First-century Jesus followers were convinced the message of Christianity was good news of great joy for all people. So why has it become it so easy to walk away from?
- What do you think are the main reasons Christianity has become so easy to walk away from?
- Religious arguments about “correct belief” can often get in the way of treating other people well. How should Christians “personify the good news”?
- What does humility mean to you? What does it require of you?
- Andy offered Christians the following four suggestions to live out their faith. Which do you find most challenging? Why
- Apologize immediately.
- Forgive quickly.
- Defer habitually.
- Give sacrificially.
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
Now, a couple of weeks ago, I finished a book written by an ex-pastor who’s become an atheist. And in the book, he tells his story, and I don’t know why I’m so fascinated with de-conversion stories, but he tells his whole story. It’s a long book. It’s wonderful. He’s so transparent. And then he goes into why he doesn’t believe the Bible’s true, and why he doesn’t believe God exists. It’s fascinating. It’s both philosophical and his story. But in the part where he tells his story, he had the dilemma of how do you… He was in ministry slowly losing his faith. And he was still in ministry, when he lost his faith. And so he tells that journey, and it’s heart-breaking, as you might imagine.
But he tells the story about how he told his family. So he told his wife, he eventually got divorced. He remarried later. But the most sort of gut-wrenching like, I had to just stop, you know, part was when he told his mom. So he tells his mom that he’s de-converting from Christianity. And she’s not… This doesn’t bother her the way that he thought it would. And very soon after he told her that he had de-converted from Christianity, she de-converted as well. And she expresses… He explains in the book, she expresses her relief of giving up this faith and all the baggage that came with her version of Christianity. And at one point she says, and this is a quote, she says, “It’s wonderful, because I don’t have to hate anymore. It’s wonderful to be free of this religious burden, because I don’t have to hate anyone anymore.”
So I was talking about this with my son, Andrew. He’s 27, and he does full-time stand-up comedy. We did not see that coming. Okay. [laughter] That expensive finance degree, I’m sure it’ll come in handy some day. But anyway. So I’m telling him about this book, and what this gentleman’s mom said. And he said, “Dad,” he said, “Most of my comedy friends, my comedian friends, most of them grew up going to some kind of church, and they’ve all walked away pretty much from church.” And then he said this, and he allowed me to quote him, he said, “Dad, if I’d grown up in one of those kinds of churches, I don’t think I would still be going to church either.”
So what is this? A version of faith where you have to dislike a group of people in order to kind of keep your walls up? A version of faith where you basically have to hate a group? A version of faith that you’re constantly looking for a way out, that you just can’t wait to get out of this thing and kinda shake yourself free and move on? I mean, neither of those versions of faith are good news, right? That’s not good news, that’s bad news. That’s old news.
Now, as we’ve said throughout this series, for some folks, the resistance to Christianity revolves around this question: Is it true? But for other people, and more and more people, the question they’re wrestling with is a different question. It’s this question: Is it even good? I mean, if it causes me to hate, it may be true, but it’s not good to hate if it causes me to feel like I can’t live my life and be myself. Then clearly it’s not good.
Now, when we hear news, this is true for all of us, when we hear news that’s not good, we hope it’s not true. Right? Whether it’s a medical diagnosis, or something with your job, when you hear news that is not good, you hope it’s not true. But when you hear news that’s good, good news, you hope it’s true. No matter what it is, whether it has to do with your health, your finances, your job, you immediately hope it’s true.
So the question that we’ve been wrestling with that we’re gonna kind of land on today is, if the message of Jesus is good, then why don’t people lean in and hope it’s true? And why is it there are versions of our faith that are so un-good that people are looking for ways to get out?
