The Body of Christ
Chapter Seven of "The Really Good News About God", called Our On-Stage Role, discusses how knowing God's really good news makes us special people with a unique opportunity.
If you’ve read this far you have arrived at the scene in LIFE in which you have discovered that …
That makes you a very special person and greatly privileged.
Unfortunately, there are many good people, some even in Christian churches, who think they have to be good enough or work hard enough to earn God’s kindness and forgiveness.
But forgiveness, freedom from sin, is the result of what God has done for us, not what we have done or might do for him.
There are so many benefits of being an “early believer”. ...
Being a special person with a special gift says that God has selected you to live in union with Jesus much earlier than most other people – you are a chosen one, as Paul described the “early believers” who lived at Ephesus in his day. ...
Next, we get to spend the rest of our lives here being part of God’s production team on stage assisting Jesus in bringing the production to its finale, completing God’s plan for the planet.
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"The Really Good News About God" has been published in various formats. You can purchase a copy, or download a pdf version, using the "Book" link.
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Using St Paul as a Biblical example, let's begin with a general description of a Believer. In his own words, Paul described his starting point ...
I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.
God's interception ...
I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.
The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
God's reason ...
So that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive life in the ages.
[1 Timothy 1 : 13 - 16 BV]
So a Believer, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, is a person from whatever background whom God has chosen to give faith and age-ian life.
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The Church was established by Jesus Christ in the first century AD and is called the Body of Christ in the Bible.
It is an organic body, the hands and feet of Jesus on this planet, empowered by the Holy Spirit to respond to the mindset and yearnings of the Head, Jesus Christ himself, and in training to rule with Christ in the coming ages.
The Body of Christ is present wherever Believers (genuine Christ-followers) gather in authentic, missional community (which may or may not appear as part of the institutional church, the most visible expression of mainstream Christianity on the planet).
The Church is the most exciting, adventurous, revolutionary and productive body of people on earth.
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Two interesting verses demonstrate how important it is to consider audience relevance when reading our Bibles and drawing conclusions and making applications from them.
Consider these ...
Jesus said, "For many are called, but few are chosen."
[Matthew 22 : 14 NKJV]
Paul said, " ... those he predestined (chose), he also called; ...
[Romans 8 : 30 NIV]
Notice the reverse order: "called then chosen" in the first .. versus .. "predestined (chosen) then called" in the second.
Why the difference, and is the difference important?
Jesus was addressing Israel's leaders and forecasting that from all those who belonged to this specially called-out nation only a few would be chosen.
Chosen for what?
Israel had been called to live under God's provision and direction, demonstrate that life and its value to the rest of the world, and was destined to reign with God in the future kingdom.
However, only a few of them were chosen by God to receive the faith necessary to believe in Jesus, their Messiah, and the message of forgiveness and reconciliation that he brought.
Sadly, only a relatively few of Israel will live during the coming age, and reign with Christ in his kingdom.
"Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it," Jesus told them.
[Matthew 7 : 14 NIV]
Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles.
His message was to an audience that had not been seriously considered to have any part in God's reign.
However, God's plan right from the start was to choose others, from the Gentile nations, to add to the faithful few from Israel to create the Body of Christ that would reign with Christ during that coming age.
The mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
[Ephesians 3 : 6 NIV]
As a result, those who would rule with Christ in the kingdom age had already been chosen by God before they were even born, and will be called during their lifetime on this planet.
These are the early believers, which we mention from time to time.
These previously chosen (predestined) will be subsequently called, and will be trained by the indwelling Holy Spirit for their co-ruler role in the future age.
But Paul's message of "chosen then called" has an even wider, more general application.
From before the foundation of the world, we were all chosen to live in fellowship with God eventually.
Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children—this was his pleasure and purpose.
[Ephesians 1 : 4, 5 GNB]
In all his wisdom and insight God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head.
[Ephesians 1 : 9, 10 GNB]
The whole creation has been chosen for eternity, so we will all be called eventually - some as early believers by faith and some as later believers by sight.
God's amazing plan, decided at the beginning, hinted at by the prophets, mentioned by Jesus, and fully described by Paul, should be celebrated from the rooftops by churches across the world.
What a different view and appreciation of God that would produce !
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Adjectives formed from nouns have the same basic meaning as their noun.
For example, the noun 'truth' has an adjective 'true' which may be illustrated with "a statement that contains the truth is a true statement".
Another example could be the noun 'day' and its adjective 'daily' which may be illustrated with "each day we wash the dinner dishes, so washing the dishes is a daily chore".
The English words 'age' and 'eon' are nouns that refer to a period of time, often a very long period of time, which has a beginning and an end.
Unfortunately in English we don't have a simple single word adjective corresponding to the noun 'age', although 'eon' does have the rarely used 'eonian'.
The closest we can come to a "single word" adjective for the noun 'age' might be 'age-during' or 'age-lasting', or we might try to use an adjectival phrase like 'belonging to the age', 'pertaining to the age', 'during the age', 'of the age' or 'for the age'.
As difficult as it is to find an adjective for age that we are comfortable with, we should never use words like 'forever' or 'everlasting' - words that convey the idea of never-ending, nor a word like 'eternal' - a word that conveys the idea of no beginning and no end.
In the New Testament, the Greek noun that translates into age or eon in English is 'aion' and its corresponding adjective is 'aionian'. Possible uses might be: We are living in the aion of the church, so we are the aionian church, and Believers will live and reign with Christ in the coming aion, so they will have aionian life.
Unfortunately, most of our popular English Bibles quite wrongly translate 'aionian' in the Greek as 'eternal' in English.
And this error causes us to miss the distinction between eonian life (life during the ages) and eternal life (life beyond the ages).
Here are a few examples of using eonian correctly.
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eonian life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eonian life.
[John 3 : 14 - 16 NIV corrected]
Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eonian life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
[John 5 : 24 NIV corrected]
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eonian punishment, but the righteous to eonian life.”
[Matthew 25 : 44 - 46 NIV corrected]
As you will know if you've read the book "The Really Good News About God" or earlier sections of this website, because of Jesus' death on the cross, everyone will receive eternal life eventually (at the end of the ages), but only believers in the gospel will receive eonian life in the coming millennium, illustrating that although God is the Saviour of the world, there is something special for believers. [see 1 Timothy 4 : 10]
That something special is eonian life, life that continues through the coming eons.
So correct grammar reveals the difference between eonian life and eternal life - between life in the kingdom ages for believers and life in eternity beyond the ages for everyone.
Indeed, without this correction, it is difficult to find the millennial kingdom anywhere other than in Revelation 20.
(I am beginning to use 'eonian' more and more in recent times, instead of the other age-related options, because it is just one word and because it closely resembles the Greek 'aionian'. Having said that, I am tempted to create my own word: age-ian, which looks very strange but is growing on me.)
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1 Timothy 4 :10 is a great verse, one of my favourites, which makes this distinction well. Paul says in writing to Timothy ...
"That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe."
So often I am told that the bit that comes after the last comma is a denial of the bit that comes before it, so the verse "clearly" says that only believers will be saved.
I confess that I am only a mathematician, but my English grammar skills are good enough to see how ridiculous that sort of interpretation is.
I say to anyone who will listen ...
"I love icecream, especially when it's chocolate coated."
Am I saying that I only like chocolate coated icecream?
Of course not!
I am just saying that I like chocolate coated icecreams best.
I have a friend who is mad keen on Holdens and thinks they are all "nice" cars, especially the Calais models.
Is he saying he only likes the Calais models?
Of course not!
But there is something special about those models that really appeals to him.
So what is Paul saying in his salvation statement to Timothy?
God saves all people, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross of Calvary, and will be given timeless life at the end of the ages.
But believers have something extra, something special.
They are given their life now, during the ages, starting from the time they are given the faith to believe, so they can play their part with God in implementing his plan for the ages.
Aren't we (believers) so privileged to have been given faith in our lifetime on this planet? We have been chosen NOW.
And doesn't that give us a huge responsibility?
We have "ruling" or kingdom work to do now, and in the age to come. We have been chosen to partner with God in implementing his plan to bring salvation to all.
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As well as the "especially" verse of 1 Timothy 4 : 10, there is another "especially" verse in Galatians 6 : 10, which says:
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (NIV)
The icecream and Holden examples above could also be used to illustrate the difference between the "all people" and the "especially people" in this verse, but let me offer another to show how "especially" does not exclude the "all people", as many opponents of God's plan of universal reconciliation claim.
Suppose you live in a small town with a large town hall that will accommodate all of its residents in a single sitting.
