Theology 101

Is Your Gospel More Than a Bus Ticket to Heaven?

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Most Christians recognize these foundational truths in their faith.

  • I am sinful and broken.
  • I cannot fix my sin on my own, so I need a savior, Jesus Christ.

This is the most common message of Christianity. The reality of our sin is impossible to ignore. We face the effects daily. It is readily clear that the world needs saving. It is not the way it should be.

Recognizing our brokenness and salvation is essential, but it is not enough. It is not the whole gospel. We call this the two-chapter gospel.

Have you ever wondered:

  • Why am I sinful?
  • What is the point of my salvation?
  • What is God’s purpose for my life?

These questions may take different forms, but they tug at the hearts of every human being. We search for purpose and meaning in all that we do, and yet we come up short.

The four-chapter gospel (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) answers questions of meaning, origin, and ultimate purpose.

Many Christians today have lost this larger vision told by the Bible. Despite the greatness of the biblical narrative, in the past 150 years, the church in the Western world has looked at the Bible from the limited perspective of two chapters—Fall and Redemption. Pastor and author Tim Keller points out the importance of telling the whole story:

Some conservative Christians think of the story of salvation as the fall, redemption, heaven. In this narrative, the purpose of redemption is escape from this world; only saved people have anything of value, while unbelieving people in the world are seen as blind and bad. If, however, the story of salvation is creation, fall, redemption, restoration, then things look different…the purpose of redemption is not to escape the world but to renew it…It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew all things.

While sin and salvation are undeniable realities, they are not the complete gospel. This abridged version excludes God’s original plan for his creation, described in the first chapters of Genesis and characterized by shalom—universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. It also leaves out God’s future restoration of all things at the end of the age, also characterized by shalom. In addition:

It does not tell us about our true destiny.

God’s design and desire for his people culminate in eternity with him. God delights in his children and sent his only son to die for us. God did not make the ultimate sacrifice only to make our earthly lives a little better. He did so to reconcile his children to himself and spend forever with us.

It does not tell us why we were created.

Even in the redemption of Christ, we still sin, turn away from God, and seek independence. In his omniscience, then, why did he choose to save humanity? Because he loves us. The depth of God’s love for his people is so grand that in his grace and through our faith in Christ, he forgives our sin and still allows us to steward his creation. Without God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice, we would have no hope in our work, in our relationships, or in our lives.

It does not tell us about what we were created to do.

God charges his people with a grand mission in the very beginning of scripture. Without understanding the context of our creation and the purpose for our lives here on earth, we significantly misinterpret our relationship with God. We lose direction in our lives and struggle to find fulfillment in our work.

It tends to overemphasize the individualistic aspects of salvation. Salvation becomes all about us.

Our salvation in Christ is realized and celebrated in community. As believers, we are integral parts of the body and bride of Christ—the universal, invisible church. We are designed to grow in Christ with others, so that we may sharpen our brothers and sisters in Christ and show Christ’s love to the world (Prov. 27:17).

It becomes a gospel of sin management.

If we understand the only point of the gospel to be our salvation from sin, we ignore the power of Christ in our lives to truly transform us, others, and the world. We miss the extensive reach of God’s grace. We fail to apply God’s purpose in creation to our lives and the world around us. The four-chapter gospel is about more than your sin; it’s about knowing your creator, his purpose for you, and your role in his majestic mission for his people.

It creates a sacred/secular divide.

Our response to our Father should be unlimited, all encompassing, and comprehensive; it’s not limited to church on Sundays. It should appear in every dimension of life. A two-chapter gospel creates a divide between what is spiritual and what is secular. Quite the contrary, our response to God should reverberate into every facet of life: at home, at work, in our families, in our communities, and at church.

This divide has also perpetuated the lie that working in the church is the only “full-time Christian service.” All of life is spiritual, or sacred. There is no inch of creation where Christ does not rule and consequently no dimension of our lives in which he is not present. By demolishing this dichotomy, we realize that God cares about everything we do.

It tends to lead to an escapist view of redemption.

The two-chapter gospel also portrays salvation as simply a bus ticket to heaven. Christians often believe that what they do while they wait for the bus doesn’t really matter. This is not what the Bible teaches. If we leave out the first chapter, Creation, we do not know why we were created. If we leave out the last chapter, Restoration, we do not know about our glorious future.

By recovering scripture’s storyline, we rediscover our true identity. Only in this larger four-chapter framework can we understand why we are important to God, why our work is important to God, and why he has called us to be good stewards.

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel. Download a free digital copy in the IFWE bookstore. Use code: ATNFREE. Offer expires 1/9/17.

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