Grappling: The Law As Conscience Training

Grappling: The Law As Conscience Training

Always let your conscience be your guide.                                               -Jiminy Cricket 

It’s good advice, so long as your conscience is properly calibrated by God’s word.  

The Bible doesn’t speak a lot about the conscience – at least, not directly – but what it does tell is is that we all have one, and that apart from God’s word our consciences remain unsure.  

How’s your conscience?

A clean conscience, one that stands sure in the word of God, is a great gift of God. But how do you know if your conscience is right? 

Ten Commandments to the rescue!  

Note: I REALLY liked this video. So much so that I did a little digging and found a few more resources – both expandments upon this short video, taking a more in-depth look at a Christian theology of the conscience. One is in written format, the other is a series of three audio podcasts.  Both are long; both are excellent.  And both are quite accessible- you don’t have to be a theological geek to understand them!

Written format here

Audio Format: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
 

And the video

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Grappling – Using The Law As A Mirror

Grappling – Using The Law As A Mirror

Way back in confirmation class, we learned the 3 functions of the Law (curb, mirror and guide).  We were given just the basics, really, and it was literally decades later before I was able to distinguish between the first use (curb) and the third use (guide) – they seemed almost interchangable to my mind.  But the second use of the Law, that one I fully understood.  We were taught that the second use of the Law is the primary use of the Law, that it functioned as a mirror to show us our sin and to show us our need for a Saviour.  We used the acronym “S.O.S.” to help us remember the two components of the second use, and how they are connected in the life of the Christian.

In this video, Pastor Wolfmueller discusses how he uses the 10 Commandments as a “diagnostic test” in his devotional life – he breaks the commandments down into a series of diagnostic questions to meditate on as a means of acknowledging our own sin. This is meant to be a devotional exercise, a way to prepare our hearts and focus our minds on what we ought to pray for.

Enjoy!

The Breakfast Club, Redux

The Breakfast Club, Redux

Twenty years ago, I began volunteering at the school breakfast program at my kids’ school.  I was an “inaugural” volunteer, there for the very first day the program commenced.  In the beginning it was hard to get volunteers and the program was in danger of shutting down unless we could find more people to help.  So I went to my church and asked for help and they came.  They literally saved the Breakfast Club from dying that first year, and some of the volunteers ended up staying on for years – one of them still comes in every Wednesday as he has been doing for the last 19 years.

But the real hero of this program is my mom.

I’ve written about this before, how I asked my mom if she could come help out on Mondays when we were shortest on help…and she ended up running the whole thing!

My mom is a born leader, very organized and has a way of being able to get people to all pull in the same direction.  She’s inspiring, that’s all I can say!  She brings out the best in others.

A couple of years ago she attempted to “retire”.  She deserves to.  She’s now 77 years old and she’s legally blind to boot. How she is able to do all she does, I’ll never know!  But within weeks of her stepping down as coordinator, the program began to fall apart without her leadership…so she went back.

I stopped volunteering there regularly years ago, but for the last year, I’ve been helping out again, working with her to transition her out.  I know my mom, and I know how much “her kids” mean to her – she worries that if she leaves, the program will fold.  When she leaves, she wants to know that the program will be in good hands.  And do you know who she trusts?  Me. Heh.

Now as far as running the day-to-day program goes, that’s a snap.  It’s no different than running a restaurant, really, except all the customers are kids! It’s the behind the scenes stuff – recruiting volunteers, fundraising, publicizing the program – that’s the stuff that makes me a bit nervous. However, there’s a lady at the school who’s fantastic at that kind of stuff, and she’s agreed to split the coordinator duties with me – I’ll do the day-to-day operational stuff and she’ll do the behind the scenes stuff, with one exception – she won’t do any public speaking.  But that’s ok, I’m entirely comfortable doing that.  

Earlier this year, we had a fight on our hands to keep the program operating as it has been for the last two decades.  All of the other schools in this area that run breakfast programs are using a provincially funded “box” program. Basically, they offer 3 food choices each morning, something easy that the kids can just grab out of a bin.  So one morning they might offer a bagel, a banana and a yogurt.  The next day, an apple, some cheese and muffins.  Like that.  It’s a much easier program to run, especially if you are short of volunteers, which seems to be the primary reason that schools end up moving to it – it’s hard to get and keep the number of volunteers needed to run a program like ours.  And there’s nothing wrong with doing it that way; it fills a need; but our program is so much more!  

