I have a problem with many Gospel tracts. No doubt, they’re written by well-meaning, kind Christians. But, they’re often badly written, leave out the resurrection completely and invite the reader to pray a pre-scripted prayer (as if obedient recitation will actually do anything). But, perhaps the best reason why I don’t like most Gospel tracts is because they often frame the Gospel all wrong.
Jesus’ Good News doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There is a context, a backstory, a history and a timeline that produced this Good News. Yet, most Gospel presentations are incredibly self-absorbed . . .
- It’s all about you and your sin
- It’s all about God desperately wanting you to join His club
- It’s about Jesus wanting you to believe in Him, as if He’s a jilted lover, crying in the street like a pitiful damsel, hoping against hope you’ll throw open your door to your heart so He can seek shelter from the storm
- It’s all about how you can escape hellfire and damnation
- It’s all about how God loves you and has a great plan for your life
No. No. No.
It isn’t so much that all this is untrue. After all, Jesus did die to atone for our sins. God does desire people to be saved. The Gospel does save you from hellfire. If you’re chosen by God for salvation, then He does have a great plan for your life.
No, the problem is framing. This is framed all wrong. It’s not about you; it’s about God. This kind of presentation (above), which I only slightly exaggerated, is morbidly self-absorbed and selfish. There is no context there. It’s as if the Gospel just dropped out of heaven onto your lap; (1) you’re a sinner, (2) but God loves you and sent Jesus to die for you, (3) so just pray this prayer, and (4) you’re saved. Halleluiah! Pass the popcorn, and fill the baptistery.
I’ll write more on this later. For now, ponder this:
Christianity is all about the human response of faith, or so popular teaching and perception would have us believe. Undeniably, faith is essential to Christianity— right? Or is it? I would argue that like rot in an apple, much of the malaise in contemporary Christianity stems from a rotten core. The gospel, salvation, and the Christian life have little to do with “faith” or “belief” as generally defined or understood, and this is the decay in the interior— so much so that it would be best if these words were abandoned with regard to discussions of salvation among Christians.
The Greek word pistis, generally rendered “faith” or “belief,” as it pertains to Christian salvation, quite simply has little correlation with “faith” and “belief” as these words are generally understood and used in contemporary Christian culture, and much to do with allegiance. At the center of Christianity, properly understood, is not the human response of faith or belief but rather the old-fashioned term fidelity.
- Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017), 15.
The author continued, later in his book, and explained:
My intention is not to flatten the rich multiple meanings and nuances of pistis into a bland singleness. Rather it is to claim that, when discussing salvation in generalized terms, allegiance is a better overarching English-language term for what Paul intends with his use of the pistis (p.78).
These are provocative words, and Bates’ book is full of provocative thoughts. I don’t agree with all of them, but I do appreciate all of them. However, he does hit upon something profound – does our modern notion of “faith” match what the Old and New Testament consider “faith” to be? Has our “me-centered” culture made us unwittingly re-frame the Gospel in a very selfish way?
We must remember that God has a kingdom, Jesus will rule over this kingdom, and Christians are His slaves whom He’s rescued from darkness, and all who reject the Gospel (i.e. reject the King) will be killed.
So, what is faith? When we preach the Gospel to unbelievers, how should we frame the Gospel story? When we urge people to “repent and believe” and be justified “by faith,” what is faith, exactly?
- If God has been working all salvation history towards His coming Kingdom (see Revelation 21-22)
- and if Jesus will be the King of this Kingdom
- and if Christians will spend eternity worshipping Him and serving Him in a new earth, in a new and better creation
Then, are we really capturing the essence of “faith” if we reduce it to “I believe in Jesus!” Isn’t there a bit more freight to the content of this belief?
Surely, whatever else may be said, “”faith” includes allegiance and submission to Christ as King. If we can get this, then perhaps we can begin to appreciate how badly we often frame the Gospel. Perhaps, too, we can begin to have a richer understanding of what faith actually is.
Pssst! Yes, I take the Lordship position on salvation . . .