Editor’s Note: The following article, adapted from an essay by minister Matt Soper, invites us to appreciate the power of the gospel of Christ in broader and deeper ways.
In his book, “The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything,” Methodist preacher and scholar William Willimon reflects on what has become the standard Christian testimony, which goes something like this. “I was miserable, then I found Jesus.” This pattern hearkens back to influential church leaders in history like Augustine and Martin Luther, who indeed had dramatic conversion experiences arising out of personal crises. But Willimon asserts that we short-change the power of the gospel when we insist, in effect, that people can only come to saving faith in Jesus from personal despair.
“Look at the many ways people are called by God in the Bible. Abraham, a rich and contented desert sheikh, was out gazing at the stars one night. Moses was a murderer hiding in the wilderness. Isaiah was at prayer in the temple. Peter was fishing. The little man in the tree (Zacchaeus) was curious. Matthew was at the office counting money. Paul was on a pious errand.”
When we narrow the gospel’s ability to transform peoples’ lives by framing it as medicine for only troubled souls, we inadvertently convince people who don’t feel an overt need that the Christian faith has nothing to say to them (unless they are in crisis).
Willimon notes how much greater credit to the power of the Christian gospel it is for a person to be able to testify:
“I was happy and fulfilled. Each day was sheer joy to me, and life was a shower of blessings. Then Jesus showed me how much greater joy life could be when I rose above the selfish pursuit of my own happiness and the preoccupation with my own problems. In losing my life for others and for him and his work, in using my blessings for something greater than myself, I found my true life.”
In many ways this describes the journey to my baptism into Christ in 1983 at age 20. I didn’t feel any overt personal need for God; my life was indeed looking very promising. But what grabbed me about the gospel was Jesus’ call to give myself to something bigger than myself, to be (re)claimed by God for his purposes. Scripture says that in Christ “we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10). Did I need to be forgiven of my sins and saved “through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5)? Of course. But the gospel spoke even more powerfully to my need and desire to live for something bigger than myself through a relationship with Jesus. I thank God for the gift of his Son, who came not just for the desperate but for everyone.