The Common Sense Gospel

 
For thousands of years fanatical religious leaders have been trying to make people accept complicated and irrational systems of belief. Each group has different requirements and rituals. Each group claims their demands come straight from the mouth of their god. Each group uses threats and rewards to ensure obedience.

However, as men and women mature and learn about the natural processes of our world, it is becoming more and more difficult for the gurus to to attract followers and maintain their allegiance. In fact, the overall influence of religion is diminishing. Even many individuals who were once affiliated with these movements are now dropping out.

So, what’s the solution to this problem?

Well, human beings do need spiritual connections. Human beings do need moral guidelines. Human beings do need assurance and hope. But the established religions we have now are not filling these needs! Maybe we should try a common sense approach. Maybe we should consider what a wise and compassionate creator would really want His people to do.

Would an intelligent deity actually compile a list of trivial rules and regulations and impose harsh penalties for those who break them? Would a benevolent deity really require individuals to participate in elaborate ceremonies and rituals that have no practical purpose? Would a loving deity truly command everyone to bow before Him with effusive adoration and obeisance?
I think not!

But, in fact, for centuries men and women had believed they must adhere to senseless rules, perform complex rituals and offer regular expressions of worship in order to keep a wrathful god satisfied and escape punishment. Then Jesus was born.

Surprisingly, Jesus of Nazareth immediately rejected all of these religious creeds and instead proclaimed a common sense gospel. He taught and demonstrated a simple lifestyle based on only two principles. When the Pharisee asked, “‘Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?’ Jesus answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind . . . And . . . Love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands’” (Matt. 22:36-40, edb).

Jesus showed disdain for many of the traditional rules and regulations, saying, “How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You give to God one-tenth of everything you earn—even your mint, dill, and cumin.ྭ But you don’t obey the really important teachings of the law, namely justice and mercy . . . You are like a person who picks a gnat out of a drink and then swallows a camel! (Matt. 23:23-24).

Jesus broke rules about the Sabbath . . . saying, “The Sabbath day was made to help people. People were not made to be ruled by the Sabbath day” (Mark. 2:27, edb).

When critics asked, “‘Why do your followers not obey the rules . . . They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’ Jesus answered, ‘And why do you transgress the commandment of God by your traditions?’” (Matt. 15:2-3).

He also refused to obey laws about stoning sinners. “Once the Pharisees brought a sinful woman … They … said, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ (Jesus answered), ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’” Her accusers left and Jesus said to the woman, “Then neither do I condemn you …’” (John 8:3-5,10-11 ).

Jesus also disregarded many of the rituals and ceremonies, saying, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. They love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners and pray so people will see them …” (Matt. 6:5).

“They enlarge the little boxesྭ holding Scriptures that they wear, and they make their special prayer clothes very long …” Matt. 23:5-7).

Jesus even avoided and in fact ridiculed much empty pious language, saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21-22, niv).

It’s obvious that Jesus taught a common sense gospel. One that leads to a practical, productive, compassionate lifestyle. It’s a gospel that all normal people can accept because it’s reasonable.

Many teachings in traditional Christianity are not reasonable. They don’t pass the “gut test.” They don’t fit with common sense.

For instance, the doctrine of depravity and original sin is illogical. It’s obvious that most human beings are not evil and depraved. The species would not have survived if that were the case. Sure, we are born with selfish tendencies and as we learn through trial and error, we make a lot of mistakes. But most people also have a basic sense of fairness and are able to feel empathy and concern for each other. In tragic situations, even criminals will often sacrifice for children. As someone said, “There’s a touch of honor even among thieves.”

So, convincing people that every person on earth deserves eternal punishment just because a primitive couple made one poor choice is not logical. It doesn’t make sense.

A loving Creator would never set up a system of everlasting torture which has no redeeming features. Such vengeance doesn’t eliminate evil. It perpetuates it. That’s not logical. It doesn’t make sense!

A fair minded Creator would never punish people for not “accepting His son as their savior” if they had never even heard of Him. This includes millions of people from early times until now. That’s not logical. It doesn’t make sense!

A moral Creator would never require that someone’s “blood must be shed” before He is willing forgive sin. We’re told to freely forgive multiple times with no “sacrifice” involved. Why wouldn’t God do the same? That’s not logical. It doesn’t make sense!

An ethical Creator would never reject good hearted people who may not believe just the right way, or who fail to get the “salvation formula exactly right.” That’s not logical. It doesn’t make sense!

What then is a common sense Gospel? Jesus explained it clearly in several parables. He said, “All the nations of the world will be gathered before Him, and he will separate them into two groups . . . The Son of Man will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, my Father has given you his blessing.

Receive the kingdom God has prepared for you since the world was made. I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you invited me into your house. I was without clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

Then the good people will answer, ‘Lord, when did we serve and care for you?’
The King will answer, ‘Anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me.’

The King will say to those on his left, ‘Go away from me. You will be punished. Go into the fire that burns forever that was prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you did not invite me into your house. I was without clothes, and you gave me nothing to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you did not care for me.’

Then those people will answer, ‘Lord, when did we fail to care for you?’

The King will answer, ‘Anything you refused to do for even the least of my people here, you refused to do for me.’ These people will go off to be punished forever, but the good people will go to live forever” (Matt. 25:31-46).

Now, neither the sheep nor the goats knew Jesus. They had never knowingly interacted with Him. But the sheep had accepted his values and followed his teachings. They had Christ’s spirit within them. They showed their faith and commitment by their actions. The goats showed their lack of faith and commitment by their inactions. Jesus explained that showing concern and love for the “least of these” other people is the same as showing concern and love for Jesus and God Himself.

Jesus also said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice and they shall become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16, nas).
Now, these individuals were not yet believers in Jesus, but they were already “of His flock.”
Then, the Parable of the Prodigal son is the Gospel in a nutshell. Jesus said: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.”

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:11-24).

This story proves that God loves us unconditionally. If we rebel or choose the wrong path, he gives us the freedom to fail and lets us suffer the consequences. But he still loves us. When we change our minds and “come home” again, He meets us half-way with joy and celebration.

This father required no payment or sacrifice. He imposed no punishment. He even interrupted his son’s apology. That’s grace! That’s how a real father would treat his child. That’s a common sense Gospel!

Jesus didn’t discuss depravity, vicarious atonement, or propitiation for sin. In fact, he seldom mentioned sin at all. He advised his followers to ignore the “weeds,” saying, attacking sinners and crusading against evil does more harm than good. When the servants asked, “‘Do you want us to pull up the weeds?’ The man answered, ‘No, because when you pull up the weeds, you might also pull up the wheat. Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time’”(Matt. 13:28-30).

If you carefully study the teachings of Jesus, you’ll find that he only required these two things: Love God and love people. (See Matt. 22:36-40).

On the other hand, he criticized and condemned these three things: hypocrisy, greed and unconcern.

So seekers, who make a decision to follow Jesus, must be willing to make these commitments. They must promise to love God and love people!
They must be real and honest, not hypocritical.
They must be generous and benevolent, not greedy.
They must be compassionate and forgiving, not hostile.
That’s the common sense Gospel!

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