Ron Swanson and the call of the gospel
I love Ron Swanson. For the uninitiated, Ron is a character off the NBC show Parks and Recreation. I do not think there is a funnier character on tv than Swanson. He is a man's man. He loves steak, potatoes and small government - and he cracks me up almost every time. Recently I was watching a funny clip from Swanson and it occurred to me that his quote was eerily similar to something we see in evangelical life far too often. Watch the 30 second clip below and I'll explain what I mean.
"I worry that what you just heard was, 'give me a lot of bacon and eggs'. What I said was, 'give me all the bacon and eggs you have'. Do you understand?"
As I watched this short little clip, I could not help but think that this seems to be the typical "Christian" response to the 'come and die' call of the gospel. Luke 9:23-24 looms large in my mind as I think often about the gospel. Consider the words of Jesus.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."
It would appear that many who respond somehow to the typical gospel message actually hear that call a bit differently than Jesus issued it. I wonder sometimes if, as gospel preachers, we should clarify that call as we preach it to something that is a bit more reminiscent of a Ron Swanson quote. It might be helpful to say to those listening,
"I worry that what you heard was, 'take those bad corners of your life, and die to them'. What Jesus actually said was, 'whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it'."
The call to follow Jesus has been interpreted as a call to follow Jesus by dying to those bad corners of our life - you know, the bad habits, the clear sins, those things we do not really like about ourselves. Thankfully we surely have a few redeeming qualities, so, for God's sake, we need to bring those in to the relationship. Surely Jesus did not mean we have to actually die to the 'good parts' of our life. Those must be safe. In fact, those are important for us to maximize for Jesus, so we will hold on to them.
In doing so, we have created a Christian sub-culture that is decidedly un-Christian, at least in the truly biblical sense. We are materialistic, gossip loving, self-advancing, comfort chasing church goers. We are not self-denying, cross bearing, Jesus chasing Christians. The call of the gospel is a call to die. Simply put, it is a call to die to everything about you. In order to believe Christ and respond in faith to the gospel we must come to the end of ourselves and believe that even the best parts of us are sad, filthy attempts in God's eyes. This was exactly what Isaiah was trying to communicate in Isaiah 64:6.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
This is why we see very little missional living among the church today. We cannot risk for the gospel. Pain might be involved. We cannot sacrifice for the gospel. It would hurt too much. A lack of missional living is ultimately bound up in a flawed view of the gospel. If we did not die to ourselves, all of ourselves, when we responded to the gospel in the first place, how can we expect the church to be full of Christians who will die to themselves every day?
So ultimately, hear this as a plea to rightly understand the gospel. Jesus did not die so that he could save you and make you into, 'the best you, you can be'. Jesus died because even the 'best you' is short of anything righteous and is in desperate need of the gospel.
The best thing I could say to you today is please, give up. Quit. Stop pursuing so incessantly your good stuff. Quit holding on to your things. Die to yourself, trust in Christ, and follow him. If you heard the gospel call as a call to 'die to the bad stuff' in your life, run from that. It is nothing but a false gospel. Die to yourself today, and allow Christ to replace your life, with his.
“I worry that what you heard was, ‘take those bad corners of your life, and die to them’. What Jesus actually said was, ‘whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it’.”