Column: Indications of faith
“The gospel was not good advice but good news.” – William R. Inge
An archive article from my favorite publication, “First Things,” explains that a preacher’s primary task is not to tell us the rules how we should behave, which at heart most of us already know, but the good news of who we actually are – children of God – which many folks can’t believe.
The difference to the hearer is whether one leaves church feeling berated and hopeless because of one’s sins, or feels empowered and hopeful because the God who created humanity in His image loves us and provides a way “home” – back into His glorious kingdom – through the work of and our faith in His son Jesus Christ.
It’s the difference in the imperative mood casting condemnation – “Do this or else!” – and the indicative mood casting information – the grace of divine light, eternal salvation, absolute truth and identity in Christ.
The first tears down, the other builds up. The one sends us home “on flat tires,” the other buoys our spirits to soar on eagles’ wings. One creates fear and attention to self – “Am I following the rules?” The other creates freedom, liberty, courage and love of self, others and God – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Inge’s colleague V.A. Demant, in his book “Christian Polity,” writes:
“Tell people only what they must do, and you will numb them into despair, you will turn the gospel into a shabby replica of the world’s irreligious and nagging moralism, with its oceanfuls of good advice.
“But tell them what they are, of their dignity as made in the image of God, and that their sins are wicked perversions of their nature … tell them that the world with all its horrors is still God’s world, though its true order is upside down; tell them that they can do all things through Christ, because of him all the powers of their nature are directed to fruition … and you will help to revive hope in this dispirited generation.”
The article’s author, John Jay Hughes, a Catholic priest from St. Louis, notes: “It is a paradox … that preaching morality will never motivate people to be good. It will discourage them. It will inevitably bore them. It may even drive them into a state of despair [that] if they are not good God will not love and bless them.
“Proclamation of the Gospel – what God has done, is doing and will continue to do … will motivate people to love God and neighbor like nothing else.”
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) accepted the Lord not because Walters himself (admittedly) is so bad but because Jesus Christ is so good.