From the beginning, the philosophy of the The Breakfast Club has been community.  It was very important to my mom that the program not be stigmatized as being for “poor” people. It’s a community service and all are welcome.  Moms and dads and little brothers and sisters are all welcome to join their school aged children for breakfast, and they do!

This program is so much more than simply feeding hungry tummies!  There is a need for that, for sure – there is a lot of food insecurity in this area, families that depend on food distribution programs to feed themselves – but there are other great needs as well.  Some of these kids come from pretty chaotic homes, with mom’s and dads struggling with more than just financial concerns. The Breakfast Club doesn’t just help them stretch their food budget, it helps them stretch their emotional resources as well.  We are here to help them get through those crazy mornings when nothing has gone right and everything (in the moment) seems to be falling apart at the seams.  The goal is to help families set their kids up for successful learning each day.

So each morning, volunteers arrive at the school well before 8 am to prepare breakfast and set up tables and chairs in the gym.  At 8 am we open the doors and families begin to straggle in.  Breakfast is not served until 8:30, so we have games and crafts set up in the back of the gym to keep them occupied until serving time.  Just opening the doors 30 minutes early is a tremendous help for parents who need to leave for work and otherwise wouldn’t be able to do so because they lack child care.  

At 8:30, everybody lines up for breakfast. There’s an assortment of cold cereals, a fresh fruit tray, milk, juice and bagels with toppings, a hot food choice (which rotates each day), yogurt, cheese and whatever other goodies we can get our hands on.  The kids move through the line and choose their breakfast and then head to the tables to eat together.  That’s when the real fun starts, lol.

We supervise these kids very closely, encouraging them to use good and proper manners with each other, teaching them table etiquette, really. Wasting food is strongly discouraged.  All the kids are required to clear their places when they are finished and bring their dirty dishes to the busbin for washing later.  Then they may go back to the craft and game tables to play for a while until 9:10 when they are dismissed for their classes.  All the crafts and games must be picked up and returned to their shelves before anyone may leave.  The rule is, if you played, you clean until it’s done.  

There’s so much more going on here than feeding kids breakfast.  Little things, but important things.  Everyday there are opportunities to model and reinforce life skills – virtues, even – the importance of kindness to others, being a good steward of the gifts you have been given, taking responsibility for yourself and your actions, showing respect to those in authority over them – there are so many little ways each day that were teaching them how to live in community with on another.

Consider this – some of these kids will be coming for breakfast, day after day, for the next eight years.  That’s a significant amount of time to be an influence on a young life.

You know, whenever the kids find out that their beloved Nancy is my mom, they all look at me with awe. Nancy is your mom?  You’re so lucky!  

This is the kind of influence my mom has on these kids.  The worst off of them have respect for no one, but they respect my mom.  They adore her.

That’s a heck of a legacy to follow. I don’t think the current school administration fully understands what my mom has managed to do here.  The principals come and go so quickly they never really get to appreciate the larger impact it’s having.  Some of the kids who attended the program back in the day now come back when they’re in high school to put in volunteer hours themselves.  

This is worthy work to do.

My main reason for sharing all this is to humbly ask you to pray for me, and for the work of the Breakfast Club.  This is a significant commitment for me – if I’m going to to this (and I am) then I have to be in it for the long haul.  Please pray that the Lord would direct my ways and strengthen me when my commitment wavers, and that above all He would use all our efforts for the glory of his kingdom.

This Is My Neighbourhood. These Are My Neighbours

This Is My Neighbourhood. These Are My Neighbours

So, my current living arrangements are a bit unusual.  For the last two years, my husband and I have been living with my son and his children in their home.

My husband and I are basically starting over.  We’re living in the very same housing complex that we did when we first got married and started our family.

We lived here for four years the first time around, then bought our first home close by in the same neighbourhood.

It was not the nicest complex then, and not that much has changed; this is still a troubled area.  Everybody here has a story, and sadly, many of them are living in the pain of their pasts.  

The people here are vulnerable in every sense of the word.

Some of my neighbours prefer to keep to themselves.  Their body language speaks, Stay away; you keep your distance and I’ll keep mine.  Others though, seem starved for some interaction – a polite smile on a friendly face is enough to invite conversation, and they will stop and tell me their life story.

As I get to know them, people tell me stuff, personal stuff that I have no business knowing.  Stuff that breaks my heart and makes me want to despair that humans could treat each other so shabbily.  As if other people were mere commodities to be consumed until they have served their purpose and are then discarded.
I have pain, they tell me, over and over again.  Give me compassion, their eyes beg, validate my pain, my right to have sorrow over this…but do it in a way that doesn’t take away my victimhood, don’t make me look at my own part in the choices that brought me to this place, because on top of everything else going on I can’t bear to look.

I can understand this so well.  I’ve felt this; lived this. They long to hear to sweetness of the Gospel, but are terrified of being crushed by the Law.  They may not know it, but they do.

So many of my neighbours have truly been victimized; they’ve had traumas perpetrated upon them, things that have so skewed their view of the world that their capacity to make healthy choices is diminished.  Worse, some of them aren’t able to distinguish what a healthy choice looks like, much less apply it to their lives.

They’ve heard about Jesus before, of course, but what He offers seems so distantly related to what they live every day – the forgiveness of sins doesn’t even register on their radar.  

Even the most casual mention of God, faith, church brings out the suspicion.

I once casually mentioned to a neighbour about needing to get my grandkids ready to go to church.

You don’t actually believe in that bullshit, do you?  It comes out sounding partly disdainful, partly incredulous.

Yes, yes I actually do, I say with a chuckle.

You know, no one has ever asked me why I believe…they usually just launch into a big explanation for why they don’t.

The Church just wants your money.

The Church is full of hypocrites.

The Church is so judgmental.

The Church is not for me, they tell me, over and over again. Your God is not for me.  

It’s a paradox.  Their hearts are so bruised and tender, and yet so hardened towards the very Balm that would heal them.

And what can I do?  Do I argue with them and tell them they’re wrong?  I’m sure that would go over real well.  Do I keep my mouth shut while they slag all over my Lord, mischaracterise Him and profane His name?  That’s tough to take, it makes me angry and sad at the same time.  It make me want to shake them and say This Jesus that you think you know is not the Jesus that I know, not the Jesus that the Bible portrays!  

But I keep my mouth shut.  This is not the time for me to talk, not yet.  This is the time to listen.  I’ve learned you only get so many chances with these people; the ground needs to be well prepared before I even attempt to plant a seed.

So I listen to their objections (rejections, really) to God and faith and anything that has to do with church; I listen and I try to understand and empathize, to hear their stories from their perspective as people who have been broken by others and are trying to make sense of it all.  I try to give them what they need in the moment – someone who will listen to their tale of woe without judging them.

It’s tricky.  There’s a fine line between being non-judgmental and being an enabler.  I don’t pretend to have it all worked out – I just do the best I can, in the moment. 

I am acutely aware that their greatest need, the one that I long to tell them more about, is their redemtion in Christ. 

Redemption!  What a wonderful word!

I long to tell them that this mess of a life that they’re living has already been redeemed; that the ashes of their ugliness have already been exchanged for beauty. That everything that they’re looking for is found in Christ.

Not judgment, but grace, mercy, and peace.  Forgiveness for the wrongs they have done and for the wrongs that were perpetrated against them.  

There are moments – just moments, when they have laid their souls bare to me and the unspoken question is left hanging between us – If your God is so good, how could He have let these things happen to me?  Why on earth would I ever put my trust in THAT?  

I will only have a moment to respond, to get in a quick soundbite before the conversation will shift away to something less uncomfortable for them.

How do you tell someone in a sentence or two how sorry you are for all that they have gone through, how it grieves your heart that they have suffered so and that they shouldn’t have, that it was never meant to be that way among us?  That I understand how crippling it is to carry around not just the guilt for my own sin, but also the weight of the anger and bewilderment and sorrow of the sins that were committed upon me?  That I can’t figure out how to reconcile myself to people like that, much less to a God like that?  And that in the end I found that I couldnt and that I had to let God be reconciled to me?   And that in doing so, letting myself live in that reconciliaton, that I finally found my peace?

