God’s Wonderful Plan

I have a confession to make: I sometimes wonder if the Gospel that gets preached today is the real thing. Seriously! Paul wrote that the Gospel was “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). But in the twenty-first century, with little regard for sin, righteousness and judgment, the modern message has evolved into the crowd pleasing, user-friendly: “God has a wonderful plan for your life!” Well, it sounds like good news, but I am not so sure that this is always true. If these words have ever passed your lips (and they certainly have through mine), read on!

Yes, in Jeremiah 29:11, God promised to give a hopeful future to a repentant Israel. But this is not the central message of the Great Commission. How can it be? For example, as the thief on the cross received divine mercy on Good Friday, there is no sense that God “had a wonderful plan” for his life (in fact, God had a wonderful plan for his death on this occasion). Today, as we share the good news with people who are in hospices or those terminally ill at home, we have not been sent by heaven to offer a wonderful life, but loving mercy from Him who awaits them after death. “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The real Gospel offers vital forgiveness, not Disneyland. Mansions of gold are for heavenly dwellers methinks.

I recently heard an evangelist offer the following illustration. I want you to imagine that, by virtue of some time machine, you find yourself transported to the city of New York in 2001, early morning on September 11th just half an hour before the terrorists’ planes are due to hit. As you stand watching the oblivious entering their hour of oblivion, what would your Gospel be? “God has a wonderful plan for your life”? Absolutely not. How foolish it would be to offer a message of long life and prosperity to men and women who were shortly to perish. Of course, we are all perishing (John 3:16). While Gospel methods may alter (and should), the message must not. If “God’s wonderful plan” cannot be preached on a man’s death day, neither should it be preached on his birthday.

As the Christmas story has just reminded us, Jesus saves his people “from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). My experience, like yours, has been that while He is a God of miracles and blessing, He does not always deliver people from their difficulties. Christians are not spared by default from illness or depression. They still have to deal with deceitful mechanics, tears of grief, or unemployment. The mature believer realises that the world in which we live is in winter, not summer. Jesus’ promise is to save people from the penalty of their sins. That’s why He is called the Saviour.

Statistics suggest that some of the people in your housegroup this week may not be in church this time next year. Some will leave offended, or tragedy will strike a loved one, or the novelty of speaking in tongues and having cake afterwards will wear off. Soon they will be spending their Sundays doing something else. We call it backsliding but perhaps many did not actually do any forward sliding. Our Gospel did not demand change from them, for to fill an altar it was altered. Consequently, they did not know the reality of true repentance, often because we were too afraid to mention it – after all, nothing spoils friendship evangelism more than biblical preaching! They came and enjoyed our community meals, coloured lights and music, and the fact that God “had a wonderful plan for their life”. But when they discovered that suffering was still on the divine menu, or that God was not their servant, they felt cheated and left. And who can blame them? What we promised did not come true.

Today, there does seem to be an emphasis on making it a little easier to become a Christian. Rather than urging people to flee “from the wrath that is to come,” we encourage folks to come to our Barn Dance. A good first step, of course. But we mustn’t move repentance to the small print. Only the historians of the future will be able to pass judgment on today’s evangelistic methods, but the “fall away” rate after most of our church missions should be ringing alarm bells now.

Here’s a good resolution for all the preachers in 2009, which includes you! While we have breath in our body, let’s preach the original Gospel, sowing seeds rather than pearls, and looking for tears rather than lifted hands. Now there’s a wonderful plan!

Originally published in JOY Magazine, January 2009

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