So much of the gospel that I grew up with simply centered around individual decision. The premise is that your whole life revolves around one decision that you make that has infinite implications on whether you will live in heaven with God or burn “below” in hell. Moreover, my understanding of both God and Jesus went like this: God was a cosmic bean counter of all my sins and Jesus came to earth simply to wipe my slate clean and to die a horrible death. Thus my gospel went as so: God could count really high and Jesus said some really odd things and the best thing he ever did was die. All that was asked of me was that I make a decision to let this weird 1st century Jewish guy “into my heart” (what does that even mean?) and I would be okay.
I realize how redundant and overly simplistic that sounds but that is the gospel I grew up knowing. I didn’t think God really cared and I didn’t think that what Jesus said to his followers and other listeners really mattered. It scares me to think that this distortion of the gospel is really what most people think of when they think of God and Jesus.
I don’t mean to downplay the idea that at some point people have to make decisions. Most people usually make a decision to marry someone. However, more than half fail to keep the commitment. Isn’t the commitment what we would really call marriage? Isn’t the wedding merely a ceremony celerating a future that will involve both good and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty? The more I look at salvation, and the more I reflect on my personal journey with God, I realize more and more what St. Paul meant when he said that we are being saved. The gospel I have come to embrace involves a Jesus who challenges me on every level and in every sphere of my life. It is a daily struggle, and I fail so much. But I realize now that God cares and wants to show me what it is to truly die to myself and follow the way of Christ. And yes, this still involves meditating and reflecting on why Jesus died. Jesus did come to save us, to free us, and to pay for the things that we have done. But Jesus didn’t just come to die, and his incarnation involved teaching humans what it meant to be truly human and to live lives serving God and others on a daily basis. This gospel is so much more arduous, demanding, and yet so much more fruitful than I could have ever imagined. Dallas Willard states that most Christians are “vampire Christians”, simply wanting the saving blood of Jesus but wanting nothing of what he had to say to humanity. I hope that this understanding starts to change, and I know that I have had to come a long way into a new understanding of the gospel. Maybe the church has some more deconstruction to do, but only with the promise to try and reconstruct the gospel to its original form.