What words do you think of when you picture the gospel? Is it beautiful? Life-changing? Is it just a religious term? Is it something said by pollsters looking for trends in the evangelical vote? Is it a word simply used to describe music that only talks about Jesus? Is it just a paperweight for our minds to keep the deeper questions of God from floating around?
What if, when we heard the word “gospel”, we thought of the word “offensive”? To those who don’t believe, it can be extremely offensive. We read so in the Old Testament:
“To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.” Jeremiah 6:10
Why would the word of the Lord be offensive to one who doesn’t believe it? There are likely a variety of reasons. First, it’s hard to believe in a centuries old book filled with impossible stories and borderline fairy tales. It’s silly to think a man could build a massive boat that housed hundreds of animals to survive a flood. It’s crazy to suggest a man could literally walk across the ocean without succumbing to gravity and sinking into the water. It’s insane to think a man could predict his own death, die the exact way he predicted, and then come back to life three days later.
Secondly, the gospel requires people to admit they’re wrong. Not just wrong, but sinful, a word that in itself carries offense. By one admitting they are sinful, they’re saying they’ve done wrong in their life; committed offenses towards other people along with God. When they seek forgiveness and redemption from their sins (both elements of the gospel), they are admitting they cannot make good on their faults by themselves. They’re admitting the need for someone else to help them change their lives.
Perhaps one more reason the gospel holds offense for those who don’t believe it is the assumed requirement to then belong to a church after becoming a believer. Long viewed as a group of hypocrites, the church has lost great appeal as a place for the hurting to go and be comforted. Too many times now it’s seen as little more than a propaganda machine used for political posturing and finger pointing.
Yes, the gospel certainly holds offense for those who don’t believe it. But I think there’s a fair chance it may even be offensive to the very people that do believe in it.
In the 1990’s, there was a lot of enjoyable Christian music. Enjoyable, yet very safe. Groups such as DC Talk, Point of Grace, Newboys, and Audio Adrenaline among others sang songs with catchy choruses and impressive melodies. The problem with many contemporary Christian songs in the 90’s, however, was that they rarely came across as challenging or thought-provoking in any way.
One group in the 90’s did manage to rock the boat some. A band called Room Full of Walters released a little heard single on some Christian rock stations called “Jeffrey Dahmer Went to Heaven”, a song that to this day remains the most controversial Christian song in the opinion of many.
The song talks about how mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer had mentioned in an interview while in prison that he had repented of his sins and accepted Jesus as his Savior. A fact that, to many people, is ridiculous. How could any God allow someone as twisted and evil as Jeffrey Dahmer, a man who killed over a dozen people, into heaven? How could he be someone that God would accept? Surely his sins were too great to be forgiven.
And there lies the offense of the gospel to those who believe: we see many that are unbelievers as too undeserving of God’s grace. We view them as people who are too deep in their sin, as too consumed with their own wicked desires, that even the grace of God cannot cover them.
Who do we think we are?
How dare we put limits on God’s grace! How wrong we are to cherry pick those who may be deemed acceptable by God!
The best lines from the Room Full of Walters song says this about many Christian’s opinions on the possibility that Dahmer really did become a believer and now lives in heaven:
“If it makes you sad and blue
If it makes you mad, then shame on you
If it makes you question God
Maybe God should question you
How do you think you’d do?
I know how you’d do.”
The word of God is offensive to non-believers. It finds itself equally offensive to many Christians who see it as nothing but a book of rules and codes that pertain to those with just little sins. A great quote I once heard said “If your sin is small, your Savior will be small. If your sin is great, you Savior will also be great.”
Beyond its great offense, the gospel offers this: a great equalizer among those that believe it. A place where no sin is greater than any other, because they are all forgiven. A place where businessman, soccer moms, drug dealers, prostitutes, teachers, pastors, murderers, nuns, pregnant teenagers, star athletes, and everyone in between are the same, all because of God’s grace. A grace offensive enough to forgive Jeffrey Dahmer is also merciful enough to forgive my numerous sins, and yours.