The Gospel and our Relationship with God
by Miles McKee
“But we preach Christ crucified” 1 Cor 1:23
It was a beautiful sunny springtime morning in Las Vegas. The surrounding desert mountains were glowing with their distinctive splash of southwestern colors. I was driving my car, at peace with man and God, listening to Christian radio. The subject under discussion was missions and evangelism. The man being interviewed, it seems, ran some kind of program where they took summer missionaries to Europe and other parts of the planet. He said, “If there are any high school kids listening who want to go as Summer Missionaries to Europe and tell the folks over there about your relationship with God then contact us at this address.” I was shocked! I don’t wear false teeth but if I did they would have dropped out of my mouth! The scripture instantly came to my mind, “Go ye into all the world and tell them about your relationship with God”! You know that one don’t you? I think it’s from the Book of Hezekiah! But before my blood pressure could calm itself they then interviewed some kid, Bret (name changed to protect the guilty), who had made the trip the previous year. Bret, filled with the ‘Joie de vivre’, assured us that the high point of his life was to have been able to travel overseas and tell the folks in distant lands about how they could have a new relationship with God. What a distinct blessing it was, he confided, to have had his life transformed since he had asked Jesus into his heart and having the privilege of telling folks overseas about it.
Let’s fast forward! It’s now a few months later and I’m sitting on an airplane in Nashville TN. We are waiting to take off but somehow there is a delay. A teenage girl who was 17 or 18 has taken the seat beside me. Having exchanged civilities, she asked, “What kind of an accent do you have? Is it Scottish”? I explained it was actually an Irish accent. “O cool” she said, “I’ve been in Scotland but I never made it to Ireland.”
“What were you doing in Scotland?”
“I was there with my Church. My dad’s a pastor and we were there on a missions trip.”
“So are you a Christian?”
“Oh yes, very much so!”
“That’s really interesting. May I ask you a question?”
“In the Christian religion, how do people get to Heaven.”
“You get to Heaven by having a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
“Does it say that in the Bible?”
“Oh yes that’s what the Bible says.”
“That’s great! Where does it say that?”
There was a long pause after which she produced a Bible from her bag and began flicking through the pages. She looked puzzled.
“I’m not sure where it says it but it’s in here all the same.”
Then quick as a flash she opened her purse again, took out her cell phone and called her Mum.
“Mum. I’m on the plane, it’s been delayed and a gentleman beside me is asking where in the Bible it talks about going to Heaven because we have a relationship with God.”
She began furiously taking notes, then hung up.
“That was my mum, she told me to show you John 3:16.”
“What does that say?”
“It says, that God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
“That’s a great scripture! But I don’t see anything in there about having a relationship with God giving you eternal life.”
“Mmmmh! I suppose it doesn’t actually say that.”
She looked at her notes. “Well then, there is Acts 16:31, “Believe on the lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”
“That’s another wonderful scripture but where does it say, in that verse, that having a relationship with God takes you to Heaven?”
By this stage she was puzzled. I could have gone on with the game but didn’t. I then took out my Bible and for the next hour or so taught her some Gospel Truth.
But isn’t it right to have a relationship with God? Yes indeed! We, in fact, have the Spirit of adoption causing us to relate so closely with the Father that we can call Him Dad (Rom 8:15). But our relationship with God can never be seen as the ground and foundation of our acceptance with God. Our relationship comes as a result of having been put right with God through Jesus Christ. Let’s face it, if we are honest, we will have to admit that our relationship with God, experientially, is often fractured and punctured because of failures on our part. Our relationship with God should therefore not be compared to or confused with the perfect work of God in Christ. Our relationship with God is not the Gospel, it is a fruit of the Gospel! Since it is not the Gospel it is not therefore the power of God unto salvation. So why go and preach about our flawed and inferior relationship with the Father when we could tell people about Christ and His perfect relationship with the Father on our behalf?
I cringe when I think of all the resources wasted sending kids overseas to tell people about their relationship with God. By all means’ have summer missionaries ----it’s a wonderful idea---but in the name of all that’s good, teach them the Gospel before you unleash them on an unsuspecting public. The sad thing is that many of the listeners in the foreign lands, who having not heard the gospel before the arrival of the summer missionaries, will still not have heard it by the time the summer missionaries leave….even after having talked and listened to them for hours.
But isn’t a relationship with the Lord important?
Of course it is, but our relationship with the Lord flows out of the Gospel and is a result of the Gospel. One of the great benefits of the gospel is reconciliation between God and us (see God’s Really Big Words Made Simple Vol. 3 of the Gospel Truth Trilogy). Out of reconciliation flows relationship but there’s little point in stressing relationship before we stress the need for reconciliation. When our kids go on summer missions the people in Scotland, Ireland and everywhere else need to hear from them that all men have sinned and as a result are separated from God. Because of sin, man’s character is wrecked beyond repair. Even in his best moments, he falls terribly short of the glory of God. The reality is man’s sin is the cause of the stress, mess, depression, confusion, crime, envy, corruption and greed in the world. This is fundamentally bad news. But, the good news is, God in His mercy, grace and righteousness came here Himself, became one of us and bore the penalty for our sin in His own body on the cross.
The folks overseas need to hear that Christ Jesus has reconciled His people unto God at the cross by shedding His own blood. They need to know, the Lord Jesus Christ, shed His precious blood in a perfect sacrifice for sin and took that blood into the presence of God; now everything is settled between the sinner and God. Furthermore, they need to know that everything is settled, not because of our belief in the blood, but settled by the blood itself which God esteems so highly. The summer missionaries need to declare that, without adding anything to the blood of Jesus, God can righteously forgive all sin and accept the sinner as perfectly righteous in Christ.
The good news is the believer's personal sins and guilt are now paid for by Christ Jesus. All charges against us are dropped and we now have fellowship and relationship with our heavenly Father. And what a relationship it is! As a result of the Gospel, the believer is united inseparably to Christ Himself. Luther, in his famous treatise on the liberty of a Christian, says,
“The third incomparable grace of faith is this: that it unites the soul to Christ, as the wife to the husband, by which mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul are made one flesh. Now if they are one flesh, and if a true marriage--nay, by far the most perfect of all marriages--is accomplished between them (for human marriages are but feeble types of this one great marriage), then it follows that all they have becomes theirs in common, as well good things as evil things; so that whatsoever Christ possesses, that the believing soul may take to itself and boast of as its own, and whatever belongs to the soul, that Christ claims as His.
(Martin Luther: Concerning Christian Liberty: Paragraph 27)
But remember, that kind of relationship is the result of the Gospel and not the Gospel itself.
The cross is the greatest trading post in the world! This is the kind of thing the summer missionaries need to boldly declare. There, at the cross, we exchange our unrighteousness for His righteousness; our condemnation for His acceptance; our unworthiness for His worthiness; our inability for His ability. All that was us, now belongs to Him and all that is Him, now belongs to us. Christ Jesus, the eternal God, became a man and as a man neither sinned nor was conquered, but took the sins of His people and made them His own. He was treated as though the sins of His people, in reality, had been committed by Him; in grace He took responsibility for them and thus these sins are all done away with in Him. Our sins were no match for His perfections and holiness and now, because of Christ shedding His blood for them, we can no longer find them! He has cast them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). There is no remembrance of them (Jer 31:34, Heb 10:17). They are gone forever.
When we receive Christ as our Saviour, His righteousness becomes ours. It is imputed to us: This righteousness is not infused into us but, rather, is a quality found outside of us in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. George Whitefield, the great 18th century preacher who brought awakening to both America and Great Britain used to ask his listeners,
“Is Christ your righteousness?”
This is the great question we should ask our listeners! He would further ask,
“Have you come to the place where you see your need of Christ's righteousness? Have you ever hungered and thirst after His righteousness? Have you ever said, I want Christ with all my being, I want the righteousness of Christ for my own?”
Ministry like this from our summer missionaries would bring a huge harvest for the cause of Christ!
At the cross we were reconciled, redeemed and put into a new relationship with God. The outworking of this reconciliation is friendship with God. That may sound strange to you but let me ask you a question. Are you Christ’s friend? Do you really relate to Him as a friend? Is there a desire to talk to Him in the same way Abraham talked to Him? Would God discuss things with you because you are His friend? I’m not talking about Him being our friend. There’s no question that He’s our friend. After all, He’s the friend of sinners and that qualifies us all as candidates for His friendship. As the old Hymn says,
“Thou art the sinner’s friend
So I thy friendship claim
A sinner saved by Grace
When Thy sweet message came”
But the big question is, are we friends to Jesus. Of course we know He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, (Prov. 18:24). He’s an unfailing loyal friend who always keeps His word. But Jesus says to his disciples in Jn 15:14,
“You are my friends if you do whatsoever things I command you.”
One of the things He has told us to do is to go and preach the Gospel. He hasn’t ever commanded us to go and tell people about ourselves and how wonderful our life is. If we really want a relationship of friendship with Him we should want to get His message straight.
The astonishing thing is that Jesus wants friends! There are several elements to friendship not the least important of which is truth. In every friendship there has to be truth. Jesus always spoke the truth to us. His word is truth as He is the Truth. By the way, have you noticed that in human friendships there is often an element of hypocrisy? “What a beautiful baby” we say when in reality we think the poor child looks like a monkey. But hey, most of us are like that! And it’s understandable. We don’t like to hurt.
But Jesus is brutally honest with us. He tells us there is no saving quality within us. He tells us we are unrighteous. He tells us we are lost and our whole head is sick. It’s not very flattering is it? He presents Himself to us as our only hope. He tells us that we should come to Him and exclusively believe on Him. If ever we are to become His friends we must not only believe on Him but also believe Him. You can disagree with Him if you like but, if you do, you are not His friend. You may be a friend to the church but you’re not His friend. Just try getting on your knees and say to Him, “I am your friend but, just by the way Jesus, you told us lies for I really am not so bad and neither are the others to whom I plan to witness.” You know that one won’t fly!
Not only do we need to believe His truth about ourselves, we need to believe the truth about Him. This is vital for our Gospel message! Jesus was born of a virgin. There are scalawags out there who say they are Christians but then say with great swelling pompous voice, “Oh I don’t believe all that nonsense about the virgin birth.” Well, if you are in that camp, you’ve every right to be …but don’t call yourself a friend of Jesus. Just try this ---- again try getting on your knees and telling Him His Mother was an immoral woman and He is a bastard! Well don’t get upset at me! That’s what you are saying! He is a bastard, in your estimation, if you don’t hold to the truth of the virgin birth.
So are you Christ’s friend? Then believe the truth as He tells it! Believe what He says about you and about Him. And above all else, tell the truth about Him when you preach the Gospel. Tell of how he was despised and rejected and hung on a cross as a despicable thing. Tell of how men scoffed and hissed at him and tell them that it was our sin which placed him there on the cross. Don’t hold back the truth! You can’t do such a thing if you are His friend and in relationship with him! And whatever you do, don’t go telling people about your relationship with God and think that by doing so you have faithfully preached the Gospel.
May we send more summer missionaries than ever before; as Rom. 10:13-15 says,
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”
The Gospel is the message of the good things God has done for us in Christ, in history, outside and apart from us. A man who tells others that they can have a relationship with God is telling the truth but he has not preached the Gospel.
The unsaved need to hear the Gospel and not about our relationship with God and about how good it has made us feel…..and that’s the Gospel Truth!