October 2017 will mark the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Reformation, so you are likely to hear something about that over the coming year. Now you may wonder what difference a dusty, old historical event makes in your busy, fast-paced life here in the Lower Mainland of BC. Turns out, quite a lot.
The Reformation was a movement that was focused on reforming the Christian Church so that the Gospel was, once again, the foundation and centre of all that the Church taught and did. And the Gospel is the Good News of what God has done in this world to save us from sin, death and condemnation. The Apostle Paul clarified and emphasized the Gospel in his first letter to the Corinthians Church:
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve… and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Cor. 15:1-5, 8)
So the essence of the Gospel is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. But the really big question is: “What does this mean for us in our lives?”
Paul writes, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (v. 2). But what does it mean to be saved? In the Church, we often speak of salvation as being able to go to heaven when we die, which it is. But salvation also means much more than that. And when we limit the scope of salvation to simply going to heaven when we die, we will go to heaven when we die, but we will miss out on much of the rich, full, abundant life with Jesus that He wants to give us now. Jesus wants to save us for much more than just going to heaven.
Imagine a man who has lived a horrible lifestyle—smoking, drinking, over-eating and not exercising—and his lifestyle results in congestive heart failure. The only way that he can survive is through a heart transplant. Fortunately for him, a young man dies in a motorcycle accident and he has made prior arrangements for his heart to be donated. The first man receives a new heart and lives. But shortly after getting out of the hospital, he goes back to his horrible lifestyle—smoking, drinking, over-eating and not exercising. What would we think about such a man? We would say that there is something wrong with him. Someone died and gave him another chance at life and he is wasting it.
Yet many of us do exactly the same thing. And I think that the reason that we tend to do this is two-fold. First, we are ever and always, in this life, sinners and there is nothing that we can do to change that. And second, our understanding of the Gospel is too small.
Even after we are saved, there is a gap between what our thoughts, words and deeds should be and what they actually are. But that is not the problem. The really big problem in our lives is that we think that we have to try to manage that gap. But that is a big, hairy lie and satan is using that lie to trap people, including those who follow Jesus, in an endless cycle of sin, guilt, shame and regret.
The truth is that Jesus already knows about that gap. He always has. And His suffering, death and resurrection infinitely covers over that gap. More than that, He has promised to make His home in our heart and live His life through us. Our role is not to manage the gap between what is and what should be in our lives. Our role is to simply rest in Jesus and let Him live His life through us. And many of the spiritual disciplines that the Church has encouraged Christians to use over the centuries are focused on practicing resting in Jesus. We overcome, not through effort, but through rest. (Ironically, though, because we are often so twisted up in the ways of the world, it takes some effort for us to rest. This is something that is hard for us to learn, because we have so much to unlearn.)
The Gospel is a really, big deal. It is not only the foundation of our forgiveness and our hope for heaven, it is the centre of our life right now. It is bigger than we think.
In Christ’s love,