BY WINSTON DAVENPORT, JUNE 8 2014
Research shows the the number-one reason we dislike others is because we think they dislike us. We decide whether or not we like an individual within the first two seconds of engaging them, either visually or conversationally. If we're introduced to someone who doesn't seem all that excited to meet us, we tend to dismiss them sub-consiously. We don't want to open our hearts to a potentially hurtful relationship. But, if, when introduced, the person says something such as, "Oh, Winston, I've been looking forward to meeting you!" it's a sure bet that we'll walk away thinking, I like him or her.
In light of this information, it's easy to see why so many people fell in love with Jesus when they first met Him, heard Him speak, or saw Him heal a sick person. When confronted with the true character and nature of God—who is, in fact, personified by Jesus (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15)—it would be very, very difficult not to like Him. After all, He loved us first!
And yet every day I am confronted by those who claim that God is a monster or sociopath. They hate "Jesus" and how He tries to make them feel guilty. They resist deity that tries to boss them around, condemn their behavior, and disapproves of them.
For whatever reason, their image of Jesus is distorted.
His beautiful Name has been associated with legalism, condemnation, racism, and inquisition. Interestingly, if I ask someone on a college campus, "Do you want to follow Jesus?" the response is usually negative. But if I say, "Do you support my values? I believe in giving to the poor, no matter what the cost; giving my life for what I believe in; accepting and loving everyone, no matter who they are or what they've done (except judgmental people); that we must all work together and live in unity," most everyone gladly embraces this message as revolutionary. People get excited, overjoyed! They may not know it, but I just described the values that Jesus came to enforce! People would love to follow that Jesus! This was the reaction in the Book of Acts whenever the unadulterated Gospel was announced. But is the Church's "gospel" today really bringing excitement, zeal, and joy? If not, we must examine how we've been representing the Son of God.
Several misconceptions about Jesus circulate among the human race. Many misconceptions are the result of ignorance: People haven't encountered the Bible or its true heralds. The remedy is to circulate a realistic perspective of who Jesus is among non-believers. To make the message of the Gospel loud and clear: That sins have been forgiven (yes, even your sins! (1 John 2:2)); that God is not mad, nor judging us; and that He's not responsible for the hurt and disappointment their lives have accumulated.
Other misconceptions have been propagated unknowingly by His followers, thinking they're doing the Kingdom of God a service. For instance, certain Catholic leaders thought that the preaching of purgatory, of penance, and even indulgences were helping to accomplish the Great Commission. Three hundred years ago, Puritans believed they were propagating God's holiness by condemning sinners, outcasting the imperfect, and burning witches or heretics at the stake. The solution to this problem lies in teaching Christians the truth about the Jesus they follow. To clarify misunderstandings. Aqulla and Pricilla took this measure with the zealous-but-confused Apollos (see Acts 18:26).
And sometimes, religious leaders have purposely twisted the truth about God in order to keep the masses under control. This problem can be traced all throughout history, all the way back to the Pharisees whom Jesus readily condemned. While He was trying to bring freedom to the masses, the religious elite fought tooth-and-nail to keep them bound. You might be surprised to hear that this dilemma reaches its clutches into today's Christianity as well. Wherever you hear preachers teaching that we must still give the Law its place, that, while grace saved us, the Law is still an important part of following God, welcome to twenty-first century Pharisee-ism. Or when Churches use their pulpits to guilt congregations into parting with as much money as possible—Jesus is being misrepresented. Whenever a street-corner sign-toting preacher yells threats of condemnation and apocalypse, the Gospel is being tampered with.
The cure? Confront the offenders. If they do not listen, we must expose them. Neither confrontation nor exposure needs to include malice or defamation, but we should emulate the apostle Paul's reaction to those who intentionally contaminated the very simplistic, wonderfully pure Good News of Jesus Christ. Gospel misrepresentation is not to be tolerated. With compassion we must correct the errors that are being espoused in the name of Christianity. This might mean taking uncomfortable stands.
When Christians preach condemnation of any kind, they are siding with the devil, the accuser of the brethren, rather than the Holy Spirit, who convicts of righteousness (John 16:10). When we see Christians condemning homosexuals, we must respond—and thus accurately represent—Jesus as He confronted the accusers of the adulterous woman: "Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone!" That makes us uncomfortable. After all, isn't it politically correct among Christians to condemn homosexuals? As the Gospel is misrepresented, we must be the ones who will take a stand for the real Jesus, who perfectly reflects the real Father. "You have no right to condemn a person involved in homosexual activity, adultery, divorce, scandal, etc. unless you yourself are sinless."
As long as people sustain the belief that God is disapproving of their behavior, has even more rules for them to follow, and is just a sigh away from sending the to hell, they will respond exactly as we do when we meet someone who appears to not like us: They shun Him.
Another area that the Gospel is misrepresented is when it comes to undeniable goodness of God. When people are taught that God makes them sick, allows them to get sick, or withholds healing, they develop a distorted perspective of the Father. Walls go up. Deep-rooted bitterness germinates. When God is credited for allowing the poverty that afflicts billions of starving men, women, and children, it's no wonder some people are perfectly content to reject Him! By teaching that God is in control of every earthly occurrence—and thereby attributing disaster, heartache, and preventable tragedy to His "sovereignty"—we fan the flame of a distorted Jesus, a distorted Christianity. That's why some individuals aren't open to hearing the Gospel—they believe they've heard it before, and they're not only uninterested, they're appalled. Wouldn't you be?
When we as ambassadors, represent God as love, demonstrated by Jesus's every word and action, we will not only see the nations flocking to the revival of the restored Gospel, we will begin to witness greater signs and wonders accompanying the (finally) accurate word of Truth. As it has been stated, it's time to put the good back in "Good News." The reason that there are relatively few willing to repent (reminder: repent means "change your way of thinking") is because we're not majoring on God's overwhelming nature of love. The Bible says, "God is love." "Perfect love casts out all fear." It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance, not the fear of judgment (Romans 2:4).
Scripture says that the reason we're able to love God is because He loved us first. That means that until a person understands that God loves them—and that His love isn't just a word; it's a practical state of adoration that extends into our spiritual, physical, mental, relational, and financial states of being—of course they're going to immediately decide they don't like Him, just as you, within a few seconds of meeting someone who clearly doesn't like you, determine that you don't like them either.
Let's adjust our misrepresented Gospel and make sure that people are getting to know the real Jesus within seconds after we introduce them.
by winston davenport, june 8 2014