Sunday, July 24, 2011

THE TOP 10 THINGS EVERY CHRISTIAN SHOULD KNOW (But Probably Doesn't) #1

NOTE: This is the final article in a ten part series. All of these are compiled and available as a free PDF download or for purchase as a physical book HERE>

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Number 1- "The Gospel Is Not About Going To Heaven When You Die"

If you read the words of Jesus you'll quickly begin to notice that all he ever talks about is something called "The Kingdom of God." In fact, the only Gospel that Jesus ever talks about during his entire ministry on Earth was the Gospel of the Kingdom. There is no other Gospel.

Anyone who reads Matthew, Mark, Luke or John (the Gospels) will come away hearing all about The Gospel of the Kingdom from the mouth of Jesus. Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God was for here and now. This was the "Good News" in a nutshell- Anyone who wanted to enter God's Kingdom could do so on the spot. Jesus demonstrated what life in the Kingdom looked like. The Beattitudes are a picture of what life in the Kingdom looks like. Nearly every single parable of Jesus is designed to explain a particular facet of the Kingdom. His Sermon on the Mount declares the values of this Kingdom. His teachings are intended to show us how to live within the Kingdom, and His life was a blueprint for us to follow as we ourselves enter the Kingdom and learn from Him.

The only Gospel ever preached by Jesus is the message of The Kingdom of God. It was the new order where God's perfect will is always done in the lives of His followers. We do not need to wait until we die to enter God's Kingdom.

Many of us have been taught that the Gospel is about praying a prayer so that you can go to heaven when you die. This is false. Jesus never explained the Gospel in these terms. Instead, he talked about what it meant to follow him. He spoke about being a disciple. He described a way of life that was meant for today.

THE ATONEMENT
Most of us would define the Gospel as a spiritual transaction whereby we who are sinners receive a ticket to heaven when we die because of the death of Jesus upon the cross in our place. Yet, if we take this definition of the Gospel and apply it to the scriptures, we can easily see that this was not what Jesus or his disciples had in mind when they went around proclaiming the Gospel.

Even someone with a basic knowledge of the disciples can agree that whenever Jesus described his imminent arrest, torture and crucifixion to his closest friends and followers, their constant response to this was confusion, denial or flat out dismissal. If this were a central part of the Gospel as Jesus was proclaiming it to them, and as they themselves were proclaiming, it would seem logical that they would be able to grasp it. But this is clearly not the case.

Let's be very clear, the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross is an essential element of our salvation and those who place their complete trust in Jesus are promised an enternity in God's presence because of this. This is part of the Gospel message, but it is not the entire message.

Part of the reason we've gotten so far off the track when it comes to an understanding of the Gospel of Jesus is because we've attempted to reduce the message into a quick bumper sticker slogan or a set of easy steps to salvation. Our efforts to market the Gospel have back-fired. Now there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals in pews across the Nation who believe that they are Christians because they said a prayer once when they were nine years old and now they can go to heaven when they die, regardless of whether or not they intend to follow Jesus or surrender their lives to Christ.

Discipleship to Jesus, then, becomes optional, not essential. This is not what Jesus had in mind at all.

THE GOSPEL OF JESUS
When we look at passages where Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding area to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, it doesn’t make sense that what they were sharing with the community had anything to do with a guy who was going to die very soon for their sins and, once he did that, if they repeated a careful prayer, then they could go to heaven when they died.

Obviously, whatever it was that the disciples went out preaching, it wasn’t anything to do with a subject they exhibited zero understanding of or agreement with.

So, what was it that the disciples went out preaching? It was simply the Gospel of the Kingdom. The same message that we see Jesus publicly proclaiming over and over again in the Gospels.

