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Jamie Johnson
with thanks to Mike B.
June 16, 2011

The Simple Truth

It was a spring day and I was on my lunch break. I took my crossword, Sudoku, and a book on a short walk where I thought I might read in a quiet spot. That's when I saw an old friend -- Mike. I hadn't seen him in years. He was sharing the Gospel with college students and mentioned that his partner who encouraged him couldn't make it and asked if I would spend some time with him in this endeavor. I said I would and in a lunch break where I had planned, God had other plans.

During that hour, Mike and I prayed with college students who received Christ. What impressed me, though, was Mike's engaging and loving approach to the students and how simply he presented the simple truth of the Gospel. He asked passing students, "Would you like a bracelet?" You know about the bracelets with the colored beads on them where the colors outline the Gospel. Many students would reject the bracelet, but Mike kept a smile, a loving attitude and smile, and wished them well.

Others would accept the bracelet and that is where Mike would ask them engaging questions. At first they were silly (and non-threatening): How do you spell silk? What does a cow drink? What is P-O-K-E? What is J-O-K-E? What is the white part of an egg? How many animals did Moses put on the Ark? And then the questions would become more serious. On a scale of 0 to 100, what is the likelihood that you will go to Heaven? Why that number? Mike would listen as students shared why they said 30 or 80.

Then Mike would address certainty. Are your toes on your feet? Touch your nose. Is your nose on your face? And then he would ask the question: "Can I share with you how you can be as sure about Heaven as you are about your toes and nose?"

Mike would outline the Gospel TRUTH as outlined by the bracelet, stating that it is "painful at first, but gets better." After asking various questions about various sins (telling a fib, taking something that doesn't belong to us, using God's name in vain, looking lustfully, and being unrightfully angry at another), Mike, the students and I would raise our hands to show that in and of ourselves, we are all liars, thieves, blasphemers, adulterers, and murderers. We are guilty. Mike asked the students about if Jesus died on the cross. In all instances, they declared that He did. Then Mike asked, "What happened after that?" and eventually, discussion came to the Resurrection. Mike would show the simple truth of the Gospel, that while we were sinners, Jesus paid the penalty with his blood and God is satisfied as proven by the Resurrection.

Mike mentioned to the students a hypothetical situation where they had to pay $1,000,000 - a debt they couldn't pay. He likened this to sin and then said Jesus paid the debt in full. He mentioned trusting the payment and not arguing with the judge. Mike said to the students that up to this point, not trusting Jesus' payment is shown by each person trying to make his or her own payment.

Bringing it home, Mike would ask 3 more questions: 0 to 100 - Jesus died on the cross? 0 to 100 - Jesus rose again? 0 to 100 - Going to Heaven? In all instances the students confidently declared 100 - trusting Christ.

Now, theology can get deep, even complex, and I enjoy a deep and good discussion now and then, but theological paradigms can become pharisaic and can become more focused on intellectual exercise or an exercise of arrogance. Sometimes, I think we Christians can miss the simple truth of the Gospel. I've been involved in various traditions in the walk of my Christian faith and have discussed Calvin (predestination) versus Arminius (free will) as well as Paedobaptism verus Credobaptism as well as Limited Atonement and various apologetics. However, there is nothing like the clarity of the Word itself, especially the simple truth of the Gospel.

J.I. Packer wrote the following:

"The Bible does not need to be supplemented and interpreted by tradition, or revisited and corrected by reason. Instead, it demands to sit in judgment on the dictates of both, for the words of men must be tried by the Word of God. The church collectively, and the Christian individually, can and does err, and the inerrant Scripture must ever be allowed to speak and correct them" (p. 129, The J.I. Packer Classic Collection).

Later in that same work, J.I. Packer wrote as follows:

"The proper ground for believing a thing is not that the church or reason says it. Both these authorities may err, and in any case it is not to them that God has told us to go for authoritative indications of his mind. The proper ground for believing a thing is that God says it in his written Word, and a readiness to take God's Word and accept what he asserts in the Bible is thus fundamental to faith. ... Tradition may not be lightly dismissed, but neither may it be made a separate authority apart from Scripture. ... Reason's part is to act as the servant of the written Word, seeking dependence on the Spirit..."

So, the theology and tradition are topics of worthy discussions, but sometimes we fall into missing the forest for the trees. We get so hung up on shaping the Bible and other believers into our paradigms and traditions instead of letting the Bible speak for itself. While we need to be prepared to give a good defense and to grow in depth and knowledge, we must not miss the simple truth in the process. Hearing the simple TRUTH of the Gospel was refreshing that day - no contention among believers (in spite of differences) for it is what unifies us. It is the simple message of the Good News. And the response is just as clear: One either accepts it or rejects it.

The Gospel must be our focus. Otherwise, we will be divided and fail to let them "know we are Christians by our love." As I think about the simple truth of the Gospel being our focus, I cannot help but think of the words written by John C. Maxwell in The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow:

"Experienced animal trainers take a stool with them when they step into a cage with a lion. Why a stool? It tames a lion better than anything--except maybe a tranquilizer gun. When the trainer holds the stool with the legs extended toward the lion's face, the animal tries to focus on all four legs at once. And that paralyzes him. Divided focus always works against you."

Is it working against you? Mike was focused on reaching the lost lovingly with the Gospel. I think Christians in general would do well to ask the questions Mike asks instead of determining whether one is acceptable per our congregations, traditions and paradigms alone. After all, it really all comes down to the simple truth of the Gospel, doesn't it?

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