So the question that I want us to wrestle with a little bit today is this: What happened? Well, specifically, what happened to the good news? Why isn’t everybody leaning in? Why doesn’t everybody want it to be true? And maybe, and I’m not pointing my finger, maybe I’m pointing my finger, maybe what happened is, we happened. Maybe it’s a little bit our fault, because the church has certainly Americanized the good news. I don’t know how we could have helped it, right? We certainly politicized the good news. We even, I don’t think this is a word, we’ve prosperitized the good news, we have anti-intellectualized the good news, and we’ve internalized the good news. And by “internalized”, I mean we’ve reduced it to something that you just believe rather than what you do. We’ve reduced it to, in some cases, fire insurance.
I mean, I’ll just be honest, when I prayed a prayer as a six-year-old to become a Christian, it wasn’t because I loved God, it wasn’t because I wanted to follow Jesus. The way it was presented to me is, I was trying to avoid an experience in the life after this life, that’s why I became a Christian. It was a lot of fear, it was a lot about what it was gonna do for me. But when you read the Gospel, the good news, when you read the accounts of the life of Jesus, it’s not primarily about what happens after you die. And it’s not primarily about what you believe. It’s about how you live your life, and it’s about how we treat other people. And when it gets reduced to, “What’s in it for me?”, in spite of how it might affect you, that’s not good news of great joy for all nations, for all people.
And that’s not the original news, that’s the pick and choose news. That’s when you pick and choose the parts that suit you. That I pick and choose the parts that suit me and my family. I pick and choose the part that I think are gonna benefit me. But the moment we do that, the moment I do that, the moment I preach like that, in that moment, it is no longer good news of great joy for all nations and all people. I’ll give you an extreme example, and I acknowledge upfront this is extreme. I’d never heard of this until about a month ago. Have you ever heard of The Slave Bible? There are only three in existence, and I actually saw one at the Museum of the Bible. And they don’t even own it, it’s on loan from another museum.
The Slave Bible was actually a Bible that was published. This isn’t like a one-off. This was a published Bible in 1807, it was published by The Society for the Conversion of Slaves in the British West Indies. So in London, there was an actual publisher that published The Slave Bible. And it was used to teach slaves how to read, and it was used to teach slaves the message of Christianity, to convert them to Christianity. But they removed any part of the Bible that undermined the legitimacy of slavery. So they took out the whole Exodus story, in fact they took out most of the story of the Hebrew people migrating to the Promised Land and throwing off captivity. They took out so many verses, that the Bible goes from about 1,100 chapters to maybe 300 chapters in The Slave Bible. They took this verse out, the Apostle Paul writes, “There’s neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Because The Slave Bible was good news for slave owners, and it was bad news for slaves.
The point being this: If my version, and I’m not above this, I could be as guilty as anybody else, if my version of the good news, and if your version of the good news is not good for Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, male and female, rich and poor, righteous and unrighteous, saints and sinners, your sister-in-law, your crazy uncle, that skeptical cousin, that part of the family that’s coming for Christmas, and you’re already wondering how long are they actually going to stay.
That annoying neighbor, your ex-husband, or your ex-wife. If it’s not good news for them, then it’s not the original news. It’s not the original version. Paul, the Apostle Paul, and the story is so interesting, we’re gonna get to a piece of it in just a minute. He was a Pharisee, he knew the old way backwards and forwards, and he becomes a Jesus follower. But here’s what he’s saying in this verse, he’s saying, “You have never met anyone, you have never met anyone for whom the good news was not good news.”
The question is, “What about me? Am I good news?” The question is, unfortunately, about you, if you’re a Jesus follower. Are you good news of great joy for all people, or just the people like you, that you like? Remember what Jesus said? Do you remember what He says was to characterize His followers? Was it correct belief? No. He said, “By this, all men and women and everyone in the world will know that you’re following Me, by the way that you treat, by the way that you love one another, and the way that you treat and the way that you love other people.”
