The Gospel: Is the Means More Important Than the End?
I have just returned from a 3-month sabbatical. One (of a few) reasons I needed a sabbatical stemmed from my own confusion around the following issues I am about to address. That confusion eventually lead to the cynicism, soul-deadness and personal burnout that characterized my life for a period of time.
In August of 2017, I walked part of the Camino del Norte in northern Spain. Along the way, I encountered the writing on the rock in the picture at the top of this blog. Aside from the spelling issue, it has a potent message.
Let’s agree that the WHAT (end) is the submission of a person to the Lordship of Jesus Christ= Salvation. The HOW (means) are the actions/behaviours/attitudes through which we demonstrate the submission of our lives to the ways and teachings of Jesus.
Incredibly, in the pursuit of communicating the "Gospel" to the world, many of Jesus' followers have divorced the ends from the means. It’s a big problem when we orient our efforts to point people to accept Jesus, but in our personal lives and ministries, pay scant attention to His instructions and commands regarding how to live, serve and help people experience the 'end' of salvation.
In our pursuit of the 'gospel to the ends of the earth', have we forgotten that the ways of Jesus are as important as is the ultimate end? Jesus describes Himself as the Way. Jesus as the Way also means that the ways of Jesus are part of the Way. We cannot think that to get to the ends (salvation) we don’t have to give attention to the means/ways.
Two implications here:
First, let’s consider the institutional church. In the contemporary North American church, we have some stark and extreme examples where some have abandoned the ways of Jesus in order to preserve and maintain their version of ‘truth’. They have defined what the end (a 'saved person') looks like, as well as how they behave and think. Any deviation from that is, well, deviant. Problem is, they ignore or violate (they are the same really) the very ways of Jesus in their pursuit of getting others to conform to the 'more important' end of what a 'saved' person looks, smells and talks like. You are 'in' if you hold certain views and act in a prescribed way. You are 'out' if you can't conform. Incredibly, we are seeing a stark example of this is some sectors of the US church where political alignments are calculated into defining a follower of Jesus. The great perversion here is how the very character and attitude that Jesus expects of His followers is sacrificed in the name of the 'end' of what a particular church or group defines as a "Christian".
Make no mistake; the great delusion of Satan is not to mess with the final goal of salvation but rather the means; the followers’ way of life. No power can, or ever will thwart the plans of God for the salvation of humankind. That is a done deal. Jesus’ work is completed and is eternal. However, Satan can and does do everything possible to get us off living according to the Way. Get Christians compromising on the truths of how Jesus taught us to live and soon enough the 'way' of Jesus doesn't look as attractive to those seeking God, or the message never gets across in the first place. Mission accomplished.
Secondly, how does this affect us as individual followers of Jesus? Now this gets personal for me. I burned out because I drove to the ends (bringing people towards Jesus) by my own means and effort. I built a ministry, organized people, taught seminars, and wrote often out of my own sense of what would contribute to the end of salvation. However this striving eventually produced cynicism and a severe 'distance' between myself and my own soul and convictions. I had lived in violent contradiction to the Jesus way primarily because I did not stop enough to wait for His instruction! No wonder I burned out. I attempted to accomplish a divine 'end' of salvation for others using other-than divine means. This approach inevitably leads a believer to the end of their human rope.
We followers of Jesus are merely servants of a Master who holds a Master plan. True servants only do what they are told. Therefore, unless you are listening, you cannot know what He is telling you to do and how He wants it done. This is spiritual 'motherhood and apple pie' talk. I can’t think of a single believer in my world that would disagree. They, like me would teach this stuff with conviction. However, ‘the devil is in the details’ of how we live out the way of Jesus in pursuit of the goal of salvation for others.
The WHAT is accomplished…and its GOD’s exclusive work.
The HOW is your work, but can only be known when you stop to listen.