There's this mega-church in Las Vegas that gives out stickers to all of its members that simply say GF with a circle around it. The letters stand for God First, but unless you're an insider you'd never guess it. But their rear view window theology is a great introduction to something I've been processing for a couple of weeks.
When new believers, or transplants from other cities who are already Christians, are recognized publicly as those who are following Jesus we invite them to a six-week series on Sunday afternoons called Equipping the Church (ETC) where we spend time realizing together that God is on a mission in the world and that we have a significant role to play. Our time together involves recognizing the purpose of pastors who equip God's people for the work of ministry, discovering our own gifts, passions, and personalities, and beginning to take steps in the direction of getting fully engaged in Jesus' mission.
A few months ago we began meeting with 10 or so men who have gone through ETC and who want to engage in further discipleship. This is called The Journey. In these groups we are currently reading a book called "The Answer" by Randy Pope. Randy tells the stories of glory, grace, and truth, taken from John 1.
The first section, the story of glory, is a great piece that attempts to get at understanding the gospel with respect to that for which we were made (to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever)--to live in God's glory. Randy speaks about the glory that Adam had received from God as that which defined his total satisfaction before God, and the total satisfaction that will define our existence after we who have been called, justified, and sanctified are finally glorified (Romans 8).
Randy summarized the Bible's teaching by saying that after Adam and Eve sinned against God they lost that glory that had been theirs, and that every person born after them knows something is missing (the glory/satisfaction, etc.). This definition of "glory" also has much to do with trust. When we glorify/trust God we receive glory/satisfaction because we were made for the glory that only He gives.
That's where an understanding of our sin gives light to the whole search for glory. Our sins are only the visible manifestation of our search for glory/satisfaction/fulfillment/purpose in other people, things, or activities besides God. These false hopes for glory are idols.
What was interesting to me is that Randy gets to the point that their are no neutral pursuits--we are either seeking glory in God or in empty idols. Since God is the only one who can satisfy, all other pursuits are not neutral, they are actually the vehicles for withdrawals on the glory for which we were made. We are hurt by them; by them we are emptied, not filled.
This explanation of sin through idolatry shines bright light on what the Bible is talking about with respect to repentance.
Here's what I mean: I speak with people all the time who say that they aren't ready for Christianity, or church, or Bible study, because they have too many things in their life that they aren't really ready to clean up. They don't want to give up their porn, or their adulterous relationship, or their stealing at work, etc. and they assume that becoming a Christian will mean that at some point they will have to give up those things they know instinctively to be opposed to God's pattern for life. But this is short-sighted because repentance isn't first about stopping bad habits and wicked practices. It is first about seeking for all that those idols promise in the Lord Jesus.
This is surprising to many people because they have never really understood biblical repentance and faith--they've never really heard the gospel. If you and I survey people on our street and ask them if sleeping with their neighbor's spouse would be wrong, or stealing their neighbor's grill, or falsely accusing their neighbor, or killing their neighbor they would say, "Yes, those things are all wrong. No doubt about it." They might even say that taking the Lord's name in vain and not keeping the Sabbath are wrong. But I guarantee that they will not have a problem with breaking the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me." And that's the root of the issue. It is when we have other gods before Him that we will break all the other commandments in our pursuit of what's missing in our lives. But people who don't understand the reality that Jesus came to restore us to our God, to deposit His glory in our hearts, and to bring forgiveness for our idol pursuits will not understand the beauty of repentance--that repentance is about finally and fully finding what we've always been looking for, but could never discover anywhere else.
Maybe we need to do a better job of describing repentance in terms of what God is giving ahead of what we are being called to give up. If we just harp about particular sins and fail to get at the root idols that are driving people to their destruction then repentance will not make sense. But, if we help them to see what is at the heart of choosing idols over God, then the fullness of change that comes in repentance will make sense. With the psalmist we will sing, "Blessed are those who keep His law, who seek Him with their whole heart!"
The gospel is beautiful. The gospel is good news to Las Vegas.