In my work with young adults, I've been wrestling with the realities and challenges of children transitioning to independence. This is quite the process that involves major challenges to our identity, meaning and purpose.
The apostle Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 13 - "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me." As we grow up, our identity is no longer rooted primarily in the family or friend/high school groups. When we don't have a good sense of who we are our meaning and purpose often become confused. And while being a young adult is incredibly rewarding, it is quite the process to work through identity, purpose and meaning. In the 18-25 time of life we tend to rethink everything... and it is normal and it is good, but not without challenges to our faith.
What does any of this have to do with the Gospel? Well, I stumbled on an oversight in the way I and many other Christians, talk about this beautiful message of Jesus. Let's see if you see it too. I'm asking you, my reader - how do you define the Gospel? Take a moment to stop and articulate how you define it in the next 60 seconds... And go.
For most of us we know that the Gospel means "Good News". Pastor Don Thompson, before he went to heaven, shared with me the Greek word at the root of it "Euangelion" (oi angelian), which means "Good Announcement". But how did you define it? What does it mean? I started asking younger people and older people, fellow Christians and called workers and I started to notice a trend. As a generalization I found most of us would say that the Gospel is the Good News that Jesus died in our place to pay for our sins and to give us eternal life in Christ. And that is right. And that is true. And that is... missing something. While it explains WHAT the Good News is, the most important piece is the why. Four little words at the start of John 3:16, For... God... So... Loved... And we often tend to leave these out.
Not surprisingly, the loss of those 4 words can reframe the good news in a subtle, but, profoundly different way. When we forget that God, In Love for you and for me... sent Jesus - we can repackage the Gospel this way. God sent Jesus to die for our sins so that we could go to heaven. And while that is not inaccurate, we tend to shift the focus that reshapes the Gospel even more. If we're not careful, the why begins to change more into this idea - "God Sent Jesus to die for my sins so I can go to heaven... SO... if I want to go to heaven I need to do more or try harder to be a good Christian because Jesus died for my sins." The motive becomes "I'd better do x, y and z", and that, is no longer good news, because we'll never be able to do enough.
One of the great longings of young people is to belong. Built into all of us is a deep desire for intimacy. To be fully known and to be fully loved. To fully know and to fully love. God longs for that too. It's what love looks like. It's what true relationship looks like. And God is after an eternal relationship with us. The Bible is the story of God's unending love to save us from eternal death and how he did it through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
So why bring any of this up? Well, one of the realities of young adults is the transactional nature of life. Earn a degree. Earn a job. Earn the credibility to have an apartment, car loan, girlfriend/boyfriend. If I do this, I get that. As a child shifts into adulthood, life tends to be transactional. Earn, work, do. Throw in the deep drive for intimacy along with the challenge of forming an independent identity and you have a deeply rooted transactional way of viewing the world. And it's easy to wonder if God really loves me, if God ever loved me and if he's waiting for me to do something so he can love me. And even the strongest Christian young people wonder at this, let alone the ones who barely know anything about Jesus.
When you and I remember God's "why" part of the Gospel, it makes it really really really good news. God did all of this because he loves you and me, not as a carrot to get us to behave. Jesus sacrifice is THE demonstration and proof of God's love for me. It is so important for you and I to make sure that people remember that God did this because of his deep love for us. And young adults need to hear it, often. Our response comes from love and praise for what Christ did for us. “We love, because he first loved us”
What I am finding is that when I remember "For God So Loved..." I am far more patient with people that I disagree with, who don't like me or don't believe in Jesus or live for him. It turns out, the best way to share the Gospel with people is to start with God's love. Without love, we get law and most people hear our good news as a manipulation... because it is.
I'm still trying to get my head around this so if I didn't get it all correct, or if it could be written better please share your thoughts. I write this because as we transition away from childhood to adulthood, love is an important part of it. It's fascinating to me that this passage about leaving childish things behind is at the tail end of the "love" chapter of the Bible in 1 Corinthians. Our young people (well really ALL people) need to know more than anything else that God did the transaction - because he loves them. It's important that older Christians and parents be patient with young adults. While we pray for them to live Godly lives, let's make sure that we are reminding them of the whole Gospel. And it starts with 4 beautiful words. For God so Loved... you!"
A good place to start is by preaching this beautiful message to the person in the mirror. MW