I love it when people share the gospel story. Especially when they do a good job. Hearing them trace the grand narrative from creation, through the fall, into God’s faithful presence with his people Israel, all the way to the coming of Messiah and his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. And I get particularly excited when they go on to talk about the outpouring of the Spirit, the mission of the church, the way God will wrap everything up in the end, and how all of this relates to the good news that is the gospel.
This is a good story.
But, unless you go the next step, it’s just a story.
I remember hanging out with some people once who were planning a little get together. They were all talking about what to bring, what time to start, and how much fun it would be. It sounded great.
There was only one little problem. I hadn’t been invited.
It wasn’t a group that I normally hung out with. And so far no one had specifically invited me to their little shindig. Now, they all probably assumed that I was invited simply because I was there. But I wasn’t comfortable making any such assumption. So I hung out around the edges of the group, listening to the planning and excitement. It sounded like fun, but I didn’t know if I should go.
I wasn’t sure if I was included.
A party is only good news if you’re invited. I could walk out of my office tomorrow and yell, “Hey, good news. I’m having a party!” And then walk back into my office. I’m sure that would confuse everyone for a whole variety of reasons—particularly the fact that I don’t normally shout like that, and sadly I’m not known for throwing random parties in my office. But, at the very least, some would probably wonder if they were invited to this great party. And, if they’re not sure, then it’s not very good news.
Actually, if there’s a great party going on and you find out that you’re not invited, that’s pretty much the opposite of good news.
Fortunately, we don’t have that problem here. The good news is that God’s invitation to enter into his Kingdom is for everyone. We are all the homeless beggars standing outside the gates of the Kingdom. Although we come in all shapes and sizes, we are still beggars. And yet, God invites every last one of us to enter in, and he wants all of us to accept (1 Tim 2:4). This good news is for “everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).
Everyone is invited to God’s party.
This can actually be a hard message for us to accept. As we’ve already discussed, some of us have become so aware of our own sin, guilt, and shame that we struggle to believe God would have anything to do with us. Surely we are beyond redemption. God would never invite us to his party.
Yes he would. And he has.
But others are so convinced of our own righteousness, that they want to exclude some people from this offer of salvation. Of course God can save people like me, but that guy over there, definitely not!
Jesus has a story for this. (He had a story for everything.) A Pharisee (think “really righteous guy”) and a tax collector (think “really sinful guy that no one likes”) are both praying. The Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). You see, the Pharisee has a whole list of people that he thinks are beyond redemption, and he’s very grateful that he’s not one of those people. But, the tax collector stands far off and refuses even to lift his eyes to heaven when he prays. He’s so convinced of his own sin and guilt that he’s not even sure that he should be there; he’s not sure that God wants to have anything to do with him.
The Pharisee thinks that there are some people who should not be included in the Gospel. And, if we’re honest, we all have a similar list. Who’s on your list? Child molestors? Terrorists? Self-righteous hypocrites? People who talk loudly on their cell phones in quiet coffee shops? If the Gospel is for broken people like you, then the Gospel is for them, too.
Fortunately, the tax collector gets it right. It would have been easy for him to fall back in despair, convinced that God has already rejected him. But he knows enough about God to come before him in faith and repentance anyway, crying out “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
God does not exclude anyone from the hope and promise of the Gospel.
The good news is that we’re all invited. But unless we extend the invitation, it’s just a story.
[This is an excerpt from a book that I'm writing about the gospel, Good News for the Living Dead: A Fresh Take on the Gospel Story. You can read the other excerpts and keep track of new ones as they become available on my blog.]