You’d think that the goodness that God gives us would be like biting into a chewy cookie fresh out of the oven. Cozy, very palatable, it feels just right, and leaves you wanting more.
But more often than not the goodness of God doesn’t immediately feel comfortable or right. It’s more like working out. In the short term it can be wildly uncomfortable, but you keep at it and later your life is transformed. And you realise it feels good not to be winded by certain hikes or steep inclines.
Yeah working out is a pain, but that’s just because you’re refashioning your body to withstand new weight, new speeds, a new intensity of life. And you’re all the better for it.
That’s why when St Paul says ‘let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ’ in our upcoming Sunday reading, spiritually that’s a lot of weight you’re about to bench press. And to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ, whatever that means, will necessarily leave you transformed.
But what does ‘living a life worthy of the gospel of Christ’ mean?
My wife sends me many Reels on Instagram. Too many. One recently really got under my skin. It’s from a former pastor who has a very popular Instagram where he shares his hot takes on current events and shares his unique brand of hip theology.
This one Reel was a really short video where he upbraids traditional Christians in the US from tenaciously fighting for ‘correct’ doctrine but not supporting the material needs of the poor. And though I grudgingly granted what he was saying was true, I also felt that even a broken clock is right twice a day. I said that to Brit, though in more caustic terms. I wish that was the end of it but it gets worse.
Later that day as we were walking to pick up our daughter Eve from school, that little video came to mind again along with a giant internal eye roll at this person’s platform, ideas, and even existence. I just felt so deeply that what they usually promote is so wrong, and even the right things he promotes are done is such a pretentious manner that I just couldn't’ wait until the final judgement and he would finally be shown, in the final analysis, just how wrong he was, and I can’t wait.
And then immediately after I thought that I felt so ashamed. Because in my internal self-righteous vitriol I forgot what I’ve preached so many times, the key words of Jesus:
I conveniently forgot that when we all stand before the throne, we will remember or realise for the first time that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. iii. 23).
In other words, no one will stand before God and hear from Jesus: “Heyy, you’re one of those rare individuals that got everything right down there. You didn’t need the cross, you were good enough! Here’s heaven as your earned reward.” No one will hear that.
You won't hear that. That instagram ex-pastor with his hot taks won’t hear that. And I forgot for a second that I also won’t hear that. That each one of us needs Jesus, and that’s the whole point, the whole reason Jesus came to earth. To help us in our weakness because we all get it wrong and desperately need to be made right in our minds, souls, and hearts. That’s the grace that Jesus offers us, if only we accept it.
Well, I felt the sting of sheer embarrassment and shame at having believed even for a second that at the final judgement I would somehow be standing beside Jesus and nodding my head in agreement as he chastised that ex-pastor. When, really, I won’t be standing with Jesus - he will be standing with me speaking for me when my life is laid bare and the Divine Light brings out of concealment what I, in my darkness, have tried to hide.
But that’s the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not that I earn my place next to Jesus, but that he condescends to come down to my level and gifts me a new life I could never earn. It’s Jesus who died on the cross to cleanse me of my sin and shame. it’s Jesus and only Jesus who got everything right and will judge the world and our lives with pure Justice, Goodness, Equity, and Mercy (thanks be to God!). Because without his mercy none of us can stand.
And it’s the Grace and Mercy at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus that is meant to animate our lives. Because if this truth is at the centre of your life, at least two things will happen:
This is what it means to live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ. It’s working out what it means for Jesus to come to the earth - to live the life we should have lived, die the death we should have died, to be raised from the dead - to make sense of all that and then live a life in the light of the implications.
That the love of God in Jesus is a sheer gift. Unearned. Perfect grace. A life worthy of the Gospel of Christ means, yes you won’t be pompous in your dealings with others as if you don’t get things wrong. Instead, you’ll admit you get things really wrong sometimes. And when you do go wrong, you’ll simply say ‘sorry Jesus, I messed up. Thanks for taking care of my mess, help me to get up and try again. I love you and I live for you.’
Crucially, please notice that the categories of Right and Wrong aren’t abolished. Humans in our infinite mess try to absolve ourselves from the sins we make by pretending we can explain away ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as cultural artefacts or language games, not objective realities we must conform to. Jesus never says anything like this. And to believe like this is to fundamentally reject the grace and love of God, the only gift that saves us. We’re meant for more.
That’s all and that’s it.Being honest when we go wrong, saying sorry, accepting the grace and love of God and then extending it to others is a life lived in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s so central to an honest spirituality and faith in Jesus that we gather weekly to do this together. That’s what Sunday is all about.
If you’ve read this far, then let me know what you think. And I hope to see you this Sunday. Let’s thank God for his unending love together. Let’s sing and say sorry together. The bonds of true friendship and the healing love of God are found in the community of Jesus, where Jesus is always found.