Ask the average, self-identified Christian what his or her religion is all about, and you’re likely to get something like this: “Jesus died to save me from my sins so I can go to heaven.”
But what if this view is wrong? What if it is, in fact, not just wrong but wrong in a way that prevents us from effectively communicating our faith?
The problem with the statement above is that it makes Christianity about me: “Jesus died to save me from my sins so I can go to heaven.” This “gospel” is the good news for me and about me.
This version of the good news plays into the pernicious solipsism of Western—and especially American—individualism, with its relentless deification of the individual.
Individualizing the Gospel
Individualizing the gospel dramatically foreshortens God’s purposes for the world.
The problem that God confronts is not merely that the individual—or even humanity as a whole—is sinful and in need of saving. The problem is that because of sin, all of creation is degraded, and needs to be rescued:
“‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree … cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17, NRSV, emphasis added).
It is the whole of creation that needs saving, and not just me, the individual.
Salvation of All Creation
The individualistic gospel, focused on my sins, and my salvation, misses out on God’s larger, cosmic purposes. Jesus’ death and resurrection doesn’t just accomplish my own rescue from sin, but the rescue of God’s entire creation—humanity (and me) right along with it.Individualizing the #gospel dramatically foreshortens God’s purposes for the world. Click To Tweet
This is what Paul means when he says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, … in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21, NRSV, emphasis added).
God’s plans are bigger than me, and bigger even than humankind. God means to restore his creation to the “very good” state of Genesis 1:31.
This is just what we see at the end of the story: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. … And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:1, 5).
God means to rescue his creation, to restore and renew it. God isn’t going to abandon his creation. He’s not going leave it to its degraded state and whisk humans away to somewhere else.1
He’s going to make it all new again.2
A Lesser Understanding
If we don’t understand this, all we can proclaim is the “save me from my sins” gospel.God’s plans are bigger than me, and bigger even than humankind. #jesus #faith Click To Tweet
Doing so means first convincing someone that they are a sinner, then convincing them that you’ve got the solution to that problem. That’s like giving someone poison, and expecting them to be grateful when you offer them the antidote!
Instead of being the people of judgment, we can be the people of hope: “Look, you know this world has problems. The good news is that God means to put all this to rights.”
Inviting people to join in God’s restoration of creation means meeting them where they are, with the knowledge that something is wrong around here (including with them), but that God means to fix it.
If we don’t understand the cosmic nature of the gospel, we will be unable to put it into effect in our lives. If the gospel is about how I get saved and go to heaven, it is hard to see what to do between the moment of “salvation” and the moment that we join God.
Are we just marking time, punching the clock until we die? Are we simply obeying God out of the sheer force of will?
But What Does It Matter?
If, on the other hand, the gospel is about how God makes the whole world new again, that means we have a work to do!
It means that we are the people who bear witness, in word and in deed, to the glorious good news that through Jesus, God will make all things new—and that that work has already begun!
It means that we shun immorality, and become transformed, renewed people (see Romans 12:1-2), because that is what it means to live in the reality that God will make, and indeed is currently making, all things new.
It means taking seriously the responsibility to bear God’s image in the world, in the knowledge that if any one is in Christ, that is an example of the new creation breaking into the world (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).3
If we are to be a people who respond to God’s love for us by loving our neighbors then we need to get straight on the good news.
We need to stop trying to convince everyone around us that they are sinners, and instead show them—through loving acts of service, and through gentle words of proclamation—that God is making all things new, and that we want them to be a part of that.
This allows us to present a hopeful, loving, and joyful face to our city, and not a judgmental one.
It allows us to meet people where they are, instead of trying to maneuver them to where we want them to be.
It means that we can be the bearers of good news that is good news indeed: that God is making all things new, and that they can become part of that, right now—today.
- For a critique of the “going to heaven” view of Christianity, see N.T. Wright’s paradigm-busting book, Surprised by Hope.
- For a description of this “new creation” orientation to the good news, see N.T. Wright’s book, Simply Good News.
- In addition to individualizing the gospel, we tend to individualize the meaning of New Testament books. 2 Corinthians 5:17 isn’t pointing at the individual believer as an individual new creation. The NRSV gets the proper emphasis of 2 Corinthians 5.17 right, I think: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (emphasis added) Paul is pointing out that the new creation has already broken into the world. Wherever we see a person who has been transformed by the power of the good news, there we see new creation peeking into the world.