The Gospel is for Christians, because the gospel includes the description and reality of what is promised and secured for all who rest their faith on Christ alone. Only with the centrality of that hope regularly proclaimed and therefore pressed into the heart of every structure of the believer’s worldview would we expect to see a Christian like the Hebrews 10:34 Christians were.
The gospel is bigger than a one-time message about the forgiveness for sins. It has to be. When the gospel only includes the atoning element, the forgiveness of sins, and when a one-time “born-again” conversion experience is so elevated it swallows up everything else, then you’ve got a truncated gospel.
Now, I’m not talking about Christians needing to be re-justified, or maintaining-justification, and I do think that people who believe that Jesus died for their sins, placing hope in the sufficiency of that, that’s a justifying faith. However, I think if that is as good as the good news is to someone, it’s a recipe for them being a baby Christian. Particularly in the affluent and seductive world we live in.
There is of course a tendency in the Reformed world in America, particularly to those who only know the Westminster Confession of Faith, (or some teacher influenced by it) to build only two main mental categories. Categories built on the theological categories of Justification and Sanctification. It goes something like this: “Justification is attained when I believed, and before that I was a baddie, and now I’m involved in Sanctification and for the most part done with being a baddie.”
This is a super-simplified take on the fact that justification is a one-time event, and since we’ve been removed from the law as a covenant-of-works, it becomes to us a guide to a God-glorifying life. The fact that even the power of sin in our lives is like a snake that has had its head cut off, and we have all the power in Christ to overcome whatever temptation we face each day. Even though, because of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in us, we have been much improved, have different desires and have changed many habits. Yet by that same Spirit, we see (or we should see), how far off we are from the perfect standard, which is Jesus Christ, the one truly obedient Israelite, the promised seed of Adam and of Abraham who loved God and neighbor perfectly, fulfilling all righteousness under the law.
Somewhere in that we should see that we are nowhere near what God requires. Yet it seems that most American Christians think that a personal renovation from the state of being in gross-sin and having no desire for the things of God, to less-sin along with a sometime desire for the things of God means they’re somehow far above the same level of reproach as the great unwashed masses, the real sinners out there, or perhaps that guy in the church who doesn’t seem to visibly obey King Jesus as well as I do.
This simplified view often turns into a simple message, particularly among the more broadly evangelical camp of “Take-Jesus-as-Savior-and-then-you’d-better-work-on-making-Him-Lord-or-else-you’re-goin’-to-hell.” Trying to teach these people that works only follow justification as a consequence of prior regenerating union with Christ doesn’t often go very far, and they might peg anyone who does so as a liberal who is unwilling to say with un-minced words that Jesus better be King of your life or else. The Reformed Presbyterian version of this is: “But Sanctification is important too” …reminding them that “I didn’t’ say it wasn’t” is going to be the next step to probably getting nowhere.
It seems these people have setup this dichotomy where either one or the other is elevated and that when you elevate one, you’d better balance it out, because the two main categories governing their thought are that one is either a legalist or an antinomian. Too much law, and you’re a legalist, and too much gospel and you’re an antinomian.
Again, this is an over-simplification that is not helpful, because the gospel believed is what was able to make people who were formerly very moral Jews and or grossly sinful pagans do some pretty amazing things. They were now willing to not only accept persecution, rejection from society and imprisonment, but they also bore the antithetical fruit of actually rejoicing when all their worldly possessions and property were taken away from them.
“For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property” (Heb 10:34a)
Now I’m a Texan who’s been on this earth for over 50 years and I don’t personally know anyone who would do that. It’s really shocking behavior. In fact, I will be honest about myself, I would have a serious problem if someone came and told me that all my stuff is being taken away because I am Christian.
My first thought is: “from my cold dead fingers.” Yet there that verse sits, right there in the Bible. Who were these people, and why were they so over the top crazy rejoicing while their stuff being take away? This must be some sort of socialist plot to take more of my money.
Speaking of socialist plots… The first time I was shown that verse was by a well-off church Administrator/elder who was on the wealthy church’s payroll (partly with my money), and who himself had just come back from a vacation in Europe, a place I had never been.
This was the first years of the Obama administration, and I had not realized how many people in the allegedly conservative church I was in had voted for him. This elder was my elder and I was complaining about barely being able to make it financially, and about how a corrupt Federal law had made it impossible for our family owned mortgage brokerage to continue to compete with the larger companies and we had to close it down, and how bad off we were, and how much we were struggling. Based on me taking all that to him he hit me with that verse and suggested my wife (who had been the educated and certified primary operator of that family business) get a job.
Since then I have given a little thought to it now and again, and over time I realized that the answer was in the second half of the verse itself. “since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” (Heb 10:34b). I present it to you in this little essay not because I’m an out of touch self-important socialist trying to get my hands on your stuff, (which yes, they most probably are), but to ask you a question. Do you think those crazy Christians only heard (and believed) a good report of Justification in Christ and then move on into sermons emphasizing Sanctification and personal holiness in their lives lived? Did that kind of sermon inspire such joy at having their earthly possessions plundered?
The fact is that Christ, by His obedience secured not only the promised eternal life in the first covenant with Adam, but we find out even more about the future secured by the obedient seed where there is an eternal and imperishable inheritance promised to Abraham and His seed (Christ) and to us who are seeds in Christ (Gal 3:26-28).
This is also not the only place we see Christians rejoicing, not over thoughts relating simply to being born again, with sins forgiven, but further into eternal things we Justified have attained in Christ: 1 Pet 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice…