A candid conversation with the apostle Paul about sharing the gospel, part 1.
By Michael Morrison, GCS President
“Paul, I have a question. You teach that Jesus died for everyone; he experienced the results of sin that they deserved, but he didn’t deserve those results, so everyone could be rescued from death. That’s really good news for everyone. You are traveling land and sea to tell people the good news that they’ve all been reconciled to God by the death of Christ.”
“Yes, that’s right. So, what’s your question?”
“Well, their sins are forgiven. If they die tomorrow and get taken to the judgment seat of Christ, they are going to find out that God is not counting their sins against them. That’s good news for them if they die. So why are you risking life and limb to tell them the good news in this life? Won’t they learn the good news anyway?”
“OK, I see you have part of the picture. In fact, you have seen parts that many people don’t. In my mellow moments I say that’s a good question, so be thankful I’m mellow right now. I know you are not challenging me but wanting to learn.
“Maybe we could start by asking an important question: What’s wrong with sin and unbelief? Why is God so hot and bothered about sin? He created people because he wanted them to live, right? So why doesn’t he just wink and laugh and just let them live?
“Here are a couple of reasons that God doesn’t like sin. First, sin hurts the people he loves. Sin is not just a random list, like a land mind buried in the field, if you happen to walk this way rather than that, then you get blown up. No, sin is something that hurts people, and God tells us what is sin because we aren’t able to figure that out on our own – if he let people define sin, everyone would come up with their own definitions, and those definitions would be slanted toward their own benefit, and people would get hurt. That’s basically what most societies do.
“So, sin hurts people, and I want people to stop hurting each other. In my sermons and letters, I give them a few basic rules of conduct, and some basic principles by which they might figure out some others. I want people to love one another and telling them to avoid sin is really a way to give them some practical instructions on how to love one another. Do this, avoid that.
“Another thing that’s wrong with sin is that it disses God. He’s the Creator, and he’s been around a long time, and he knows what works best, and he’s told us what that is, and then people go off and ignore him and do their own thing. That shows disrespect, even hostility, to the God I love.
“Now, maybe that bothers me more than it does God, but I think that God has good reasons to be bothered by it, too – not for his own benefit, really, because he doesn’t get any ‘benefit’ from us anyway, except that he enjoys our love. God is bothered by disrespect because it’s a barrier to people learning how to love one another. They are refusing to listen to good advice, refusing to follow the instructions; their stubbornness is just another manifestation of selfishness.
“So, it just boils down to sin management? You travel land and sea to tell people to stop sinning? And this story about Christ being crucified – that’s just an emotional story designed to get people to stop sinning?”
“A little bit yes, but mostly no. The main goal of it all is love. God is love, and he wants to share that love with us. He loves us, and he wants us to love one another. That’s the plan, and that little word ‘sin’ is an umbrella word that covers everything that’s not according to the plan. God’s plan is love, and he wants it to succeed, and his opposition to sin is just another way of saying that he wants to eliminate all obstacles to love.
“Love can’t really be defined as a set of behaviors. You folks in the 21st century can program robots to do certain behaviors, but love means more than that – it’s an attitude of wanting to honor, respect, and help other people. That attitude may be expressed in different ways at different times, and that can’t be spelled out in a manual or computer program. However, there are certain behaviors that are always problematic, and God does want people to stop doing those. That’s a minimum; it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not the whole program.
“If you’ve got two armies fighting one another and you want them to love one another, it won’t do much good to go into the battle with a slogan of ‘make love not war.’ No, the first thing you want them to do is stop shooting at one another. That’s a minimum, just to get them started on the right path to reconciliation and love. When we tell people to avoid certain behaviors (many people call them sins, but I prefer to use that word for the general principle behind it all), we are telling them to stop shooting. After the smoke clears, then we can start on the next step, the bigger step, the real goal.
“Is Christ crucified just an emotional story designed to get our attention? No. It is an emotional story, and it does get our attention, but that’s not the main purpose. The main purpose is that it actually does something about our sin and guilt, and this is difficult to describe because it deals with invisible realities – you might call it metaphysics.
“‘Sin’ is not just a particular behavior, but a spiritual reality. It’s a disruption, a distortion in the relationship we have with God. It’s static in the line – static so bad that we can’t hear what God is saying. But this static doesn’t just happen to us – people do it on purpose because they really don’t want to listen. Sometimes the static happens to us through no fault of our own, but all of us also participate in that static, because sin has already distorted the way we think, and our natural tendency is to think of ourselves first, rather than to love others, rather than to be like God in the way that we are supposed to be.
“We have failed, we have resisted God’s work in our lives, and that’s wrong. We are guilty of doing something wrong, of setting our thoughts on something that isn’t God. Our minds are so distorted that we don’t love the best and most glorious being in the universe. This is sad, even an outrage – we don’t even want what God is offering. We don’t deserve to get it.
“It’s like we are pottery that is broken beyond repair. Most people would think it’s easier to throw the scraps away and start all over, but in his death, Christ redeemed us. He went to the scrap heap and picked up the pieces. Sure, it might be easier to start over with a new batch of clay, but Christ demonstrates his love for us by saving us, repairing us, and he did it through his death on the cross.
“There is some metaphysical, spiritual, invisible logic there, that the Creator could represent us all and be thrown away like so much junk, and then be brought back from the scrap heap, not just as a representative, but as one who somehow includes all the pottery he has made. The potter became a pot, was smashed into tiny pieces, and was put back together again – not just with some superglue, but by going into the fire hot enough to fuse those pieces back together again, better than before.
“So, Christ crucified is not just a story – it’s the engine that drives the whole thing. That was the key step in the plan, that made it possible for the rest of it to proceed, for the Holy Spirit to begin melding our pieces back together again, to get us toward wholeness, to move us into the plan that God had all along.”
“Jesus was and is the plan. He’s the one who puts each one of us back together. But there is a caveat. For his work to be effective, desire is needed. Next time, let’s talk about the importance of the pottery desiring to be put back together.”
 Sometimes the distinctive voice of Paul can be seen, but for the most part, Paul speaks in a manner that is closer to my own; he puts it in language I can understand.