That’s good news. And every single generation, every generation of Jesus’ followers, every generation of Jesus’ followers is responsible to ensure that our news is the original news, that our news is the good news. Again, Jesus could not have been clearer. How do we miss this? I have a feeling I know how we miss it, but I’ll ask the question anyway. How can we miss this? Jesus couldn’t have been clearer. One day He’s preaching and He says to the people who are gathered to follow Him, He says, “You and you, is you and you and you and me and it’s all of us,” He says, “You, let me tell you who you are, if you’re gonna follow Me, you are the light of the whole world, not just Judea, not just Samaria, not just, you know, Galilee. You are the light of the world.” This message is for the whole world. And when it’s understood properly, it will be perceived as light, like the lights came on. Like suddenly, I see myself in a way that’s different than the way I’ve seen myself before, and I see you in a way that’s different than the way I’ve seen you before. I see my enemies different, I see my responsibilities different, I see everything different. You’re the light of the world. Let your light shine before others that they may see something, that they may see your good deeds that come from this good news. And as a result of what you do, not what you just what you believe, that they may see your good deeds and look up and recognize there is a connection between your good deeds and your good Father in heaven, because your light may be the only light they ever get. Your light might be the only thing that magnifies.” That’s what it means to glorify, that magnifies who God really is. In other words, my responsibility and your responsibility is to personify the good news.
Now, back to the Apostle Paul. Initially, when he heard about the good news, he did not think it was good news. Primarily, because he didn’t understand the news, he got a version of the news. And he was a Pharisee, and his future and his finances and his popularity and everything about him was tied to the old ways. And here’s something you’ll understand, people who benefit most, people who benefit most from the old view, people who benefit most from the status quo, they are least inclined to ever let it go. And this is true. So the Apostle Paul, everything about him is bound up in the old way, [chuckle] and then, so he goes and gets himself deputized. And he’s a violent man, he’s an activist, he’s a violent activist. And he decides to single-handedly, if need be, put this good news thing, this Nazarene sect, that’s what they call it because Jesus was from Nazareth, this Nazarene sect, this thing called The Way, he’s gonna put it out of the way, he’s gonna put it out of business.
And then he runs headlong into the buzz saw of the grace and the mercy of a God he didn’t even know.
And when that happens, when he understands what the real news is, this is amazing, this is the untold part of his story, he lays down all of his violent, coercive, fear-driven ways, and he continues to be an activist, and he continues to be an apostle, and he continues to be a missionary. But now he’s got a different message. And he says in one of his letters, he says, “The only thing that really matters, the only thing that really matters,” this is amazing, “The only thing that really matters is faith working its way out through love.” And he gave his life to clarify for Gentile people just how good this good news really was, and he became a better man.
So he writes these letters, and I wanna read a portion from his letter to the church in Philippi or in Greece. But I just want you to think for a moment. What if this, what if this characterized every single Christian in our community? What if this characterized every Christian in the world? Here’s what he writes to the first century Christians in Philippi, here’s what he writes to me, here’s what he writes to you.
He says, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, now that you’re in Christ, now that you’re in this brand new covenant with this brand new understanding, now that you’ve entered this new kingdom that’s forever, if there’s anything encouraging about that, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing among those of you in the community of these little Ecclesias, these little churches in the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion. In other words, if there’s anything about following Jesus that’s come your way, that’s good. If you’ve benefited from the good news from following Jesus, he says, “Then look, do me a favor. I want you to make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and one in mind.” He says, “I want people to see something unique about the way you treat each other. Allow the good that has come your way to overflow into your relationships.” This isn’t simply about something you believe, this isn’t simply something you believe about a new kingdom and a new way of you and God. This is something you do.
So Paul, tell us what exactly do you have in mind? That’s kind of flowery language. He goes, alright, I’m gonna get really specific. Here we go. Number one, do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” Wow. That’d be good, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t you like to work for somebody like that? If you’re hiring people, wouldn’t you like to hire people like that? Don’t you wish your father had been that way? Aren’t you glad your father is that way? Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, rather, he says, “In humility value others above yourself.” Value them above yourself, not because they’re more valuable, you treat them as if they are more valuable. Why would we do that? He says, “I’m so glad you ask, because that’s right at the center, that’s this point of the spear of the gospel.” Because for God so loved the world, for God so valued you, He put you ahead of himself, that he sent his son to die for your sin.
