I was at a gathering the other day of people from several different churches. We were meeting together to plan a Christmas time event in the public elementary schools in our area. Because the event is outside normal school hours and completely voluntary, we are not required to make these religion-neutral events. For this particular meeting, many were excited because this means we had the opportunity to “share the gospel.”
I put quotes on “share the gospel,” because for this group at least, this phrase clearly meant “present a summary of the substitutionary atonement theory of Jesus’ death and invite individuals to pray to receive Jesus as Savior.”
I could write a book on that, but today I prefer to share this; during our discussion, several people talked about their expectation that, upon death, Jesus will confront them about the times they have or haven’t “shared the gospel.” I sensed palpable guilt in the room over ever missing the chance to explain the substitutionary atonement theory and offer a prayer afterwards.
I cannot help but wonder: does this Jesus, who saves by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9)not have grace for his followers thereafter? Does grace end with a salvation experience?
What is more likely is that many at this meeting have an understanding of the gospel that is based on fear, guilt, and condemnation. To wit: when we finally come to grips with our sin and wickedness and confess the same to God, God saves us through Jesus’ death. Now we can feel no more guilt for our sin and wickedness, but rather for the times we fail to invite others to feel so much guilt and shame for their own sins that they will, like we have, confess, repent, and get saved.
This seems to me like a vicious cycle of fear, guilt, and condemnation. On the other hand, I find Jesus himself (and, indeed, the entire Bible) inviting us to lives that can be free of fear, guilt, and condemnation.
And if Gospel means “good news,” that seems to me to be much better news!