A popular band is on tour and has agreed to play one night in your town. The promoter of the tour has tickets for every person living there. The news begins to spread - the band is coming to town and there's a ticket for everyone, especially for those who are members of the band's fan club.
Fan club members will meet the band backstage before the concert for drinks, nibbles and autographs, and be given a free copy of the band's latest CD. They will get to meet the band first, and then the rest of the town will join the band and the fan club in the hall for the main concert later.
That's how it will be at the end (consummation) of the ages. Believers will have met Jesus first and enjoyed kingdom life with him through the ages, and then be joined by the rest of humankind for the main concert in eternity.
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Here's another parable like the Concert one above.
To ensure there was a good crowd for the opening match of the season, the coach of a local football team was authorised to give tickets to every person who lived in their small country town.
In addition, he gave gold passes to those who were his close friends, which entitled them to attend the pre-match lunch in the clubrooms with club officials and the players involved in the match.
So everyone in the town got to enjoy the first match of the year, and there was a special treat beforehand for the coach's close friends
Let's see how this might illustrate our original "especially" text.
We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe.
[1 Timothy 4 : 10 NIV]
All of creation gets to enjoy eternity (the match) with God, but the friends of the Coach (believers - members of the Body of Christ) get to enjoy the pre-eternity ages with Him.
And just as the coach's friends were chosen by the coach well before the day of the match, so believers (members of the Body of Christ) have been chosen well before eternity, even before the ages began.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.
[Ephesians 1 : 4, 5 NIV]
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of the world, you have been chosen before the creation of the world to be adopted into sonship.
Indeed, you weren't chosen because you believed, you were given belief (faith) because you were chosen.
Just like these Gentiles ...
The Gentiles listened with delight and extolled the Lord's Message; and all who were pre-destined to the Life of the Ages believed. [Acts 13 : 48 Weymouth]
We are very privileged people. But we also have great responsibility, not only in the now, but also in those pre-eternity ages - yes, we have been chosen for a purpose.
In the now ...
God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. [Ephesians 2 : 10 GNB]
In the pre-eternity ages ...
... and did raise us up together, and did seat us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that He might show, in the ages that are coming, the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus ... [Ephesians 2 : 6, 7 YLT]
Do you not know that we shall judge the angels? How much more, then, the things of this life! [1 Corinthians 6 : 3 GNB]
Chosen for ministry on earth now and ministry in the heavens in the coming ages.
PS. I am not tempted to de-gender "sonship" in the Ephesians 1 quote above because to do so would lose so much of Paul's thrust here. "Adoption to sonship" is a legal expression that referred to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in the Roman culture of his time. So Paul is saying that believers have full legal standing as adopted sons (I call them male sons and female sons) and heirs with Christ in God's family.
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This is an important topic that will be addressed in detail in our next book "The Really Good News About Jesus". However, we'll just mention it here using two key references.
As you are probably well aware, one of my favourite verses is 1 Timothy 4 : 10, which is in the sidebar on the Blog and therefore appears beside every new post.
That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (NIV)
Apart from assuring us that God has decreed that all of his creation will be saved and live in harmony with him (and each other) in eternity, it also shows the distinction between those who are believers in their time on this planet and those who are not.
The believers are the firstfruits of the eventual harvest of all. They are those especially chosen for knowing and appreciating the saving grace of God in their earthly lives and been given the responsibility to live as ambassadors for Christ having the really good news to announce.
(See 2 Corinthians 5 : 18 - 20)
Another reference that makes the same distinction as 1 Timothy 4 : 10 occurs in Romans 3 : 21 - 22 (when translated correctly).
And now apart from the law has the righteousness of God been manifested, testified to by the law and the prophets, and the righteousness of God is through the faith of Jesus Christ to all, and upon all those believing, ... (Young's Literal Translation)
The distinction is indeed clear in a good, literal translation - the righteousness of God is to all (eventually) but upon believers (in the realm of time).
Interestingly, this distinction is obscured, even omitted, by many modern translators who do not wish to admit that God's plan is to save all, and who restrict salvation to those who become believers during their earthly lives.
Compare the verse quoted above from YLT with this one from NIV.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. ... (NIV)
Why do so many Christians, including many modern translators, want to portray our loving God as such a sadistic monster when Jesus has already fully paid for all our sins and God has clearly revealed his plan to save all at the end of time? (See Ephesians 1 : 9 - 10)
The Firstfruits are NOT the Harvest. The firstfruits are few: the harvest is plentiful.