How do you get past all their assumption and fears and pain, and communicate ALL THAT in the few moments you will be allowed?

Slowly.

Patiently.

Moment by moment.

It’s not always easy to know what to say in those moments.  

I can never know when their hearts are prepared and the soil is ready, so I want to make the most of the moment, say something that matters, that speaks to where they are in this moment and turns them towards their Saviour as well.

I’m chuckling here, but plenty of the seeds that I’ve dropped have not so much fallen on stony ground as they have been spit back at me!  But not all. Sometimes, something appears to penetrate the soil.

Just a tiny little seed. In itself, it seems so insignificant, so ineffectual. It’s hard to trust that something so small could do the work of bringing about a healthy, flourishing faith.  I want to push the moment I have been given because I fail to trust that this tiny seed is enough.  I want to take the moment back into my hands and make more out of it than I have been granted.

At these times, the words of Paul often come to mind:

Apollos planted, I watered, but God gave the increase.  

These words ever draw me back to trust in His sufficiency.  I have done what I could in the moment that was given me. There will be others who will also faithfully make the most of their moments.  And God will use it all, for to Him is given the increase.

That’s how we do evangelism in the ‘hood, yo. 

Slowly, patiently, moment by moment. 

And above all, trusting that God is able to use it all.

Yo.

😉

More Grappling – Ordering of the Commandments

More Grappling – Ordering of the Commandments

In my last post, I mentioned the fifth Commandment as You shall not murder and the eighth as You shall not bear false witness about your neighbour.  It occurred to me that you may be scratching your head over the “numbering” that I used for them.  Wait a second…I thought You shall not murder was the fourth commandment?   (Or maybe the sixth…I get confused!)

Well, you’re not wrong.  There’s like three different ways of ordering the Commandments amongst Christians.  I just used the ordering that I’m accustomed to when I referred to them.

If you’ve ever wondered why there’s a difference, this video explains why.

Personally though, I don’t really think how the Commandments are numbered matters all that much – it’s the content of them that is important. 

Sidebar – Do I Really Have to Tell THAT Guy About Jesus?  Yes, yes, You Do

Sidebar – Do I Really Have to Tell THAT Guy About Jesus?  Yes, yes, You Do

Wally suggested that I write about the first Commandment (You shall have no other God), and maybe I will at some point, but today I am reflecting on the eighth Commandment (You shall not bear false witness) with a little fifth Commandment (You shall not murder) thrown in for good measure.

So, do I really have to tell THAT Guy About Jesus?

Well, to be honest, that’s not something I personally struggle with – it’s never occurred to me that THAT guy isn’t worthy of being told about his salvation in Christ; no matter what I think about THAT guy, it’s not a barrier (for me) to speak the truth to him.  It’s not because I am a “better” Christian than those who might struggle with this, not at all.  I am simply “hardwired” to be friendly to all. It’s in my nature.  I will talk to anybody, and if we talk long enough, sooner or later, Jesus is gonna come out.

Nor do I wish to shame those who do struggle in this area.  I get it, I really do.

The truth is, I am so, so judgmental.

I keep it to myself – I don’t broadcast my internal judgments out loud – but the stuff that I think in my head about other people is vile.  Stuff that, if I were to say it out loud,  I would be ashamed for saying.

I see the young, single mom, still in her pajamas, hair hastily pulled back into an unkempt ponytail, coming up the pathway.  She’s just dropped off her oldest child at school and she will now, as she does every morning, stop her stroller in front of my stoop where I sit with my morning coffee.  She wants to chat.

Inwardly, I sigh, because she’s disturbing my peace, harshing my mellow, you know?  I just wanna enjoy my coffee in peace, check my blog feed (and facebook, of course); have a little time to myself before I have to start my day.  

Oh God, I think to myself, what does the crackwhore want now?  

As far as I know, she is neither a whore, nor does she do crack, but for some reason I think it’s ok to make these private judgments about my neighbour, to dehumanize her in my thoughts. It’s not like I’m saying it out loud to anybody, right?  As long as I keep it to myself, I’m not sinning (or so I tell myself).

