So many doctrines have been piled on to the simple Gospel that it’s sometimes hard to see the forest behind the trees. Let’s wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Here’s the big picture, the way I see it.
Adam and Eve were in the garden, perfect, free of any dysfunction in their fleshly bodies, living in a perfect little world free of lack. “Garden” or “park” in Greek is παράδεισος – paradeisos, or paradise. Their benevolent creator Daddy gave them free reign and roam throughout everything. Being fruitful and multiplying was only a part of it. Their job was to rule the earth, starting from the garden on out, and spread that benevolent reign over all of the earth.
Daddy God warned the first couple that they can live a pure simple life or trust, or they can be the judges of good and evil themselves. The latter came with a huge warning. The warning was this: “the day you eat of the tree, in dying shall you die”. That’s in literal Hebrew. (The exact mechanics that involved eating some fruit has little significance for us now, as we look back in time). In other words, something like a virus (i.e., sin) will grab hold of you, which will cause you to run down, get sick, and eventually die. In dying you shall die – that’s both the progressive and the final aspect of death. That’s the law of sin and death for you.
As the result of the fall, the same thing happened in the world at large. Sin (dysfunction) entered into the world, and so lack and scarcity entered into it, and things have been winding down and wearing out ever since (death). The concept of entropy in physics is a prime testament to that.
All of that was not due to God’s cursing his creation. Those were simply the consequences of wrong actions, and they came with God’s warning (Gen. 2:17). Also, post-transgression, God immediately stated the effects of what had just happened (Gen. 3:17).
Now, remember that God never revoked man’s dominion over the earth. Humankind simply governed the earth by their own power, some resorted to have God help them out, but most didn’t. So now we have this messed-up world, because billions of people thought they didn’t need to depend on God to run their lives, their homes, and their jobs.
Now, there are billions of people on this earth. How do you save them all from all this chaos? Give them all some path to follow? Maybe some will, maybe some won’t. What are the criteria of such path? Read Matthew chs. 5-7. That’s the Sermon on the Mount for you. See if you can live it. “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. That’s next to impossible. If you read it right, it should fill you with utter desperation. Wow. Only very few can make it, if any at all. So sad. What do we do now?
Remember – God so loved the world. Religion tells us God hates the world, which is not true. God certainly doesn’t like the way the world is being run, since there’s so much pain, death, and chaos. But God loves the world so much that he gives his only Son to redeem it. So what about us humans – are we dirty rotten sinners? Do we have little value? Well, God certainly didn’t see us that way. He created us in his image. He saw us as treasure in earthen vessels, worthy enough to give up his Son for us in a horrific suffering. We are the apple of God’s eye, his treasured possession. We are the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price, and Jesus sold all he had to purchase it!
However, the prevalent modern Western understanding of what Christ has done is largely within the confines of “penal substitution”, as if the penal side of the matter was the only one. It’s much, much larger than this. By theologically seeing people mainly as criminals worthy of death or even worse, we have really devalued our humanity. And yet God valued us so highly that he thought his Son was a fair exchange price for that tragic lot of humankind. When people esteem others as criminals through the prism of their theology, they unwittingly mock God’s valuation of humankind, and they very much devalue the sacrifice of Christ.
So now, we have two problems with this bad theology rooted a lot more in Medieval relationships between overlords and their vassals rather than in the Scriptures:
1) God punished the human race with sickness and death for messing up just once
2) God cursed the whole world too just because a couple of folks messed up once. Now, after Adam and Eve are long gone, the world is still cursed, and we are born messed-up (with sin nature), so we are now locked into being messed up. We are all screwed from birth, all because of God’s curse. And to top it all, God also looks at all of us as criminals.
