God and the human family (Ephesians 3:14-19)

How do we respond to the news that God unites us as his family?

The gospel is the good news that God has restored peace to all the peoples of the earth through his anointed ruler (Ephesians 2). So what’s our response to this good news?

What people often do with the gospel today doesn’t match the response in Ephesians 3.

  • Evangelicals try to convince individuals they’re sinners and get them saved.
  • Justice warriors name and shame the regimes for their sins (systemic oppression).

But Paul doesn’t stand up to condemn individuals or regimes: Continue reading “God and the human family (Ephesians 3:14-19)”

The apocalyptic framework of Ephesians 3

Same apocalyptic problem (mystery); unexpectedly awesome answer (reveal)

After Babylon invaded Jerusalem and terminated the Davidic kingship, Israel was ruled by other nations. Floating adrift among the nations, they clung to their ancient stories of how God had delivered them from Pharaoh’s tyranny, committing himself to be the sovereign of their nation (covenant), giving them his wise law (Torah), and living among them to lead them (tabernacle).

But generations of Jacob’s descendants remained under foreign domination, rising and dying like the grass of the field. As nations fought and conquered each other, as empires rose and fell, Israel remained the meat in their sandwich.

They wondered how God would resolve this injustice. When would the day of the Lord arrive? How would the sovereign Lord overpower the evil that oppressed them and destroy the power of the nations? Continue reading “The apocalyptic framework of Ephesians 3”

What is the kingdom of God?

After eight years on this topic, I’m attempting a simple definition:

The kingdom of God is: earth living as the community under divine governance.

At the most basic level, kingdom implies two entities in relationship: a king, and the community under his reign. In the kingdom of God, God is king, and all the people and creatures on earth live as the community under his governance.

Clear enough? Can we now reframe our message to match what Jesus proclaimed? We would focus on just two things: the community, and the king.

Continue reading “What is the kingdom of God?”

What’s the good news in the New Testament?

What is the gospel? Ask many people in our churches and they’ll tell you it’s about how you get saved, by asking God to forgive your sins. Would it surprise you to know that that’s not what the gospel means in the Bible?

The word gospel (or good news) is used a lot in the New Testament — 125 times in the NIV translation. They’re all listed below so you can scan it and see. As you scan, ask:

  1. What is the good news about (its content)?
  2. Who is it good news for (its audience)?

Continue reading “What’s the good news in the New Testament?”

How Jesus overcomes the world’s power problem

What’s wrong with the world? What must God resolve to establish his kingdom with Jesus as ruler?

Remember the jubilation when World War II ended? Turns out Hitler’s defeat didn’t resolve our problems. SBS is running a documentary titled After Hitler, and episode 2 says:

In the five years that separated the end of the Second World War from the start of the Cold War, the world had hoped for a lasting peace, but instead found itself on the brink of apocalypse. Five years of chaos and hope for the people of a shattered Europe, who became pawns in the games of the major powers.

History keeps repeating. When people rise up against an oppressive ruler, the person who comes to power can turn out to be even more monstrous. How can we ever be delivered? Continue reading “How Jesus overcomes the world’s power problem”

We need good news

“Goin’ to church twice in one weekend? Gees, you must be feelin’ guilty!” I have no idea what he thought church was — the kind where you go and confess to a priest, or the kind where you pray the Sinner’s Prayer.

What bothered me was his perception of church as people who struggle with guilt. Is that the message people hear from us? Not a message of hope for the world? Not a Saviour who resolves the injustice and sets all things right? What happened to the good news of a selfless ruler who gave his life for his people and now calls us to care for each other the way he cares for us? Continue reading “We need good news”

The good news, without the blame

Let’s play a memory association game. If I say sunny, what word comes to mind? A sunny day? A sunny beach? If I say dark, what word springs to your mind? A dark night? A dark feeling? If I say the word sin, what comes to mind? Oh, you don’t want to play anymore?

Followers of Jesus associate sin with feelings of failure and fear. It brings to mind that accusatory list of my misdemeanours and crimes. That’s a totally inadequate way to think about sin — as if it’s all about me.

The world was already in trouble long before you were born and added your bit. If you think of sin as the need for some personal forgiveness for yourself, you haven’t begun to grasp what the problem is. Continue reading “The good news, without the blame”

Guilt, or good news?