You are not more valuable than God but he treated you as if you had greater value. He says, “Now, that’s the good news, that’s the good message. I want you to live your lives in such a way that you do for others what God and Christ has done for you.” That’s good. And when people see that they’re gonna say, “That’s good.” He goes on, he says, “Not looking to your own interest, but each of you look to the interest of others.” He said, “Now, if you’re gonna follow me, this is how I want you to treat people.” All people, the people that you think deserve it, and even more importantly, the people that you’re sure don’t. It’s what Jesus followers, not believe, we got that down, it’s what we do.
And then this statement. He says, “In… ” this is so powerful, “In your relationships with one another,” in your relationships with one another, which relationships? All of your relationships. “In your relationships with one another,” your husband relationship, your wife relationship, your fiancee, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, the guy at work, the woman at work, the person you love, the person you don’t like to see him coming, the person you hate to have one-on-ones with, in your relationships with one another, ready? Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Why? Because it’s good. Because when you have the same mindset as Christ Jesus in your relationships, you will defer to them. You will do what’s best for them, you will put them first, you will place yourself under their burden instead of requiring them to place themselves under you. You will not power up, you will step down. And that’s unusual, and it’s not the way the world works.
But it represents the value system of the Kingdom of God That’s good news. He goes on, he says, “Who?” Talking about Jesus, this is amazing, this is the most amazing part. Now, again, don’t hear me reading the Bible for a minute, hear me reading a letter from, in the first century, written by someone who knew Peter, who knew James the brother of Jesus, who knew John, who had been to Jerusalem and met with the people who had spent time with Jesus. And here’s what Paul says, talking about Jesus, “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” Like what? Yeah, that God showed up among mere mortals and never powered up, never played the God card, never used his power and influence for his own benefit. Do you know what he did? He leveraged his power and his influence for the benefit of those with less power and less influence. He leveraged His power and influence as God for the benefit of those who had less power and less influence. There are communities in our country, and there are nations around the world that that one simple idea would liberate so many people, would free so many people, would increase the lifespan and the lifetime and the quality of life for millions and millions and millions of people.
Is the message of Jesus good? Are you kidding that God came to Earth and leveraged his power and his influence for the sake of those who had no power, and no influence? There is nothing better than that. That’s the Father you hope raised you. It’s the father you wanna become, it’s the mother that you’re so grateful for. It’s the mother that you look back and you think, “If only she had understood this one idea, it would have changed everything for our family.”
That would be good for the whole world. He’s not them. Rather, instead of powering up, he chose to make himself nothing. He chose to make himself in the first century a nobody. And how far did he take it? This is unprecedented. It is still unprecedented. It’s why it changed the world. It’s why the world sat up and paid attention to this amazing story that no one would have made up. There was no parallel. There was no framework for this kind of story. By taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself. He chose to place himself under. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death. And here’s the part that, for us, is nothing but art because we’ll never see one and we’ll never smell one: Even death on a cross! The moment that your God and my God was most glorified would have been the moment we would have been most horrified. We would have looked away.
He was the king who came to reverse the order of everything and he invites us to follow. Imagine if the kings of this earth, if the politicians of this earth, if the global leadership of this earth, embrace that one single idea how much good would be released on planet earth. Yes, it’s good. Skipping down to verse 12, Paul says, “Okay, look, you got a part to play in this. So guys,” he says, men and women, “I want you to continue to work out.” I love this idea. “I want you to continue to allow God to squeeze out of you everything associated with your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.” Look at this, “To will and to act in order to fulfill his,” there’s our word, “good purpose.” And what is his good purpose? For the world to know that there’s a God who has invited the world to call him Father and that he sent his Son to do the ultimate and paid the ultimate price and invites us to follow him to set up a brand new world order, not a world order as we’ve ever seen before, a kingdom of conscience, a kingdom where the heart rules and the heart is in sync with the heart of God. That’s the invitation. Is that good? That changes everything because it changes humanity from the inside out, and when we do that, good things happen around us.
