He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me!
This classic hymn is all about the problem of sin, and its solution, the great Saviour Jesus. It’s a real celebration song, and when Charles Wesley first penned the words, he was excited enough to write 18 verses! The sin it refers to is tangible, obvious, and strongly felt, and there are verses for sex workers and even murderers. But these are new people, looking at past evils washed away with grace and joy.
Like Charles Wesley, many of us have experienced a specific moment of conversion, a crisis of sin flooded by our experience of God’s grace and our acceptance of forgiveness. It’s natural for us to hope and even expect that others will experience something similar. It’s not surprising that when we tell ‘the gospel’, it’s usually an attempt to provoke a crisis moment, to convince others of their sinfulness, of the danger of God’s judgement, of the urgent need for a response.
The story of forgiveness is the story we love to tell, and we pour our energy into telling it well. You have a problem, but Jesus is the solution. Sin plus cross equals forgiveness equals salvation. Amen!
But is this the full story? We’re speaking the truth, but are we speaking the whole truth?
When Tamie talked about The King Jesus Gospel, she noted that Christ’s death for our sins is very much a gospel idea. But that doesn’t mean the gospel is all about dealing with our sins. In other words, there’s more to the ‘good news’ than simply forgiveness.
But there’s something else too: the message of forgiveness of sins may not be the first thing, or even the best thing, that our audience needs to hear. For example, we know how to tell people what we need saving from, but what about what we’re saved for? If we’ve only got one angle, we’re leaving people hanging. There’s more truth to be told.
Let me explain. I’m from eastern suburbs Adelaide, so I know plenty of middle class Aussies who are living quiet, responsible, comfortable lives. Okay, maybe a little too comfortable, but you know what I mean: they’re good family members, good community members, good citizens. In a whole lot of ways, they live just like us (sometimes better than us!). And they live with us in Australia, the world’s most prosperous and secure nation. It’s not that they’re not sinful, it’s just that ‘sin’ is pretty far removed from how they see themselves.
It’s hard to see the need for a Saviour when there doesn’t seem to be much we need saving from.
Sure, things aren’t always what they seem: all of our lives have cracks somewhere, sometimes deep, and sometimes well hidden. But the friends I’m talking about are not the addicts and criminals who Charles Wesley was singing to. There’s not much of a ‘hellish crew’ in eastern suburbs Adelaide!
If we only know how to tell the gospel in terms of forgiveness of sins, then we’re setting ourselves a mind-boggling amount of persuasive work. Try convincing an Aussie that ‘his blood can make the foulest clean!’ A Saviour? For them? Most of the time it’ll fall flat.
To put it another way, what does ‘hope’ mean when Aussies are not living in obvious defeat or oppression?
Unlike Wesley, we’re not living in early modern England. What tangible hope do we have to offer to the neighbours around us? Do we really expect all of them to have a crisis moment before they encounter Jesus?
Jesus is more than just a Saviour, and we need more than just forgiveness. There’s more to the good news than a salvation equation, or the mechanics of getting forgiven. The truth we tell must be big enough for everyone around us, not just the ‘foulest’ of sinners.
In the next few posts, I’ll show you three different versions of the story, each with a different angle. I’m keen to hear what you think!
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.