"Rooted conviction" speaks to the reality that Red Tree believes certain things deeply. The burning question is three-fold: What do we actually believe, why do we believe it and how do we arrive at those particular beliefs?
In the last post, I explained what it means that we are committed to Scripture (not taking cues from our instincts or our own ability to reason). Now I will explain more fully what it means that we are centered in the gospel.
Centered in the Gospel (not centered around a collection of ethical advice):
The story of the bible and the story of our individual and collective human lives intersect at a crucial point: Both are consumed by the search for “good news.”
Bubbling underneath the surface of our daily grind is a longing for news that is good and that relieves our problems, fears, and needs:
Personally, we look for good news of a satisfying relationship.
Financially, we are anxious to see more money in our bank account.
Educationally, students hope for an acceptance letter to their preferred University, or, at least, passing grades to advance toward graduation.
Physically, we want good news from the doctor that our bodies are healthy or healed.
Vocationally, workers crave the good news of landing a job they love or a promotion that is more invigorating than the last position they held.
Parentally, moms and dads longingly gaze for the good news of children born healthy or, when older, returning home safely in the evening.
Philosophically, human beings search for the good news of an earth-shaking insight that will explain life’s mysteries or for good news that death, or death after death, will not have the last word about our existence.
However, something strange occurs when we finally see more money in our bank account, enter into a new relationship or stumble upon a stimulating philosophical insight. As time passes, the deep satisfaction we anticipated disappears. Then, we find ourselves discontent, in search yet again for good news of true and lasting fulfillment.
What's our typical response to this message?
Some of us tend to find fault in the people around us and our circumstances. We believe that a better lover, a better college, a better job, a better boss, or bigger paycheck will be the answer for our constantly disappearing fulfillment. Are not many successful people just like this – unfulfilled, bored, discontented, searching for the next new person or thing?
Some of us find fault in ourselves. We strive to improve our lives and embrace new and exalted moral codes. Many of us live with regret because we’ve made poor choices or have not attained our goals that we believed would make life complete. Are not many people we know just like this – ashamed of themselves and exhausted from all their attempts to improve their lives?
Some of us find fault in the entire system of life on this planet, including human existence itself. This leads to a form of universal (and certainly religious) relativism, or worse, skepticism. Are not many people, usually adults, although it creeps into younger people as well, living with increased cynicism and bitterness; questioning the existence of anything that is true or satisfying; questioning the possibility of true joy or questioning if there is such thing as life that can be lived to the full?
Some of us life fake lives, trying to hide, or deny altogether that we really have many faults at all. The focus in life becomes surface level performance in order to push away the shame we feel for being something less than we know we should be. This might express itself in the form of striving to always be positive or to be seen as morally superior. This, however, will always lead to an anxious, exhausted, and shallow existence. People who live this way end up disappointed or ashamed of themselves for their duplicity, and ultimately isolated from deep, authentic relationships.
The problem with the above responses is that we are placing our blame in the wrong place. The real issue is our separation from God. This is at the root of our all our trouble. The only “fix” is to enter into a relationship with God. Until we grasp this reality, we will not be able to understand or appreciate the good news of Christianity.
Bubbling up on every page of the bible is the promise that God is not deaf to our yearning for good news. Not only is he not deaf, he is also not unwilling or unable to deliver good news. To understand the bible is to understand that it centers on the good news of God’s ability, willingness and actual deliverance of the one thing we most need to really live life to the full.
The bible refers to this as the “gospel.” The term gospel, when encountered in scripture, literally means “good news.” This means it’s something different from helpful advice or enhanced codes of conduct for how people should live.
If the news of the Bible were an announcement of elevated codes of conduct for how we should live in order to “get into Heaven” or to find favor with God or to find true happiness, that news would be very bad indeed. It would be bad news because from the inside out, from birth onward, we have been at enmity with a holy God, guilty before him and separated from him. He makes clear, there is no way to change this status through our “good works” (moral determination, superior intellect or otherwise).
Instead, the biblical gospel is the announcement of God’s loving act to deliver us from the shame and guilt of our sins, from the ultimate damnation of death, and into a relationship with himself, all through the gift of his son, Jesus Christ. By his grace, not our works, he does for us what we could never do for ourselves through any religious effort of our own.
