I wrote this one night at 4 am when I couldn't sleep. For some reason I felt like I had to get it out.
When I was a freshman at CU, I was asked to explain the gospel during an interview for Young Life leadership. This is something I wish I did more, and something I think Christians need to hear just as often as those who do not know Jesus. It’s been about five years since I was asked to do that, and every so often I long for more opportunities to share it with all kinds of people. In ministry, living, smelling, and loving like Jesus is often the long process that comes before you actually get to share the good news with someone. Young Life calls this “earning the right to be heard”. This is how relationships naturally develop in our culture; as most people won't to trust someone who is initially only concerned with changing their mind on something they don’t believe.
That being said, every person is different. Many have never known more of Jesus than his character on Family Guy. Many have been raised in churches that either bored them, scarred them, or condemned them. Many are Christians that are asleep, waiting their whole lives to be invited into the grand story of walking with Jesus. And finally, there are those who greatly dislike Christianity for it’s claims, for it’s fringe theology, and for particular bible passages.
So when I was asked to share the gospel with a Young Life staff member, I knew that my audience already not only believed that the things I was saying were true, but also knew the person whom I was describing. This is sort of like telling your brother a story about your dad that they’ve witnessed alongside you. You are sharing the story while at the same time understanding that they both know the events to be true, and know the person intimately.
In the following paragraphs, I will share the gospel (at least the part of it that can be conveyed in words). However, the gospel is both truth and presence. I can only fully share the gospel through word and through prayer. And the gospel can only really be received as a surrender to the mystery in the story, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. I want to use this story specifically to share the Gospel with those who have been overwhelmed by its apparent complexity, rigidity, and inaccessible nature. If it resonates with you, I’d love to hear your thoughts and pray about it with you.
This is the Gospel
God loves you. He created you because he delights in you. He thought life would be better if he had people to call his own. If you want to know what God’s voice sounds like, sit in silence and ask him to tell you he loves you. It’s what he’s singing over you at every moment.
You were designed in two parts, body and spirit. Human life was originally meant to flow out of our spirit, in connection to God. Our bodies are simply borrowed from dust, and to dust they will return. Our Spirit is the inmost part of our being, the truest, most core part of who we are.
Humanity's story begins in perfect relationship with God. Taking long walks at dawn and dusk with him - void of fear, shame, pain, or isolation. But as you will find with any relationship, love necessitates choice. If we don’t have the option not to love someone, we don’t have the option to love them either. The availability of a choice not to love God gives us the ability to love him. God knows love better than anyone in the world. In fact He is love. So he gave us the choice to not choose him.
Eventually, we humans found that we want control, that we want to be like God. With our eyes set on the one thing that God had asked us not to do, we lost sight of the freedom that comes from trusting God’s promises. We took things into our own hands. We take things into our own hands. I take things into my own hands.
When we take things into our own hands, we lose our connection with God. God is perfect, and anything imperfect is destroyed in his presence. And so we leave him. The very same thing that happened at the beginning of the world is happening today. We walk away from life with Him because we want to control - to do life on our own terms. We want to put our desires above the desires of anyone else.
God wants us back the whole time. He sits on his front porch waiting to see you walking down the road to his house every day. He goes out and searches for you. He leaves trails that lead back to him everywhere. He is desperate to be with you, because he loves you, as a good father loves his child.
Eventually you’ll learn that your desire for control causes death. Not only physical death, but spiritual. You’ll see yourself living further removed from the good creation you were meant to be. When our spirit is dead, we can’t be with God. Our spirit is where God speaks. This death of our spirit was unimaginably sad and wrong to God. He has witnessed hundreds of generations of people who have consistently chosen their desire for control over his promises. Those who faithfully followed him lived epic stories of love, redemption, and faith. Many have turned away and decided not follow him or believe him. Their stories are often characterized by hatred, isolation, hopelessness, and violence. Even those who claimed to follow him often lived lives characterized by their own obsession with control.
So he decided to write himself into the story he was telling, much like an author of a fiction novel writes himself as a character into the lives of the characters in his story. Over 2000 years ago, a man named Jesus was born into the world. He was both God and man completely. This is impossible and paradoxical. Much of Jesus’s life and death was impossible and paradoxical. The Author delights in this.
God wrote himself into the story for two reasons. First, to extend an invitation into relationship with him. To declare that he was not far from those who thought they were. God wrote himself into the story to remind us that we are so loved by him, and to invite us back into relationship with him. Second, he wrote himself into the story to make a way back to him. He is perfect, and anything that is imperfect is destroyed by his presence. He couldn’t settle for us just to know about him. He wanted us to know him in our Spirit.
So Jesus died at the hands of humans trying to punish him for his imperfections. The problem is that he had lived a life completely unified with God. He was completely blameless. And yet he submitted to death. This was confusing to humans who had believed him. He told them he was God, and yet submitted to a cruel and painful death that he did not deserve. It seemed like something had gone wrong.
It only made sense three days later, when his grave was found empty, and he began to find those he loved and reassure them that death was something that had no power on him. Having come back to life to defeat death for himself, Jesus made a way for us to share in that with him. He told his disciples that he wanted them to count his death as their own, and his new life as their own as well.
So the road back home was paved again. Jesus now stands in our place and calls his righteousness our own. When we come home to be with Jesus, God looks at us and sees himself. He sees our spirits as perfect, and alive in Jesus’ resurrection. Overjoyed by our choice to be with him, he throws a party, gives us his inheritance, and asks us to become a part of his great mission to reconcile his creation to himself.
Now we can know him. Not only with our minds, but with our soul. He invites us into a relationship with him, promising that in every part of our lives, he will be with us. A relationship with him grows through a life of prayer, and as you walk with Him, you will learn to recognize his voice. Prayer is the practice of sensory deprivation, with listening as the goal. This is why people close their eyes, sit in quiet places, and relax their bodies when they pray. The presence of God is a qualia, meaning no words or communication will be able to explain it or give it to you outside of your own experiencing of it. It is like trying to explain the color yellow to a man who has been blind since birth.
But his promise is that anyone who seeks him will find him. That anyone who asks will be answered, and to the one who knocks, he will open the door. So ask him if he is there. Ask him if he loves you. Pursue him. Nothing compares to the richness of his counsel, the power of his presence. His love for you is outrageous.