Looking at a field covered by a thick blanket of snow always evokes for me a sense of wonder and awe. Snow has a magical way of transforming the landscape into a scene of majesty. Recently, while I stood in my breakfast room, warm and secure with a fresh cup of coffee in hand, the beauty of the fresh snow that had fallen during the night captivated me. Rays of sunlight glistened and sparkled off the ice crystals as the sun began its slow rise to start a new day.

In the morning silence I rolled through my mind a list of the many chores that I needed to accomplish that day. My first task required that I go to my barn, which, although it is only a mere seventy-five yards away from my house, had become significantly more difficult now that I needed to forge a path across the new barrier of snow. It is not as if I needed to traverse a frozen tundra, but nevertheless, the difficulty of getting to the barn greatly increased. What was going to be a simple walk had now become a frosty trek.

Later in the day, after making my way to the barn, I looked back at the trail my footsteps had left in the snow. It occurred to me that the first person who forges a path has the most difficulty, and everyone who follows later gets to enjoy the benefits of his labor. This principle also holds true for those of us who follow Jesus. He blazed a clear trail for anyone who wants to walk it, leading everyone directly back into a relationship with God. Anyone who wants to enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ work can do so by merely following his footsteps.

We are all on a journey
Picturing your life as a journey on a path provides a great perspective that can be very beneficial. Like a meandering trail, our lives can go in many different directions, take many unforeseen turns, and even lead us to places we never suspected. Sometimes the journey is easy and pleasurable, and then there are times when the voyage is tough and difficult. Life is also filled with many intersections, where we make a decision on which way we are going to go. Many crossroads are insignificant, but there are also times when the choices we make can be life altering.

On the pilgrimage of life, one of the most significant choices we have to make is whether to forge our own trail or follow the path God wants us to take. Sadly, few understand that the path to life and righteousness is narrow, whereas the road to destruction is wide (Matt. 7:13).

God wants everyone to choose the “path of life” and to stay away from the “path of the wicked,” but He leaves the choice to us (Ps. 16:11; Prov. 4:14 and 15; 12:28). Jesus made it very clear that when it comes to the Kingdom of God and everlasting life, he is the one and only path mankind can take to the Father.

John 14:6
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Some find it disturbing that there is only one way to the Father, and many desire to do it “their way,” but Christ’s message was clear. He is the sure path to get back to God.

What is the Gospel?
Like most people, my first experience of the word “gospel” was when referring to the four New Testament books of the Bible [1] that depict the things Jesus did and said when alive on earth. I was often amazed, even almost dumfounded, as I read stories about the many miraculous healings and supernatural events that took place during his ministry years. His words pierced people’s hearts, revealed hidden motives, including my own on many occasions, and even left some of his harshest critics speechless. I was taught that the word “gospel” meant “good news,” and these four books describing him were every bit of that! [2]

Jesus brought the “good news” that the time for the Kingdom of God was near, a future time when the earth will be restored to its Paradise condition. This will be a time without famine, sickness, and war. It will also be a time when he rules the earth for 1,000 years and Satan, God’s arch-enemy, will be locked away. God’s people had been anxiously waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of a redeemer [3], and now the Good News was that he was here. This was not only good news, it was GREAT NEWS! Although no one knew of God’s plan to delay things by inserting an Age of Grace, the “good news” became that Jesus’ death was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all who accept him as their Lord. In other words, today Jesus is the Good News!

Acts 5:42
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

Acts 8:35
Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

Acts 11:20
Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.

Acts 17:18
…Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

Losing sight of the Gospel
When I first accepted Christ I would read the Gospels for hours on end. I admit that I was even a little jealous of the first-century saints who were there with him, seeing and hearing him firsthand. As I continued on my walk of faith I was taught to focus on the New Testament writings, especially those of Paul because these, according to Dispensational theology [4], were the Words of God written directly “to me.” This is absolutely true, but with so much emphasis placed on the Epistles of Paul, one of the unintended consequences for me was that I began to neglect reading the Gospel stories of Christ.

Eventually, without even realizing it, I began to replace the Good News of Jesus Christ with the Good News of my doctrine. My doctrine is the body of my beliefs and theology, such as my Biblical Unitarian position that Jesus was not God but His son, that the dead were really dead, and that the holy spirit was a gift (always making sure never to capitalize the “h” or the “s” since doing so would make it God). The elevation of my doctrine in my mind caused me to lose sight of the simplicity that Jesus “is” the Gospel, he is the Good News.

In his book, Speaking of Jesus, author Carl Medearis succinctly states it this way:

“I want to strip away the thousands of years of graffiti painted onto the gospel, turning it into a reasonable code of doctrines. The gospel is not a “How.” It is not a “What.” It is a “Who,” and his name is Jesus. Jesus is The Gospel—the GOOD NEWS! [5]

Seeing doctrine as my compass, not the destination
If my goal is to get to the North Pole, then the compass in the palm of my hand is a tool useful for pointing me in the right direction. The more accurate the compass the more I can trust that it will guide me on the right path to the destination. When Christians begins to see their beliefs as the goal, they are mistaking the compass for the destination. Doctrine, like a compass, is a tool, but its purpose is to show me to the destination. In the case of Christians, the destination is having the relationship with God the Father that He desires. Everyone is heading somewhere, but sadly, not everyone has a good compass.