The perversion of the gospel says this, “No, good things happen to us.” The Apostle Paul would say, “No, good things happen around us,” and when we embrace that perversion, it becomes about us and we are no longer good news. He wraps up with this. He says, “Look, do everything without grumbling or arguing,” talking about Christians and Christians, “So that you may become blameless.” Do you know what it means to be blameless? It means nobody can blame you for anything. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect. Do you know what a blameless person does? A blameless person messes up and then a blameless person immediately apologizes. Blameless means I’m not carrying around any blame.
I’m gonna find you and confess it. That’s good. Blameless and pure, do everything without grumbling or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure. Get this: children of God, like father, like son, without fault in a warped, what’s in it for me and crooked generation. And then, this is so great. Then now the apostle Paul reaches back and grabs the very terms that Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount. He said when you live this way, the results of that are gonna be exactly what Jesus said. You’re gonna shine in the world like stars in the sky. Your selflessness will stand in sharp contrast to the selfishness characterized in the kingdoms of this world. Imagine a world like that. This is what we’ve been invited to. This is how you change the world regardless of how the world pushes back because everyone intuitively knows that’s good.
So I wanna be very specific, how does good news behave? What happens when we personify good news? What positions us to be, not just believe, but be good news? So I wanna give you four quick suggestions. Number one, apologize immediately, apologize immediately we’re not always good news are we? I’m not.
Apologize immediately, let’s just own it and own it quickly. Now, can I say something to the guys real quick? And again, I’ve been a man a lot longer than I’ve been a pastor, so I understand this. Guys come on and ladies maybe you too, but just men, when we screw up you know what we do? Our ego it just gets in the way and we walk around the house or wherever we live and we justify and justify, and we talk to ourselves, we have imaginary conversations with our wives, and our girlfriends, and the people we’ve hurt and we justify and justify, and the whole time we’re doing it we know we’re wrong. Instead of apologizing quickly we spread it out, and stretch it out, and ruin their afternoon, or ruin their day, or ruin their weekend and then eventually we realize, “Okay, I gotta apologize.” Let’s just not do that for the next couple of weeks, okay. Let’s just apologize immediately, then guess what men? You are blameless not because you’re perfect, but there’s nothing to blame, you owned it.
That one shift, that one change for somebody in this room maybe the thing that opens up a brand new level of love, and respect, and communication in your family or with somebody that you care about. Number two, forgive quickly. We have to forgive quickly because we’re forgiven. There is… Jesus followers, we have no excuse to hang on to bitterness or anger, we have zero. I mean we’re gonna get hurt, we’re gonna have to deal with our emotions, but in terms of forgiveness forgive quickly. Number three, I love this word we don’t use it much, defer habitually. I love this word, do you know what defer means? Defer means you first. Defer means no, no, no, you go first.
What does that look like in your world? Why should we defer? Why should we put other people first? Come on, good news of great joy for all mankind a king was born. A king who gave his life for his subjects instead of asking the subjects to give their lives for him. And then last is give sacrificially because for God so loved the world he gave. Let’s do this because if everybody does this everybody knows is good news, whether they believe it’s true or not. The good news becomes bad news when I’m bad news. And the good news for somebody becomes bad news when you’re bad news. When the news becomes more about a what than a who. When the news becomes more about a view than a you. When that happens it is no longer good news. So one last time and we’re done, are you good news?
Am I good news? Because come on you know this, if the good news lives inside of us shouldn’t there be something about us that’s good news for our world?