If this Gospel—the Gospel of Jesus Christ—is going to re-engage Western culture in a new way, it starts with us. And it will happen when we commit to demonstrating his restorative power everywhere we show up and to everyone we encounter: with our friends and family, in the neighborhood where we live, and in the places where our vocations take shape. When Christians put their priority on the first thing, the second things being to take care of themselves. Jesus himself couldn’t have been any clearer: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [second] things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33).
Second Things Resulting From the Proper First Thing
I’ve seen many of the next Christians get to order correct. When they do, and when we do, consider what’s possible.The focus on savvy outreach methods and persuasive skills goes away. Outsiders aren’t seen as commodities to be recruited, reached, or proselytized. They are treated as valued creations of God, possessing his image and seeing their goodness affirmed wherever it shines through. By recovering the Gospel, the next Christians are befriending people through authentic relationships where love is the only agenda. They trust God to work in outsiders’ lives when he’s ready, using their unconditional love, grace and acceptance as the basis.
Good deeds will stop being done as an action that earns God’s favor. Instead, by recovering the Gospel, Christians will recognize that ultimate grace can be experienced through Christ alone—that his unconditional love and power is the only reliable source for true restoration. Although many good dees will go forward in his name, they will be done in a response of worship to a good God and played out in the most ordinary, and sometimes darkest, places in our world.
The emphasis placed on doing social justice will be grounded in the Gospel. We were once enslaved by sin, but God saved us and restored us to wholeness. So Christians plead the case of the marginalized because God pleased their own case when they were marginalized. Understanding this good news also means recognizing its ultimate power to change real circumstances. IN the lives of the mistreated, underrepresented, and left behind and left behind of our world, the Christian responds by solving real problems. Their acts of social justice demonstrate to the world that Christ cares about the here and now—not just the afterlife.Debates around methods of cultural engagement will become less of a theme. As Christians rediscover the Gospel—and particularly the life of Jesus—they will be left with only one choice: to roll their sleeves up and get in on the game. No longer content to separate or lie back hoping someone else will get involved; they are forced into the middle of society. Their sociological understanding of the seven channels of culture and the failed attempts of past generations to change culture by critiquing and condemning it inform their motivations. Instead, they show up and create culture.
For those churches trying to keep up with how to be “relevant” or debating what church model is most “effective,” the distraction will subside. Pastors will begin to see more and more the power of the Gospel to change local communities, not just individual lives. Church leaders will disciple their people to become more like Christ, do mission in the place God has called them, and find the best way for the church structure to support those two activities. The churches that recover the Gospel instead of being too focused on finding the “right” worship style, programming winsome services, or measuring church growth statistics become a light in their communities. If they left town, they’d be sorely missed. Their cities are genuinely better places, even for non-Christians, as a result of their presence.
Fascination by some Christians over end-time prophecies will diminish. For those who’ve been enamored with what life might look like around Jesus’s return, they’ll be awakened to their opportunity in the present moment to be a part of what God is doing now. Following the lead of the next Christians, they’ll de-prioritize speculation over end-time predictions by recognizing that we’ve all been called to restoration no matter how history’s final chapter concludes.
Recovering the full story of the Gospel informs Christians on their responsibility to care for God’s creation –to demonstrate environmental stewardship. It’s not up for debate that part of our commission to “have dominion” on earth included using earth’s resources responsibly, considering future generations and doing the basic things that help creation flourish. I’m not talking about militant political action. I’m describing average Christians doing their part to limit consumption, recycle, plant gardens, and advocate for the poor where environmental injustices (like air pollution and unclean water) stand to hurt their livelihood. The Gospel of restoration extends over all of God’s creation.Church Leaders will unleash their people to use their gifts throughout all seven channels of cultural influence. Understanding the Gospel’s call to restore, pastors will begin to teach their people how to become vehicles for God’s restoration to flood their workplaces and industries. The focus moves off career paths and onto calling. Christians reengage their vocations, seeing them as essential to God’s original intentions for the world. The church is reignited as the focus moves from inside the walls out to every sphere of society. Along the way, people are more fulfilled as they discover purpose in the place where they are where they are spending the majority of their time.
Finally, Christians won’t be consumed with trying to change the negative perceptions so prevalent within the younger generations. Instead, they’ll recognize that perceptions change one person at a time—one experience at a time. I once thought that Christianity’s problem was “branding.” But that’s a second thing. The first thing is the Gospel. When Christians recover the effect of the Gospel in their own lives to shift their inclinations from judgment to grace, hypocrisy to authenticity, and rejection to acceptance, then outsiders will give them another chance. But this kind of shift won’t happen instantly. The perception will only change through consistent exposure, over time, to Christ’s followers who take seriously their call to proclaim and embody the Gospel in everything they do, everywhere they go.