Last time I was concerned about the seemingly shallow approach to the gospel message, as if it is generally a declaration of God's love. The call to repentance is often absent in our discourse, although it was one of the primary requirements of the gospel message. It is preached to be believed and responded to, not intellectually accented to. I believe this is a problem in our western culture. We are interested in reducing the message to our tastes rather than understanding it for our good.
Baptism confusion.Take the discussions around baptism. There are those who believe that baptism is simply a work. They go on to reduce anyone who believes that baptism is a part of the salvation experience to works-salvation advocates. They dismiss any real discussions about baptism by using ad hominem arguments.
In fact, they will even use prayer as the alternative to baptism. But what then is praying for salvation, if not also a work? It seems to be more of a work than baptism, since baptism is passive (it being done to you publicly, and something that has been practiced Biblically) while praying is an individualistic act (something you do on your own privately, and not practiced Biblically). But, what does it matter? They accomplish the same ends, to call on the Lord in faith in some physical way.
But we reduce the issue to our liking, rather than appreciate what God has given us. A physical way to experience what we believe. Instead, we would rather pin-point the exact legal time of conversion than be filled with joy over experiencing the putting away of the old and of putting on the brand new.
We do this because we want to avoid the appearance of work. This is no different than the persecution Jesus endured from the Pharisees over the Sabbath regulations. When Jesus did good, and people were filled with joy over their physical healing, the Pharisees were upset because they violated God's law of no work on the Sabbath. We do the same things they did. We have reduced the salvation of Christ into a set of legal requirements. In this case, "Thou shall do no work for thy salvation!"
Sentimental love.This is what has happened in our western Christian culture. We have reduced the love of God to a sentimental gesture. We may have a tear in our eye when we hear about God's love for mankind. We may even talk about how wonderful it is that God loves us. We contemplate the pain of Jesus on the cross, or side with Jesus when he protects the weak. But are we transformed by that love. Are we moved like Zacchaeus to make amends for the wrongs we've done, making the effort because we desire Jesus (not to just look good in front of others)? Or are we more like the rich young ruler who thinks of Jesus as a means to an end?
Jesus loved them both, but the responses were different. One was held in slavery to his comfortable lifestyle. The other wanted the company of Jesus, and his lifestyle got in the way. It seems to me that we are more in love with the idea of love than honestly being affected by the love of God like Zacchaeus was. We are a nation of rich young rulers. "Just tell us how to get eternal life. Just tell us you love us. Just comfort us, for we desire comfort." We should be saying, "I want the Comforter. I want the One who loves me so. I want the One who secured eternal life for me. I'd rather have nothing and have Jesus by my side than have everything and be without him!"
Jesus does love us, even when we are not like this. (I am comforted that Jesus loved the rich young ruler too.) He loves us more than we realize. But Jesus loves us enough to take action. Action we may not all agree with, or think is worth it. But we must respond to his love with genuine love.
I know I am not where He wants me to be. But I am going and not giving up. Now is the time to live a life of repentance. Now is the time to live a life of real hope. Now is the time to live a life of sincerity. Now is the time to tell the whole truth. Now is the time to love for real!