But the beginning of the 'good news' is very bad news. The glory of the gospel is elevated only after the carnage of our weakness is exposed. The gospel I see in the Scripture is glorious because it is sought and bought by the Savior- the only thing I add to my salvation is sin, failure, and brokenness.
Why does this gospel message seem so hidden? I see the reality of Richard Niebuhr's famous critique of the growing liberal and social gospel when he wrote: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."
My personal response to Christ's offer of forgiveness has always been a response to my sudden awareness of deep and dark sin. My shame is the shadow of my heart. God's holiness is an affront to my selfishness and pride. My cold dead heart has disappointed me one more time. It is then and only then that the beauty of Christ's atoning death and free offer of grace causes my heart to leap at that hope. Though an enemy deserving of death, the Holy God of the universe still loves me and offers not only to justify me- calling me innocent- he also wants to adopt me as His son!
And this is not a one and done reality. Indeed, my gospel experience has been now 30 years of incredible re-discovery that it is all about Him. His mercies are new every morning. The Holy Spirit process of sanctification has not made me feel more holy over the years- it has made me more sin aware and more God loving. Please do not mis-understand- this is not a license to sin more- it is a firm reality that I am way more sinful than I ever realized- but God's grace is still better that I ever imagined.
There have been times that I have dreamed about writing a book and really laying it on the line. Going back and truthfully exposing my fraudulent ways- letting everyone see how many people I have let down over the years, how many wicked thoughts I have entertained, how many times I have manipulated and served my selfish will- And then I laugh because A) there is NO WAY I could REALLY do that without leaving the country and B) I would only use it to make me look good in the end. The ultimate self protecting mechanism is "I am better than you, I care more than you, look at me- don't you wish you could be as good as me?"
For the last two years in particular, God has shot me with a gospel gun that is so amazing, it is almost like a 'high'. But even after basking in the glow- it fades as quickly as Moses shining face. There is something about the gospel that is a mystery, it leaks out of us or we drift from it. I find myself squarely in the middle of gospel springs, flowing with energy, newness, loving power and prayers- but a short season later I am languishing in stagnant pools of legalism or licentiousness.
I have learned to keep the stagger from being so exaggerated by doing a daily gospel awareness. It begins each morning with a prayer from Gal.2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
And everyday ends with a beautiful gospel reality- Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
So yes- the gospel- as sweet as it is- as glorious and beautiful as the reality is- as world changing as it is- begins with a daily confrontation. I CAN'T and I WON'T- and that reality is so painful that I hide from God just as Adam did in the garden.
I cringe behind a locked door- and I hear my Father's knock. I think He is coming in with a belt and looks of disdain- but he wants to eat with me and fellowship with me (Rev. 3:20).
Jesus confronted in shocking ways. He had sharp barbs for the self-righteous and compassionate healing for the downtrodden.
So in the next few chapters we will see the gospel confronting the stereotypical icons in our society. The surprise is this: these are the only words of hope we have left. This is the only way of hope we have left.
Ultimately there are only 2 choices: we give our pitiful performance to God or we accept His performance for us. Listen and feel the gospel confrontation.......