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Breaking The Guilt Gospel

Gospel of JesusGuilt, shame, scare-tactics and the like undermine the gospel. You’ve seen the Facebook posts: Share if you love Jesus!. Or, Re-post if Jesus is Lord!. One recent message argued that if you’re ashamed of re-posting a message about Jesus, then Jesus will be ashamed of you. Wow! Not sure they understand the context of verse 38 that they’re quoting from chapter 8 in Mark’s gospel. What’s going on?

The guilt-tactics are really pressure tactics that are wrapped in a warped sense of obligation and expectation of evangelism. That is, Christians are taught (expected, often coerced) to share something about Jesus. This has evolved very poorly with social media. While we absolutely want to be sharing Jesus, it needs to be done with gentleness and respect, and grace and salt, as the big two apostles Peter and Paul remind us.

But Christians often miss this and instead opt for tactics that are far from anything Jesus would have endorsed. Pastor Craig Groeschel retells the agonizing story of his evangelism training where he had to go door-to-door and open with: “If you died tonight, do you know where you’d go?” What a gentle and respectful greeting!

Sounds like Jesus, right? Not even close – even non-believers know it. Non-believers generally like Jesus. His followers, not so much. Much of this dislike of Christians comes from these types of approaches to sharing our faith.

Now, God can use our stupid mistakes to draw people to Himself. However, making stupid mistakes over and over is not an effective evangelism strategy. I know the folks who are using these methods are truly seeking godly things – their intent is good – they want people to know Jesus. Me too. However, this was not the way of Jesus.

Let’s reflect for a second on the “ashamed” passage in Mark 8 where Jesus is telling his disciples that he’s going to suffer and die. Now just prior to this, Peter has just declared Jesus is the Messiah. That is, Jesus is the one in whom all the promises of God (i.e., God’s covenant promises to His people) find their YES. Jesus is the rescuer (God in the flesh) – sent by God as the beautiful fulfillment of God’s great plan of salvation – the renewal of all things, including us.

Jesus was not some great sage or spiritual teacher. He was (is), and he himself taught that he was much, much more than the media and/or secular scholars portray him to be today.

In light of this huge back-story and understanding of the Messiah, Jesus then says he’s going to suffer and die. That he will be rejected by the very people who are supposed to be upholding God’s law and promises. Peter and the disciples have no reference point for this – they can’t wrap their heads around it. They’ve been taught that the Messiah will put all things right and they likely expected him to march into Jerusalem with tanks and guns and take over – to literally sit down on the throne and to rule in the new Kingdom of God.

Peter, full of human wisdom, wants none of this dying talk from his Messiah. First, if The Messiah dies, what would that mean for him? Second, Peter wanted to wage war – to crush his oppressors. Based on what we know of Peter we can be reasonably certain he wanted to shame his opponents. Or perhaps like James and John, scare the heck out of them by calling fire down from heaven.

Jesus had a different approach.

He was going to sacrifice his life.

Put another way, Jesus was going to love us in the deepest sense possible.

Jesus says, yes, you’ve got the Messiah part right (I will put all things right), but I’m not going to do it by the human standards of power (whether shame, guilt, might-is-right, scare-tactics, manipulation, war…etc). Instead, Jesus said he must die.

And it wasn’t going to be a glorious death like the ones that get romanticized in war movies. No. Jesus was going to be rejected. He was going to suffer. He was going to be outcast, brutally tortured, stripped naked, teased, mocked, ridiculed, and crucified.

This is the way of the cross – self-sacrificial, long suffering love. Dying to ourselves (our will, our agenda, the ways of this world) and living for the will of God no matter the cost is the way of the cross.

For Jesus, Messiah meant Crucified Messiah. The way of the cross is the shame that Jesus is referring to. This was the God-ordained reality and plan for Jesus, as well as the model for us. Death on a cross was one of the most shame-based ways of dying. To get a sense of the shame involved, first century folks didn’t even like to say the word “crucifixion” as it was considered so detestable.

But the cross was love’s greatest triumph. This is why Paul tells us, that Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

So of course, Jesus does not want us to be ashamed of the way of the cross – that would mean being ashamed of Him and his great, great love and everything he stands for and came to do. He wants us to be fully alive (reconciled with the Father) – that’s why he came – that is the gospel. We are freed from sin AND death. God’s Kingdom has been inaugurated. He has broken the back of sin and death.  We’re free!

How could we be ashamed of this?

I don’t think many Christians are ashamed of this. However, we don’t practice the way of the cross. Jesus would never endorse the sinful tactics of our generation, whether might is right, scare-tactics, shame-based methods, or guilt techniques – even if it’s endorsing him. Christ calls us to model the way of the cross.

Paul would say it this way, live a life worthy of the calling you have received. In other words, live in a manner that takes into account the incredible love that has been displayed for you. Be humble, patience, gentle…etc.

I would encourage anyone who is promoting these shame-based approaches, or using guilt and scare-tactics to reflect more on who Jesus is – and who you now are because of Him, and what He has accomplished for you and for the world.

Shaming people, or pressuring people, or scaring people was never, ever Jesus’ approach. If we can’t approach people like Jesus, how will they recognize Jesus? If we can’t love like he loved, how will they know we are His? How will they see him?

Rather than pressure, invite people to discover, explore, and learn about the depths of Jesus’ love. Instead of guilt, tell your own story of how God transformed your life? Instead of scare-tactics, tell me of God’s incredible work in your life that’s happening right now, today.

Share that stuff.

Serve others. Help others. Speak up for injustice. Step into the darkness of people’s lives and let your light shine.

I pray the huge prayer that Paul prays to the little church in Ephesus: that God, out of His glorious riches would pour out His Spirit on you so that you would explode inside – filled with power so that Christ would dwell richly in you.

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted

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