Monday, August 29, 2011

The Chronic Gospel

Disclaimer: this is neither an advertisement for Chronic Tacos - although this Southern California establishment does have amazing tacos - nor is it meant to disparage the good folks of Chronic Tacos. And no, this has nothing to do with Snoop Dogg or Dr. Dre, although I enjoy their music too.

But I couldn't help notice something about their advertising today as I was sitting across the walkway at Golden West College (our local community college) from one of their faithful employees. He was handing out flyers advertising tacos: "Get a free taco*." We were handing out flyers about Christianity: "Get out of hell free...because Jesus paid for your sins." Granted, the two flyers are totally different. It's not even close to the apples and oranges metaphor. Or, perhaps instead I should say, "salsa and guacamole."

As one disinterested person walked by our table, the taco guy proceeded to yell out: "Hey, want a free taco* instead?" I laughed. You had to appreciate the witty, well-crafted segue. Shortly after that I went over to get a free taco* coupon only to notice that free* meant something very different at Chronic Taco. "Free Taco*" really means, free taco with the purchase of one taco. I don't care what planet you're from, what kind of food you like, if you prefer salsa or guacamole, burritos with or without beans, tacos with or without fish...but that, my friends, is not free. Buy one get one free is not free. You still have to buy a taco. Apparently, there's no such thing as a free taco even in Huntington Beach.

Now, can you imagine if the Gospel worked the same way? What if the Christian church handed out forgiveness like Chronic Taco? What if Jesus operated the same way as the As-Seen-On-TV salesman or the free* taco guy at Golden West College: "Buy one get one free!" Or..."While supplies last!" Tragically, Christian churches have tried catching people with the ole' bait and switch. But what really gets switched out is the Gospel. And people are left hoodwinked. Swindled. Disappointed...worse than discovering what a free taco* is really all about. BOGO is not good news. It's not even  free. It's free with an asterisk. Just ask Barry Bonds about asterisks (snicker snicker)

Christianity - in fact - is the only religion that claims salvation to be a free gift. All the others are like the Chronic, but with a catch, a hitch, an asterisk. The ever-infamous but. In other words, not free. That's all the other religions - not free. That is the chronic "gospel" - a default setting for sinful humanity. "There's no such thing as a free lunch"..."If you can reject Jesus, you can choose him too"..."the will is not bound and man is not totally deprave, there's a spark of goodness"..." Oh sure, it's Jesus Crucified, but"...and the the list starts. The conditions and terms of the contract are given. Free salvation*. That was the battle that Jesus had with the Pharisees and religious authorities. It was the battle at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. It was the battle that Paul had with the Circumcision party in Galatians. It was the battle Luther and others were enlisted in during the Reformation. And it's an ongoing battle today. Our sinful flesh loves the chronic gospel; it's addictive and deadly. Jesus' cross with the asterisk is no cross at all. The Gospel with condition is no gospel at all.

Unlike the Chronic Taco advertisement...the Good News is unconditional, no strings attached: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world...the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many...I came not to for the righteous but the sinners. On Good Friday there is no asterisk by the Crucified Christ. It is simply - and completely - finished. For you. Free salvation. Free life. Free heaven. Free like nothing else in the world is free. And thankfully his supply never runs out.

"But nothing's free," you say. And you're right. There is a cost for this salvation. But not for you. The cost - the heavy price - is paid for by another. Fully and eternally underwritten by Jesus' blood. Or as we confess in the explanation of the Apostle's Creed: "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true."
Or as 1 Peter 1 declares:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you,  Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

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