Acts 22:21-22 gives us a picture of the offense of the gospel:
21 And he [Jesus] said to me [Paul], ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ aims to obliterate our self-righteousness. Too often, religious people like to think of their religious club like members of an exclusive country club. That thinking finds its root in a false, self-centered perspective that runs something like this: “I am so glad that God saw me and chose me for His work. It is so good to not be like the rest of the world. I just can’t imagine living like that! Those people are so deluded and dirty and unfit.” Kind of like the Pharisee and the tax collector.
And then someone comes along and says, “You’re dead wrong. The gospel is for everyone.”
The gall of such a statement!
We find offense in it because it means that we are on the same level of the very people to whom we thought ourselves superior. This reality ignited the indignation of Paul’s audience. They got it. They understood that Paul claimed they needed the same thing the Gentiles needed. All of the sudden their nice, exclusive country club existence was shattered. The off-scouring of society was now included with them. And God commissioned one of their “own” to go and tell the filthy heathens.
Only when the gospel touches the nerve of self-righteousness can we say that it has been effectively proclaimed. Far too often we content ourselves with presenting Christ as someone a bit agitated, just waiting for you to accept Him, hoping that you will. We assure people that God is “for them” and weakly smile at their statements claiming to “not be so bad a person” and “doing their best.” The fact is, everyone is a very bad person – a rebel against God. The only thing we “do our best” at is salving our conscience with a few things to keep us from feeling too guilty. This is what the money-making machines of false religion rest on. Giving money and doing good things buttresses the lie that “at least I’m doing something for God.”
Instead, such religion only heaps guilt upon guilt. And when that becomes clear from the mouth of God, a reaction takes place.
Great sorrow unto repentance.
Or, great rage unto destruction.
The savor of life unto life. Or the savor of death unto death.
In order to proclaim the gospel in such a manner that the self-righteous nerve center is attacked, those proclaiming the gospel must be confronted with the same realities. Not until we truly understand that we are the chief sinner and that Christ had to shed His life-blood for our wickedness will we be equipped to tell others. Any residue of self-righteousness in our souls must give way to the humbling sacrifice of Christ’s cross death. For me.
You will find in the coming days that true gospel proclamation will yield Acts-like results. Either broken embracing of Christ or bitter enragement against Him (and you). People will say you are not fit to live if you hold to such bigotry.
Have we come to grips with how much we need Christ? Are we willing to cling to Him when people are ready to put us to death? Do we love those people enough to tell them the truth, even if it means their intense opposition? Sugar coating the gospel with unbiblical, egocentric philosophy is like childrearing without saying “no” and biblical consistency. Both end in disaster. True love says the hard words and does the hard thing. Failure to do so shows we love ourselves more than those we claim to love – including Christ.
We need to grapple with the words in red. Christ never left His hearers with the option to stay where they were. And the followers of Christ must do the same with Christ-like forthrightness, Christ-like compassion, and Christ-like willingness to suffer.