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Category: Outreach & Missions

Sourced by The Gospel Coalition

Every Christian loves the gospel. By definition, you cannot have a Christian who isn’t shaped by and saved by the gospel.

So three cheers for the gospel. Make that 3 million cheers.

But let’s preach the gospel the way Jesus and the apostles did. Theirs was not a message of unconditional affirmation. They showed no interest in helping people find the hidden and beautiful self deep inside. They did not herald the good news that God likes you just the way you are.

Too much “gospel” preaching sounds like a slightly spiritualized version of that old Christina Aguilera song:

You are beautiful no matter what they say.
Words can’t bring you down.
You are beautiful in every single way.
Yes, words can’t bring you down.
So don’t bring me down today.

I don’t doubt that many of us feel beat up and put down. We struggle with shame and self-loathing. We need to know we can be okay, even when we don’t feel okay. It is good news to hear, then, that God loves us in Christ and that we are precious in his sight.

But the gospel is more than positive self-talk, and the gospel Jesus and the apostles preached was more than a warm, “don’t let anybody tell you you’re not special” bear hug.

There’s a word missing from the presentation of our modern gospel. It’s the word repent.

Yeah, I know, that sounds old school, like an embarrassing sidewalk preacher with a sandwich board and cheap tracts with bad graphics and lots of exclamation points. And yet, even a cursory glance at the New Testament demonstrates that we haven’t understood the message of the gospel if we never talk about repentance.

When John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord, he preached repentance (Matt. 3:811), just as Jesus launched his Galilean ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). Jesus understood the purpose of his ministry to be calling sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). Just before his ascension, the resurrected Christ implored the disciples to be his witnesses, that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” would be preached in his name to all nations (Luke 24:47). In fact, if there is a one-sentence summary of Jesus’s preaching, Mark gives it at the beginning of his Gospel: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1:14-15).

Notice that pair: repent and believe. The two are virtually synonymous in the New Testament, not that the words mean the same thing, but that they are signs of the same Spirit-prompted work and lead to the same end times inheritance. Strictly speaking, the proper response to the gospel is twofold: repent and believe (Matt. 21:32Acts 20:21). If only one item in the pair is mentioned—which happens often in the New Testament—we should realize that the other half is assumed. You can’t really believe without also repenting, and you haven’t really repented if you don’t also believe.

You can’t really believe without also repenting, and you haven’t really repented if you don’t also believe.

The gospel message is sometimes presented as a straightforward summons to repent (Acts 3:18-19). Other times, forgiveness is linked to a singular act of repentance (Acts 5:31Rom. 2:42 Cor. 7:10). The message of the apostolic good news is that God will be merciful when we repent and that repentance leads to life (Acts 11:18). Simply put: repent, that your sins may be wiped out (Acts 3:19).

If the call to repentance is a necessary part of faithful gospel preaching, then maybe we don’t have as much of it as we think. The summons to turn from sin, die to self, and turn to Christ is missing from prosperity preachers, from preachers in step with the sexual revolution, and from not a few gospel-centered preachers, too. It’s certainly missing from most of our worship services that long ago did away with a deliberate confession of sin.

To be sure, we aren’t called to beat people up Sunday after Sunday. Many folks stumble into church in desperate need of the Balm of Gilead. I get that. I think anyone who listens to several weeks of my sermons will hear that I’m not a finger-wagging scolder. And yet, if I never call people, with God’s authority, “to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it” (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 89), then I’m not doing the work a gospel preacher should do.

The unpopular fact remains that the ungrateful and impenitent will not be saved (1 Cor. 6:9-10Gal. 5:19-21Eph. 5:1-201 John 3:14). The New Testament has nothing to say about building the kingdom, but it does have everything to say about how we can enter into the kingdom. The coming of the King is only good news for those who turn from sin and turn to God.

If we want to give people a message that saves, instead of one that only soothes, we must preach more like Jesus and less like our pop stars.

Courtesy of Frank Powell at ChurchLeaders.com.

This was fairly lengthy, so I thought it best to compile it a little easier for our readers...

What if certain Christian values we equate with following Jesus aren’t actually Christian?

Like it or not, culture shapes our picture of Jesus.

If we don’t identify false stigmas and misconceptions, we will devote time and energy cultivating a virtue that isn’t Christian.

I hate disclaimers, but what follows deserves one. The virtues below aren’t evil. I’m not asking you to avoid them. I am asking you to think seriously about what it means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Here are eight Christian virtues that aren’t really Christian.

1.) Niceness

I can’t help but wonder what we would think about Jesus in modern-day America.

We’re talking about a guy who called one of his closest friends Satan. He talked disrespectfully to religious leaders. Nice wouldn’t be the first word I would use.

Was Jesus kind? Absolutely. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. Here’s the problem, though. Niceness and kindness aren’t interchangeable.

Nice is cheap. It costs you nothing. Nice avoids tension and always strokes your ego, even if Ray Charles could see you’re wrong.

Niceness is NOT next to godliness.

Kindness, however, tells you what you need to hear. It won’t stroke your ego because you’re awesome. Kindness loves you too much for that. The seeds of kindness are planted in the soil of love. From this rich earth comes real tension. But the end result is a fruitful life.

I wonder how many friends Jesus would have in an overly sensitive culture where ego stroking is a national pastime?

