WHY THE GOSPEL IS SIMPLE—NOT EASY
The simplicity of the Gospel message can be summed up in the two great commandments. The first comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 “and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” Jesus then says (Matt. 22:37–39) that the second is like unto it, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” (Lev. 19:18).
As simple as these words are, they at the same time present what is gruelingly so difficult about Christianity. We might call this the “death to self” of “taking up one’s cross.” The Gospel is simple, but it is also very difficult.
Well as C.S. Lewis pointed out in multiple places, the problem with the world is not technology and it is not religion either. To this we can even add, it is not the environment or a host of social ills. These things are bad but are yet only symptomatic. They are not the root cause. As Lewis said, the problem is us! Christianity holds to the idea of original sin—an indwelling and pervasive sentence to do wrong.
To the self-respecting modern mind, this sounds somewhere between negative and outdated. But pull the reigns for a moment and give it a second look.
The Path of Self-Centeredness
What if I reexplain that in this way: Mankind has an indwelling, pervasive, and unrelenting tendency to put self first. Now it does not sound so far from the mark. The entire world, every nation, and every economy turns on a simple marketing principle: WIIFM.
That’s the acronym for “What’s in it for me.” All marketers, if they know what they are doing, drive sales on this principle. The business that does not put the needs and wants of their client first, will shortly cease to be a business.
And why do Marketers drive their campaigns with this? They know it is human nature—human nature to put self first, before others.
Self-service—The Root of Sin
Self-service, self-centeredness, selfishness, or by whatever name you call it, lies behind every evil act, every hurtful word, and every worldly injustice. Be it grade school bullying or ethnic cleansing, someone’s desire to seize property at the cost of another’s life, advance a career at another’s expense, or belittle another for a momentary sense of superiority on a playground, is an act of selfishness.
As they often say, ‘the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys’ (an appropriately self-centered view of males), so the difference between playground bullying and ethnic cleansing is only the unchecked adult capacity to wield far more destructive power. Any way you cut it, it is the cruel and inhumane treatment of a human.
The Radical Ethic of Jesus
The Gospel turns the flaccid “do-gooder” altruism on its head. Paul says in Philippians 2:3–4: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” Many of us conceive of doing nice things here and there for this or that person. When we do these things, they make us feel good, but that is as far as they extend. The problem is that good works do not, in fact, make us good. If we do them for that reason, and so other people think we are good, Jesus considers that sin a too.
Why? Because it is self-serving. Jesus said of the religious elite of his day, “Thus when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matt. 6:2)
People often ask me if you are a good person, will you go to heaven? The problem with the question is its assumption—that someone can truly be “good.” The position of Christianity is that there has only been one person who was truly “good”—Jesus Christ. This is because he is the only person who ever lived who was authentically and completely good. By that I mean, his goodness” was in fact “airtight”; There was no single moment in his entire early life that he ever did something out of selfish ambitions, no moment he served himself above another or above his Heavenly Father. Only that makes one good and worthy of the Kingdom of God.
The Way of The Truly Good Man
Let’s look back at Philippians 2. It paints a picture of the truly good man—Jesus. He is the example to follow.
Philippians 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,2 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,3 being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Notice the key words here? “Emptied himself,” taking on the form of a “servant,” he “humbled himself,” and becoming “obedient.” These are the words any self-respecting person despises. We do not want to be anyone’s servant, obey anyone, or humble ourselves. But this is precisely the cost of the kingdom. It is called ‘death to self.’
The Most Wounded Do the Most Wounding
So what is wrong with the world? As Lewis said, it is us—humankind. The self-centered impulse in all of us is what leads even the kindest person, in the right circumstances to do what even surprises her. Granted some people do far more evil in the world than others. But we should consider that it typically those who have experienced the brunt of evil perpetuate the most evil. The vast majority of sex offenders were victims first.
Stopping the Cycle
The Gospel is about stopping the cycle. It is not a magic pill or wonder drug that suddenly rids the human heart of all self-centeredness. The Gospel invites us into the Kingdom of God. In so doing it calls us to be a part of a new community who are practicing peace and justice as a way of life. As Christians living in the world, we are not yet free of sin; we are broken sinners learning to be free, and that takes time. But with growing humility, we can be free.