Unknowingly I labored under the burden that being a Christian required me to know, understand, and be ready to explain the Bible—all of it—to anyone, anywhere, and at any time. Like many others I know, I also struggled under the false premise that sharing the Gospel meant I needed to convince others of all of my doctrine. I was freed from this load when I began to once again see Jesus as the Good News. It is not my job to get people to believe; that is their responsibility. My job and responsibility is to point others to him.

There is something wrong with this picture
A few weeks ago I was in a Starbucks coffeehouse getting an afternoon cup of liquid energy. Since no one else was around, I asked the barista, “What do you think of Christians?” I could tell she was a little hesitant, probably politely not wanting to insult a customer, so I said, “No, really—what do you really think?” Feeling that it was safe to be honest with me, she indicated she was raised as a Christian and really loved church as a child but then her family had to endure a series of very hurtful church splits. She became really disheartened when she went to a Christian college where she was treated very poorly by the faculty and many students. It was as if a dam burst and floodwaters poured out of her as she told me about how hurt and disillusioned she had been, ultimately even leaving Christianity behind.

Clearly I was not responsible for any of that, but still I felt the need to apologize to her—maybe it was Christ’s broken heart for her that came up from deep inside me. Then I asked her, “Do you think there is a difference between Christianity and Jesus?” Instantly she became animated about Jesus and how he always loved people. A co-worker who overheard us joined the lively conversation, and all three of us shared stories of Jesus.

As I walked away I couldn’t help but think, “There is something really wrong with this picture, when people are so ‘thumbs down’ on Christianity, but so ‘thumbs up’ on Jesus.” I wish my experience in Starbucks were an aberration, but it is not; it has been the norm as I have continued to ask other people similar questions. Clearly, somewhere along the way Christians have gotten off “the path” of following Jesus when people see such a contrasting difference between Jesus and those who claim to be walking in his footsteps.

Follow me-my yoke is easy
I love the simplicity of Jesus’ words when he called various disciples into ministry. In the case of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, Jesus said “Come, follow me…” (Matt. 4:19), and he said the same to Matthew (Matt. 9:9). He made it clear that being one of his disciples meant putting him first and “following him” (Matt. 8:22; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21).

Jesus also made it clear that following him was not burdensome. The Priests and Pharisees had laid heavy legalistic burdens on the backs of the people.

Luke 11:46
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

In contrast to the teachings of the rabbis, Jesus’ teachings are easy in the sense that they do not lay excessive burdens on a person. They do, however, require effort. Doing what Christ said to do instead of what we want to do can take a lot of effort and determination, but following him results in our finding rest for our souls.

Matthew 11:29 and 30
(29) Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
(30) For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

To “take on his yoke” is to follow his teachings and the path he marked out for us.

Getting back on the path
I have no doubt that Christians of all denominations, brands, or flavors, love the Lord, the majority having the best of intentions. Regrettably, their faith has become a religion, a “system of do’s and don’ts” that seeks to perfect the flesh. This is the common downfall of all “religions.” Jesus never intended to start a new “religion.”

He came to blaze a trail that led all mankind straight back to the Father for anyone who chooses to walk it. Religion causes people to measure themselves against others, whereas following Jesus sets us free from that type of “yardstick.” How fantastic it is to be free from having to measure myself against others. In Christ I have nothing to prove and I have no need to impress anyone. That is truly a path of freedom.

We must never forget that Jesus himself is the Good News. The message is not “church,” or the religion of Christianity, Calvin, or Luther. Following him is not about capitalism, democracy, or being conservative or liberal. The Good News is Jesus, and it must be him we follow.

Do not waste energy over regretting the past, except to learn from your mistakes. Do not even spend much time being disappointed about the way things are now. Use the disappointment to ignite a fire to make a change, and that change can start right now as you walk forward on his path. When you decide to walk on the high road, it does not mean there will never be any valleys on the way. Enjoy the journey and follow “his” footsteps, no matter where they lead you. Jesus trudged across the snowy field and made a way that is clear to follow.

Endnotes

[1] Traditionally the New Testament Bible books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are called the four Gospels.
[2] The word gospel derives from the Old English gōd-spell, meaning “good news” or “glad tidings.” According to Wikipedia, It is a calque (word-for-word translation) of the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον, euangelion (eu- “good”, –angelion “message”).
[3] Shortly after Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, God had promised that He would send a Redeemer. See Gen. 3:15.
[4] Dispensationalism is a nineteenth-century evangelical development based on a futurist biblical hermeneutic that sees a series of chronologically successive “dispensations” or periods in history in which God relates to human beings in different ways under different Biblical covenants. As a theogical system, dispensationalism is rooted in the writings of John Nelson Darby (1800–1882). The theology of dispensationalism consists of a distinctive eschatological “end times” perspective, as all dispensationalists hold to premillennialism and most hold to a pretribulation rapture (Wikipedia).
[5] When we say that Jesus is the Gospel, we mean that he and all that he accomplished is the good news. Belief in him brings the gift of salvation, the forgiveness of sins, the way to a restored relationship with the Father, and life everlasting

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1 comment

  1. Listening this morning to this article was like listening to a psalms. Jesus glorified his father and ask his father to glorify him. I’ve learned to ask myself to glorify God myself and for him to glorify me, it helps me to not be so hard on myself or others,

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