The title of JB Phillips’ classic book, Your God Is Too Small, describes well the Christian message that is still preached from too many pulpits in our churches.

When I came to a committed faith 35 years ago, I was taught that the Gospel was about your own individual relationship with God, and that our purpose in life was to tell as many people as possible about it.

Jesus church window

Jesus. From a church window in The Netherlands. PICTURE: Paul Zoetmeijer/Unsplash

 

"If we really believe that Jesus is who He says He is; the creator and sustainer of all things, and that, as He said, He has come to transform all things, it means that He is relevant to every aspect of existence. That means that our morality, our politics, our economics, our sexuality, human rights and care for the earth, are all central Gospel issues. They are not optional add-ons to the supposed more important issue of your individual relationship with God and your eternal destiny."

A couple of years later I was taught something called The Four Spiritual Laws. These were four principles that summed up the message of the Gospel in the following way:
1. God loves you and wants to spend eternity with you.
2. You were born a sinner and that separates you from God. The just consequence of your sin is death. That means you are unable to come to God through your own effort, and therefore face eternity in the everlasting fires of hell.
3. Jesus, as God’s sinless Son, died on the cross in your place because He loves you so much. His death saves you because He died the death you deserve. He did this so that you could spend eternity with God.
4. All you need to do is accept that Jesus did this for you, and you will be able to spend eternity in heaven with God when you die.

That’s it. Therein lay the Gospel message. And I believed it with a passion. I used to go to summer camps where we were taught this message and how to turn conversations around to ‘spiritual things’ in order to try to win people to faith in Christ.

That was about 30 years ago. For many years now I have no longer believed that that message entails the Gospel. At worst it is bad news, not Biblical, nor reflective of the overall character of God. At best it short-changes the Gospel. Yet it is essentially the message that is preached from pulpits in thousands of churches across the evangelical world.

It is a message that has nothing relevant to say to the issues confronting the world today. Issues of injustice, climate change, the treatment of asylum seekers, and truth-telling in our political leaders, among many others, are not touched by such a message. Why would they be? This world and its problems are temporal and simply don’t compare to where you will spend eternity if you die tonight.

There are many theological points that could be discussed to get to the bottom of why this message is not what Jesus came for. To sum it up briefly though, the Gospel is actually much bigger than what many of us have been taught.

Recently I came across a post on Facebook which asked people to sum up the Gospel in three or four sentences. I wrote that I’d sum up the Gospel in I John 4:19 – we love because He first loved us and that the Gospel therefore is centred on a God who loves us to the core of who we are and who has invited us, despite our self-centredness and brokenness, to join as a community with Him in the project of renewing the world with His Spirit in us and among us and, as we experience this love, inviting others to participate as well.

If we really believe that Jesus is who He says He is; the creator and sustainer of all things, and that, as He said, He has come to transform all things, it means that He is relevant to every aspect of existence. That means that our morality, our politics, our economics, our sexuality, human rights and care for the earth, are all central Gospel issues. They are not optional add-ons to the supposed more important issue of your individual relationship with God and your eternal destiny.

Contrary to what we hear in many of our churches, I believe our ultimate destiny is not Heaven when we die. According to Jesus and the Biblical narrative, our ultimate destiny is heaven on earth in the new, renewed creation promised in Revelation 21:1-5. It is Heaven coming to Earth in the final consummation of all things. It is that time when there will be no more tears, no more mourning, and no more death, for the old order of things will have passed away, and sin and death will have finally been defeated.

Jesus Himself prays for this in the prayer He taught us to pray, and which millions of people pray in church every week. He asks for God’s kingdom to come on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Jesus also said that the greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbour, and that all that it means to be Godly is summed up in those two commands. He said the same about doing for others what we would want them to do for us. And, if we prefer to follow what Paul said about being Christian, he said the same thing in Galatians 5:14.

I was thinking just the other day about love. Love is social by nature. If I hurt you, not only will you be affected, but the people who care about you will be affected, and there will be a ripple effect. But if I show love to you, you will be uplifted, and if you are shown that love enough, you will want to show others that same love. Love is not love unless it’s given away.

"The great Christian hope is that everything will one day be renewed through this infinite, glorious, never-ending love. And we get to participate in that right now. The struggle for justice that millions around the world know is real but it is not futile. One day justice really will be fully realised."

The great Christian hope is that everything will one day be renewed through this infinite, glorious, never-ending love. And we get to participate in that right now. The struggle for justice that millions around the world know is real but it is not futile. One day justice really will be fully realised.

This is why Jesus is directly relevant to everything our current world faces.

In a world where economic growth is the idol of our time, Jesus says, “what will it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose who you are?”, and that life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

In a world where loneliness and depression are off the charts in countries like Australia, Jesus says “come to me you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. When the pursuit of happiness leads us to higher levels of anxiety, Jesus says that life is found in the surrender of ourselves to God and in the giving away of ourselves to others. This is how we are transformed more into the image of Christ and find the joy we’ve always been looking for.

Can we ever deny that love is needed more than ever in today’s world? The Gospel of Jesus speaks directly to every aspect of existence. And it speaks with a saving, redemptive love that is so big, so unconditional, that we can only fall down on our knees in worship.