There are kernels of truth in these two points (yes, criminally we are guilty, yes, the world is messed up, yes, sin is passed down generationally). However, notice how the whole thing is so slanted to present a picture of wrathful, hateful, disdainful God. And it presents a picture of humankind as a sorry, loathsome, pitiful lot, for which God felt some sort of pity and decided to save us somehow. Sort of like one saves a grime-covered crumpled up one-dollar bill from a sleazy sticky dumpster, while wondering all the while if one dollar is even worth all that disgusting effort.
We aren’t messed up due to God’s curse. We are messed up due to Adam’s disobedience, and the laws of genetics that are mechanical and simply don’t care what to pass down the hereditary chain.
How is that for a change:
1) God presented the progenitors human race with the choice – to rely on him, or to be their own boss and travel their own path. He warned them ahead of time of the main consequence of the second choice – “in dying shall you die”. We must assume that Adam understood what that meant, or else that warning would have had little meaning for him. God have humankind a full rulership of earth, and so he honored their freedom of choice, even though the choice was very wrong.
2) God saw that his beloved world and the precious humankind were being hurt so much and suffered so much, and yet humans had full authority of the earth. God did give his word regarding human authority, and he is the kind of God that always keeps his word. And that presented a dilemma. To solve it, he needed to send a human being into this world, who had all the authority that a human has, and yet was free of Adamic curse (due to his father’s-side genetics).
If only this man could do all that neither Adam, nor Israel, nor anyone else could do perfectly – after all, he would be sin-free, and he could do it in principle. And if he did do it, if there were a way to impute everything that this man did to the account of everyone who would desire to opt in to this deal, then a surefire way of getting out of the Adamic predicament could be arranged for all people, bar none. All that people have to do is opt in.
Remember – God doesn’t force anyone to do anything, man is the ruler of the earth, unless he decides to voluntarily yield the power of his rule to someone else – another human or group of humans, God, or satan. So, the choice is free, but it has to be made by everyone.
Yes, you might say, but humans are such a messed up lot, still. So, what good would that do for me personally? Isn’t it just a bookkeeping detail? Jesus does something for me, then I accept it, then a checkmark goes next to my name, and that’s it? Well, I still have to live out my life in the here and now somehow. Well, that’s exactly the predicament of focusing on the legal side of the issue exclusively. You are guilty, Jesus died to take your guilty verdict away, you believe it, now you are not guilty. It takes care of the pie in the sky when we die, but puts no steak on the plate while we wait. Again – all of those facts are true, but that’s not the whole story, by far!
What if you could now live your life AS Jesus? Not as you, but as Jesus? And I don’t mean figuratively, I mean literally. After all, in the New Covenant Christ is in you. What if you saw a someone’s daughter and son in every hooker and druggie you’ve come across? What if you could heal every sickness and disease? What if you could raise the dead? What if you saw yourself as a daughter or son of the always loving Daddy, King of a 100 of billions of galaxies, each with a 100 of billions of stars and tens of billions of planets? You see that the King is not lacking for resources. With him, there’s no lack.
How then do I overcome lack in my own life? Through this new arrangement – “you will be done on earth [in the physical realm] as it is [already] in heaven [in God’s invisible realm]”.
All we have to do to believe it, speak it, and act it out in our daily lives.
And that is the Gospel the way I see it.
Comments on: "Will the real Gospel please stand up?" (4)
Amen. Good thoughts here. I especially liked your statement, “Well, that’s exactly the predicament of focusing on the legal side of the issue exclusively. You are guilty, Jesus died to take your guilty verdict away, you believe it, now you are not guilty. It takes care of the pie in the sky when we die, but puts no steak on the plate while we wait.”
This is the problem with forensic Christianity. We’re left as pardoned criminals but we’re not transformed. Praise God, that’s not the gospel. We are a new creation in Him…now and forever.
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Thank you for your comments! Forensic Christianity, I like the way you put it. My observation is that overemphasis on the legal / forensic side, be it Pharisaical or even (paradoxically) grace-based, will mask a lot of the Gospel, while appearing to be the complete solution.
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Thanks for this. Really helpful 😊👍
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Hi thanks for postiing this