God, the Means or the End?

          This past weekend, students began meeting to train for their role as leaders at day camp this Summer. Along with information about how the camp will flow and what it is all about, we challenged students to work on being able to communicate the Gospel, as this will be one of their many roles. We challenged students to rethink the way they often present the good news, and what it’s really all about. I thought the same thing could be valuable for all of us, so I thought we could talk about just one central point we made this past Sunday.

          What is it that we are doing when we share the Gospel? This was the question we presented our students with. I would argue that often, especially in America, the sharing of the Gospel equates to trying to sell Heavenly real-estate. To demonstrate, I played a short parody video I found online years ago. You can watch the silly video below yourself, but it’s summed up in the fact that the over-the-top advertiser notes that in each package of “pre-blessed food” are “two tickets to Heaven”, primarily to make sure that your loved ones “go upstairs when they fall down stairs” It’s an absurd video, but it gets at this idea: the problem presented in our Gospel presentations is simply that we are going to the bad place when we die, but we want to go to the good place. The Gospel conveniently makes that happen. Thus, Gospel presentations are often eerily akin to sales pitches.

          Is that the primary problem- that we need to get to the good place? Is the Gospel’s goal “Heaven”? Paul didn’t seem to iterate things quite this way. We pointed students instead to 2 Corinthians 5:17-20. Here Paul envisions those who are spreading the gospel as doing a ministry of “reconciliation”. In his mind the problem was not primarily that we were going to the bad place and needed to get to the good place. The problem wasn’t even one that was primarily focused on life after death. For Paul, a student of the Torah, he saw that human beings’ greatest problem was that they were created to rule with God and share in his life-giving presence. Their disconnection from God that followed an act of usurpation had resulted in a loss of that life giving presence, and a lack of his guidance that led to this world being thrown into disorder. For Paul, the primary problem was that humans had lost their life-giving relationship with God, and the Goal was to see that relationship healed so that the creation partnership could re-start, birthing new life and new creation.

          We summed things up in this way: when we share the Gospel, where does God fit? Is God the means, or the end? Often in our sales-pitch Gospel, we paint God in Christ as the means. Jesus is a cross-shaped bridge who gets us to Heaven. I mean no offense if that is how you’ve been taught to see it. It’s how it was often explained to me as well; however, this vision of the Gospel makes Jesus little more than a tool and makes a heavenly kingdom the ultimate thing. It idolizes a blissful afterlife over God himself. Instead, We ought to see God not as the means, but as the Goal. The Goal of the Gospel is reconciliation. A repaired relationship with God, which incidentally, will transform and reconcile all things to God. The Bible is clear that the goodness of God is beyond imagination, and to have eternal life is not simply to exist forever in a pleasant state, but to know God and exist in a life-giving partnership with him- something that starts today just as much as it does after death. I hope, with the students this Summer, you will consider just how good God is, and how a good Gospel presentation needs to end with him, not just an afterlife.

This is usually where I include a song, but sometimes goofy videos are better at helping us see how silly we can sometimes be and get our Gospel on the right track!

Dan Vandzura