So…just a few more thoughts on the last blog really. Some of what follows is in response to an email received with comments on the last post.
I do not think I mean to say that the Salvation Army has stopped preaching salvation, repentance and redemption (although it is a long time since I’ve heard a sermon on Hell). What I do mean, is that when salvation is preached, there is a greater focus on what you get when you get saved (ie fulfilment, blessing, better quality of life, etc etc) than both the cost and the real need to be saved in the first place.
Illustration on this:
Two men are seated in a plane. The first is given a parachute and told to put is on as it would improve his flight. He’s a little skeptical at first because he can’t see how wearing a parachute in a plane could possibly improve the flight. After a time he decides to experiment and see if the claim is true. As he puts it on he notices the weight of it upon his shoulders and he finds that he has difficulty in sitting upright. However, he consoles himself with the fact that he was told the parachute would improve the flight. So, he decides to give the thing a little time. As he waits he notices that some of the other passengers are laughing at him, because he’s wearing a parachute in a plane. He begins to feel somewhat humiliated. As they begin to point and laugh at him and he can stand it no longer, he slinks in his seat, unstraps the parachute, and throws it to the floor. Disillusionment and bitterness fill his heart, because, as far as he was concerned, he was told an outright lie.
The second man is given a parachute, but listen to what he’s told. He’s told to put it on because at any moment he’d be jumping 25,000 feet out of the plane. He gratefully puts the parachute on; he doesn’t notice the weight of it upon his shoulders, nor that he can’t sit upright. His mind is consumed with the thought of what would happen to him if he jumped without that parachute.
Let’s analyze the motive and the result of each passenger’s experience. The first man’s motive for putting the parachute on was solely to improve his flight. The result of his experience was that he was humiliated by the passengers; he was disillusioned and somewhat embittered against those who gave him the parachute. As far as he’s concerned it’ll be a long time before anyone gets one of those things on his back again. The second man put the parachute on solely to escape the jump to come, and because of his knowledge of what would happen to him without it, he has a deep-rooted joy and peace in his heart knowing that he’s saved from sure death. This knowledge gives him the ability to withstand the mockery of the other passengers. His attitude towards those who gave him the parachute is one of heart-felt gratitude.
So, if we listen to what the modern gospel says, it says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. He’ll give you love, joy, peace, fulfillment, and lasting happiness.” In other words, “Jesus will improve your flight.” So the sinner responds, and in an experimental fashion, puts on the Saviour to see if the claims are true. And what does he get? The promised temptation, tribulation, and persecution. The other passengers mock him. So what does he do? He takes off the Lord Jesus Christ, he’s offended for the word’s sake (Mark 4:17), he’s disillusioned and somewhat embittered, and quite rightly so. He was promised peace, joy, love, fulfillment, and lasting happiness, and all he got were trials and humiliation. His bitterness is directed toward those who gave him the so-called “good news”. He becomes worse than before he was when he “tasted” Jesus: another inoculated and bitter backslider. (I should really say she, because it is a she that has inspired my thinking).
About the controversial “Jesus never said he loved anyone” as a motivation for a conversion. Of course, Jesus died of love, gave his live because of love…thats how we know what love is. He obviously showed compassion. God gave his son because of the desire to redeem the world, but also to appease his wrath…so that the world could, having experienced conviction of our sinfulness, would not have to face the dire consequences of dying in sin.
Jesus never preached the benefits of salvation as the motivation for follwing Him. His primary message was “Repent, the Kingdom of God is near.” So, a message focussed on calling for repentance and pointing out the Kingdom as it applied to them (the Beatitudes are a great example of the exounding of the kingdom, as are the parables.) Even when he was talking directly to people about their souls, he never pointed out the benefits of salvation without revealing their sin.
The question that seems to be being raised is “what brings conviction?” and “how does it come?” Firstly, and primarily, conviction of sin and the need for salvation, of course, comes from the Holy Spirit, that is one of His works. The Holy Spirit convicts accoring to divine law…what else is there to bring conviction on? But, of course, God has chosen us to spread the gospel, to be the instrument through which the gospel is communicated.
So, just because it is the Holy Spirit that brings conviction, does that mean to say we do not need to focus on that? Look at Peters first sermon…the first sermon of the church that saved hundreds in a day. He didn’t miss and hit the wall with regards of pointing out people’s sin.
I hold to my opinion that grace doesn’t make sense without an understanding of why grace is needed.
another illustration as to why I think it might help in evangelism for the transgression of law/sinfulness to be talked about:
Imagine if I said to you, “I’ve got some good news for you: someone has just paid a £25,000 speeding fine on your behalf.” You’d probably react by saying, “What are you talking about? That’s not good news: it doesn’t make sense. I don’t have a £25,000 speeding fine.” My good news wouldn’t be good news to you: it would seem foolishness. But more than that, it would be offensive to you, because I’m insinuating you’ve broken the law when you don’t think you have. However, if I put it this way, it may make more sense: “On the way to this meeting, the law clocked you at going 55 miles an hour through an area near a school. There were ten clear warning signs stating that twenty miles an hour was the maximum speed, but you went straight through at 55 miles an hour. What you did was extremely dangerous; there’s a £25,000 fine. The law was about to take its course, when someone you don’t even know stepped in and paid the fine for you. You are very fortunate.”
Transforms the message…thats what I mean about it not making sense just to say “Jesus died for your sins”.
My thinking on this whole issue has probably been developing for a while, I have spoken and writted several times about being sure what we mean about the salvation we preach. I am not saying that I, nor any new generation of officers have discovered sin and the need for forgiveness, I am saying that it has become increasingly unfashionable to talk about this topic. Even the ALPHA course, which I like and see as useful, does not have much of an emphasis on sinfulness or repentance…because somehow that is seen as too heavy for the new or not-yet Christian.
Well, thats quite enough for one blog….the discussion continues!
yours in Jesus