And yet, the commandment You shall not bear false witness insists otherwise. Refraining from publicly speaking my private judgments aloud isn’t good enough – it ain’t enough to simply restrain my outward sin but still allow my inner thoughts to have free reign.  The eighth Commandment would have me restrain those horrid inner judgments every bit as much as outward judgments.

This commandment tells us not just what we should not do – tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him or hurt his reputation  – it also tells us what we ought to do as well – defend our neighbour, speak well of him and explain everything in the kindest way.

According to the eighth commandment, I am not free to think of my neighbour as a bothersome crackwhore, it compels me to see her as she is – a single parent who struggles to stay on top of her various responsibilities (regardless of how I may privately judge her ability to do so).  And she’s probably lonely to boot.

From that perspective, well, she’s not all that different from me.  It humanizes her, renders her relatable; shows me her need and how I might serve her.

This young woman doesn’t need my secret disdain, she needs my compassion. 

And so I put aside my phone and give her my attention, even though I’d really rather be doing something else and wish she would go away.  God has placed her right in front of me, to show her the love of Christ, in the words that I speak to her and my actions towards her. 

She knows I am a Christian; I know that she has (thusfar) rejected the notion that she is in need of a Saviour, much less One with a whole bunch of un-fun rules attached to Him.  Christianity, to her, is for suckers and hypocrites.  The irony, of course, is that it is my Christian conviction that compels me to engage her in the first place, to see her as a soul in need of the love of God.  It matters not that she has flatly rejected God’s greatest love towards her – and has made it clear that she’s not interested in hearing about it – that doesn’t disqualify her from being a recipient of whatever form of God’s love that I am called to shower upon her in this moment. 

I can make time to chat with her when she is lonely.

I can help her with her children when she is tired.

I can give her encouragement when she is feeling overwhelmed.

There’s a million little ways that I can show the love of Christ towards her without speaking a single word.

She may distrust this Jesus that I speak of, but she is learning that she can trust me, His follower. I will show her that my love for her goes all the way, that my interest in her is not solely so I can “convert her”.  She is free to reject the Gospel and while she does, yet will I love her.  Perhaps in this way, she will see a picture of the love the Lord has for her. 

Speak the Gospel, in season and out.  

Perhaps I will still be in her life when her season comes and she is brought to the end of herself, when she knows that what she desperately needs more than anything else is forgiveness.  On that day, I will tell her, You already are.  The forgiveness that you so desperately seek has already been won for you!  I will speak pure, sweet Gospel to her, of unearned forgiveness poured over her.

On that day, I will only do what I have been doing all along, just loving her in the moment. 

That’s what the Lord gives us.

Moments.

Moments in which the Lord places a neighbour in front of us so that we may respond to their need in that moment.

Moment by moment, we are asking ourselves, How can I best love my neighbour, right now?  

That’s all.  Just love in the moment.

Wow.  There’s so much more that could be said here – I didn’t even get around to connecting it to the fifth commandment! This ended up going in a different direction than I first anticipated; it ended up being more of a real life example of how the Commandments shape my Christian love toward neighbour, as well as the deeper ways in which I must ever restrain my sin. And paradoxically, it illustrates that when I restrain my sin, ever better works pour forth for my neighbour.

Maybe I’ll put it to you guys.

How do you think the commandment You shall not murder is at play in this scenario with my neighbour?  How does this commandment show me my sin towards my neighbour (the young girl, I mean, and how I am tempted to think ill of her)?  How does it instruct me in how I ought to love her instead?

Aaaand, GO!

More Grappling – Consider Your Station In Life

More Grappling – Consider Your Station In Life

We’re still on the “Introduction” to the Commandments and in this video, we consider how they function daily in the life of the Christian.

Something that we’re working towards here is the idea that the Commandments are not works done to display our righteousness before God or man.  No. Our righteousness is Christ’s righteousness, a perfect righteousness that He promises to clothe us in, an applied righteousness that is not our own and that we live out imperfectly here and now but that nonetheless we are called over and over again to live in.

Why?  If we’re already righteous in God’s eyes, and if keeping the Commandments adds nothing to our righteousness, our standing before God, what’s the point??

Our good works – that is, the keeping of the Commandments – are for our neighbour.  God doesn’t need our good works…but our neighbour does!

Grappling with The Ten Commandments – The Three Functions of the Law

Grappling with The Ten Commandments – The Three Functions of the Law

More Ten Commandment goodness today 😀

Parts 1 & 2 of the Introduction to the Commandments are here if you missed it, covering the biblical account of the giving of the Commandments to the people at Sinai, and the insight that the Commandments were given to both teach us about -as well as protect – the way that God has ordered to world we live in.

The Commandments are given for our good – not just our own good, but our neighbours’ as well.  They give shape to our Christian love towards others.

That’s one use of the Law – to teach us how we ought to live.  There are two more uses, and that’s what Part 3 covers.

Grappling with The Ten Commandment

Grappling with The Ten Commandment

I’m gonna take a break from our discussion on “What is the Gospel?” for a bit. I’m not nearly close to done yet with it (how could one ever be done talking the Gospel!?) and our discussions back and forth here have provoked some other thoughts for me…things that I’d like to digest a bit more before I move on with part 3.

In the meantime, I thought I’d move into God’s other great Word for us – the Law!

Lutherans are often accused of not preaching the Law, or at least not preaching it often enough.  I’m chuckling a bit here, partly because I’m sure one could easily find churches with the name Lutheran on them that do exactly that, but to that all I can say is, Have you ever read our stuff??  Or heard our sermons? Lol

Seriously, we do not exclude the Law. Not even close.  We just do not preach it in such a way that it steals away the promise of the Gospel, as if our salvation depended on the keeping of it.  I mentioned before that Lutherans have a dread of mixing Law and Gospel, that is, speaking either of them in such a way that it distorts the other Word.  We want to keep the Gospel straight, but we want to keep the Law in its proper place as well. We hold the Law alongside the Gospel as God’s true will for us, a will that he wants us to believe and make manifest in our lives of service.

Lutherans, in short, love the Law as all true Christians do!

For all that Luther loved to write about the Gospel – especially Justification by grace alone, through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone – he wrote extensively on the Law as well, the fullest treatment of which he gives in the Large Catechism.

Our human tendency is to view the Ten Commandments as just that – commands to be obeyed – but with magnificent insight, Luther understood the Comandments not just as commands for us but also as gifts, promises, and virtues for us as well.  It’s really quite beautiful.

It’s a bit of a different way to look at the Commandments, all that they encompass and teach us, and how they ought to function in our Christian life.  If you’re interested, the full text is here, but be warned, it’s long and the language is a bit difficult (it was written in the 16th century, after all).  If you’re more like me (aka lazy) and prefer just a summary that hits all the high points, then I have just the thing for you!  

Come, be blessed!

Christian Definitions – The Gospel, Part 2

Christian Definitions – The Gospel, Part 2

I recently asked, What’s your definition of “the Gospel”?  

I didn’t quite know what to expect, whether any one would care to respond, or what form the response(s) would take. But I was curious, so I asked.

The first response, Patrick’s, delighted me by its honest simplicity:

Good News.  That pretty much says it all! 😀

Good News!  Yes!

Another way to say it might be the Good Announcement, or Good Pronouncement, or even Good Declaration.  The English word we use – “news” – conveys a sense of “announcing or making known” facts.  As in true facts; information that is trustworthy.  

In other words, this is not “fake news”…there is evidence for the claims it makes, if one wishes to examine it. There are facts to back it up.

The Gospel is first and foremost a declaration of truth, and in a way, the very fact that it is truth is what makes it Good!

But it’s not any old “good news”; it is in fact a very specific good news.

It is a Good News that is good for all.

It is a Good News that always remains true.

It is Good News because it is an everlasting word of promise, for me and for you.

Is there any other good news that can boast that?

If my husband came home and said, Baby, I’ve got good news!  We’re going out for lobster dinner tonight! this would be good news for me – a night off from cooking AND I get lobster??  Yes, please!!!

But it would not be such good news for my daughter-in-law, who is allergic to shellfish.  A world without shrimp would be good news to her!

But the Gospel isn’t like that – it is good news for everyone, no exclusions.

So the Gospel then, at its core, is a declaration of promise for all.  

