As Christians, we’re part of the global church, asked to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). If you’re like most Christians, you’ve found that to be difficult. Many of the people you talk to misunderstand the Gospel or just don’t seem interested in learning about it.
In a recent TEDx talk, Tyler Ellis, director of Let’s Talk Story, shared a surprising discovery. After interviewing 50 people of completely different backgrounds about their beliefs, he found that few understood the biblical truths about salvation. Most thought that if a Heaven exists, whether or not you got into Heaven would be a reward based on your performance on Earth. Even those he interviewed who were raised Christian shared that mistaken belief.
So where are we going wrong? “Hebrews 12:15 says, ‘See to it that no one misses the grace of God.’ This challenge was given because this problem exists,” Tyler says during a recent interview with Indigitous. We spoke with Tyler to get his thoughts on this problem and how to overcome it. Tyler shared three mistaken assumptions that are among the greatest factors causing people to miss God’s grace.
1. We assume Jesus is common knowledge.
If you live in one of the nations that are considered “unreached,” where churches are few or might even be illegal, you don’t make this mistake. But anywhere where Christianity is common, it is easy for followers of Christ to think most people know about Him.
“Pastors are prone to assume this with their congregations,” Tyler says. “Parents are prone to assume this with their children. And Christians are prone to assume this with their neighbors. Sadly, the more Jesus is assumed to be common knowledge, the more he becomes uncommon knowledge.”
Why is this a problem? Well, if you assume someone knows something, you don’t put much effort into explaining it to them. So even when talking about your faith, if you assume the person you know already knows all about Jesus, you might focus on something else. “People start appealing to their right beliefs and right behaviors as what makes them right before God. Soon, Christianity evolves into another works-based religion in people’s minds,” Tyler says. “The more we drift away from Jesus, the more susceptible we are to self-righteousness, pride, and division in the church, making it that much easier for people miss the undeserved kindness of God.”
2. We assume God’s justice is “fair.”
Throughout our lives, we have an expectation of fairness. People should get what they deserve. The team that wins gets the trophy. Your exam grade depends on the answers you got right and wrong. As kids, we’re told that Santa will give us gifts based on whether we’re on the good list or the naughty list.
“Most people believe that good performance is rewarded and poor performance is penalized,” Tyler says. “It’s no wonder people project that way of thinking onto religion, assuming God’s justice works the same way. There seems to be a universal theory that assumes acceptance in Heaven depends on performance on Earth.”
According to Christianity, however, if salvation was based on how good we are, Heaven would be empty.
We tend to think of people as being good or bad, but God has a different standard of “good” than we do.
“Christianity is unique, not because of fairness but because of forgiveness,” Tyler says. “After all, ‘God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ’” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
3. We assume eternal life is a reward.
“I’ve never once heard a sermon at a church on the topic of eternal rewards. This is strange because there are passages on this topic throughout the Bible, including the teachings of Jesus himself,” Tyler says.
“This silence is unfortunate, not only because it robs Christians of an additional God-given incentive for doing good, but, even more concerning, it causes Christians to misinterpret the passages on this subject,” Tyler says.
The above passage “is not addressed to lost people regarding salvation, but to saved people regarding rewards,” Tyler says. “Eternal life is not a reward earned by our works, but a gift received by our faith.”
As Christians, we need to get better about how we talk about the Gospel and stop making these three mistakes. If we do, we should find that people are more receptive to the Message and more open to the Holy Spirit.
“When we assume that Jesus is common knowledge; and that God’s justice is fair; and that eternal life is a reward, we feed the misconception that Jesus is merely a role model who came to show us how to get to Heaven by following his example,“ Tyler says. “This causes many believers to live in fear as they strive in vain to outweigh their evil deeds with good. Those who think they can do it are prone to self-righteousness. And those who know they can’t do it are prone to losing their faith altogether. Both are missing God’s grace.”
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. (Habakkuk 2:2)
- Think and pray about the three assumptions and how you can address them.
- Start a spiritual conversation with one friend this week who doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus.