What thought flashes across your mind when you see a church or a cross on a hill? Most of us have had some exposure to Christianity; however, our responses may have little to do with the core message of the Bible. Is Christianity a political movement? Are churches social clubs or community service organizations? Are they simply filled with hypocrites?
On a recent trip to the Middle East, I met people who heard and responded to the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time. The apostle Paul summarized this message when he spoke to a group of church leaders in Ephesus some 2,000 years ago. “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21 NIV)
In the Middle East, the divide between Israel’s neighbors and the Jewish people remains cavernous. The core message of the Bible bridges that gap, and any schism that fractures people into rival factions. The good news is for everyone.
Paul speaks first of repentance, or a turning toward God, then faith in Jesus Christ. As those created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), we have been made for a relationship with him. Some around the world see God as angry and threatening, even chasing them with a sword. It’s a paradigm shift to see him inviting us into relationship.
Turning toward God means a change in direction for all of us. The prophet Isaiah put our collective issue succinctly: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way” (Isaiah 53:6). In the pursuit of our own way, we each have missed God’s perfect standard. God is both loving and holy, so our falling short, or sin, is a serious issue standing between him and us.
But God, who invites us, has done everything necessary for a relationship with him. Isaiah finishes his thought, “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus Christ, God’s only son, came not only to show us what life untainted by sin looks like. He became our perfect substitute when he shed his blood for us on the cross. He paid the price necessary to make us right in God’s sight.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, relationship with him is now possible. We receive a new life now, and that life continues when these bodies die. That’s the good news, the Gospel.
Take time to respond to this message. One woman in the Middle East I met recently took three months to investigate the claims of Jesus Christ, comparing his life with other religious figures, before she placed faith in him. Faith in Jesus is a reasonable decision.
Please, separate your response to the good news of Jesus from the peripheral issues that can often overshadow it. Jesus still transforms the lives and eternal destinies of all who trust in him, here and around the world. That’s a message worth a careful – and personal – response.
Don Baumann is outreach pastor at Hilltop Community Church.