“The gospel is open to all; the most respectable sinner has no more claim on it than the worst.”
– Martin Lloyd-Jones
“I’m offended” has become a joke in conversations today. Whether we are speaking about race, religion, or civil rights, we tend to start our dialogue with, “I don’t want this to sound offensive, but…” It is like the word “offensive” has become the buzzword of our culture and social media.
However, there has been a phrase that Christians have been using in our current culture, “the gospel is offensive” or “people will be offended by the Gospel.”
Are these phrases good to use? Is the Gospel supposed to be offensive?
What would Jesus think about calling his work “offensive”?
A Defining Starting Block
Before we jump into this discussion, we need to have a definition of “offensive.” What does this word actually mean?
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Offensive” is defined as:
1.) a. Making attack: aggresive; b. Of, relating to, or designed for attack; c. Of, or relating to, an attempt to score in a game or contest
2.) Giving painful or unpleasant sensation: nauseous; obnoxious
3.) Causing displeasure or resentment
(As a noun it is defined as, “an act of attacking a party.”)
This definition gives a good word picture of something that is offensive. It is something that is meant to attack someone, to give them resentment, or a distaste towards something. Something that is offensive are words or actions meant to cause the displeasure of another.
What is the Gospel?
“The Gospel is offensive.” That is what we hear or say. However, looking at the definition of “offensive,” is the Gospel offensive? First, what is the Gospel?
Has someone ever asked you, “What is the Gospel?”
The Gospel starts with one person: Jesus. The Gospel begins and ends with Jesus. We are the recipients of the Gospel.
In Genesis 3:15, Adam and Eve have disobeyed God, and through their actions sin is brought into the world. They are kicked out of the garden. But, God speaks this incredible verse. He saw that sin is tantalizing to our fallen mind. He knew what sin would do to us. So, God promised Adam and Eve a savior. He promised the crushing of the serpent.
The Gospel is the fulfillment of this promise. Jesus taking our sin on him, crushing the snake, and justifying us before God by clothing us in his righteousness.
The Gospel is how we, who are lost in dark sin, can be made clean from sin. It is the promise of not being under the wrath of God, but being brought into the family of God as sons, daughters, and heirs. It is centered around Jesus. He is the one who works our salvation. He died for us, he rose for us, he justified us, he is sanctifying us, and he will glorify us (Ephesians 2:1-10).
The Gospel is Jesus.
“Offensive” in the Life of Jesus
Since Jesus is the heart of the Gospel, then we need to look at his life to see if the Gospel is offensive. Let’s turn our attention to the Gospels and look into the interactions Jesus had.
Jesus was known as many things: teacher, rabbi, Lord, Son of Man, etc. But one phrase is used of Jesus to describe his interactions: a friend of sinners. He was known to eat and fellowship with sinners. In fact, in many situations, he either put himself in the way of sinners (John 4:1-42) or sinners were drawn to him (Luke 7:36-50). There was something that drew sinners to Jesus. There was something in Jesus that urged him to place himself in the way of sinners. Love was this something (John 3:16; Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34). Ones who came to Jesus longed to hear the phrase, “Your sins are forgiven (Mark 2:5).”
However, there was a group of people Jesus did offend. In fact he called them many unkind things: Fools, neglecters, unmarked graves, hypocrites, oppressive, approvers of evil (Luke 11:37-54). These people were the religious leaders. This group did not like Jesus. He disrupt their power over people. He disrupted their manipulation of the Law. He disrupted the treatment of people. The religious leaders were offended so much that they falsely accused Jesus and executed him. Ones who knew the Scripture and were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of God’s people, killed the Messiah.
Look at Luke 7:36-54. This story beautifully displays the heart of Jesus. While dining at the home of a pharisee (a religious leader), a woman known as a sinner (someone who is an outcast) comes and stands at the feet of Jesus. Her only possession with her is an expensive alabaster jar of perfume. Jesus looks her in the eyes, and she begins to weep. She anoints his feet with the perfume and wipes them with her hair. She is literally giving herself to Jesus, not in a sexual manner, but in one pleading for mercy.
Look at the reaction of Jesus and the pharisee. The pharisee was shocked. He couldn’t believe that a man of God would allow a woman like that to come even near him. She is a sinner. He stiffed arm her. Jesus, on the other hand, responded (after a quick parable) with, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
By the reactions of the two, who would this woman be more offended by? The pharisee. There was something about Jesus that drew this woman to him. She was not offended by him or his message.
The Offensive Gospel in our Culture
It is interesting to see who was offended by the message of Jesus. Yet, do we follow in Jesus’ example in our interactions as we give the gospel?
When we talk about the “Gospel is offensive,” who or what is being offended? What is being attacked? Is it the person? Or the sinful and fallen nature of the person?
We stand on the street corner yelling at people, we leave tracks at restaurants with no tip, we shove Scripture at people. Does that attract people to the Gospel?
Look at the life of Jesus. He was approached by sinners because of his message. The religious leaders were the ones that chased people away with their rules, traditions, and other actions. They were the ones offended by Jesus.
Sinners should never be offended by the person giving the Gospel. The message should never change, but should never be given in an offensive manner. How did Jesus and the apostles give the Gospel? Did they start with “give up this sin”? Or “you are a sinner”? In certain contexts, yes. The majority of the time they started with God. It is only towards the end of their messages they mention repentance.
How do we present the Gospel? Is the crux of the Gospel Heaven or Hell or the giving up of sin? Or is the heart of the Gospel Jesus? People do not need to “clean themselves up” before coming to Jesus. People should see us as ones who want to know their lives, be their friends, and share with them the living-giving Gospel of Jesus.
Stop Being Offensive
The Gospel should never be offensive. In our definition above, the Gospel should never fall into any of those categories. Yes, we are fighting against sin and Satan in this world. But, it is not by the weapons of the world: sarcasm, yelling, screaming, etc. It is how Jesus did it: one relationship at a time.
The Gospel is about new life. What is offensive about that? Is the reason we think the Gospel is offensive is actually because of the way we have been giving it? Have we traded relational ministry for quick conversions? Have we only wanted people to give us a reaction to our presentation of the Gospel so we can claim persecution?
The Gospel is an affront to our sinful nature. But, how is it packaged? Is it through harsh comments, Bible verse shotgun pellets, and picket signs? No, it is seen the incarnation of Jesus Christ: God born in a manger, the friend of sinners, the Innocent One executed, and the Divine One risen conquering sin and death.
If our Gospel is all about turning from sin, then we have missed its heart: Jesus. He forgave, and people changed. We do not change people in order for Jesus to forgive. In fact the forsaking of sin and walking in repentance is found in discipleship and sanctification.
When we look at giving the Gospel, are we proud of being offensive? Or are we proud we are following the example of Jesus?
How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation, I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness, Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is ﬁnished, the end is written
Jesus Christ, my living hope
Who could imagine so great a mercy?
What heart could fathom such boundless grace?
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken, I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior, I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ, my living hope
Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ, my living hope
– “Living Hope” by Phil Wickham