We, the Church, find ourselves in dangerous territory when we have to use unbiblical definitions and analogies to describe our doctrines. This is especially true when we speak concerning the doctrine of the Gospel, for error on this doctrine places us and those whom we teach on precarious ground concerning our salvation. Other branches of doctrine, like the Particular Redemption of Christ, though weighty and magnificent in their own right, their imperativeness for orthodoxy pales in comparison to that for the Gospel.
In spite of this, there is great confusion concerning the Gospel. Evidence of this is seen in the disconnect between biblical uses of the Gospel and the Church�s use of the Gospel. For example, when Christ is said to be preaching the Gospel of Kingdom, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” we are confused, because we certainly do not mention the Kingdom of God when we preach our gospel, and we scarcely preach repentance. Also, we know well that the first four books of the New Testament are labeled by Church history, “the Gospels,” but few in the Church could tell you why they are labeled this way save that they contain the Gospel events.
In the Gospels, we do indeed find the events on which the power of the Gospel is founded. We see the God of Creation humbling himself and becoming a man, living righteously and fulfilling the demands of the Law for his people, offering himself up on a cross for the sake of his people, and then being raised from the dead, having conquered death and sin, and ascending to the right hand of the Father in glory. We see the root of the power of the Gospel and preach that, but we do it neglecting the Gospel life that we find in the Gospel books. Christ while he was on this planet did not merely give power to the Gospel, but he lived the Gospel. In him, we find the demands of the Gospel fully satisfied, and we find our Leader who shows us how to fulfill the demands of the Gospel in our own lives.
Taking Up Our Crosses Daily
When the Gospel calls us to repentance, it never does it apart from the denial of ourselves. Indeed, this is the essence of repentance, namely that we turn away from loving ourselves and turn to loving God. Christ called this denial of ourselves, “taking up our crosses daily,” for everyday in the life of the unglorified son of God is an invitation to kill our selfish longings so that we would long for God and his will.
Christ not only commanded that we take up our crosses daily, but he himself perfectly took up his cross daily. His life here on earth was a constant denial of his humanly desires and a perfect submission to the will of the Father. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than at Gethsemane prior to his crucifixion:
Going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39).
Christ demonstrated his willingness to deny himself by taking up the cross for the sake of the Father’s will. We must be willing to do the same every day.
Selling All That We Have for the Sake of the Poor
There is this great misconception that Christ only demands the selling of possessions from the rich young man of Matthew 19, but this is clearly not true. Christ commands it of his disciples (cf. Luke 12:32-34), and he did it himself. In fact, Christ in the Incarnation had given up infinitely more than we can ever dream of giving up for the sake of the poor. His command to us to give up our worthless possessions and to follow him is incomparable to what he, the King of Glory, gave up to take on humanity. Many people are amazed that Christ was born in an animal stable and was placed in a feeding trough, but we fail to understand that even if Christ was born in the most luxurious and immaculate palace on the planet, it would still be as a stable and a feeding trough to the God of the Universe!
Yet Christ forsook all that was rightfully his, took upon his Divinity human flesh, and lived as the poorest man among men. Christ said of himself, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20), and this statement was made in the context of the price of following him. Rich men cannot follow Christ. Lovers of houses cannot follow Christ. Lovers of the world cannot follow Christ. Why? Because where Christ goes, no rich man, house-dweller, or world-lover can follow.
Why did Christ live this way, and why are we commanded to live this way? Christ lived this way because he regarded others as better than himself. In spite of his being the God of the Universe, Christ regarded others as better than himself. We are commanded by the Gospel to regard others as better than ourselves, and we cannot do that living in large houses, driving nice cars, and watching big televisions. Why? Because the moment you buy that unnecessarily luxurious house you are declaring to everyone that does not have a house as nice that you are better than them. It does not matter what you think your heart is toward the poor, if you are not poor yourself, you clearly demonstrate your feigned superiority. Christ gave up his throne and became poor, so must we give up our make-believe throne and become poor.
How is This the Gospel?
Matthew’s account of the Final Judgment should make every American Christian tremble. Of the condemned, Christ speaks:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25:31-32, 41-45).
Christ clearly draws the connection between salvation and the ministry to the lowly.
But you might say, “I give my ‘extra’ money to the poor; I give my ‘extra’ time to the lowly.” But what is your extra money? Is it that measly amount of money that you have left after you pay for your ridiculous mortgage payment, your expensive cable bill, your high car payment, your date-night dinners at fancy restaurants, your iPhone, your iPod, your DVDs, etc.? Is your extra time that time that you have left after you work sixty hours a week to pay for your ‘necessities’? You spit on the poor with your necessities! You spit on Jesus with your mortgages! You spit on Jesus with your cable and satellite television bills, your car payments, your nice dinners, you iPhones, iPods, and DVDs! We fill our churches with goats who do not give a rip about Jesus and the poor, and we say nothing while they drive to hell in their SUVs. It is time to wake up, Church, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ!