In the 1John 1:1-4, the Apostle John claims that the gospel is about the Word of Life. It’s easy to confuse this phrase with John’s use of “word” in the prologue to his gospel. While there are similarities, the gospel emphasizes WORD, but this letter emphasizes LIFE.
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life — and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us– what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. –1John 1:1-4
John claims the message he heard from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry was about the “the message of Life,” i.e. the way to obtain eternal life or life in the “age of ages”.
The “age of ages” will begin with the second coming of Christ with new heavens and new earth. Death, tears, mourning and pain will be ended, and all things will be made right and perfect. Life is this age will be free from sin, death and evil in all its forms. No corruption. No futility (Revelation21:1-5).
‘Here and now’ or ‘pie in the sky’?
John implies that the gospel is more concerned with how to gain life in the age to come rather than how to be successful, happy or build a utopian society now.
Yet a large segment of modern Christianity believes that Jesus came to make THIS life better. While the name changes (“victorious Christian living”, “health & wealth gospel”, the prayer of Jabez phenomenon), the underlying idea that the Jesus came to teach us how to make our lives here and now abundant remains.
However, the overwhelming message of the Bible is life now is not completely happy or fulfilled. This life has troubles, tragedies and tribulations. Life in this age is marred by evil and corruption. Even if you manage to tame evil down to its barest possible minimum, it’s still there. In this life, we will never completely and totally escape it.
But you have a place in heaven secured for you by the blood of Christ where God will solve that problem. That ought to give us great comfort and security in this life. I can be content despite my circumstances because of the supreme value and worth of what is promised by the blood of Christ.
But didn’t Jesus teach us how to treat others?
The “here and now gospel” folks might object saying: “If the gospel is about life in the age to come, why does Jesus spend so much time teaching us how to treat others? He has much to say about how to love one another, how to care for the poor, how to treat the rich, how to be respectful and forgiving to our fellow human beings.”
Granted, Jesus does teach a great deal about how we ought to treat others and how we ought to live our lives here and now. Of course, the gospel makes a difference now! Believing the gospel changes us at a deep fundamental level. Part of that change is visible in how we treat others.
But the fundamental message of the gospel is this behavioral change only results when I am freed from my sin. There is only one way to become free of sin: faith in the blood of Christ. I don’t gain eternal life by proving myself worthy by loving others and caring for the poor. Rather once God has healed my heart of stone and freed me from bondage to sin, my behavior and attitude toward others will change;
If tomorrow is secure, why not live selfishly today?
The next objection is usually, “If message of the gospel is a message for the next age and not a message for the here and now, then why should I give to the poor? Why shouldn’t I just be completely self-centered on making sure I understand the words of life and I can ignore everything and everyone else?”
We can read the teachings of Jesus from the perspective of he was a quasi-socialist, he came into the world to teach us how to live this life right and how to do human relationships better and how to share and share alike and love one another in the best sense. There is a sense in which that is true.
But there is a sense in which it is not. I would argue that Jesus came into the world to teach us how to do ‘me’ right – in the sense of gaining eternal life. One of the essentials in “doing me right” is being other-centered, not self-centered. If I am selfish and impervious to how I affect others, than I am not doing me right. I am not the person God intended me to be, because God created us to be giving, self-sacrificing and other-focused people. Granted I am a complete failure at that in my own life, that’s why I need the gospel.
If I feed a starving person and she dies next week, have I failed?
Suppose I give a starving person enough food to eat to this week and next week she starves. Have I failed or not?
If you believe that Jesus came to teach us how to do life here and now right, then I have failed. I didn’t make anything better. I gave her food but she starved anyway, so my efforts were useless and ineffective and I failed to do what I ought to have done.
But if you think Jesus came to teach us how to gain eternal life and part of gaining eternal life is becoming holy, then I have not failed.
Yes, the person starved and that is a tragedy. But on the other hand through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in my life I overcame my sinfulness long enough to be generous and compassionate. I was the kind of person God intended me to be. To the extent that I acted out of true compassion and generosity, I have not failed, even if the long-term results were not what I hoped.
Your job is faithfully responding to God and learning to live your life with love and integrity, striving to be holy in whatever circumstances God places you. You don’t need to reform the world. You need to live your life in the light of the truth of Jesus revealed. Leave the rest up to God.
Saving the world is not your job. Making a utopian society is not your job. Your goal is to live the quiet, ordinary life of faith.