What’s your reaction upon hearing this oft-repeated evangelical slogan:
“God so loved the world (that) he gave his only begotten son. What are you willing to give?”
A response likely depends on whether you’re a Christian or non-Christian, as written last week. For Christians, you might know that it doesn’t really mean you’re supposed to “match” Jesus’ gift with your own. That would be horribly insulting to Him, and useless besides. Instead, we do good works out of gratitude to Him.
But do Christians always think that way? I know I don’t. Instead I too often feel guilt for not doing as many “good works” as I should, not because I haven’t been loving and honoring God enough, but because I think that I should Be Better Than That.
So if a Christian can still drift into that way of thinking, imagine a nonbeliever’s reaction to any vague-at-best phrase that goes like “Jesus gave it all for you, now what will you give to Him?”
A nonbeliever could take it lightly as just another work-harder religion, or worse, try to follow it.
So what might be more-Biblical ways to tell about Jesus’ gift and call others to action?
What’s the Word?
How did the first Christians say people should respond to the Gospel of Christ’s death for sins?1.
Now when [the crowd of people in town for Pentecost] heard [Peter’s sermon about Christ’s prophesied sacrifice] they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. …”
Acts 2: 37-38
“Repent and be baptized.” Confess your sins; turn from them. Be saved and confirm it publicly.
[Not long after, from Peter’s and John’s sermon] “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus …”
Acts 4: 18-20
Very similar: repent from your sins, turn from them, and God will send Jesus to you.
Acts 8: 26-40 skims over some details, but shows the apostle Phillip stressing another part of the Gospel for an Ethiopian eunuch2: the fact that a passage from Isaiah was prophesying Jesus’ death.
In Acts 10: 34-43, Peter is at it again, giving a quickly summarized presentation of the Gospel. His audience is Gentiles who already believe in the God of the Jews, and maybe that’s why Peter hits harder on the same this-was-foretold-by-the-prophets angle (verse 43).
At the end of Acts 17, the apostle Paul barely talked about Jesus at all — at least that we read. He may have talked more about Him later, but his main point to the Greeks: repent (verse 30).
For those whom the apostles expected to know about God’s Law, or the pagan Greeks who don’t even know about God period, the apostles didn’t say anything like Jesus gave it all for you, so what will you give for him? That’s not a clear Gospel message. It’s also confusing. To a non-Christian, it will only reinforce a “default” religion of trying to sacrifice to impress God.
Yes, believers are meant to give their lives to Christ and do good. True religion, John and James separately say in many ways, is carried out in love for God, each other, and good works.
But even that is not really a sacrifice. All believers’ good works are ultimately God’s work in them (Philippians 2:12). The explorer/missionary David Livingstone (whose birthday was yesterday) seems to have understood this; even he famously said, “I never made a sacrifice.”
So let’s ensure that, for Christians and non-Christians alike, we never speak or act as though we do need to “match” Jesus’ sacrifice with our own!
- Note that not everything described in Scripture is necessarily prescribed in Scripture. That can include some events described in Acts. For example, people were healed by being in the path of Peter’s shadow (Acts 5: 12-16), but nothing in Acts says we should expect such a thing today (much less assume that God is, or believers are, doing less now than He did then). However, evidence from the Epistles, which do outline truths of Gospel theology and how they’re applied in our lives, confirms that the early Christians preached the Gospel rightly. ↩
- There’s an annoying newer myth that claims the eunuch then is an equivalent to certain “deviant”-seeming groups now. If it’s worthwhile, it might come up again here sometime. ↩