Why is the Gospel So Irritating?
MAY 22, 2019
I’ve struggled with anger for most of my life.
(In the list of the seven deadly sins, it’s called “wrath.”) I’m a lot better now though. Some of it is old age. Some of it is Jesus. But I’m quite proud of my dealing with my anger. (Now I just have to repent of my pride.)
Anger isn’t always a sin. Paul said, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). As an illustration, you ought to note Paul’s anger and the reason for it.
Do you know what ticked Paul off? It wasn’t sin, heresy, or opposition. It was when Christians perverted the gospel of grace:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-8).
I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:12).
Talk about anger.
Paul got that from Jesus: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:13-15).
My father never became a Christian or had anything to do with the church…because he didn’t think he was good enough. Nobody is. My father missed the main message of the gospel. We are great sinners and Jesus is a great Savior.
One of the most radical and amazing—and irritating—texts in all of Scripture is Luke 7:36-50, a sinful woman forgiven.
That’s the gospel. It is not just how you’re saved. It’s how you live.
But why is the gospel so irritating?
We make it palatable.
We take the gospel of forgiveness and make it palatable to religious folks.
“Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner’” (Luke 7:39).
What we believe is crazy. We believe that there is a God who is the Sovereign Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of all that is. We believe that that God entered time and space, and lived the life of a servant, even dying on a cross. We then believe that a dead man—Jesus—got up and walked, ascended into heaven, and one day will come back to clean up the mess. If you believe all that, you’ll believe anything. The very fact that we believe is evidence that it is true. Nobody in their right mind would make that stuff up.
But it’s even worse. The Christian faith says that the sovereign Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of all that is loves his creatures with such passion that he can’t have a party if they aren’t there.
I once gave a seminary lecture (along with another professor) on the radical and counterintuitive nature of the Christian faith. When it was over, a number of the students were upset, and the professor said, “Wait, Steve didn’t say what you think he said.” Oh, yes, I did. I didn’t say anything in that moment, but I pledged that from then on I simply wouldn’t let anybody put words into my mouth to make the radical nature of the Christian faith palatable.
If you knew Jesus planned to come back next Thursday, what would you do? I know… You would repent, pray, and fast. Do you know what I would do? I would get drunk, buy a Mercedes, and run up my credit cards. I don’t drink adult beverages. I have a Honda Accord with 230,000 miles on it and, frankly, it would be nice to have a Mercedes, especially if I didn’t have to pay for it. And there is a lot of neat stuff I would buy with my credit cards if I knew I was never getting billed.
The reason you’re so shocked and I’m so pleased is because Jesus likes me more than he likes you. And if that doesn’t astonish you, you’re dead.
God designed the gospel to be astonishing. God designed grace to be amazing. And God designed the Christian faith to be totally bewildering. If you make it less so, you change it into something that it isn’t. Not only that, you rob it of its power.
We add kickers.
We add kickers to the clear message of the gospel.
“‘Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’” And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven’” (Luke 7:47-48).
Wait, Jesus… Aren’t you going to send her to a solid synagogue? What about teaching her how to share her faith, pray, and read Scripture? Aren’t you going to point her to an accountability group?
I have a pastor friend who once said from the pulpit that sexual morality was good and clearly taught in Scripture. He should have stopped there. He added, “But virginity is not the gospel.” A man three rows back stood up and motioned to his family—his wife, son, and three daughters—to follow him. He said as they left the church, “That’s it. I’ve had it. We’re out of here.”
I don’t care who you are, what you’ve done, what you’re smoking or drinking, or who you’ve hurt, run to Jesus. He loves you and forgives you…without any kicker.
We are shocked.
In the face of the astonishing freedom and joy of the gospel, we are shocked. The Pharisees are shocked…when they should have joined in the laughter.
I think we’re sitting on top of another great awakening in America…if only we were willing to join in the laughter. I can feel it in young people all over the country. That’s hard for me because I’m old. Frankly, I don’t like their politics, clothes, social media and a lot of their music. But their laughter sounds like the laughter of Jesus.
In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian’s wife, Christiana, after deriding her husband, decides to follow him to “the Celestial City.” One night her companion Mercy laughs in her sleep. When Christiana later asks her why, Mercy said that she had a dream where she was dressed in filthy rags. Then when Mercy looked down at herself, everything changed. She was now dressed in a wonderful gown of gold and jewels, and Mercy heard a voice say, “Welcome daughter! Welcome.” Then Mercy said, “And I did laugh and laugh.”
I’m a Presbyterian and we don’t speak in tongues and we don’t dance. We do all things decently and in order. But if you’re a Presbyterian—or anyone for that matter—and you don’t want to speak in tongues or dance at least sometimes, you simply don’t get it.
The gospel is this: You’re forgiven—past, present, and future. You’re loved and you can’t be unloved, no matter what you do. And you are his.