PS. You might also have noticed another example where popular, modern translations attribute the righteousness of God in which we stand to our faith in Christ, rather than to the faith or faithfulness of Christ, as we discussed in the "Salvation" section.
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Sharing the good news of God being at peace with us and of him desiring us to be a peace with him is one of the main purposes of being chosen as an early believer.
And what a privilege to be given such an important responsibility!
Firstly, I earnestly desire that my friends enjoy the same relationship with God that I have.
The Christian life is so rich and empowering that it is worth having, even if there was nothing beyond life on this planet to look forward to.
Secondly, By God's grace alone, I have been chosen as one of God's partners in fulfilling his plan for mankind.
God's plan is to save all, and he uses early believers as one of his means of achieving his goal.
Not everyone will have a "Saul on the road to Damascus experience" or a "Thomas in the locked house experience".
Most people come to faith on this planet as the good news is shared with them by others.
When the good news is made known ...
But how can they call to him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?
And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out? As the scripture says, "How wonderful is the coming of messengers who bring good news!"
[Romans 10 : 14 - 15 GNB]
faith is given ...
So then, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through preaching Christ.
[Roman 10 : 17 GNB]
and people move from darkness to light.
He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of his dear Son, by whom we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven.
[Colossians 1 : 13 - 14 GNB]
Paul also declares that it is we who have been given this task of passing on the good news of reconciliation.
All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.
Our message is that God was making all human beings his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends.
Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ's behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends!
[2 Corinthian 5 : 18 - 20 GNB]
This is the way God has planned for his ambitious, gracious, reconciliation project to be implemented on planet earth.
Thirdly, it is so satisfying, so exhilarating, to be sharing the good news with friends and see them receive faith to believe and appreciate what God has done for them through Jesus.
Seeing God touch people's lives through little me is so exciting, yet very humbling.
The ministry of reconciliation is an awesome privilege God has given us.
Let's not allow our discovery of God's end result deflect us from the purpose of our early calling. Indeed let's be further stimulated by it.
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I have taught my four sons to drive.
That teaching began when they were quite small.
They would sit on my knee behind the steering wheel as we drove deserted country roads or the longish driveway from the front gate to the carport.
They had their hands on the steering wheel and (mostly) looked out the front window as we travelled.
They thought they were driving the car and it was totally in their control.
But, of course, I was driving the car, deciding where we were going and how fast we were travelling.
I also decided on how much force I allowed my son to exert on the steering wheel, depending on whether he was trying to direct us where I had previously decided to go or not.
Our prayer life is a bit like this.
God knows where He is going and how fast He wants to get there.
And He does allow us, indeed invites us, to put our hands on the steering wheel.
How much effect we have on the steering wheel depends on whether we are heading in the same direction He is or not.
So if we want to be effective in prayer, we need to be on the same page God is.
We need to know His will regarding the subject of our prayer so we can pray "in Jesus' Name" and be gently placing our hands on His steering wheel.
Praying for something that is not in God's will is as useless as my son trying to pull the steering wheel in a different direction to where I have chosen to go.
I will just "out-pull" him with my stronger grip.
So how do we know God's will?
First, we need to know what God has revealed about His intentions in His Word.
Second, we need to spend time (in prayer) asking God what he wants us to pray for before we begin asking for things to be done.
I often answer the question, "How do you get all your prayers answered?" with the one-word instruction, "Cheat!"
Find out what God is planning to do, and pray for it to happen.
A beautiful example of this cheating is demonstrated by Daniel in the Old Testament.
... I was studying the sacred books and thinking about the seventy years that Jerusalem would be in ruins, according to what the LORD had told the prophet Jeremiah.
[Daniel 9 : 2 GNB]
What had Jeremiah prophesied?
This whole land will be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
[Jeremiah 25 : 11 NKJV]
For Yahweh says, "After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you," says Yahweh, "thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope and a future.
[Jeremiah 29 : 10, 11 WEB]
With this information about God's plan, Daniel continues :
And I prayed earnestly to the Lord God . . .
[Daniel 9 : 2, 3 GNB]
You can read the whole prayer in the following verses.
A Biblical example of cheating! Knowing God's plan and praying for it to happen.
It gives me great peace to know God's will cannot be overridden by the will of any of his children.
