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Why is the Gospel Offensive?

When you read the last blog post, I bet you were imagining a different direction for this one. You were probably thinking about hell, the suffering of innocent people, or the creation account being difficult. I won’t deny those all have their weight, but I’d like to start with the gospel itself.

We read a number of times in the Bible that the gospel, God’s “good message” about Jesus, is offensive.

“[…] we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”

1 Corinthians 1:23

To some of us, the gospel is foolishness, and others of us stumble over it. But to all of us, it is offensive. The gospel’s offensiveness is something we read in scripture, and it’s talked about in sermons. But I think most of us offload this idea to other people, to the “lost” perhaps.

The thing is, the gospel isn’t just offensive to the lost. It’s offensive to human nature, something that still haunts us even after we’re saved. It is to our detriment that we forget how the gospel can be difficult to our natural sensibilities. Often, when we stop being offended by the gospel, it’s because we’ve stopped truly understanding and applying it.

When we no longer find the gospel offensive, it’s because there are areas in our lives we consider off limits for gospel change.

The gospel is beautiful. But before it is beautiful, it is offensive. In fact, before the gospel can be beautiful, its offense must do its work. Let’s dig into what that means. What we’ll find is something you probably already know: the primary reason the gospel is offensive is because our hearts and minds are centered on ourselves.

I don’t deserve punishment in the first place

For many of us, we struggle with self-effacement already. The idea that we deserve punishment just feels like piling more onto the pile, and it leads us into despair.

For others of us, we pride ourselves in our accomplishments here on Earth, and we consider ourselves reasonably adjusted, functional members of society. Surely I haven’t done anything worthy of any significant punishment. I haven’t done anything that bad.

Both of these responses are rooted in pride. The first response is centered on self, seeking to find a way out through pity. The second response is centered on self, seeking to find a way out through superiority. They’re both seeking escape from the same idea. They just do it in different ways.

I’m not helpless, and I don’t need saving

Along the same lines, we Americans love to consider ourselves self-sufficient, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” people. Aside from the physics of that idea being confusing, the idea of being helpless is abhorrent to us, just as the idea of needing saving is.

God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:4

Dead people don’t contribute to their salvation, and they don’t pull on bootstraps. Scripture is clear that God saves us by grace, period. There are no qualifications to that statement. We owe everything to Him. We get the credit for absolutely none of it.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

What’s the first thing you do, though, when you find yourself knee-deep in sinful actions? It’s probably the same thing I do: self-atone, plan, scramble, self-punish. We think of things we can do to prove how sorry we are. We consider ourselves too dirty to even speak to God.

Why do we do this, though? It’s not because of the gospel. It’s because the idea of another person’s work saving us rather than our own offends us. We think, “I should be in charge of my own justice. I should atone for my own sins.” We are so offended by relying entirely on another person’s work that we temporarily reject God’s grace solely so that we can feel like we’re in charge again. In those moments, we literally prefer hell over dependence.

The offensive truth of the gospel is that you could’ve just committed that flagrant sinful action – you could’ve JUST done it – and you can then immediately enter God’s presence and enjoy His approval of you. Immediately. With no self-punishment. With no perfectly laid out plans of action. Right that moment.

That sounds unsafe, though, doesn’t it? It sounds like it’s just far too easy to abuse that grace. The thing is, though, this isn’t an inactive grace you’re enjoying. It isn’t an impotent grace. The grace you enjoy is a grace that changes you as you enjoy it. Your admission ticket to God’s full presence is Jesus’s sacrifice on your behalf, not anything you can do. Your admission ticket is simply your desire to be near to Him.

God’s reputation can’t matter more than mine does

Probably the biggest part of the gospel is that God’s reputation matters more than yours. You just read that God’s grace is a gift…but why? It’s a gift so that nobody has room to brag (Ephesians 2:9). Why? Because God’s reputation is the most important thing in the universe.

That might strike you as odd, but all you have to do is search the phrases “you may know”, “they may know” and other similar phrases in the ESV version of the Bible. It’ll open your eyes to the fact that this is the biggest theme in your Bible. God being known is the best thing that could happen for all of us. He’s that good. He’s that worthy. If you boast, you inevitably seek to block Him from being known.

We inherently want to be the main character. We want to be the ones being known. We want credit. The gospel’s offensive message is that our greatest pleasure, our greatest rest, comes from seeing God as He truly is, not from being known for who we are.

A beautiful offense

The gospel is so beautiful. No matter what you’ve done, you are perfect for grace. Grace comes in full light of our sinful hearts. In fact, it comes in spite of our constantly wayward desires. You cannot outrun it. You cannot out-sin it. You cannot undo it. You cannot outlive it. God’s approval and affection for you can pierce any amount of messiness and chaos. Nothing can stand against God’s grace.

But before the gospel is beautiful, it has to be offensive. The gospel is for the weak, not the strong. It is for the sick, not the healthy. It is for the foolish, not the wise. It is for the marginalized, not the accepted. It is for the needy, not the self-sufficient. It is for the inferior, not the superior. It is for the servant, not the master. It is for the dependent, not those in control.

These things weren’t just true when you were saved. They’re true now. They’re true today.

The gospel is perfect for you! But first you need to see yourself for who you really are, and that is not easy. Our nature is to believe ourselves to be better than we really are. Self-defense is our default. To have Jesus as your defense, you first have to stop defending yourself. To have God’s approval, you have to stop seeking it from the people around you. These things aren’t easy.

