I was at a spirituality formation event recently with a combination of lay people and religious sisters, and the overarching theme in the group was that we should be focused on God’s love with the people we serve and avoid “sin” and other topics that tread on a punitive image of God and rigid religion.
Certainly, there’s probably some truth to those themes. God’s love and goodness attracts vs. detracts and Jesus was always pretty stern with those Pharisees - the rigid observers of the law. If we start with the rigid and punitive truths, we aren’t likely to make headway in sharing the Gospel and leading others to Christ. So, we should start with God’s love.
But on the other hand, the people we serve are on a journey of spiritual growth, and let’s be honest, sin and our ongoing conversion is part of that journey, and so is growth in Gospel living. Yes, God loves us and cares for us, but God also will judge our lives at the end of the journey. He has real expectations that we are to follow in response to His love and goodness towards us.
Are we being too soft in our messages? I think some are.
My opinion is that many in the Church are imbalanced when they message the Gospel. You have some focused on the judging aspects that tread on rigid religious and Scriptural truths without the heart of the message. You have others focused on the softer, compassionate, and humanistic aspects that place a priority on meeting human needs, but tread on inconsistency, often wanting to change or re-write truth or doctrine.
Rarely, do you find someone who has a balance of both that is sharing the whole message. But when I read the Gospel, I think Jesus was the perfect combination of both. I don’t see an overly soft Jesus, but I also don’t see an overly rigid Jesus. I see a human, loving, and compassionate man that called us out of sin to a fruitful, abundant life born out of answering God’s call to preach the Gospel and build the kingdom.
The message of the Gospel is this simple, but also this true. Our messages and work should include all of it -- not just some of it:
- God loved you into being and never stops loving you. He desires a relationship with you and seeks your ultimate good.
- From that love, He chooses you and expects you to respond to that love generously through relationship with Him and action.
- We respond to God’s love with our prayers, words, deeds, and obeying His commands.
- When we fall short of a complete response to God’s love, we repent and come back to God, again and again.
- If we persevere, God’s grace works in us for ongoing conversion making us more like Christ.
- As we respond, repent, and engage in ongoing conversion, we build up His kingdom and bear fruit that will last.
May the Gospel message we share be simple, loving, but also complete and true -- perhaps a mix of soft and hard, grounded in the truth of who Jesus really is.