Here are just a few examples from Scripture:

"I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent." (Luke 4:43)

"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15)

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness." (Matt 9:35)

"Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom.." (Matt 4:23)


LIFE IN THE KINGDOM
What we must keep in mind, as we begin to explore the concepts found in the Gospel of the Kingdom, is that this new system of life is God’s system. It is not one way of living, but in truth it is the way of living. Even as these new ways of thinking and living and being confound our minds and defy our logic and reason, we must constantly strive to remind ourselves that it is not God’s system that is unrealistic, but it is our own pattern of thinking and living that needs to be reformed and renewed. (see Romans 12)

Most of us read the words of Jesus and see a version of reality that seems surprisingly alien.

The words of Jesus from the sermon on the mount seem to be for another world and another place, not for the actual world you and I live in and deal with every single day. But this is because the World around us is "upside down" to the values of the Kingdom of God. In God's Kingdom the greatest is the servant of all, the first is the last, the weak are stronger, and those who lose their lives find their life.

When Jesus came to preach the Good News of the Kingdom, it was for today. It was intended for the here and now of life, not for some mystical afterlife beyond the grave.

What Jesus was proclaiming was that we could live today under the rule and reign of Almighty God. Instead of waiting to have this quality of life, Jesus was presenting an alternative system of living whereby we could reap the benefits of a God-Ruled Universe right now.

This is why so many people followed Jesus. This is why his message, his Gospel, was so compelling, and therefore so dangerous, to those who held spiritual power over the masses.

MY EPIPHANY
In my own spiritual journey, from a nine year old convert in a small Texas town, to a licensed and ordained minister of the Gospel pastoring others in their walk with Jesus, I have to confess that most of my progress has assumed the more popular Gospel of Salvation and not the actual Gospel that Jesus himself actually preached while he was here in the flesh.

It was only a few years ago, as I was doing my very first interview for a brand-new online column on American Spirituality called "Subversive" that I quite literally had my little spiritual paradigm re-arranged forever. I was interviewing a gentleman named Todd Hunter. Some of you may know him as the former National Director of the Association of Vineyard Churches, and perhaps others of you as the President of ALPHA Ministries here in the U.S. To me, he was someone I had heard preach at various times on Sunday mornings when our main pastor was out of town or sick. He was a practical and real-world teacher of the scriptures, and someone I respected in the arena of modern church development.

At one point in the interview, I asked him what, in his opinion, was the single biggest problem or challenge in American Christianity today. I suppose I expected him to cite apathy, or a lack of humility, or perhaps a lack of observable spiritual conviction among the Western Church. But what he said in response to this inquiry literally rocked my world and I have never been the same since.

Here is an excerpt from the interview with Todd Hunter that day.

"I think America is largely inoculated against the Gospel now, against what it believes the Gospel is all about," said Hunter. "I don’t believe the Gospel is about saying a prayer and then when you die you get to go to heaven. I think the true Gospel is about the in-breaking of the kingdom into your life today. The Gospel is not, ‘Jesus paid the price for my sins so I go to heaven when I die,’ or at least it’s not the Gospel that Jesus announced. The Gospel that Jesus announced is the good news of the present availability of the kingdom through Him. When we only think of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice, then His life and teaching and modeling just totally go out the window. Discipleship then becomes optional," Hunter argued. "But, if the Gospel is the good news that you can enter the kingdom and receive a different kind of life now, then you’ve got a basis for discipleship, or ‘follower-ship.’

NOTE: You can read this entire interview by downloading the free PDF or purchasing my book [Subversive Interviews] HERE

A NEW PARADIGM
It was this single concept, the Gospel of the Kingdom, that radically influenced the most significant spiritual re-education of my life in every area of my personal theology.

It's the whole reason I continue to write and blog and publish articles and books on the subject of discipleship to Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Once you begin to understand the the Gospel is about living in the Kingdom of God here and now, everything else about the Christian life begins to fall into place. Scriptures begin to take on more robust and personal meaning. Humility becomese essential to your spiritual life. Jesus becomes your lifeline to this incredible way of living. Your entry into the Kingdom of God begins right now.

This is Good News. This is the Gospel of the Kingdom, and it's the only Gospel Jesus ever preached.

-kg

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