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.

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. While Scripture is clear that true faith results in works, faith isn’t a result of works.

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! Christ doesn’t merely wipe out our spiritual debt; 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.

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. We’re leaky people, and to keep from permanently drying up, we must keep pouring the gospel back into our hearts.

Temporary: In the words of Timon and Pumbaa, “It ain’t no passing phase.” The good news of Jesus has withstood the test of time and will continue doing so into eternity.

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 comfortable is not one of them. Death to self is the entryway.

Inoffensive: If our gospel doesn’t show us our appallingly desperate need for Christ, it’s fake fruit. Jesus exposes our darkest corners and least attractive parts. He never does so without love, but the love is also a call to release our denial.

Ineffective: This isn’t even 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 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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