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321 is a an explanation of the Christian faith in three parts.

3 focuses on Trinity.

2 focuses on Adam and Christ.

1 focuses on union (or one-ness) with Christ.

321 is not structured around the gospel events.  Instead it unfolds the doctrines that explain those gospel events.  Without these doctrines, the events will be misunderstood and the goodness of the good news will be lost.

Last time we considered how 321 interacts with the event of Creation.

Without trinity, creation will be considered as the needy manufacture of a unitarian (and therefore taking) God - not the overflow of a trinitarian (and therefore Giving) God.

Without Adam and Christ, creation won't be seen as part of the unified movement of creation-and-salvation, but a free-floating project.  Instead, with Adam and Christ, we see how very anchored the living God is to His handiwork.

Without union with Christ, we'll think of creation in terms of distance and separation, rather than as something destined to participate in God's own life.

Now we're going to consider the fall.

How does 3 shape our understanding of the fall

Imagine that God was not Three Persons.  Imagine instead that for all eternity there was a solitary Individual.  If this unitary being brings anything else into existence, his deity would only be preserved by maintaining his absolute supremacy.  For creatures to correspond rightly to this god can only mean their being infinitely "other than" and "less than" a god who is defined over against his world.  If such a being creates then the creation has only one way to relate - it must submit.

What, therefore, is sin?  With a unitarian god, sin is not submitting to the power of the Sovereign.  (Perhaps you're aware that "Islam" means "submission").

But with a trinitarian God, what is sin?  Well in eternity this God has not been defined by supremacy but by sharing.  Having others alongside is not a threat to this God - it's the very definition of His deity.  This God wants to share - to give us of Himself and to draw us in.

Therefore what is sin?  It's refusing to receive from the generous God.

With a unitarian god, being distant is almost the definition of godliness.  With the trinitarian God, refusing His fellowship is the essence of sin.  And that sets a trinitarian gospel on a very different footing.  The problem with humanity is not, fundamentally, lack of obedience but lack of dependence.

Think of Jesus' definition of sin in John 16:9: "that people do not believe in me."  Our great sin is not receiving Jesus (remember that to believe and to receive Jesus is parallel, John 1:12).

Think of Paul's definition of sin in Romans 14:23: "everything not of faith is sin."  Again, sin is about not trusting the generous God.  He has given us His Son to be received by faith.  Instead we mistrust Him.  We close ourselves off from the giving God and now must handle life out of our own resources.

Flowing from this mistrust, we may then become mutinous rebels "shaking our fist at God".  Sure, that might be one manifestation.  But we might also be meek self-haters, looking for love in all the wrong places.  We might be "trying to sit on the throne of our lives."  Or we might be abandoning rule of our lives to all sorts of cruel masters.  Whichever way we turn, our sin is, first and foremost, our mistrust of God.  And it's important to set up our gospel presentation in this way.  Because whatever we identify as the 'problem', it will decisively shape the 'solution' we offer.

If the 'problem' is "not obeying God" we have already implied the 'solution.  Surely the solution will be "to start obeying God again."  But no, the problem is that we don't receive the Gift of God (Jesus).  For that, we are "condemned already." (John 3:18).  But the solution is implied in the problem: "Believe in the name of God's One and Only Son" (John 3:18).

How does 2 and 1 shape our understanding of the fall

When Augustine and Pelagius went toe-to-toe on the issue of our gracious salvation, Adam and Christ was at the heart of the debate. For Pelagius, we are not born in sin, we are born neutral.  We just use our freedom badly.  We choose sinful things, copying Adam's bad example.

Now if this was the problem for Pelagius, you can guess what his 'solution' was.  Salvation was all about us using our freedom well.  We need to choose righteous things, copying Jesus' good example.

Augustine saw this as a foul error - it denigrates Christ and exalts ourselves.  No - look at Romans 5:12-21.  We are born in Adam apart from any of our bad choices.  We are born again in Jesus apart from any of our good choices.  Our works just do not come into the equation.  Our second Adam has done it all - reconstituting damned sinners in Himself.

