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The Gospel and The Church

“The Gospel plus nothing”: It means that the person and work of Jesus are responsible for my creation, redemption and ultimate future perfection as His glorified image. It means that my work at trying to be nicer, my efforts at trying to love, my engagement in social justice in the community and peace making in my family win me no extra points with God nor lose any future benefits. My blessings are all a result of Jesus’ obedience and my disobedience (deliberate or otherwise) is entirely dumped on Him, as if He’d done it rather than me. This, however, does not mean that those efforts are inconsistent with the person and work of Jesus.

A recent late night discussion took place about a friend’s vision to see his local church reflect more of The Church, the body of Christ, as it is and will be seen for all eternity. Another friend replied to this expressed desire for more diversity and community engagement with the trump card statement, “Well, it should be the Gospel plus nothing.” It sounded right, as if he was saying, “Lets not make new laws which aren’t required of us in the Bible.” But it missed what is in Scripture altogether, and therefore, the Gospel itself.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matt. 5:17

Adam and Eve were made to reflect God’s love, goodness and care of all creation as perfect images of Him. This image was corrupted by sin. The Law was introduced not as a new set of punitive restrictions but as a written reminder of what God’s image looks like. For this reason, Jesus wouldn’t dare eliminate the least stroke of it, for to do so would be to minimize the glory and perfection of God! This is why Law and grace are not in conflict. The Law is still the most accurate picture of Who God is and it is by grace rather than works that we now can satisfy its demands. The fact that He fulfilled it means that it is no longer by our futile striving that we too can reflect Him and His perfect character, but by faith in the One who clothes us in His fulfillment of the Law, He is increasingly revealing Himself through us. For the local body of Christ to reflect the eternal diversity of The Body of Christ is not a new law but the picture that has always existed. To be “missional” or whatever the newest term of the day for outreach or evangelism comes to be, is not a style or personal preference, but rather who Jesus was as He came to serve rather than to be served, to seek out the sick rather than those who thought themselves perfectly healthy. His people, as described from Genesis onward, would encompass “every tribe, tongue and nation”…why on earth would we not want to be a part of that now?

Honestly, for me, the answer to that question lies just below the surface of my consciousness. It has something to do with the fact that I really want church to be a place I can finally let down, relax and be “at home” with family who accept me as I am. I spend my week “in the trenches” and want Sunday morning to fill me back up, massage my sore muscles and meet my emotional needs that are often drained by the end of the week. And, I want church to be something like “Cheers” where everybody knows my name and they’re always glad I came. So, when church becomes a place where people don’t all know my name or maybe don’t even know that I came, I become resentful. Then, when church becomes a place I am asked to do one thing more (like seek out others who think differently than I do, serve other people instead of being served myself, consider church a gathering of local missionaries rather than a Saturday afternoon family cook-out), I honestly feel a little dismayed. Then I feel guilty for being selfish but still tired and needing a moment to have my needs met. The only way for my natural mind to understand the co-existence of Law (all those shoulds in life and the church) and grace is to separate them and pit them against each other when one is not possible for me in a given moment.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. John 15:1-9 Why do I want the church as an institution to minister to me rather than require I find fullness of life in Jesus alone? Why do I want the pastor to fill me with life and love and care before ever finding my soul’s rest in God alone? Why do I set His picture of a fully redeemed image of man, fully restored creation and His glorified Kingdom up against the Gospel as if the two were not one and the same? Maybe it’s because I limit the Gospel to a message of salvation and not one that goes on to preach restoration. If “the Gospel” is just about getting into Heaven, then who cares about life between now and then?

But when I am reminded that all the Scriptures are about the person and work of Jesus and that the church is to reflect His image, the 2nd Adam who rules and reigns over all creation with care and nurture to see it all thrive, my sights are elevated and my heartbeat to join in this Gospel begins to pound. Oh may I begin to believe that the Gospel calls me to work for restoration in all facets of creation while it is also the only means by which that restoration is possible? May I begin to see the mature, complex and perfected image of the Body of Christ as something far more desirable than a Sunday morning support group?

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