How much longer could you keep talking about the Gospel before feeling uncomfortable or not knowing how to answer the question? I think for most people, we are already at that point. Why do I think that? Fuller Institute for Youth asked college juniors, "What would you say being a Christian is all about?" Two thirds gave answers to "doing" the faith (loving others, following Jesus' example, etc.). One third did not even mention Jesus and of them 35% didn't even mention God. If so many of us don't fully understand what it means to be a Christian, how can we fully understand the Gospel?
There are a few ways to look at the Gospel. Two of the ways I will briefly explain.
One way is to fully dive into it. Read it, be excited about it. But only while they are involved. So during high school, they can be very active and engaged in youth group. Love it. It will help you make some choices, but once you leave high school, just like when your sugar rush runs out, you crash. This is known as the Red Bull Gospel. After all, Red Bull's sugar and caffeine (as well as some other ingredients we can't decipher) can get you through a few tough hours. But eventually you crash. And crash hard.
Similarly, our youth group kids often have a Red Bull experience of the gospel. It's a gospel that is potent enough to help them make the right decision at a Friday night party in high school, but the Red Bull gospel and the support of other Red Bull gospel followers isn't powerful enough to foster long-term faith.
The other way is simply using the Gospel as a set of rules. A list of things we should do and things we should not do. Yes, following rules is important and a good thing to do. But is that the point of religion? Most youth follow this path, but who can blame them. It is what they are taught. By parents, teachers, mentors, church leaders...its a simple answer to a very complex question. But hey, maybe this way we can keep them out of trouble. For many of our youth group kids, the gospel has been shrunk down to fit inside the small box of what Dallas Willard calls the "gospel of sin management." In this gospel focused on behaviors, we've sadly let the gospel deteriorate into a list of good virtues, and then we slap Bible verses on them. We don't blame them for tossing that gospel aside. Wouldn't you do the same?
When asked what it means to be a Christian, I can guarantee that you will hear "loving others" or some form of this by most of the people you ask. Yes, isn't that the big rule Jesus told us, "Love your neighbors as yourself." But I think that most people would think it is moral and right to treat others nicely, even an atheist. That does not mean Christian. It is called being nice. But wasn't there another rule that came before this one? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). That is what it means to be Christian. To live our life following these words. This takes more faith than simply following the rules. We must be more willing to seek and to listen and to learn. We need to focus on trusting God and not just obeying God. So I leave with two questions.
"What does it mean to trust God?'
"How do we put this into practice everyday?"