How can something so simple be so elusive? How can something so clear become so muddled?
I am speaking of the message of the Gospel; the story of the Gospel. My own Worship is Life journey has shifted my perspective in ways that has completely caught me off guard. None so significant and so recent as how we talk about the Gospel; how we interpret, how we approach, and how we present the Gospel.
I have noticed something that I hadn't before. The best way I can currently sum it up is this: in our presentation of the Gospel we are overfocused on the individual. And I totally get it. In the logical progression of things, it makes total sense that it all starts with an individual's relationship with God; a person's forgiveness, salvation, and eternal destination.
Our go to verses for this approach are John 3:16: "For God so love the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 10:9: "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
All true of course, but only part of the story. Because relationship with God ALWAYS translates into relationship with others. Jesus makes this abundantly clear in many places but maybe none so clear as in the account of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22. This wealthy young man comes to Jesus and asks him, "What good thing must I do to get eternal life?" Now there's a question that should get our attention. I am not sure I know anyone who would answer this question the way Jesus does.
Jesus says, "If you want to enter life, keep the commandments." And if that isn't shocking enough, as it sounds like a works-based salvation, when the young man asks "which ones?" Jesus answers by listing the last six of the Ten Commandments. He doesn't even mention the first four commands which are how to do relationship with God. He lists the last six commands which are how to do relationship with others! So Jesus is clearly stating that how we treat others is involved in getting eternal life. Sounds shocking to our ears.
Jesus says virtually the same thing in other passages of Scripture as well. When the Jewish leader asks Jesus about the greatest commandment, Jesus says the second command (love your neighbor as yourself) is like the first (love God with your whole being). In other words, the second command is the same as the first. You cannot separate relationship with God from relationship with others. It's impossible to love God without loving others and to love others unconditionally without the help of God. Jesus also says that "ALL the Law and Prophets hang on these two commands."
Then there is the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. This parable is painting a picture of what we imagine to be Judgment Day. The sheep and the goats are separated based on nothing else except how they treated others, especially strangers. When the Gospel story is presented solely as relationship with God, we are missing half the story!
Worship is not what we do. Worship is who we are. But who we are is manifested through what we do. This is what James is describing in the first part of his letter. Faith refers to relationship with God. Works refers to relationship with others. "Faith without works is dead."
So, here's my question. What would it look like, sound like, and what would the outcome be if, from the very beginning, we presented the Gospel in the context of both relationship with God and others? I wonder how many more people would resonate with, and be drawn to, the Gospel story after hearing that relationship with God also means his help in relationship with others. Worship equals relationship. Relationship is the purpose of life. Worship is Life!