“You reap what you sow,” the pastor said. You’ve just gotta persevere. If you keep sowing toward your dreams, they will eventually come true.”
The pastor’s sermon ended there. No Jesus. No cross. I had been invited to attend this fast-growing church. But was shocked at what I heard.
Sure, it sounded inspiring, for a self-help guru. But what he did in actuality was destructive on at least two counts:
First, he (possibly inadvertently) defined success in purely material terms here in this life. What about those whose lives have already gone down a road where their dreams are no longer possible? Perhaps they are at the end of their life, or their marriage ended, or they cannot have children, or they lost someone close that they can never get back in this life? When we define life in purely material terms during this lifetime, there is no hope when life has spun out of our control and we know that we cannot get it back.
Second, he put the pressure to succeed on the people in his congregation. It is up to them to persevere, to keep dreaming, to keep “sowing the good seed.” The logical conclusion is that if for some reason I don’t succeed, then I must not have been “sowing the good seed.” I’ve just got to try harder.
Then, if I do succeed here in this life, then I can go ahead and thank myself. I did a great job. I “sowed the right seed.” “I persevered.” I “did” all of the right things.
I am the star of this story. It is all about me succeeding in the here and now.
This is not the Gospel.
This is antithetical to the Gospel. The Gospel is not about what I have to do. The Gospel is about what God has done for us:
- The Gospel is the story of a mighty King (God) who gave the life of his prince to save the rebels (us).
- The Gospel is the story of a good father (God) who pursues his two sons (us), one separated by his immorality, the other separated by his morality.
- The Gospel is the story of a marriage where the loving husband (God) pursues his continuously unfaithful wife (us), woos her, brings her back home, and calls her “spotless and pure.”
- The Gospel is the story of a great battle where the wise King (God), rather than slaying his enemies as is His right, “takes the slower and more glorious approach: by ones and twos, the King wins those rebels (us) back by his goodness and mercy.”
God is the star of the Gospel.
It is not about material success in this life. It is about knowing God right now and for all of eternity. It is not about what I can do (where I become the star), it is about who God is, what He has already done, is still doing, and will do.
He is the only One with the strength and goodness to bring about our salvation, the death of death, the destruction of sin, the defeat of our spiritual enemies, the past resurrection of Jesus, and our future resurrection. At that resurrection, He will give us a glorified bodies, ones no longer feeble and affected by sin and death. We will live forever.
No matter how hopeless this current life may look and feel, for those who know God, who have put their faith in Christ as their Savior, our time in this current physical body is only the first step. Glory and healing of a kind unimaginable awaits us. There will be a day when the intense suffering we feel in this life will only be a distant memory from another existence.
Our pain and suffering has an expiration date.
But you know what? We are invited into this story. Not as the star of the show, but as loved children, heirs of the great King, valued yet not in the spotlight.
We are invited onto the stage to honor the true hero of this story, Jesus, who is deservedly in the center of the spotlight.
Oh God, we look forward to the day when Your glory is fully revealed. May that day come quickly.
John F. Thomas, “Tools for Understanding the Gospel: A Compendium,” referencing Mark 12:1-12 and Matthew 21:33-46
Ibid., Referencing Luke 15:11-32
Ibid., Referencing the book of Hosea; Eph. 5:27; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7