In this abiding series, each post will be framed as an email correspondence to a friend who is seeking to get ‘more’ out of his or her faith. My hope is that by exploring this topic as a conversation, you will resonate with the message as deeply as if it were a letter addressed to you.
To: Friend Seeking More from Faith
From: Doug Nuenke
Subject: “The Missing Part of the Gospel”
Hello my friend,
I so resonated with your heartache in observing the “wandering” that you see in many people who call themselves “Christians”, then how you confided, “I feel the same way sometimes – my life doesn’t seem all that different other than having hope of heaven someday.”
These are powerful words that many church goers can relate to. In fact, there are statistics that backup your observations about the dismal behavioral difference between self-identified Christians and those who don’t profess faith in Christ.
I wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with the partial, ‘sound bite’ gospel we have heard during our lifetime: Jesus came to die for our sins. Now, because of how often the gospel is reduced to this, it can seem heretical to write what I’m saying! But I would suggest that this truncated gospel message is only fully true when combined with the rest of the message.
Too often, people “accept Jesus” to secure a ticket to heaven and then miss out on the ongoing, life-giving relationship with Christ which is the fullness of why Jesus came to live, die, and be resurrected. As a result, the “Christian life” is misunderstood as an inheritance we receive after we die, rather than an abundance that begins right now.
Recently, while reading in the Scriptures, I was in 1 John. Two connected verses reveal how we miss a part of the gospel, to our demise. 1 John 4:10 reveals part of why Jesus came to earth as God in human form:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Amazing grace is seen in these words. The cross and the forgiveness of sins is central to the gospel message. However, it is incomplete if separated from the amazing gospel truth that shows up one verse before that:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)
By itself, the atonement and justification by faith can turn God into a dispenser of good stuff and frame the relationship as one between consumer and vendor. Believers, then, not only miss out on real-time access to God, they miss out on understanding who God is. He is not just an accountant keeping score of outstanding and atoned-for sins. He is a father and friend, a relational being who invites us to find life in union with Him!
Atonement, forgiveness, and many other spiritual blessings in the Gospel are wonderful by-products of a more important gospel blessing: the gift of Christ Himself. Because of the work of the cross, we now have unlimited access to Jesus in whom we experience life as God intended now. Abundant life (John 10:10) is available through union with Jesus (John 14:20, 1 John 4:13), the One who not only gives eternal life but is eternal life (1 John 1:2).
We experience this full life by abiding in Christ–minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. In simple practices such as turning our attention toward Him, remembering his ongoing presence and love, and reflecting on Scripture, we receive an infusion of life through Christ.
As you point out, I suspect many believers have forgotten (or never heard) the gospel mystery of living in Him, yet this is the reward and inheritance some have called “the normal Christian life”.
I wonder what practices you might integrate into your daily life to abide in Christ, and thus, live in Him?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts,