“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.” (Luke 15:1)
Jesus is attractive! And Jesus is the Gospel, remember. He is God’s message. In this our Lord has been grossly misrepresented. He is wrongfully portrayed, frowning disapprovingly, the holy God who hates sin. That much is true – He does hate sin. But He is not the God of the frown. He is the God of the warm, open-hearted, beckoning smile, for He has dealt with sin. He did so, once for all, through the cross of Christ. When He looks at His world, He does so to save, not counting humanity’s sins against them. These were credited to Jesus’ account.
It’s also good continually to remind ourselves that this world is His world, and He loves it. He created it, and He is its Redeemer. The Lord does not labour under the same sacred-secular divide we do. He loves all men, and does good to all. He sends rain on the righteous and on sinners. All good gifts come from Him, and He does not limit them to His children. God is good to all, for God is good. So it was that the grace of God, which saved us, touched our lives long before we ever placed our confidence in Jesus. We’ve all observed the way in which children exhibit profound, unfettered faith. You and I were once that child. Like most others, you and I in all probability were educated out of that faith, this through the influence of others and the messy business of just living. Yet, again and again along the way, we were also the beneficiaries of the prevenient (going ahead of) grace of God.
Coming to faith in Christ is a personal journey. While there is most often a clear moment of believing, there is also almost always process involved. For some the journey is shorter and sharper, the Gospel heard and believed, but for others it is a long and protracted one. The very idea of being born again helps us to understand this, for spiritual realities are reflected in the natural realm for the benefit of our insight. When the proud parents announce that their baby was born at 05h15 in the morning, they are not implying that everything took place in a moment. We know that the moment of birth was the culmination of many months, starting with conception, through gestation, and finally the rigours of labour.
Jesus is the way to the Father. The Gospel – good news about good God and what He has done – is empowered by the Spirit to unfurl this attractiveness to men and women the world over, no matter who they are, or what their circumstance might be. Jesus is a suitor who woos His bride. Be sure, the Jesus-way is a narrow road, for it is an exclusive one – no one comes to the Father but by Him – yet at the same time it is the broadest highway imaginable, for our Heavenly Father desires that all men be saved. It is a road without condemnation, disapproval, rejection or demand. No toll fees to be paid. No strings attached. No obstacles to be overcome. It is the easiest thing imaginable to come to faith in Christ, for God has made it so. Were it at all difficult, then many, if not most, would be excluded. Rather than difficult and obstacle-ridden, the way to the Father is by grace alone through faith alone. It’s Good News Boulevard, a highly incentivised pathway, for along it can be found provision, healing, deliverance, acceptance, restoration, opportunity, mercy, loving-kindness, and much, much more besides. These are there for the taking, for Christ has given all, and He asks nothing in return. The mystery is how, in so doing, we are won heart and soul, and will give anything back to Him in return.
It is therefore not ours somehow to make Jesus attractive or appealing by the way we do church or share the Gospel. Neither is it ours to make Him relevant in any way. He is attractive and He is relevant. Our challenge is not to distort the unconditional beauty of Perfect God, who is Love itself, in our bearing witness to Him.
One of the surest signs that we’ve moved away from the Gospel is that we are no longer attractive to sinners. It happens all too easily. Our Christianity inadvertently becomes about ourselves, and more about what we’re doing, than about Jesus and what He has done. It’s a subtle shift, from Jesus to Jesus plus – Jesus plus prayer; Jesus plus worship; Jesus plus evangelism, revival, holiness, our church, or some other vision – good things all, but before long, religiosity begins to rear its ugly head.
Jesus plus can be very popular with some Christians. At times they’ll flock in droves, even travelling great distances for it. Not that there is anything inherently amiss in events that are by Christians for Christians about secondary matters. It’s just that these should not be the dominant norm. They should not define, let alone consume us.
Surely it is obvious, to the point of being self-evident, that Christians and churches should be like Jesus – magnets to sinners and repellent of Pharisaic self-righteousness. Sinners can sniff out a fake a mile off. Being attractive to sinners is not something you do, it’s something you are! The Gospel is more than something you believe; it is something you embody. You do not as much have it as it has you. If the Gospel has you, ministry flows, to believer and unbeliever equally generously. None of us has anything better to offer another than Christ and His perfect work. Embattled saint or rebellious sinner – both find hope and life in Jesus. Any local church that gets to grips with this will have no problem filling their building. Their gatherings will be condemnation-free zones, and their singing, preaching and prophesying all about what Jesus has done. These gatherings will likely be a bit messy, pleasingly reminiscent of the crowds around Jesus. To fix this is to lose it. To love unconditionally is to partner with God in the bringing to salvation those for whom He died. New Covenant discipleship is teaching people to love and trust Jesus. As we shall see, it is He who transforms lives.
Like moths to a flame. This is the Gospel!
Adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox