Since Easter is approaching, I have been thinking about this “good news” that Jesus preached — a message that got him in so much trouble that the religious people of his day had him killed. I have come to believe that contemporary Christianity mostly gets “the good news” wrong – to the detriment of the church and the world.
I grew up in a church where the good news was that Jesus forgave our sins so that we could go to heaven when we died. Of course this good news was limited to those who believed the “right” theology about Jesus and were truly sorry for their sins – enough to promise they would try very hard not to sin any more. Sin generally had to do with sex, cussing, dancing, drinking, rock music, and the like.
As a child and even into my teenage years, I continuously asked God to forgive my sins and save me, because I was never sure if I had been repentant enough the time before. It didn’t make for a great relationship with God. Though I was told that this God loved me, his hands were tied. He had to send me to hell if I was not repentant enough. So my prayers (and relationship with God) never consisted of more than “forgive me” and “give me (mostly a ticket to heaven).” I have come to believe that this cuts the good news off at the knees.
In the first chapter of the Gospel attributed to Mark, I think it states the good news clearer than anywhere else. This is how John the Baptist described the good news:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: . . . “I, John the Baptist, have baptized you with water; but Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mar 1:1-8)
The baptism of the Spirit – the indwelling of God’s Spirit – that Jesus was to make possible through his death and resurrection is the good news. This was promised by the ancient prophets: a time when the Holy Spirit would give wisdom and strength directly to those who desired to do the work of God. It is what happened first at Pentecost.
Because of my changing understanding of the good news, my definition of sin changed too. It is no longer focused on breaking a set of rules, but sin is now about not loving God and others, not serving others, not working for justice, not feeding the hungry, not forgiving each other, etc. Sin is about not doing the work of God.
Do you see how this is a different relationship with God than one of “forgive me” and “give me?” Instead it says, “lead me” and “empower me” to be your hands and feet. This is a life we live in service to God and others being guided by the Spirit of God – not a life of rule following. Not a life of fear. Not a life of trying to be sorry enough for our sins that we earn a ticket into heaven.
Back to sin… by the way, the Apostle Paul points out that when we let the Spirit guide us, the Spirit will not lead us into sin (Gal 5:16).
Please give us the wisdom and strength
to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
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April’s new book, St. Francis and the Christian Life,
is about a life guided by the Spirit.