The Gospel isn’t about what you “ought to” do. It’s about what Jesus has already done.
When my daughter Abby was two, she learned to sing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
She also learned to love French fries.
While dining out on one occasion, Abby detected that I had French fries on my plate while she had none. She began clamoring, “I want French fries! I want French fries!” We declined her request, pointing her to the healthier items on her plate. She continued, “I want French fries!” Still, we did not budge. Finally, in her desperation, she cried out: “I want French fries right now—for the Bible tells me so!”
The Word of God has brought hope to the hurting, light to the lost, and led millions into the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It has also been misused to get everything from French fries to personal relationship control to world political power. Sadly, other than the institution of the family, nothing has caused more shame than institutionalized religion.
I’ve been in almost all kinds of Christian churches. I grew up in a highly liturgical church. I was nurtured in a conservative Bible church. I went to a mainline liberal seminary. And I’ve rocked and rolled in charismatic fellowships. I can truly say that I love all my brothers and sisters in Christ. Every Christian tradition can bless you. And, I must add, every form of fellowship can also shame you.
Religious shame comes in the form of “you ought to.” You ought to go to church more. You ought to pray more. You ought to read your Bible more. You ought to do more for the poor. You ought to have more faith. You ought to, you ought to, you ought to – it’s enough to give you what my friend Dudley Hall calls “the hardening of the oughteries”!
Sinners ran from the first century religious leaders, but they flocked to Christ. Why? Because His message wasn’t a shame-based “you ought to” but a grace-soaked “you can!” The key to Jesus’ amazing popularity among “sinners” was that He was full of grace and truth. Not 50% grace and 50% truth. All grace. All truth.
That’s the power of God at work. So gracious you are never condemned. So truthful that you are never left in bondage. You “ought to” has become you “get to” in Christ. And that’s the Gospel!