So… what if I told you that there was a man who is on his deathbed right now who was a hero of the Civil Rights era, who had received awards from organizations including the NAACP for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination? Would you say he deserves to be celebrated? What if I told you it was the founder of Westboro Baptist Church? Okay… now?
What if I told you that the guy who wrote “Awesome God” struggled with alcoholism his whole adult life, smoked like a fiend and cussed like a sailor (when he wasn’t getting in real live fistfights with his band members and offending everybody around him). Would you stop singing it?
What if you were a Protestant and I told you that the man most famous (and some argue most instrumental) for starting the Protestant Reformation was a raging unrepentant anti-semite till the day he died. Would you turn back to Catholocism?
I was reflecting with a friend today about how we get the Gospel wrong. Go to a funeral. People will talk about how great the person was, how many good or great deeds he had done, how generous he was, how loving… It’s all bunk, sorta…
I have a handful of friends who have been asked that when I die (if they are able) they attend my funeral to talk about what a black-hearted notorious awful sinner I was in my heart of hearts and how hopeless I was (although we needn’t go into detail, okay).
Because the Gospel isn’t that I can become such a good person that my good deeds outweigh the bad… It’s not that I’m redeemed so that I can somehow attain heaven or union with God or whatever you want to call it by my good works… Nope. It has nothing to do with me, or my deeds, good or bad (both of which can be equally sinful).
Do I have your attention yet?
So… what is the Gospel?
It’s simple really. In short, the reigning King of everything that ever is, was, or will be died for our sins, so we don’t have to. I’m not normally a fan of the Message, but I think that this part of scripture really reads well, so I’ll end with what a lot of folks who are smarter than I am think is the very first presentation of a “creed”… THE Gospel…
1 Corinthians 15:3-11 (MSG) (emphasis mine)
The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.
But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives.