In a bible study I was leading I asked the group the question “what is the good news of Jesus in one short sentence?” The group said things like “Jesus died for my sins” and “the cross” or “John 3:16”. These are all great answers; however, I continued asking questions. “What does that imply about us? Why did Jesus have to die?”
The point I wanted to make was that we often use implicit language. Implicit language when you say one thing and you automatically imply something else. To illustrate this, I asked them “if I were to tell you that I was getting fillings in my teeth, what would that imply?” The obvious answer was that it would imply I have cavities which need to be filled. So if the Gospel says “Jesus died for our sins”, what does that imply? It implies that we are sinners and that Jesus’ death was necessary to save us. It implies that the good news starts with an understanding of the bad news.
Covering Up For God
One of the problems in modern American Christianity is our neglect of telling unbelievers the whole story. We tend to leave the hard truths of the gospel out in order to not turn people off. For example: God is kind, loving, merciful and full of forgiveness. Those are aspects of God’s character that we usually have no problem sharing with unbelievers – it’s easy to say “God loves you and wants to forgive you”.
However, God is also righteous, holy, just, and hates sin. Without understanding these aspects of God’s character, the other (more “attractive”) aspects won’t make any sense. We like to fluff up the Gospel focusing on the “attractive” attributes of God to make our message sound more appealing to the world; but when we do that all we are left with is our message. We are not called to proclaim our message, but God’s message, and many times God’s message is very offensive, politically incorrect, and hard for us to tell people.
For some reason we are afraid to talk about God the way God talks about Himself. Just look at what the bible says about Him.
“The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence His soul hates”
– Psalm 11:5
“I [God] trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground”
– Isaiah 63:6
Honestly, when’s the last time you heard a sermon based on scriptures like these? Don’t get me wrong – scriptures about God’s love, mercy and forgiveness are amazing and need to be preached. But when it comes to scriptures about God’s utter hatred for sin and His just wrath, we’ll either skip over them real quickly as if they’re not important or try to explain them away as if those passages couldn’t really mean what they say. What if God put those passages (and the countless others like them) in the bible for a reason? What if that’s the way He wanted to reveal Himself to us? What if in our attempt to be “missional” or “loving” or “culturally relevant”, what we’re really trying to do is cover up for God?
I’ve heard from several different, well-meaning, Christians that my approach to the gospel can often times seem a little “harsh” and could potentially push people away who aren’t ready to hear the hard truths of the gospel yet. However, we need to ask ourselves if we really want to take the teeth out of the gospel. Remember, the gospel is the message that got John the Baptist beheaded, Jesus crucified, Stephen stoned, and Paul and the Apostles persecuted. We have the example of Jesus and the Apostles (as written in the Gospels and Book of Acts) about how we are to preach the gospel to the lost. A warning of judgment was always accompanied by an explanation of grace and a call to repentance and faith.
Why Start With The Bad News?
Imagine if you went to the doctor for a routine checkup, and after running some tests, he came up to you with a nonchalant demeanor and a big smile and said “the test results came back and you are pretty sick. But I have some great news for you, you can just take 2 of these pills daily and you’ll be just fine”. You think “Oh! Well, I don’t feel sick; but if the doctor says to take the pills… sure. Why not? It can’t hurt”. You might take the pills for a couple of days. But then the busyness of your schedule picks back up and you eventually forget that you even had the pills and you stop taking them. Two weeks go by and you remember “oh yeah! I had those pills… oh well, I feel fine anyways. Wasn’t I supposed to go back for a checkup? It’s okay, I’m busy and I’m pretty sure I’m okay…” and that’s the last time you think about those pills, and the doctor.
Now, let’s go over the same scenario, but a slightly different approach from the doctor. You go to the doctor for a routine checkup and after running some tests he approaches you with a dejected look on his face and asks you to have a seat. He says with a worried tone, “the test results came back, and it doesn’t look good. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. You have a rare blood disease that is killing you slowly. Even though you don’t feel it, I can assure you it is terminal.” He then pulls out the blood test results and shows you the infected blood cells and what they’re doing to your healthy blood cells.
You ask, “Doctor, how serious is it?”
He replies, “It’s extremely serious. It could literally kill you in a couple of weeks”.
Now, let’s pause the story right here for a second. What do you think you would be feeling at this point? Confusion? Fear? Doubt? Worry? Anxiety? Anger? Probably all of the above! It would be an understatement to say that it would more than likely ruin your day. However, how would you feel the moment the doctor continued, “But wait… there is good news. Though your illness is terminal, there is a cure! If you just take two of these pills daily for the next few months, it will completely heal your infected blood cells”? Do you think you would be as careless to take the pills as you would in the first scenario? Absolutely not! You would take those pills faithfully every day and never forget. You wouldn’t skip out on your follow-up appointments. You would cling to that bottle and never let go, because you know your life depends on it.
That is the reason we need to start with the bad news. When you talk about the bad news, it will sound hard. It will ruin people’s day. They may feel angry, confused, doubtful, or any number of other feelings; but you would be just as wicked as the corrupt doctor who made light of the terminal blood disease if you make light of sin and its consequences. Just as black velvet illuminates the splendor of a precious diamond, so it is against the dark black backdrop of man’s depravity and hopeless condition that Christ’s Cross looks all the more glorious.
I don’t like being hard for the sake of being hard. The problem we have in our church culture is that we care more about what people feel than we do about what people need. We want to preach the good news without having to explain why they need it (or at least lightening up the reason why they need it). It’s like telling someone “I have a cure” without letting them know that they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
I just want to be true to the Lord, and true to the text. Therefore I cannot preach the gospel and avoid telling people first about the bad news.