I know Jesus would infuriate me. For much of my life, I equated niceness with godliness. Good friends would never call me out, I thought. Good Christians wouldn’t either.

But I struggle to equate niceness with godliness when I read the Gospels. Maybe we need more Christian like Jesus. Maybe we need more friends like Jesus. I know I do.

2.) Always say 'Yes'

When Tiffani and I graduated college, we immediately plugged into a local church. For the first two years, we said yes to everything.

“Will you lead a prayer in worship Sunday?”

Yes.

“We’re short a few volunteers. Will you help out at the food pantry?”

Yes.

“Will you housesit our cats?”

No. I don’t do cats. Neither does Jesus.

Good Christians were servants, I thought. They never say no. They’re “yes men (and women)”…for Jesus.

While you should serve your local church, the weight of “yes” can (and will) cripple you. For those who say “yes” too often, you feel this weight.

Here’s why. Oftentimes, we say yes because we want to feel needed. It’s about approval, not servanthood.

Saying no to a volunteer opportunity is hard. Saying no to a toxic friendship is painful. Saying no to peer pressure, negativity, temptation and abuse, all of these are hard.

But let’s not bow down to the god of yes. This god takes everything and gives nothing.

3.) Perfect church attendance

I’m still healing from years of unhealthy exposure to this false Christian virtue. Faithful Christians didn’t miss worship. Ever. They never missed small group. They didn’t miss any church function. Period.

Gathering with Christians matters, of course. But it’s very possible to have perfect church attendance and know very little about God. Much like perfect school attendance doesn’t guarantee good grades.

God is much more concerned with the condition of your heart than the location of your butt.

4.) Following the rules

I grew up equating rule following with Christ following. Good Christians didn’t break rules. They didn’t miss curfew, cheat on tests or drink alcohol. Oh, and they didn’t curse or have tattoos.

A perfect driving record doesn’t qualify you as a Christian any more than an alcohol addiction disqualifies you.

Besides, some rules need to be broken. They’re faulty and oppressive. Rather than equating righteousness with rule-following, let’s equate righteousness with Jesus.

5.) Never doubting or questioning God

Growing up, doubting God or questioning the Bible was disrespectful at best, and blasphemous at worst.

Because of this, my faith journey was framed by an unhealthy picture of God. In my mind, God was this divine being with an enormous limb (probably one he picked from The Tree of Life). Positioned like a power hitter in baseball, He waited for someone to question him so he could smash you over the left-field wall.

Then, in college, doubt chiseled away at my faith. I wasn’t sure how to process the hard questions. I couldn’t talk to God. He was mad. I couldn’t talk to other Christians. They would tell me to pray harder.

Then I found a life-saving book. Psalms.

Psalms painted a different picture of God. Faithful men doubted and spoke “matter-of-factly” to God. He didn’t destroy them. He walked with them. He was patience and understanding.

I still question and doubt. The God of love allows space for this. He stays with me through it, and celebrates when I reach the other side.

If your God doesn’t allow room for doubt, He’s not worth serving.

Christians with doubts and questions aren’t lacking faith. In fact, I would say doubt is an unavoidable by-product of growing closer to an infinitely powerful and knowledgeable God.

6.) Knowledgeable about the Bible

When I worked in youth ministry, I traveled a lot. Before loading the bus, everyone had an opportunity to pull the trigger on shotgun. But, to be honest, I only wanted one person to call it. Why? I had a Bible trivia app and no one else competed with me.

I could name every judge and pair people with weird, random facts. I knew the Bible.

But this isn’t surprising, right? Faithful Christians know their Bible.

Well…that depends.

The apostle Paul says knowledge puffs up but loves builds up. My Christian journey proves this verse true.

Knowledge alone is quite dangerous, actually.

I look back on my Bible trivia days. While I rarely lost, my reward for winning was a crown of pride.

Jesus flipped the model of righteousness and holy living. Faithful Christians might know their Bible. But if your Bible knowledge doesn’t compel you to serve your neighbor, you’re missing something. Great students are great servants.

7.) Promptness

While we’re here, let’s include other members of the squad. Organized. Efficient. Go-getter. #squad

Granted, being on time can show concern and respect for the person you’re meeting.

But promptness isn’t a Christian virtue. If Jesus lived in modern-day America, I’m not sure he would appreciate our infatuation with “to-do lists” and punctuality. We’re talking about a guy who arrived late to scheduled appointments, and on one occasion, his “lateness” resulted in a man’s death, Lazarus. Beggars and tax collectors distracted Jesus. He changed plans without warning.

Promptness might be good practice in America, but it isn’t a Christian virtue.

I’ve heard passive-aggressive comments about being late for worship all my life. I’ve made them myself. While punctuality is good practice in America, it’s not a barometer for godliness or devotion to God.

8.) Expressive and Emotional

I’m an emotional guy. I cry often. Don’t judge me. I also lift my hands and move around when I worship.

Real Christians are expressive, I used to think. But spending time with Christians who aren’t expressive revealed something different, a deep love for Jesus. On the flip side, I’ve spent time with expressive, emotional Christians and found them to be bored and dry. Expressive, emotional behavior can reveal passion, but not necessarily.

Let’s be careful not to make our perspective the perspective. God is infinitely creative. So are His people.

How about you? Can you think of something going on today that Jesus would not agree with to add to this list?