Thursday, January 11, 2024

Guilt Gospel (3) Not Relevant

The forensic presentation of Jesus’ gospel that is preached by the evangelical church is no longer effective in reaching people’s hearts. I presume the reason is that modern people are not riddled with guilt like Martin Luther. Luther preached during a time when the church had become legalistic. Most of the teachings of the church focussed on demands for people to behave better. People were constantly urged to live better. The consequence was that people constantly felt guilty. It seemed to be impossible to comply with the standards required by the church.

People like Martin Luther urgently needed a solution for the guilt that crippled them. For him, the good news that he was forgiven by God was a huge relief. The truth that the cross provided freedom from guilt was a very welcome message. Following the reformation, preachers continued to set high demands for the people of God. However, they were not so effective in teaching people how to walk in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Their failure to live according to Jesus’ standards left people feeling guilty. A gospel that absolved guilt continued to be well received.

Modern people are not wracked by guilt in the same way as previous generations. Instead, they see themselves as victims of circumstances that they can’t control. They have tried to live well, but life has not worked out as they expected. Many were let down by their parents. Others were let down by their teachers at school. Many have been hurt by people they trusted. They feel trapped in troubles that have been caused by other people. They don’t feel guilty, because they don’t believe that they are responsible for the situation they have found themselves in. They see them as victims.

I presume that the root of this feeling that they are harassed and victimised is spiritual, although people often don’t see it. However, if they are aware that their problems are spiritual, they feel like they have been entrapped in a bad spiritual place by events beyond their control and the actions of other people. They will acknowledge that they have made mistakes that harmed them, but they would also claim that they did not know what they were doing. This is probably true.

I am sure that many modern people would identify with Paul’s statement that he was in slavery to the elemental spiritual forces of the world. The people do not need a solution for guilt. A gospel that promises release from guilt does not stir their hearts. I sense that modern people need a gospel of deliverance/rescue from the forces of evil that have swamped them and transfer into the healing life of his body. In the gospels and Paul’s letters, this seems to be the good news that was proclaimed.

The book of Hebrews explains that the cross provides a solution for guilt and shame (Heb 9:16; 10:22). Some people feel guilty about their behaviour before they came to know Jesus. Some believe that they have offended God. The cross is the solution that these people need. Dealing with guilt is one aspect of what Jesus achieved, but we should be careful about making it the centre of the gospel. We don’t need to force people who don’t feel guilty to begin to feel guilty, as the first step to hearing the gospel. Jesus met people where they were. Our proclamation of the gospel should do the same.

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