But in evangelism, Pelagius forces his way right back into our preaching.  We are reticent to speak of our union with Adam - it sounds anti-science, anti-reason and unfair.  (It's none of those things by the way, I just don't have time to address those questions now).  But in modern evangelism we neglect the bondage of the will and put our choices right back at the heart of the gospel.  We tell people that their bad decisions and deeds have separated them from God.  We might then tell of the work of Christ on the cross, but what we'll really major on is the Decision which the sinner needs to make.  That's where all the emphasis will lie.

And the sinner will be addressed as a free agent - they are Hercules at the cross-roads (pictured above), virtue lies in one direction and vice in the other, but it's all down to them.  Whatever else we might have said about sinners being "lost" and "bound" and "blind" - we'll forget that now.  Whatever else we might have said about Christ and His work being decisive, we've now moved on to the business end of proceedings.  The spotlight is unmistakably on the sinner.  It's down to them.  They must refuse vice and choose virtue.  This is where salvation happens.

Does that kind of preaching sound familiar?

Why?  Why is there such a focus on decision-theology in modern evangelism?  Partly I think it's because of the way we've set up the "problem".  We've made the fall about behaviour (rather than being).  And we've located the problem within reach of the sinner.

But if it's about deeds and decisions and if it's about me then... how is Jesus the solution?  Perhaps Jesus can give me a really good talking to and perhaps He can persuade me to "Make a Decision".  But at the end of the day, that kind of salvation happens in me, not in Him.

The true gospel is so much better than that.  The problem is far deeper than my behaviour, it's about my very being.  It's also "above my pay grade".  The problem is out of my hands - it's in a humanity in which I am culpably complicit.  But I can't remake myself.  I can't solve human nature.  The problem is deeper than I can handle and it's also way over my head.

But then, so is the solution.  Just as I was caught up in something bigger than me, so now in Jesus I'm caught up in something bigger still.  The problem was out of my hands but so is the solution.  And that's good news, because if it was down to me I'd spoil it.

Hear the gospel according to Adam and Christ: In Adam, though you'd done nothing bad, you were disconnected from God and cursed.  In Jesus, though you've done nothing good, you are reconnected to God and blessed.

This is the gracious gospel according to Paul, according to Augustine, and according to centuries orthodox Christian theology of virtually every stripe (...except, I'm tempted to say, evangelists!)  But if we deny this teaching our understanding of ourselves becomes shallow, the human will becomes sovereign, Jesus and His work becomes incidental and the gospel becomes an ultimatum.

Let's get the problem right.  Only then will we have a solution that's truly good news.

Next time we'll consider the work of Christ according to 321...

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I've begun to explore how the three truths of 321 interact with the four planks of other gospel presentations (creation, fall, cross, repentance).  Those gospel events are vital.  But the three truths of Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ are essential if we're to understand the four events rightly.

Today we'll think about 321 and creation....

"God made you, therefore..."

How do you want to finish that sentence?

There are many implications of God's creative work.  But so quickly we want to speak about what it means for us.  And even when we consider what it means for God we cite implications like: God owns everything, He has certain rights, He's the legitimate ruler of the universe and of you.  Essentially we think Creator means Creditor or Creator means King - in fact it can be hard for us to think in any terms beyond this.  "God made you, therefore you owe him" is a pretty common way of unpacking the implications of creation.  And when it comes as the first point in an evangelistic presentation, it introduces God to us in profoundly unhelpful terms.

When Athanasius was battling Arius, he identified a grievous error in the heretic's method: Arius named God from his works and called him "Uncreated".  He should have begun by naming God from his Son and calling him "Father."  (Contra Arianos 1.34)  If the first thing we know about God is that he is Maker, we'll start our gospel on the wrong foot.

For one thing, God defined as Creator becomes quite a needy deity.  He's like the workaholic who doesn't know who he is unless he's at the office.  God defined as Creator needs to work.  He requires a world in order to fulfil himself.  And then creation is not so much a gift of his love as a project for his own self-interested purposes.  Instantly the God-world dynamic revolves around God's needs and we are the ones to fulfil him.

Nicene faith, on the other hand, begins "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth."  Father comes first.  Which means, before anything else, God is a Life-giver.  Because of the truth of 3, He has lived in love long before He has lived in labours.  He does not achieve His divine identity by creating, instead creation expresses His eternal fruitfulness.  He has no need of galaxies, mountain ranges, rainforests and us.  We do not fulfil Him, He fulfils us.  We do not give to Him, He gives to us.

Therefore when the Christian says "God made you, therefore..." - how should we finish that sentence?  There are a hundred things we could say, but perhaps one of the first is, "God is Giver."  "God is generous."  "God is immeasurably expansive in His love."   Whatever we say we need to avoid simply equating Creator with Creditor.  The whole direction of the gospel presentation will depend on this set-up.  Are we introducing God primarily as one who takes (because He's earned the right by making us) or as one who gives (because He's shown His life-giving character through creation)?

I hope you'll see that 3 is a vital truth to surround the teaching of creation.

But 2 and 1 are important too.  Because what connection is there between God, the world and you?  Why does creation matter if, essentially, the gospel is God's plan to save souls?  What relationship is there between the fall of humanity and the physical world?  What's the link between Christ's resurrection and the regeneration of all things?  And what does God actually want with the world?

If the gospel's not about creation giving to God, then how does God's giving nature express itself in creation.  Well He gives us our lives so He can give us His life.  He gives in order to give.  He creates a world through His Son and by His Spirit, so that He can enter that world through His Son and by His Spirit.  Again the direction of travel is vital.  God doesn't create a world below so that we can learn to make our way back up.  He pours out His love in creation so He can pour out Himself in incarnation.  Creation is intended to receive its Lord so that He commits His future to us as a Bridegroom commits himself to a bride.

Creation is not simply a truth to be affirmed and then forgotten while we deal with the spiritual problems of sin and redemption.  Instead creation is the first stage in a unified movement of God, the goal of which is the summing up of all things under the feet of the incarnate Son (Ephesians 1:10)

Therefore the truths of 2 (Adam and Christ) and 1 (union with Christ) are vital - not just for the understanding of redemption.  They earth redemption's story in creation.  The world, summed up by our Representative Man, is the place where salvation happens.  In this Man, on that cross, in our humanity God has worked.  And in this flesh, on this earth, with these eyes I will see my Redeemer (Job 19:25-27).

...More to follow...

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321 is a gospel outline which I hope can teach the church and reach unbelievers with a richer, more Christ-centred account of the good news.  It's the story of God, the World and You.

3   God is three Persons united in love

2  The story of the world is the story of two men

1  You are one with Adam.  Be one with Jesus.

Here's the website which we're building and here's the animated outline in 5 minutes...

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/48734715]

Now let me acknowledge something up front: The three points of the mnemonic are not the central events of the gospel.  Those events have to be narrated in among the three points.  The central events of the gospel are the coming, dying and rising of Christ.  But the three truths of 321 are the essential presuppositions without which the events of the gospel will be misunderstood.

I fully acknowledge that the gospel events, as narrated in places like 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, are concerned with the doing and dying of Jesus.  But that doing and dying will not make gospel sense without a true doctrine of God, of Christology, of  humanity and their proper interaction.  Therefore my contention is that Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ are essential doctrines which surround and interpret the gospel events.

In the next four posts, I'm just going to examine the four truths highlighted in other presentations (like the Four Spiritual Laws, or Knowing God Personally, or The 4 Points) - they are Creation, Fall, Cross and Repentance.  I hope to show that these are vital elements of a gospel presentation and that they should be interpreted according to Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ.  Failure to appreciate these four events in the categories of Trinity etc, will skew the story in unbiblical and unevangelical ways.

More to follow...

 

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It's finally here - 321, the Story of God, the World and You.

I've been mulling this over for a while.  It seems to me our presentations of the gospel are generally quite anaemic and, at times, outright Unitarian (not to mention Pelagian).

Recently I outlined the dangers of gospelling without Trinity.  Then I considered the problem of side-lining our bondage in Adam.  Then I explored the necessity of proclaiming union with Christ.

It's easy to pick holes with other presentations.  Here's my attempt to do something positive.  This is trying to be doctrinally faithful, pedagogically memorable and simple without being simplistic.

I'll grant that it's considerably more involved than many presentations.  But perhaps it's best to think of it as catechism for believers.   I hope it will bring Christians back to these central doctrines and inform our gospelling of others.

The outline is essentially this:

3  God is three Persons united in love

2  The story of the world is the story of two men

1  You are one with Adam.  Will you be one with Jesus?

Here's the video, animated by the excellent Jeremy Poyner

http://www.vimeo.com/48734715

In future, I will unpack how 3, 2 and 1 do not diminish but are vital foundations for the planks of more traditional tracts - i.e. Creation, Fall, Cross, Repentance.

But for now, please go to the new website - 321.  Show the video on Facebook and Twitter.  And stay tuned for more videos, articles, tracts and a very affordable book  - all in the pipeline.

Subscribe to three-two-one.org

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I've been thinking about blind-spots in typical evangelistic presentations.

First I considered the dangers of overlooking Trinity in evangelism.  Then I discussed the evangelistic importance of original sin (the doctrine, not the term).

Finally, let's explore "union with Christ" (again, the doctrine, not necessarily the phrase).  Here's why it's crucial for union with Christ to be a major category of thinking as we evangelise...

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We offer a Person not a Package

The Gospel is God's offer of Christ.  Whatever blessings God might have for the world, they are all to be had "in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3ff).  Fundamentally God's gift is not a thing but a Him.  And what He desires from us is not stuff (we have no stuff worth offering anyway).  For some strange reason, God wants us. 

So the point of the gospel is not a transaction.  It's not like getting a mobile phone contract... you know the deal...  God offers a decent package, some nice extras and an easy payment plan.  We reach into our pocket and dredge up what's required.... no it's not that.

Yet so often I hear the gospel offered in terms of its fringe benefits - eternal fire-insurance, freedom from guilt feelings, a sense of Purpose in life... all for the low, low price of "repentance and faith."

In such presentations God's love is portrayed in contractual not covenant terms.  Which means God's love is not really portrayed.

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We can avoid licence and legalism

People are always saying “If you offer salvation freely it’s too dangerous, because people will just take salvation and then go off and sin all the time!”  I want to say, Wait, which salvation are you talking about?

So often people think of salvation a little bit like those old films set in the middle ages.  Imagine some Lord snootily throwing his bag of silver to a servant girl as payment for a job.  The servant grabs the money and runs off out of the palace to enjoy life with the silver – and without the Lord.

Now if that’s what salvation is, then of course its free offer will mean licence.  They'll take the heavenly blessings and run away from Jesus to enjoy themselves.

But what's the response?  Well the legalist feels they must rein in their gospel offers.  They refuse to offer a "blank cheque" willy nilly.  No, no, they only offer salvation to those who really, really are committed to turning their lives around and submitting everything to God. And probably they should mean it too.  Like, really mean it.

You can understand this approach.  It doesn't sound very much like Jesus' whole approach to gospelling, but you can understand it.  If you think that the gospel offer is stuff, then putting a price on it seems the natural thing to do.  But salvation is not a stuff!