Therefore, Jesus himself IS the gospel. Not because he showed us through his teaching how we are to act in order to make ourselves acceptable enough to be members of his new religious enterprise called Christianity. Rather, he himself is the good news because through his life and death he provided the way for unacceptable, shame-filled people to be acceptable before God without any shame; for dead people to be made alive; for guilty people to be forgiven; for people who were separated from God because of their enmity with him to actually be united in loving relationship with God; for people who were destined to spend eternity in hell to instead be destined for eternal life, enjoying God’s presence in the paradise of God’s new creation; for cynical people to have true hope, empty people to possess deep joy, and anxiety-ridden people to obtain real and lasting peace.
According to the bible, the news of Jesus Christ, his suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection, is the good news of the power that alone saves and changes individual people, and that will ultimately save and changes families, cities, earth, and the entire cosmos. Quite simply, Jesus achieved this at the cross, when he defeated the penalty for sin by absorbing our shame, and overcoming it himself. For this reason, the gospel is the answer that ultimately relieves our ultimate problems, fears, and needs.
What response to this good news is required on our part?
First, be honest about who you are. God created you for the very purpose of enjoying relationship with him. You were made to adore and live for him (to worship him with your whole self and your entire life), however, you, by nature, have resisted him. It’s not that you haven’t worshipped, but you’ve chosen to worship someone or something besides the true God. In other words, you’ve chosen some other person, thing, or idea to be the object of your ultimate devotion in order to find happiness, peace, or to fill your life with meaning.
This is why the bible says we are “sinners” who are separated from God. Since we, all of us, have chosen to reject the true God, exchanging him for another “god” or “gods” in our pursuit of living life to the full, we have all offended him by our sinful false worship. Even though we were made for relationship with him, we have not wanted him. Even though he is the true Lord, we have not surrendered ourselves to him and have instead attempted to be lord of our own lives. This has taken the form of deciding for ourselves what we will cling to in order to find fulfillment and security in life, whether success in our careers, excitement in a romantic relationship, or something else on the long list of things we trust in to make us feel happy or safe.
So, you truly are sinful and need to be honest about this with yourself and with God. Your sinfulness ultimately destroys you and ironically steals your freedom and sense of meaning in life.
Secondly, you need to be honest about who God is. God is both loving and just. Timothy Keller, theologian and Presbyterian minister in New York City, wrote, “God’s active concern is for our joy and well-being. Most people love those who love them, yet God loves and seeks the good even of people who are his enemies. But because God is good and loving, he cannot tolerate evil. The opposite of love is not anger, but indifference. ‘The more you love your son, the more you hate in him the liar, the drunkard, the traitor,’ (quoting E. Gifford).
To imagine God’s situation, imagine a judge who also is a father, who sits at the trial of his guilty son. A judge knows he cannot let his son go, for without justice no society can survive. How much less can a loving God merely ignore or suspend justice for us—who are loved, yet guilty of rebellion against his loving authority?”
The love and justice of God was perfectly manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself is God. He lived a perfect human life by doing everything God commanded and resisting the temptation to do anything God commanded us not to do. This is important because he did this in our place. That is, Jesus lived the life of perfect obedience that God commanded us to live. Then, instead of being commended and rewarded for his perfect life, Jesus was punished by God as he offered his life as a substitute sacrifice for our sins! He took the shame and condemnation and death that we deserved.
Why did he do this? Because when a person recognizes his or her own sinfulness and subsequently trusts in the finished work of Jesus Christ on his or her behalf, our sins are forgiven and our shame is removed, all because he paid our debt through his death and Jesus’ perfect record is awarded to us; he covers our shame with his honor. This is the good news of Christianity.
Lastly, we need to be honest about our need for a Savior and turn to Jesus Christ, placing our faith in him. Simply put this means we need to “repent and believe the good news.”
“Repentance” is the honest admission of your own sinfulness against a holy God and your total inability to do anything yourself to fix it. It involves turning away from yourself and anyone or anything else you have trusted in for your salvation (deliverance). “Believing the good news” is the placing your faith, your total trust in Jesus Christ who lived, died, and was raised from the dead on your behalf, depending upon him alone for your salvation (deliverance).
What does this look like at Red Tree? Advice, tips, and ethical imperatives play an important supporting role, while the message of the gospel to both save, and empower new ways of living, takes center stage in the preaching, worship, counseling and ministries at Red Tree.