If the devil took over a church, what would it look like? Deacons smoking pot while watching Sunday School students play on a Ouija board? Pole dancers atop the altar? An autographed, leather embossed copy of the Satanic Bible open in the pulpit?
I doubt it. The devil masquerades as an angel of light, not a buffoon of darkness.
No, if the devil took over a church, I suspect it would be bursting at the seams every Sunday, with smiling faces, clean noses, straight morals, conservative voting, institutional fidelity—simply a thriving, happy community of people who hear from the pulpit every Sunday a message pregnant with law but barren of Gospel.
The Gospel Has Nothing to Do with Us
The devil isn’t afraid of the law. Or morality. The most moral, religious, spiritually serious people in Jerusalem were those who arranged the killing of the Messiah, after all. The devil is afraid of the Gospel.
And, truth be told, so are we.
Why be afraid of the Good News? There are many reasons, but beneath them all is this one: the Gospel has nothing to do with us.
It has nothing to do with whether we drink water or whiskey, watch “I Love Lucy” or porn, read the Bible or the Quran. The Gospel has zero to do with how much we weigh on the Sin Scale. We’re all obese with evil in one form or another. Fat with self-obsession, self-absorption, self-over-everyone-else. Egotism is the religion of us all. Apart from the Gospel, we can all just shut up with our sin comparisons because we’re all in the same sinking ship of condemnation. And no one’s swimming free of it. Not even Michael Phelps.
Because the Gospel has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with Jesus, we are left at His mercy. We have no control over our destiny. We can’t repent or confess or improve our way out of the sinking ship. We can’t exorcise Mr. Hyde from Dr. Jekyll. We can’t by our own reason or strength, moral effort or mystical experience, believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.
All we have is His love. All we have is His mercy. All we have is a Gospel that has nothing to do with us.
It’s so frightening that many even in the church suffer from Gospel phobia. The fear sounds like,
You’re forgiven but…
Jesus will save you if…
The Gospel is for those who…
Make sure to conclude your sermons with something that tells people what to do…
We’re afraid of letting sinners off scot-free. So we release them (“You’re absolved”), but keep an ankle monitor on them (“Don’t do it again, or else”).
The phobia can become so acute that even when a person suggests that the goal of preaching is to comfort the congregation, it triggers a backlash of admonitions that the law must be preached, too. Well, duh. Of course it must. The Gospel hardly makes sense without first the law’s exposure of the bad news that we’re all on that sinking ship. But that in no way negates that the goal of preaching is not to make bad people good, or immoral people moral, but to declare sinners righteous because of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus.
Gospel phobia hears any talk of Christ-centered, grace-rich, justification-proclaiming news as borderline suspicious or possibly antinomian. One wonders how Paul escapes such criticisms when he “determined to know nothing among [the Corinthian] except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” (1 Cor 2:2).
The Cure for Gospel Phobia
There is one and only one cure for Gospel phobia: the Gospel.
The Gospel that proclaims that we are, like it or not, let off scot-free. The attachment of ankle monitors is not part of the post-baptismal rite. You’re washed. You’re forgiven. You’re free. No law condemns you. No celestial finger is wagging at you. You walk in the liberation of the Spirit, Who lives in you, is active in you, and works relentlessly to mute the voices of guilt that still growl inside you.
The absolution is absolute.
Forgiveness is final.
God doesn’t keep score.
It really is finished.
The Good News has nothing to do with us, but everything of the Gospel is given to us. We are like beggars on the street corner. Jesus pulls us and drops a million dollars in our outstretched hands. Just like that. Not because we’re excellent panhandlers but because he’s got the money and wants to give it away to those who would never have it otherwise.
All we have is His love. And that’s all we need. Because His love is who He is. When we have Him, we have everything. We have the church. We have peace. We have adoption into the family of God. This Good News changes everything. It even calms our phobias. It says, “Fear not. Simply believe. I’m Jesus and I know what I’m doing.”