Salvation is far more like the Lord who loves his miserable servant and marries her.  He gives her himself.  And now they are one forever.  That is a very free salvation isn’t it?  It’s a much more gracious salvation than the licentious have  dreamt of!  Immeasurably more is offered in this salvation.  And it’s offered completely freely.  The girl isn’t expected to pay a penny for the privilege.  But she’s not given some blessings which she can go and enjoy elsewhere.  She is given the Lord himself.

Does such an offer make the hearer more likely to sin?  Rubbish. It’s the only power to save someone from sin.  Give them Jesus.  And offer Him freely, because that’s the only kind of salvation He offers.

When we do, we'll avoid both legalism and licence.  Because the offer is not a package but a person.  Therefore the response is, unmistakably, the receiving of a Lord and Saviour.

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"Repentance and faith" are considered properly

As believers in "faith alone", do we have a place for "repentance"?

Is it some kind of pre-requisite for faith?  Or is it an obedience that we add to faith??  Do we call non-Christians to jump two hurdles, one called "repentance" and another called "faith"? That would be an odd position to adopt if we're "faith alone" people.

We've already said that "repentance and faith" are not our payment for gospel stuff.   Well then, what is "repentance and faith."

Well think of union with Christ.  He offers Himself to us like a Bridegroom to a bride.  He says "Be one with me."  If anyone receives Him, what have they done?  They've repented and believed.  Because they've received the LORD Jesus Christ as their Head in bonds of self-abandoning love.  There simply could not be a more all-embracing "repentance".

If the preacher makes clear that salvation is belonging to Jesus (and He to us), then many errors are avoided.  Our hearers won't be tempted to offer their repentance to Jesus as payment for salvation.  Nor should they despair that "they don't have it in them to repent."  They don't have it in them to repent.  New life does not lie in their resolve.  It's in Jesus.  And He's offered to them, even in all their helplessness.  Yet clearly, to receive Jesus is to receive a new life.

 

We do not offer repentance to God as a condition of our salvation.  We are summoned to repentance in the gospel because this is the very nature of life "in Christ".

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We have a gospel that applies to Christians as well as non-Christians

Think of the “Get out of hell free” gospel.  Imagine that you've been evangelised by this and coughed up the requisite response (walking down an aisle and resolving to believe in substitutionary atonement, or whatever).  That gospel is not particularly helpful to me day to day, is it?  At one point, it helped me to get off the judgement hook, but now, I’m basically left to myself until heaven.  Which means "the gospel" and day-to-day living have no real relationship.

I need the gospel to get saved, but I need wisdom and hard work to get by, day to day.

Maybe a little "gospel-law" preacher will come and remind me not to take the mick and to try and be godly.  But their exhortations don't really arise from the gospel, do they?

Once I've trusted such a gospel, it has served its purpose.  It's not for me any more.  It's for unbelievers.

But if "union with Christ" is in view, that's like saying "the wedding ceremony" was everything, I don't need marriage day-to-day.  Bonkers.

The real gospel is Christ graciously given to me in the nitty gritty of my life, for better and for worse.  Which means it bears on everything.  

Which is good because the world rarely asks the question “What must I do to be saved?”  But our friends and family are constantly asking “How do I raise my kids?  How do I handle my anger?  What do I do about these panic attacks?  How could I possibly forgive that person?  Why is marriage so difficult?  What’s the way forward in this family breakdown?  How do I handle this bullying boss?  How can I cope when my dreams are shattered?  Why does food enslave me?  How can I be free of these addiction?  What’s wrong with me?”

The world is asking all of these questions all of the time.  These are the problems of a world that’s condemned already (see previous post).  This is part of the hell on earth that Jesus spoke about.  But Jesus also has a salvation for here and now.  The gospel also brings light and freedom into these pastoral situations.

Which means we can gospel people through pastoral problems and we can bring pastoral healing through the gospel.  The more we grasp this, the more effective we’ll be in gospelling.  Which brings us finally to...

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Ordinary Christians might just realise that they too can evangelise.

If the gospel is a package deal, then it needs sales people.  And, to be honest, the package that most evangelistic presentations offer is so unappealing it really would take a special class of Christian communicator to make it attractive.  You’ve got to have a very good patter in order to sell a package of heavenly blessings.  (Especially if that package is basically: Bow to the Big Guy or burn forever).

But what if, what if, what if.... we offer a Person.  Jesus.

This is what’s helped me most in my own evangelism:  realising I’m not selling some gospel benefits, I’m offering a Person.  Jesus sells Himself.  I don’t need a hundred illustrations and some cracking mother-in-law gags and the gift of the gab.  I just have to talk about Jesus and let His magnetism do the job.

We’re offering a Person, not a mechanism of salvation.  We’re saying – “This is Jesus, let me paint Him in biblical colours for you, let me tell you that I love Him and why, let me tell you what He has done for me, let me tell you my favourite things about Him.  This is Jesus – do you want Him?  He’s yours, have Him.  Receive Him, He’s offered Himself to you, take Him now.’  That’s evangelism.  In a deep sense, that all of what evangelism is.  Just. Talk. About. Jesus.

And if the words don't come then guess what, it's not because "you're not a professional evangelist".  Words often fail me too.  You know why?  Cos I'm weak.  Cos nothing good lives in my flesh.  Cos I'm a sinner.  And if I haven't been receiving from Jesus, the Fountain of Living Waters, then of course the words will dry up.  Because I'm dry.

So then, return to the Source.  Get filled.  Receive again from Jesus, our Heavenly Husband, who loves us in spite of ourselves.  And then the words will come.  Feebly and falteringly.  But genuinely.  Because from the overflow of the heart the mouth will speak. (Matthew 12:34).

And as everyday people lift Him up in everyday circumstances, He will draw all people to Himself.  But it begins by realising this: the gospel's not a package, He's a Person.

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Those are some reasons why "union with Christ" is a vital component of our gospel explanations...

So there you have it.  Three blind-spots in modern evangelism: the trinity, original sin and union with Christ.  If only we had a gospel explanation that gave them proper attention... perhaps one that was easy to memorise and share with friends... And maybe there could be a snazzy video presentation.  And a website with further explanations.  Maybe some tracts.  Heck, why not a book?  A cheap and cheery paperback - a give-away for friends.  One that laid it all out simply... that'd be nice.

i f   o n l y  .   .   .     i   f      o    n    l     y    .        .          .

#StayTuned

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Last time we thought about the dangers of overlooking Trinity in our evangelism.  Here we'll examine three consequences of neglecting original sin in our gospel presentations...

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You will place your hearers at the centre

So much of evangelism assumes that the non-Christian is like Hercules at the cross-roads (painting above).  There is Virtue pointing us away (from herself!) in one direction and Vice tempting us in the other - and everything is to play for.  Hercules needs to choose virtue and eternity hangs in the balance.

The gospel is very different. According to the Bible, humanity is lost.  And it has been lost, dead, perishing, cursed and guilty since Adam.  We are born into a broken humanity that has no life in it and no ability to save itself.

Perhaps we don't like preaching this because we assume that, once we've acknowledged man's helplessness, the preacher will have nothing left to say.  Garbage!  It gives our hearers nothing to do, but it gives preachers everything to say!  Because now we can spotlight the true Hero - Jesus.

The unbeliever is not at the centre while we entice their (supposedly free) wills, minds and hearts.  Jesus is at the centre, stepping into a lost situation and turning it around - all by Himself.  Gospel events can take their place at the centre - and not simply as motivational fuel for the business end of proceedings: Decision-Time!

I wonder whether one of the reasons we dislike preaching original sin is because we typically frame our evangelism around the Philippian Jailer's question in Acts 16.  He asked “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  But if we begin our evangelism by trying to answer this question, all the emphasis falls on the hearer.  Suddenly evangelism is about what the hearer must do, not “what Jesus has done”.  We'll only mention His work to the degree that such teaching informs their response.  All emphasis falls on the response.

We don't like original sin because it takes man off the stage and forces us to sit in the audience.  But the good news is that someone far more captivating can now take centre-stage.

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You will radically diminish the nature of sin and judgement

According to Jesus and Paul, judgement is not a future possibility for mankind.  It's a present reality (John 3:18,36; Romans 1:18ff).  In fact, condemnation is in the past tense.  It’s already happened.

Just as eternal life is not merely a future blessing but is a present state (cf. all of John!), so also wrath is not merely a future reality, but a current condition.  Judgement day is a confirmation of what’s already true in life.  Throughout life we have wanted the darkness instead of the light and final judgement involves God saying “Have it your way - Go.”

The world is perishing now.  Hell is on the non-Christian now.  And, to a degree, they know it.  To a degree, we all know it - children of Adam that we are.  We’ve all felt hell. We all know something of the darkness.  We know about disconnection.  We know about weeping and wailing and the angry gnashing of teeth.  We’ve all felt hell, here and now.  Hell in miniature.  Hell in our hearts.  Hell in our circumstances.

That continuity is important when we preach judgement.  You see, if our problem is merely "committed sin", then hell readily appears as a rash over-reaction on God's part.  A non-Christian might feel that their broken relationships, abortion, gossip, etc, deserves some kind of judgement.  But an eternal wrath for temporal sins?  If behaviour X has warranted punishment Y, then why is hell forever?  Asking questions like that (over and over) was the stock in trade of "Love Wins" - but it's founded on the assumption that behaviour (not being) is central.

Yet, if wrath is a state of disconnection from God, then getting confirmed in that state - while being a fearful thought - is not absurd.  It's our being now that matters.  And it's our being in eternity that matters.  Behaviour flows from being - it doesn't lead to being.

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You will (inadvertently) preach behaviour, not being

Martin Lloyd-Jones once said of Romans 5: Think of yourself in Adam, though you had done nothing, you were condemned.  Think of yourself in Christ, though you had done nothing, you were saved.

You know what that means?  It means it’s not about your behaviour, it’s about your being.

Have you ever come across evangelistic presentations that try to convict you of sin by focusing on your behaviour.  A particularly blunt attempt goes something like this:

“Have you ever stolen paperclips from work?  Yes? Then you've broken the law at one point.  And if you've broken the law at one point you've broken the law at every point.  Should law-breakers go to heaven or hell?

Hell!  But...  Jesus paid on the cross and made a way so that you can escape the flames for stealing paperclips...”

Do you hear how petty the evangelist has made God out to be?  How irrational His judgement?  How miniscule is Christ's cross?  (And how Christ merely clears the way for you to make the epic journey to heaven?)

Now perhaps your way of convicting people goes a little deeper.  You manage to uncover some more serious sins than tiny thefts, white lies and lustful fantasies.  But nonetheless, if your approach aims at sins committed you will pervert the gospel.

Our condemnation goes much deeper than behaviour.  It's about our being. We don’t have life in ourselves.  It’s not about convicting people of this crime or that.  It’s saying “You have no life in yourself (your bad behaviour is the fruit of that disconnection), but now get connected to the only life-source.”

I will often confess to bad behaviours in my preaching but only so as to say "You know what's scary? That sin comes from somewhere deep in me.  Somewhere bigger than me.  There's a power that's over me and in me and it comes out in this way and that.  But I can't just choose to do better.  It's not merely what I do, there's something desperately wrong with who I am."

And as the Spirit works on people they realise they have no life in themselves.  They realize that they don’t know God.  They're cut off, estranged, alienated, disconnected.  It's not so much that their sins separate them, it's that their separation leads to sin.

