Plastic Jesus

Was anyone else fooled by the pretty bowl of pears on their great-grandmother’s dining room table? You wander in and see that delicious fruit just begging to be savored. Not one to disappoint, you pluck the ripest from the bunch and have got it almost to your antsy taste buds when your parents alert you to the fact that what you are about to consume is, in fact, fake. Anyone?

Stupid pears. This is why I have trust issues.

We’ve taken the gospel—that dazzling centerpiece of the Christian faith—and created lookalikes. Sure, the coloring seems perfect, the texture identical to what’s real. But all it takes is one bite to realize we’ve been duped.

Gospel: the message of good news that God created the world and humanity to be perfect, we messed it all up and brought brokenness, Jesus came to rescue it and us, and one day He will bring all things back to a state of perfection.

As a public service to everyone under the age of five, I’d like to revoke all of the plastic pears in the world. And as a public service to everyone over the age of five, I’d like to unmask the false fruit parading as true in our hearts. Here are some things the gospel is not:

A star chart: We don’t need a new set of rules to be exchanged for the old set of rules, calling us to perform endlessly for Jesus points. Simply put, the gospel is done for us, not by us. It’s still a light burden and an easy yoke.

A mulligan: If the gospel were simply a clean slate, it would be awful news. We’d just screw up again and need another savior! Thank goodness we don’t have to depend on our ability to get it right this time around. Christ doesn’t merely wipe out the red in our spiritual ledger; He fills our account with endless funds.

A robot factory: Becoming a believer doesn’t erase who you are. It makes you the best, fullest version of yourself. You’re never more you than when Christ takes up residence in your life. Keep your brain. Please.

A one-time event: Your salvation is just as much about your relationship with Jesus right now as it is about that prayer you prayed way back when. This is a way of life, an ongoing rescue. We need a gospel that grows up with us as we keep preaching it to ourselves for the rest of our days.

Flimsy: Jesus can deal with the ugliest, most horrific sin you can imagine. As Luther said, “You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our Helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us.” He came to handle the worst we’re capable of.

Easy to remember: We know the gospel. We forget the gospel. We know the gospel. We forget the gospel. On and on it goes. In the words of Joseph Kerr, we are “gospel sieves,” never retaining the truth for long without being reminded. We’re leaky people, and to keep from permanently drying up, we must keep pouring the gospel back into our hearts.

Temporary: As Timon and Pumbaa say, “It ain’t no passing phase.” The good news of Jesus has withstood thousands of years of enemies trying their hardest to squash it. This message isn’t going anywhere on a grand scale (or on a personal scale when we screw up).

Conditional: The gospel rests on nothing but the finished work of Christ. Nothing. Not my willpower or faith or obedience or desire or love or prayer or anything other than the everlasting arms that cannot fail.

Cheap: Can we look at the cross and claim our salvation required nothing? This isn’t the spiritual Dollar Tree. It cost God immensely more than we can fathom.

Me-centered: While there are very real implications for every aspect of our lives, the gospel revolves around Jesus. He authored it. He carried it out. He completes it. We’re just along for the ride. (What a relief, right?)

Self-help: No personal development program for us! We can’t manage our own sin, modify our own behavior. The gospel scoops out our rotten hearts and gives us a divine transplant from somewhere completely outside of ourselves. The best of what we could offer on our own smells awful and attracts flies.

Easy street: Want health, wealth, and prosperity? This is the proverbial wrong tree. The gospel is many things, but a genie in a lamp is not one of them. Death to self is the entryway.

Fire insurance: The gospel is intended to affect this life as well as the next, rather than serving as a “get out of hell free” card with no ramifications until we die. Jesus didn’t save us to avoid us. The rewards (and responsibilities) of the gospel are meant to impact our moment-by-moment reality.

Static: Though the message is the same today as it was the first time it fell on human ears, it’s a living thing. As we do the work to lean into the gospel, it takes on new colors and shapes, changing us from the inside out.

One option among many: The gospel is God’s rhythm. As such, it is the only way we can return to the way of life He had in mind for us in the beginning: good, free, true, and abundant. No other path can hold this much glory.

An exclusive club: The gospel collects all kinds of people from all walks of life. If our gospel only allows for folks who look and think like us, we’ve found another cheap imitation. Jesus continues His kingdom work of gathering natural enemies into a brand-new family marked by unity the culture can’t explain.

Comfortable: If a certain gospel doesn’t reveal our desperate need for Jesus, it’s fake fruit. The Lord graciously gets into our personal business, digging and poking, exposing our darkest corners and least attractive parts. He never does so without love, but the love is also a call to release our denial. We’ll find no Christ who politely ignores our struggles here.

Ineffective: This isn’t a throw of the dice, crossing our fingers and hoping it works. Absolutely nothing could thwart God’s plan of redemption, so there remains absolutely nothing to fear. The cross was sufficient for us.

The fruit in the garden was a sham, and we’ve been eating shams ever since. Jesus has purchased for us true, life-giving fruit, the kind with sweet juice that runs down your chin and leaves you with sticky fingers and a satisfied soul. As we consume this genuine gospel, the Spirit cultivates His fruit in us. May we be fruitful people, clinging to what is good.

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