Can you imagine the chaos if God granted every request, especially those prayers that ask for very different (even opposite) outcomes or actions from God in the same circumstance?
We need to gently place our hands on God's Great Steering Wheel if we are to get all our prayers answered, and be co-workers with Christ in the Body of Christ.
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Those who have been following our family cancer journey will know that for several months I have been researching alternative treatments that might kill and/or prevent cancer.
There seems to be some evidence that cancer cells cannot survive in an alkaline environment, while healthy cells flourish.
These destructive little cancer critters are themselves destroyed when the body they are invading is alkaline - has a PH somewhat above 7.
So our eldest son, who has had his third case of brain cancer in less than 10 months, is working at maintaining his PH at 8 or 9, a level which is about 50 or 60 times more alkaline than normal.
If the science we have been reading is correct, his cancer cells (and any other unwelcome products of an acidic environment) should be killed in this environment and expelled from his body.
I have also been thinking a lot about the kingdom of God lately, and how we can live successfully as members of it.
And I've been noticing an interesting parallel with my cancer research.
If the Scriptures are correct, being filled with the Holy Spirit also produces two outcomes.
Firstly, the sin/worldliness in us is killed and expelled from our lives and ministry, as evil cannot survive in a spirit-filled environment.
Secondly, the good/Godliness already in us is enriched and empowered to be even more effective in kingdom duties and responsibilities.
So just as my son is attempting to keep his body more alkaline to rid his body of unwanted nasties and to enrich his healthy cells and organs, we need to work at keeping ourselves more spiritually saturated and Christ-oriented to rid ourselves of the nasties that compromise our witness as followers of Jesus and to make us more responsible and productive members of Christ's kingdom.
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In "The Really Good News About God" and scattered throughout the website we are reminded that hardships are often used to develop character in our journey towards Christ-likeness.
So how does Paul's comment about temptations in 1 Corinthians 10 : 13 fit that scenario?
Here's the NIV translation of this verse.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. [NIV]
This is typical of most English translations, but does it make sense?
..... God will provide a way out or a path of escape so that you can endure the temptation ?????
How can you endure something by avoiding it?
Let's think for a moment.
What is your own personal experience of facing hardships, temptations and crises?
Does God usually provide you with a way of escape?
If you're like me, that rarely happens.
He is more likely to provide encouragement, wisdom, strength, endurance or some other way for us to grow and mature and become more Christ-like, rather than a way to remain weaklings looking for outs, excuses and escape chutes.
What Bible character was ever given an escape route?
Moses, Joseph, Job, Jonah, David, Hosea, Paul, Stephen, Jesus ????????
Have a quick flick through Hebrews 11 and see if you can find one.
God sees that the size of the problem is never more than we can cope with, but there is usually no escape from it.
So I began researching the translation of this verse.
Here's my translation.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide the planned outcome (Greek : ekbasin = sequel) so that you can endure it. [BV]
If God is sovereign, and all is from him, through him, and to him, then we can be sure that any trial that God brings our way will also have its planned outcome in place, ready to be experienced also.
Which also guarantees that everything works together for good, for those loving God and fitting in to his plans. [Romans 8 : 28]
So we need to trust God in all our trials and hardships, because he will also have the planned outcome ready to be achieved as well - not an escape chute so we can avoid the refining fire and growing experience God desires for us.
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Maybe, over a period of time, it might be something like this ...
(A more concise version for a one-off death-bed conversation follows at the bottom.)
When your time comes to leave this planet, your first conscious appointment will be with God.
This will be a huge event, because God is awesome - the Creator and Saviour of the world.
But let me tell you that ......
God loves you very much and holds absolutely nothing against you, no matter what you've done.
Indeed he is waiting for you as any loving and concerned father waits for his lost son to return home.
Jesus explained this in his story of the Prodigal Son.
I would read or relate this parable and follow with a summary like ...
The father offers no judgement, no paying off the debt, no penalty, only full acceptance, wild celebration and reinstatement into the family.
God does this for you too, because of what Jesus has done for all of us.
I would explain Jesus' Birth, Death and Resurrection.
Everyone's sins have been dealt with and everyone will live, eventually.
Isn't that just good news?
This great home-coming celebration depended only on the lost son ...
his change of heart towards his father
his readiness to admit his mistakes and selfish attitude
his desire to return home and be reconciled to his father.