I also what to emphasize that the gospel is offensive in your everyday life. When you want to turn to entertainment for comfort, when you want to turn to substances or food for escape, when you want to turn to another person’s body for value – when you want to do these things, the gospel is offensive.

But on the other side of that offense is beauty, pleasure, and rest greater than your mind can fathom.

Posted by Matt Norman with
in MIsc

Unexpected Grace Through Difficult Words

Unexpected Grace Through Difficult Words

It’s Not What I Expected

I’ve often had it said to me, “Reading a Psalm will cheer you up.” I get what others mean when they say this. The Psalms are emotional and candid. The thing is, the Psalms also have a fair amount of stuff that’s difficult to digest as well. The cynical side of me wonders, “Is something wrong with me? Am I reading a different Bible?”

If you’re like me, when you don’t gloss past the difficult stuff, you probably find God’s words to be, well, difficult. I don’t mean difficult to understand. I mean difficult to accept, difficult to process.

The imagery in Psalm 46 is so beautiful to me. Even though the very ground beneath my feet fails to support me, even though mountains are cast into the sea and tsunamis threaten to drown me in churning whirlpools of debris the size of Manhattan – even then I will not fear because God is with me. But how does the Psalm end?

Come and see the glorious works of the Lord: See how he brings destruction upon the world.

Psalm 46:8

OK … What?!

Here I am soaking in the beauty of this image of God’s faithfulness securing me in the most insecure circumstances imaginable, and the very next verse speaks of Him bringing destruction.  

My heart begins to wonder whether God is trustworthy or not. Cracks form in my trust, cracks that leak, cracks where water freezes and widens, cracks that threaten to become gaping holes in the future when I will need my trust to be a secure refuge more than ever.

While there is a pretty straightforward discussion of what this verse means in its context, I’ll save it for another post. It’s the heart’s knee-jerk reaction and our subsequent hiding that I want to highlight right now.

Skipping the Hard Stuff

Let’s continue to use Psalm 46 as an example. One of the most quoted verses in the Bible is “Be still and know that I am God.” You know you’ve heard it. You know you’ve seen it above fireplace mantles in frames with lots of decoration. But in context, God is actually saying, “Put your weapons down! Stop warring against me to make your name known instead of mine! I will utterly crush that rebellion because My name brings rescue, not yours!”

I don’t think that would look very pretty in a frame, though.

Should we be quiet and contemplative? Absolutely, and frequently at that. But I think that Exodus 14:13-14 might be a better platform for that idea. We pluck verses out of the Psalms in particular while pretending none of difficult-to-digest verses around them exist. (I’m not judging you for this. I do it too.)

It’s human nature to gloss over these passages. We all do it. Since it’s human nature to gloss over these things, it’s also human nature not to discuss them with each other. It’s human nature to kind of pretend they aren’t there. We recite the pleasant parts to one another. We memorize the easy parts with flash cards. But the challenging aspects? Those we surreptitiously stay clear of.

I’m concerned about this. If you’re anything like me, while we would never explicitly say this, this is an act of hiding. We fear addressing those scriptures might lead us to distrust God. But if there’s an area we are afraid to broach with God, then we already distrust Him.

Difficult doesn’t mean bad

Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s bad. Difficult things are good because there is a wise, loving, and powerful God near to you at all times who has already proven there is no difficulty He cannot turn into good. He led Israel into a wilderness with no food, water, or shelter? That’s difficulty we will never know. But it was not bad. God did it to fix their eyes on the fact that He always provides no matter what. That level of trust is a pleasure worth more than anything this world can provide.

Difficult is not bad. Whether it’s difficulty in life, mission, family, career, or scripture, we never need to run from it. Life doesn’t need escaping, ever. If God is truly who the Bible says He is, if He truly has power over all things, wisdom that cannot be measured, and a heart full of perfect compassion, mercy, and justice, then no level of difficulty can be beyond Him. No sea can be too tumultuous for Him to settle. No earthquake can be too violent for Him to calm.

Trust God more

It’s time to step out onto the waters of scriptures we’ve hidden from in the past. It’s time to trust God more.

This series of blog posts will help you look into the areas you dare not look at. They will help you process what you fear to process. They will help you feel free to come to God with your honest reactions to scripture, not the holy looking façade you and I hide behind so instinctively.

Did you know that God already assumes your heart is evil when you come to Him? Did you know that He already assumes you need to be cleaned? Did you know Jesus’s sacrifice is always enough to clean you fully each time you come to God? Did you know He gladly invites you in no matter where your heart is at? Read Hebrews 10:19-22, and think about what it means for your approach to God.

Now, keep reading. Verse 26 has scared more Christians into fearing they’re not saved than probably any other verse in the Bible. Isn’t it funny how the Bible juxtaposes one of the most encouraging verses with one of the most fearful? We’ll get there, don’t worry. If you’re curious, check out: How do I Know If I’m Saved.

It’s difficult, yes. But it’s not bad! Working through these difficult places will only increase your faith. Hiding from them will only harm your faith.

Trust that’s afraid to trust in certain areas is a trust you cannot rely on when life becomes unbearable. If you’re a believer, I promise life will be this way at times. We live in times right now where our hearts need a deeper trust more than ever.

Posted by Matt Norman with

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