But again, not just any promise, but a very specific promise, as Wally points out, that is centered upon Christ:

The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the message around which the Gospel is built. The whys of those fill the message out.

So as the old hymn testifies, Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

The Gospel, then, has three sure components:

1.  It is declaration. 

2.  It is for all. 

3. It is centered OUTSIDE of us, upon the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, taking all that into consideration, here’s my kick at the can at “defining” the Gospel:

The Gospel is the announcement to all that we have been made right with God and have ever-lasting life with Him, because Jesus died on the Cross in our place.

I may decide to tweak that definition as I work through it, but that would be my “30-second elevator pitch” if someone were to ask me.

Defining the Gospel accurately may seem like a purely academic exercise, but I would insist that how one defines and understands the Gospel will have profound spiritual implications for the Christian life.  The Gospel is what we centre our Christian life upon, so getting it right has implications for not just for the life to come, but for this life as well. In Christ, there isn’t a single moment of our life in which the Gospel is not brought to bear. Moment by moment, we live by faith, that the promise of the Gospel is true; that even as our natural eyes insist, “Things ain’t right here…I ain’t right here”, the Gospel remains true. That’s what faith does; it clings to the sure promises made in the Gospel – the only sure promise ever – sealed by the blood of Christ.

Perhaps the simplest articulation of the Gospel is this one drawn from the Psalms:

Our help is in the Name of the Lord.

Our – that is, all of our, belonging to all of us

Help – that is, the fulfilment of our one great need, restoration to God 

The Name of the Lord – that is, Christ, his very Person, all that He Is 

That’s a whole lot of Good News packed into one short sentence!  

Then Salvageable came along and added this:

The good news of redemption and reconciliation with God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; including the spoken message about Jesus, the written Word of God, and the other means of grace that depend upon God’s Word.

His definition pretty much “checks all the boxes” (I guess we could quibble that the “for-all-ness” of the message is not explicitly stated) but I don’t think it’s absence destroys the central message; in fact, I’m not so dogmatic about it that I would say that every proclamation of the Gospel must include x, y and a or its not the Gospel.  These Gospel “components” are simply marks of the true Gospel; that when the Gospel is spoken in this way, all truth is being declared. It is the Truth that we trust, not our own formulaic expression of it. 

But then he goes and adds this part –including the spoken message about Jesus, the written Word of God, and the other means of grace that depend upon God’s Word. 

What’s up with that?? 

Well, he’s brought up a concept that is quite familiar to a Lutheran like me, the biblical concept of the means of grace.  Outside of Lutheran circles, I don’t hear it discussed much, and I’m not entirely sure if it is unique to Lutheranism…but I think it might be.

When Lutherans speak of the “means of grace” what we are getting at is our belief that the bible teaches the efficacy of the Word, by which we mean that God’s word has power, and is able to bring about that which it declares.  

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He declared, “Let there be light” and there was light.  It’s not like He simply flipped the light switch…light did not exist until God spoke it into being. That which He declared came into being by the power of God’s declarative word. When God speaks, things happen.  He promises that His Word does not return void and he wants us to believe that.  

When He took his last dying breath upon the cross and sighed, It is finished, His word did not return void – His word accomplished it.  Forgiveness for all was won at the cross, declared into being by Christ’s word.

Yet the forgiveness that was won once for all upon the Cross – bought for all, paid for all, declared finished for all – is not delivered to all at the Cross.  It is delivered, brought to us, by means; specifically the means of God’s word, through which the Spirit calls forth faith.

It wasn’t my intention when I originally started this post to get into the means of grace and the efficacy of the Word – these truths aren’t a part of the Gospel Declaration per se, but they are certainly teachings that are connected to it, teachings of comfort and assurance for troubled hearts.

They teach that we can trust that God’s word is able to do what it says it does…including saving you and me.  So in that sense, they are Good News as well.

Who would believe such a foolish thing? We would, apparently.  Thanks be to God!

That’s probably as good a place as any to end this part.  

There is one more part to come; one last aspect of “defining the Gospel” that needs to be touched on, and that is defining what the Gospel is not.  

To help us get there, I have another question for you to ponder…so here goes:

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved… 

Law or Gospel?

Let me know what you think!