Originally published November 27, 2015, but slightly revised for clarity.
Today, January 20, 2023, marks 52 years since the Lord graciously saved me. Let me share my testimony — not as the Gospel, but as a small demonstration of His wonderful grace.
He had thick golden hair that sunlight would dance in. 52 years later, I can’t recall anything else about him, but at the time the slightest bit of attention from him produced exciting (and frightening) sensations that my 17-year-old body had never experienced. Thankfully, the severity of my disability held me back from making myself sexually available to him in the weeks before his deployment to Vietnam.
I fantasized that he’d get me pregnant so that he’d have to marry me when he returned from the war. As you might guess, however, he made no advances toward me. But 17-year-olds rarely live in reality, and so I clung to hope that I could have the sexual encounter when he came back to San Rafael, California (where I lived at the time). Once he wrote that first letter, providing me with his address, I could surely write letters that would make me irresistible! Couldn’t I?
That’s right. I answered the question in my title immediately, and with only one word. By doing so, I probably killed any incentive you had to read a full blog post on this topic. But please stay with me. There’s a reason we need to look at this issue.
This question once again popped up on Twitter last week, making me heave a sigh of exasperation as people twist Scripture to accommodate the idea that Jesus advocated self-love as the prerequisite for loving others. (Mark 12:31 quotes Jesus as saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself”). The logic goes that we can’t properly love other people until we’ve learned to love ourselves. Therefore, we must first cultivate self-love. That cultivation, the logic continues, gives us the ability to love others. The argument concludes with the confident assertion that Jesus taught us to love ourselves.
There’s a modicum of truth to the premise that, to care for someone’s physical needs, you must first attend to your own. If my Personal Care Attendant neglects her health so that she can’t come to work due to illness, I’m stuck in bed until we can find an available backup. Obviously, I need her to take care of herself in order for her to take care of’ me.
But the concept of self-love goes well beyond the practicality of making sure you’re physically able to help others. Look at this opening paragraph from an article in Good Therapy:
We’ve changed our calendars, put away the Christmas presents and started trying to keep our resolutions. Our brand spanking new Bible reading plans invigorate us. As with every January, we find pleasure as we anticipate making a fresh start. And that pleasure can motivate us toward positive changes that actually do honor the Lord. So Happy New Year, ladies! Let’s pray that 2023 will be a year of wonderful growth in Christ for each of us.
If January is a turning point moving us into the future, perhaps it’s equally a time to reflect on our relationship with God. Most of us are genuine Christians who may have gotten so caught up in doctrine that we’ve kind of lost sight of the miracle of our salvation. Others reading this blog may believe you’re Christians, but are really false converts depending on your own efforts to either achieve or maintain salvation. And a few of you don’t claim to be Christians, and read this blog for your own reasons. No matter which group you fall into, this is an excellent time to think about the Gospel and our response to it.
Let’s begin this discussion by simply going over the basic Gospel message. I’m drawing my main points from my page, What Is The Gospel Anyway?, which shares the Gospel briefly and succinctly. I want to expand on that page a little, perhaps helping you gain a deeper appreciation of salvation. Note: I posted that page before I switched from the English Standard Version, so all linked references in this post will be from that translation, whereas quotes will be from the New American Standard Bible 1995.
The English word “gospel” means “good news.” With Christmas being just over a week ago, we easily remember that the angels announced the birth of Christ as good news to all people (Luke 2:10-14). And Mark begins his gospel narrative by saying that Jesus entered Galilee preaching the Gospel of God (Mark 1:14-15). Clearly, the arrival of Christ and the kingdom of God is good news that deserves proclamation. That being the case, we should understand what the Gospel is and how we should respond to it.
One night last week, I had trouble sleeping. As the clock edged toward 1:30, I reluctantly woke John up and asked him for a pill — which took longer than it should have to do anything. As I lay there feeling exasperated, I thought of that Bing Crosby song about falling asleep counting your blessings. Those of you old enough to remember Bing Crosby will enjoy this clip from his movie, White Christmas, while you younger gals need it for a little context to this article.
All right, I decided to give it a try. Since my pastor has been preaching through Ephesians and I’ve been watching Susan Heck teach her series on Ephesians, however, I thought it would be cool if I counted my spiritual blessings that the Bible lists. Don’t get me wrong, I praise God for all the temporal blessings He’s lavished on me. But the sermons and teachings I’ve been hearing from Ephesians have given me an even broader perspective on His goodness towards me.
So I thought I’d take you through some verses in Ephesians 1 that reveal a few of the blessings that belong to every Christian.
Once again, there’s another “evangelistic” campaign floating around which emphasizes God’s love at the expense of mentioning topics like sin, wrath and judgment. I choose not to name this latest movement primarily because it will most likely fade away quickly and be replaced by a repackaged version of the same basic error. Frankly, this emphasis is nothing new; in my over 50 years as a Christian, I’ve seen it crop up numberless times. (I also prefer not to give this campaign publicity.)
Scripture gives us good reason to trust that Jesus understands everything we experience as human beings, and therefore sympathizes with our struggles. A wonderful passage in Hebrews assures us of His ability to empathize with our suffering.
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~~Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB95)
This passage fills us with comfort, as well it should! We all have times — often protracted times, actually — when troubles lead us into the temptations of anxiety, self-pity and despair. In such times, we crave assurance that Jesus stands beside us, giving us far more empathy than our friends and family ever could. So we rejoice that we have such a faithful and understanding Friend Who willingly goes through our trials with us. And if we don’t rejoice in His empathy, we should! Dear sisters in Christ, please never forget how deeply He cares, even when it seems as if nothing will ever be right again.
At the same time, focusing too much on the Lord’s compassion has a serious drawback that causes a skewed perception of Him. Speaking from both personal experience and observations of some of the ways my friends have dealt with struggles, I firmly believe that we often emphasize His compassion so much that we forget His holiness.
Have you ever eaten a exceptionally delicious meal and remarked on how good it was? How about reading a particularly satisfying novel or watching a movie with just the right ending? We call these things good because something about them gives us a deep sense of gratification. Strangely, superlatives like “awesome,” “wonderful” or “fabulous” seem less appropriate than the word “good.”
For Christians, the word “good” takes on a special meaning because is applies uniquely to the Lord. Consider this exchange between Jesus and a man who came to Him:
Many people distinguish between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, almost as if He was two different Beings. According to their theology, the New Testament version of God has evidently reformed His wrathful ways, becoming entirely loving to the point of indulging human sins. Anyone who suggests that God still expresses wrath is, as a reader of this blog recently stated, toxic.
Certainly, we’d all prefer to focus on God’s love. I would! Nobody really takes pleasure in the idea that they anger God when they sin against Him, especially if He reserved the right to unleash His anger in a day of final judgment. So we isolate His love and mercy, convincing ourselves that He’s put all thoughts of wrath behind Him. Thus we snuggle into a nice, comfortable view of God that insulates us from all fear of judgment. As Andy Stanley famously said, we can “unhitch from the Old Testament.”
Such “unhitching” may be convenient, but it has an arrogance about it that we ought to acknowledge. Essentially, discarding the possibility of God’s wrath tacitly declares that we have authority to determine His nature and, consequently, His behavior toward us. As we shape Him into what we think He should be, we make Him manageable and keep ourselves in control of our relationship with Him.
More to the point, does the New Testament really annul the wrath of God? A thorough reading of the New Testament quickly puts that notion to rest — especially once you get to Revelation and read about the judgments that God will pour out during the Tribulation. I’ll not cover that section of the Bible right now. Instead, let me go to a passage in Romans about God’s love in saving us from His wrath.
Lately, evangelicals have been telling us that social justice is a “Gospel issue.” A recent comment on one of my blog posts suggested that the Gospel teaches us to have unity despite theological differences (a point worthy of its own article). These sentiments, as well as similar sentiments I’ve heard throughout the years, prompt me to think that we need periodic reminders of what the Gospel actually is.
Most of you may decide not to read this article. Why waste time reading about something so basic? Do I have new insights into the Gospel? Perhaps a fresh take on it? Can I present it in a creative manner that makes it more interesting? More relevant?
No, I can’t. As a matter of fact, adding to the Gospel would lead me to damnation (Galatians 1:8). I have no interest in dressing it up for the purpose of making it more appealing and/or entertaining.
According to Titus 2:3-5, older women are to teach younger women to love their husbands and children. We may think that’s a rather strange instruction. In our culture, we almost universally marry for love, and we can’t help feeling an incredibly deep affection for our children. The Greek word translated “love” in Titus 2:4 does in fact mean to have feelings of affection, which makes us wonder about this imperative. Why on earth, then, would older women need to teach younger women to love the very people whom they would love quite naturally?
As I’ve pondered this matter, I’ve begun thinking about love in general, and Christian love in particular. Loving husbands and children as the Lord would have us love them must go beyond the ways non-Christians love their husbands and children, it seems to me. As believers, we learn how to love by studying the ways that our Lord expresses His love.
This Holy Week directs our attention to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross — the most powerful display of love in human history. Although none of us can ever hope to love anyone as powerfully as He loves us (because of our inability to atone for the sins of another person), we can still develop an understanding of love that we can approximate to a lesser degree in our relationships.
On the way home from church one Sunday, John and I found ourselves trying to witness to the rather belligerent para-transit driver. The more we presented the Gospel, the angrier he got. Through clenched teeth, he repeatedly snarled, “God is love,” in his desperate efforts to deny that the Lord had any objections to certain behaviors. As far as he was concerned, a loving God wouldn’t send anyone to hell. Surely John and I misrepresented Him!
This man said nothing I hadn’t heard countless times before. I’ve heard the same objections to the Gospel countless times since, and expect to hear them countless more times before the Lord takes me to heaven. Like so many people, that angry man understood love as unconditional approval of others, no matter what life choices they make. And God, more than anyone else, gives this approval without reservation because (after all) He is love!
So let’s think about that statement, “God is love.” Yes, it comes from the Bible. That being the case, maybe we should open that Bible and think about the context of the assertion.