WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT
Ready or Not, Here It Comes
Like almost all children, I grew up playing hide-and-seek with kids in the neighborhood. When whoever was “it” had finished counting, almost invariably they would shout, “Ready or not, here I come!” And off they went searching, whether we were ready or not.
Something similar happened when the first followers of Jesus went around telling people about his glorious resurrection from the dead (but it had nothing to do with hiding or seeking). They confidently announced the good news about Jesus in that ready-or-not spirit. Actually, it was more of a like-it-or-not spirit. Here are a few examples:
“God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36)
“You killed the Author of Life, but God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 3:15)
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
“The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.” (Acts 5:30)
“They killed Jesus by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and… he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:39-42)
“We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.” (Acts 14:15)
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)
“God commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
The Rigidity of Facts
Now, contrast the apostles’ declarations with our modern way of talking about “issues.”
Don’t like guns? Don’t buy one.
Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one.
Don’t like cigarettes? Don’t smoke one.
Don’t like abortions? Don’t have one.
The “logic” of these arguments is astoundingly terrible. (Just ask aborted babies how well ‘Don’t like abortions? Don’t get one’ actually works.) But bad logic aside, the biggest problem with these sayings is that they all assume a take-it-or-leave-it approach to life. It’s as if everything is nothing but a preference or an opinion, and your personal choice is king.
But that isn’t how the world works. Not in the slightest. We know that many things are true or false, good or bad, completely independent of our thoughts or feelings about them. You might really, really want the Redskins to be good, for example, but they just aren’t. You may really, really want to win the lottery, but your passionate wish doesn’t produce results. You may believe with all your heart that someone loves you, but that doesn’t make it true.
We’re talking about facts, of course, and facts are true whether we like them or not. Facts don’t care when your favorite team loses. Facts don’t care if you slept in and missed your final exam. Facts don’t care that you don’t believe them. Facts are just true.
When the first followers of talked about Jesus—all that he said and did—they understood that they were talking about facts. They were speaking about things that are either true or false, real or fake, fact or fiction. The one thing their message about Jesus could not be is an “opinion,” because it’s not an opinion whether Jesus rose from the dead—he either did or he didn’t. There are literally no other options.
The problem is that we sometimes talk about Jesus like there are other options. Perhaps you have heard someone say, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” We ought to ask (politely), What does your belief have to do with anything? If God says or does something, it’s true even if you don’t believe it!
Or perhaps you’ve seen the bumper stickers that read, “Try Jesus!” These speak about Jesus like an exercise routine or weight loss program. He’s something good for those who want it, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Talking about Jesus in those ways is dishonorable, misleading, and unhelpful. It reduces to Jesus to an opinion, a preference, or a wish—like your favorite ice cream flavor or the sports team you cheer for. No wonder people who hear us talk about Jesus like that so often shrug their shoulders and say, “Whatever works for you.”
The Gospel Is Good News (Whether You Like It or Not!)
Facts aren’t things that “work for you” but not for others. That isn’t how facts work. Facts are true whether people like them or not, and the same is true of the gospel: it’s true, whether you like it or not—but you really should like it. The gospel is good news, after all.
It’s better news than free ice cream. It’s much better news than hearing your favorite team won the super bowl. It’s better news than getting your dream home for free. The gospel is the good news that, even though you are a screw-up and rebel, God loves you and accepts you anyway. Because Jesus. And in him you lose the “screw-up” and “rebel” labels and gain the name of son or daughter, fully forgiven and completely embraced.
We were guilty, but now we’re innocent (Rom. 8:1).
We were dirty, but now we’re clean (Eph. 5:26).
We were lost, but now we’re found (Luke 15:24).
We were dead, but now we’re alive (Eph. 2:5).
We were enemies of God, but now we’re sons (Rom. 5:8; Gal. 4:4).
Because Jesus is raised from the dead, this is all true, whether you like it or not, but you really ought to like it. And this is not just important for personal evangelism. When you have a rough day and you feel like no one likes you, not even God, guess what? The gospel is true, whether you feel like it or not. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, and his death for sins cannot be undone. You are good with God, even when you don’t feel like it. That’s the power of an objective gospel. It’s good news, whether you like it or not—but you really should like it (because it’s the best news of all!).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.