If our sinful acts were the problem then surely righteous acts would be the solution.  But no, our problem was not caused by us, and neither will our solution be.  We didn't have the power to make ourselves sinners, and we don't have the power to make ourselves saved.  Our problem was out of our hands and so is our solution.  Adam has made us perish, only Christ can rescue.

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In all this we see that the way we pose the problem powerfully shapes the solution we offer.  If we shy away from original sin and focus instead on committed sin - we shift the focus from Christ to us, from being to behaviour and we misconstrue our plight before God.

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Much more could be said (perhaps you can add your own thoughts in comments).  But I think these reasons alone mean we should put original sin back into our gospel explanations...

If only we had such a gospel explanation... perhaps one that was easy to memorise and share with friends...

i f   o n l y  .   .   .     i   f      o    n    l     y    .        .          .

#StayTuned

7

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If you don't make clear the Trinity in your gospel presentations, here are three consequences...

They won't understand Jesus

Jesus simply is the Christ, the Son of God.  That's how all the Gospels identify Him.  By definition He is anointed with the Spirit and He is Son of the Father.  Jesus is intimately related to the Father and Spirit and cannot be understood without that Trinitarian context.

If God is introduced in single-Person terms, Jesus will appear on the scene - almost by definition - simply as Prophet.  Once God has been defined without Jesus, His entrance into the explanation can only ever suggest that He's a lesser being.

If He comes late to the presentation, he is coming to solve a problem that is not really his.  Athanasius made much of the Word who made us in the beginning, remaking us in salvation.  But modern presentations have a maker on the one hand and a different saviour.  This feeds into...

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They won't understand the cross

Who is the One on the cross?  Is Jesus a third party punished by God?  Is God hell-bent on judgement and destruction but this other force with this other will placates Him - almost in spite of Himself?  That's precisely how it looks when we begin our presentations unitarianly.

People need to know that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).  This is not to deny penal substitution.  On the contrary, it's to uphold penal substitution (2 Cor 5:21).  As John Stott says in his famous chapter "The Self-Substitution of God", we mustn't make Christ "a third party thrust in between God and us."

At the root of every caricature of the cross there lies a distorted Christology...  In particular, it is essential to affirm that the love, the holiness and the will of the Father are identical to the love, the holiness and the will of the Son. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. (The Cross of Christ)

The One on the cross is the One who made us.  And He is perfectly expressing the love of His Father (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10).

So many gospel presentations look like (or even explicitly say that) Christ buys off a reluctant and angry Judge, rather than Christ demonstrating the very love of God in substituting Himself for sinners.

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You'll define God as Creator and Judge

What's wrong with that?  you might ask.  Well God is Creator and Judge, but the creeds speak first of "Father."  Before there was anything made, before there was anyone to judge, there was a Father.  And He was pouring life and love into His Son by the Spirit.

Foundationally God is life-giving.  Yet, functionally unitarian presentations make God out to be, foundationally, Creator and Judge.  And His status as Maker is instantly framed in terms of His demands on us.  There's a logic that says "God made us, therefore we owe Him."  Do you hear what happened there?  Creation ought to first make us consider the life-giving, out-going, gracious character of God.  But if its spun unitarianly we have a self-focused God who makes in order to get.  And what he wants is regularly unpacked in terms of moral effort.

In other words, it begins to sound very much like Islam.  God, by definition, lords it over us - that is what it means to be this kind of God.  And what does it mean to relate to this kind of God?  It can only mean one thing: submission.  So the gospel can only be unpacked as "bowing the knee to our Creator and Judge" and salvation is essentially avoiding being crushed by the higher power.  In such presentations they might eventually speak of knowing God as Father or of "having a relationship with God", but the whole set-up leaves the listener extremely dubious.

There's bags more I could say, but I'll leave it there.  You can add more in the comments if you like.  But even if these were the only reasons to do so, they really should move us to present a trinitarian gospel...

Now if only someone would write such a thing...

i f   o n l y  .   .   .     i   f      o    n    l     y    .       .         .

#StayTuned

 

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