Fake Good News, part 2

In the year 2016, fake news hit the real news in a big way. Fueled by a long and controversial U.S. presidential election cycle, fake news took on a life of its own in social media, sometimes generating more buzz than the real thing, according to CNBC’s report on the biggest fake news stories of 2016. The fact-checking organization PolitiFact chose “fake news” as their 2016 lie of the year, and the Aussie dictionary Macquarie chose “fake news” as its 2016 word of the year.

Fake news stories illustrate how a lie can survive and thrive. The lie has to be presented as fact, and it usually has to have some element of truth in it–not a lot of truth, necessarily, but just enough to make the story plausible. And if the lie taps into strong emotions such as desire or fear, it has the makings of a powerful delusion; people either want to believe it or are afraid to disbelieve it.

In part 1 of this post, I stated that the good news of Jesus can be manipulated in a similar fashion, into what I called the fake good news. Again, I’m convinced that the fake good news has caused many to reject the real good news. This fake good news often takes one of two forms:

  1. A preacher/teacher/church promises that if we trust Jesus and follow God in a particular way, then God will grant us a measure of wealth, health, pleasure, or protection in this life.
  2. A preacher/teacher/church insists that in order to receive forgiveness and eternal life from God, we must do something beyond genuinely trusting in Jesus.

In part 1, I discussed the first form (promising prosperity in this life). Now I come to the second form, which is unfortunately common across various strains of Christian religion. It seems that once we believe that we are sinners, and that Jesus can grant us God’s forgiveness and eternal life, we have trouble believing that he will grant us those things if we humbly trust him. Yet this kind of childlike trust is exactly what Jesus is looking for.

“Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” –Jesus (Mark 10:14-15 CSB)

But some people react hotly to the idea that Jesus will grant entrance into the kingdom of God in such a straightforward fashion. That’s too easy, they say; surely there is more to it than simply asking Jesus for eternal life and then going merrily on our way. Well of course it’s more than that! A casual request is not the same thing as trust. And feigned belief will get us nowhere. We can even recite all kinds of good-sounding prayers or work ourselves into an emotional religious experience without a shred of real faith in Jesus.

But true faith in Jesus–the kind that recognizes Jesus as God, that understands he died on the cross for our sins, and that genuinely wants to reconcile with God–that kind of belief is all that is necessary for us to have forgiveness and eternal life with God. That’s because through his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus has already done all of the work to reconcile us with God. Our good deeds will not add to his work, and our bad deeds will not subtract from it. He’s finished it completely, and even if we could do anything to help, there’s nothing left for us to do except discard our unbelief.

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18 CSB)

Yet there are plenty of preachers, teachers, and churches that go beyond this. Subtly or overtly, they stress additional things the believer must do (or not do) in order to obtain or keep God’s gift of eternal life. Perhaps it’s living up to a certain standard of morality, staying away from particular sins, giving to the church, or participating in a religious ritual. But by making such things a requirement for eternal life, they’ve gone against the nature of the sacrifice that Jesus made and against the nature of the relationship he wants to have with us. God didn’t give his Son so that he could enter into a cold contract with us for eternal life. He gave his Son out of love for us so that he might have us back with him forever, having paid the whole cost of our reconciliation back to him.

Certainly Jesus does want his followers to obey him, and once we begin to trust him, he’ll lead us to obey him more. He’ll even begin to shine light into all the nooks and crannies of our life where our sin tends to hide; that’s part of the reality of a relationship with God. However, there is another side to that reality: when we genuinely trust Jesus, all of our sin is forgiven through his death, and so our restored relationship with God will never end. That’s the real good news.

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