We sinners cannot resist throwing a wet blanket on the gospel flame. Our fear that the gospel is too good, too liberating, too forgiving shakes us to the core. The gospel sets us free from a servile mentality, to live without parental controls, and to enjoy a relationship with our heavenly Father grounded in the faithfulness, lovingkindness of Christ.
Still, many churches, clergy, and laity cannot let the gospel be good news. Sinners cannot simply trust Jesus to be their Savior, to affirm life, and let the relationship stand on that. Instead, we start to ask questions that are catastrophic for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What do I believe?
How much do I believe?
What if I believe the wrong things?
How strong is my faith?
What do I believe in?
The New Testament lays out very clearly and soberly that our relation to Jesus is just that; a relationship based on trust. The relationship with our Savior isn’t based on what we think. It’s based wholly on what he’s done for us in his living, dying, and resurrection. Jesus took away the sin of the world. In the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we were reconciled to God. In the present tense proclamation of the gospel, that reconciliation is delivered to us. Our fearful questions are boldly shut up by the “Amen” of faith.
But, again, we ask, “What if I don’t have enough faith?” Answer: We don’t have enough faith. When it comes to our Lord and Savior being Lord and Savior for us, we don’t believe his death and resurrection is all it’s made out to be. Thankfully, the apostle Paul helps us, by clarifying that “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the Word of God” (Rom 10:17).
Faith comes to us when our ears are opened by God’s Word, Jesus Christ. Jesus creates faith in us through his actions. Questioning whether our faith is enough is the old Adam’s question: “Do I believe in my ability to believe that Jesus is my Savior too?” When we ask questions about our belief, we’ve already made a catastrophic error. If we hold to this line of questioning, it won’t be long before we have mired again in fear of God, dread of sin, fear of this evil world and Satan, and fear of our lack of faith.
But according to Romans and Galatians, the gospel operates by faith alone, apart from how hard we work to believe. Faith isn’t something that needs to be done. It’s something to be enjoyed because faith is a gift bestowed by God’s word through the hearing of the Gospel. Our relationship with our Savior is all gift without any conditions.
Like the laborers in Jesus’ parable (Matt 20:1-16), the reward has nothing to do with what they’ve done, deserved, or earned. Instead, they are given their wages just as we are given faith and all the gifts of salvation. That is, we are justified apart from what we’ve done because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 3-5).
Our fears about the gospel being too good to be true warp the truth about how God chooses to relate to us, and as a consequence, how we relate to each other. We assume the good news of Jesus Christ declares us innocent until proven guilty. But God has gotten rid of the questions about guilt and innocence once for all on the cross. That’s why Paul confesses that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
But won’t people use this as an opportunity to sin? Doesn’t that kind of blanket statement give people the wrong idea about God’s attitude toward sinners? Only if we look to each other for the answer. Just like the question of whether or not we believe enough, questions about whether or not the Gospel sets sinners free to sin leaves us looking at other old Adam sinners for answers.
Do I have enough faith? Wrong question.
Do I sin too much? Wrong question.
Do I fear the wrong things? Wrong question.
Do I have enough Jesus? Right answer.
Nowhere in the New Testament are we told Jesus died and was resurrected so that we could live in servile fear to things that are not the gospel, not true faith, and most certainly not Jesus. As Jesus said, “I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47). We are not directed by the Gospel writers to look to each other for answers to our faith questions. We are decisively pointed to God’s irrevocable grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. God’s Word is intimately and immediately with us from the beginning of creation into eternity who holds us all in his loving, forgiving hands.