The father had already forgiven the son and was reconciled to him, even before the son had started heading for home.
But the father couldn't show him his love until the son had decided to return.
It was all up to the son.
So it's up to you how you meet God.
As someone with a bad attitude to God and fearful of meeting up with him?
As someone confident and appreciative of God's love, forgiveness and full acceptance?
Yes, you can turn for home like the Prodigal did, be reconciled to your Father, and begin to live in a way that shows you've changed.
And live happily and in harmony with God forever.
We will all get to that point eventually, one way or the other.
But the sooner we do, the easier it is; and the sooner that life can begin.
In fact, if we become reconciled to God before we leave this planet, we can start that life straight away.
That's what God calls the good news.
Jesus has done everything that needs to be done for you and me to live in harmony with God forever.
God is already on your side.
We just need to get on his side to get the full benefit of what Jesus has done for us.
What would you like to do now that you know all this?
Here's a simpler, more concise version I might use when time is short.
Most people think that God is angry with them because of their sins.
Actually it's the other way around. God is in love with them and they are angry with God.
The message of the Bible is that God is waiting for us to be at peace with him.
God loves us and is on our side.
He has done everything to make sure there is nothing between us and him, from his side, through Jesus Christ.
God asks us to believe him in this, to admit our mistakes and selfish attitude, and to genuinely desire reconciliation.
Which means to drop whatever we hold between us and him, to be at peace with him, and to thank him for his generous invitation to live in harmony with him.
Hopefully this simpler version will be enough to get their attention so that they ask the questions necessary to fill out the story and be given the faith to believe it. (Romans 10 : 17)
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Those who know me are acutely aware that religion, including the Christian variety, is not my thing.
My Brisbane neighbours who eventually discovered I was a church pastor would often claim they were not religious in the hope they could avoid any discussion about God or of a spiritual nature.
They were then surprised when I admitted that I was not religious either (but enjoyed a great relationship with God).
It may also surprise many people to know that Jesus did not come to earth to establish a religion.
In fact, he didn't even mention the words religion, Christian or Christianity.
When you look at the original meaning of the word religion, it is easy to see why Jesus avoided it.
Religion comes from the Latin and means to tie, to bind, to obligate or to fasten.
The word conveys a sense of duty, living according to a set of rules and restrictions.
The highly restricted, performance-based life of a monk illustrates religious life in the extreme, but most people committed to a religion of any variety are dominated by the need to perform and to please in order to 'make it' or 'be accepted.'
Jesus came for something entirely different, indeed the opposite.
He came to set us free from religion, to reconcile us to God without the need to perform - nothing to do with religion or religious performance at all.
Religion is mankind striving after God.
Jesus did the opposite - He brought God to mankind, and ultimately will bring all mankind to God.
"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
[John 12 : 32 NIV]
Religion is the outward performance of ceremony, conduct and service motivated by a sense of duty.
Jesus gives life that produces inner joy and peace and service motivated by a relationship of love.
Following Christ is the outworking of that life that brings us to God and Godliness.
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"Most sections of mainstream Christianity preach what they call the good news. But, in many of these, it really is a mixture of good news for a few and very bad news for the majority." (Quote from page 23 of "The Really Good News About God".)
It does not seem to faze these Christians that they gather each Sunday to worship a God of supposed unconditional love who will oversee, even orchestrate, the fearful unending torment of the majority of His creation, the same ones for whom Jesus died.
When I try to explain to any of these Christians what the really good news is, I am treated like a heretic who should be burned at the stake.
Questions like "You don't really believe God will save people like Hitler, do you?" are designed to put me on the defensive and make me abandon the discussion.
And I sometimes have ... until very recently.
I now offer my own provocative questions.
"You don't really believe a God of love would torture those he loves and created in his image, do you?"
"Do you think Jesus was successful when he died for the sins of the world?"
"Do you love your children? If one of them disappointed you, would you torture him/her forever?"
I have changed from leaving myself open to being attacked to asking those sorts of uncomfortable questions. I now avoid being put on the back foot by a person advancing an unbiblical, traditional church position by advancing the true good news found in the Bible.
And what is this good news that the Bible announces?
The end of all things is ...
The Bible has a much better "end of all things" than does mainstream Christianity, and I am becoming much more adventurous in sharing this good news.
(BTW, Hitler is discussed on page 159 of "The Really Good News About God".)
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