What gospel did Jesus proclaim? Individual guilt, or global good news?

Over the centuries we’ve rerouted Jesus’ message. His core message was the gospel of the kingdom, and it was good news from beginning to end.

Instead of global good news, we often hear churches today proclaiming a message of individual guilt. A well-known evangelist was asked to explain the good news. He began, “Well, first I have to tell you the bad news. You’re a sinner …” Seriously? When did Jesus do that?

Can you even imagine Jesus bowling up to someone and saying, “First the bad news. You’re a sinner. But I’m here to save you. So get down on your knees and pray the Sinner’s Prayer. If you do that I’ll forgive you.” If you’ve read the Gospels, you know that’s wrong.

How did we ever get side-tracked from Jesus’ good news of the kingdom to a message of guilt? There’s quite a history behind that.

As followers of Jesus, we’re aware of our own shortcomings. As early as the second century, people worried what it might mean if they sinned after their baptism. Some even recommended delaying baptism until you were close to death, to ensure you didn’t die with sin in your life.

By the fifth century, the church recommended the exact opposite: babies should to be baptized as soon as they were born. Augustine formulated the doctrine of original sin. He said that all people are sinful — even babies — because parents pass on their sinful nature to their children. Augustine also taught that this original sin can be removed by baptism. That meant it was absolutely crucial for parents to get the church to baptize their baby: otherwise it would die in sin and be eternally damned.

Did you notice what Augustine did? He placed the salvation of the child and the forgiveness of sins in the hands of the church. Only if the parents asked the church for baptism was the child’s original sin removed. The church claimed it had power to remit sins.

For the next 1000 years, the church’s message revolved around guilt. To be forgiven, you must go to a priest and confess your sins. He assigned your penance, and offered you absolution. Then you attended mass where the priest sacrificed Jesus again and offered you Jesus’ body. The church told you it had “the keys to the kingdom,” so it could let you in or lock you out. The church’s power rested on guilt.

You can imagine how liberating it was when a priest named Martin Luther rediscovered from Scripture that it is God who forgives sins, not the pope or the priests or the church. It is God who justifies us, by faith. God forgives because of his grace, not because we merit it through works such as confession, penance, or indulgences.

Luther caused such uproar precisely because he challenged the authority of the church and placed power back in God’s hands. John Calvin systematically reframed the Christian message around this theme: the sovereignty of God was the liberating message that power lies with God, not the church or the sinful humans that run it.

Perhaps it’s unfair to critique Luther for not going far enough. Living in the era when the church’s power rested on guilt, Luther himself was deeply troubled by feelings of guilt. Justification by God’s grace through faith was the re-dawning of gospel truth, but Luther never questioned why the church had been trading in guilt in the first place. The troubled conscience remained central to his writings. For example, the word conscience doesn’t appear in the Book of Galatians, but Luther’s Commentary on Galatians uses the word more than 200 times.

Luther and Calvin did so much to declare that power belongs in the hands of our heavenly sovereign, but the reformation is not over. We still need to regain Jesus’ message — the good news of the kingdom of God.

How do we tell the gospel the way Jesus did, without using individual guilt to manipulate people? How do we present the good news of God’s kingship instead?

We live in an age where people are disillusioned with stories of power and cynical of the power of the church. Jesus called us to live under God’s kingship. In his world, it’s the powerless who inherit the earth.

Jesus’ kingship is not proclaimed through guilt. The restoration of God’s reign is the best news this world could hear.

Good news for God’s world (free course)

Let’s talk about being good news.

Know some good news? Like to share it?

Over the next 6 weeks, I’ll be taking a small class on why the gospel of Jesus is good news for God’s world, and how to share it so people experience good news. If you’re in Perth and would like to join me, this is your invitation.

Continue reading “Good news for God’s world (free course)”

Faith versus mistrust

Last Sunday I was at a church where the speaker actually said, “I’m not trying to manipulate you.” Afterwards someone asked, “Why did he need to say that? Was he trying to manipulate us?” She was probably right: it was during “the invitation” where the speaker is after a response from the audience.

We live in a culture of mistrust. We don’t trust our politicians, and they don’t trust each other. We don’t trust banks. We don’t trust churches.

Australians don’t trust each other anymore: Continue reading “Faith versus mistrust”