the fall, where the stigma of sin and its consequences were attached to humanity, we are able to see our purpose and value. Mankind is not worthless or a chore to God. We are highly valued and adored by our Father! Jesus’s main objective was to redeem humanity back to the Father’s original intent. What is that? Genesis 1:26 states that we were created in His image and likeness. What does that mean? God made us like Him or in the pattern of Himself. In the Hebrew, the words for “image” and “likeness” both give a word picture of humanity being like a model of God. We are not Him, we are similar in nature to Him by design. This is important to understand.

The fall wrecked havoc on humanity, but Jesus made right what the fall had impacted. Through the birth of the Spirit, humanity is brought back to being the expression of God on earth. Our mission to rule over the earth is restored in the Kingdom as it was originally instructed in the garden. This pairs with the language of Jesus in the Lord’s prayer of “on earth as it is in heaven.” Believers are to express the heart of the Father to the world around us, impacting it with the culture of the Kingdom or God’s family. God gave man the instruction to rule the earth through His authority and dominion. In the new covenant we co-labor with God via the Spirit. The concept is consistent. In the garden, Adam and Eve ruled the earth in relationship with God. In the new covenant we do likewise in relationship with God.

So what does this have to do with a Gospel presentation? The Gospel is far more than a discussion of heaven and hell or sin. The Gospel is the story of How God, through Jesus, brought humanity back on course for His plan all along that started in the garden. His value and purpose for humanity was not lost at the fall. The Gospel is not just how to avoid hell. It is about a Father getting His children back. It’s about a family being restored.

I believe there is a transition taking place in the Church today where the old presentation of the Gospel is being shifted to one that more clearly expresses the heart of Father God. Rather than portraying Him as a judge obsessed with sin, we are more accurately portraying Him as a Father who has spared no expense in bringing the solution to the problem of sin. Now, with the solution taken care of (the new covenant of forgiveness through the Cross), the aim is to spread the news so His kids come home. We are to let people know that their sins have been forgiven and their Father longs to embrace them in relationship. How we present His heart to them matters.
 A presentation focused on the problem of sin and the consequences is an inaccurate expression of the Good News. I’m not saying ignore it. I’m saying let the presentation clearly emphasis the actual good news which is that sin has been forgiven and relationship is waiting for them. The emphasis should be the solution of the new covenant and the beauty of the Kingdom. Jesus preached the good news of the Kingdom. He demonstrated what His Kingdom was like and people responded. Let’s follow His example and express to the world just how much their Father loves them and cares for them with demonstrations of His goodness.
Written by: Josh Cosker