Belong, Believe, Become (the Journey with Jesus)

Jesus Discourses with His Disciples by Tissot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Several years ago I attended a conference in which a presenter asked this question: "How do we minister to the typically post-modern, post-Christian younger generations?" He went on to note that the typical evangelical presentation of the gospel is not connecting with this cohort---a presentation that goes something like this:    

  1. Behave: change the way you live---repent---act like you belong here 
  2. Believe: change the way you think---have faith---believe like one of us 
  3. Belong: because you have repented and now believe like we do, God forgives you and makes you his child---you are now reconciled/saved---you are now welcome here      
Another presenter suggested that we change the way we present the gospel to follow this pattern:
  1. Belong: you are accepted by God and by us, Jesus has included you in his life by grace---you are loved and accepted unconditionally---you belong
  2. Believe: now believe into (receive) this truth, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ
  3. Become: as you believe and live into this truth, you will, more and more, become who you truly are in Christ---your life will be transformed by grace (by the Spirit) from the inside out
My response at the time to this plea for change was (and still is), “Right on!” I agree we need to invert the typical order of our gospel presentations---not because doing so is effective marketing, but because this inverted order is the actual gospel of God's grace in and through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The apostolic witness to the gospel is about God's amazing grace in and through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit. It focuses on who Jesus truly is, and what he actually has done, already in himself, with us and for us, and thus who we, by grace, truly are. The focus is thus on Jesus, not on our performance, including our belief and behavior. 

This gospel of grace declares that God has reconciled all humanity to himself through Jesus, apart from any effort or merit of our own. It tells us that God embraces all humanity, loving us, forgiving us and accepting us because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done and continues to do as the incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended/glorified God-man---our representative and substitute. 

The stunning truth of this gospel is that in Christ (through his vicarious humanity), all people truly have been included in the love and life of the triune God. In that sense, all already belong. And so the evangelical (gospel) invitation is not, you can belong if..., but you do belong, so now believe that truth, and your behavior will follow---you will, through the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit in your life, become who you, in Jesus Christ, truly are.

The order of the gospel taught by the original apostles and codified by the church fathers in the ancient creeds, is not behave, believe, belong; but belong, believe, become. This is the order and logic of grace (what T.F. Torrance calls "Christo-logic"). This is the gospel of Christ the Redeemer---it truly is good news for everyone---post-modern, post-Christian people included. For additional resources related to this topic click here, here and here.