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What does it mean to be "evangelical"?

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

Just got done looking at Instagram. Someone I really like reposted a snarky Tik Tok which alluded to the insincerity of evangelical Christians, something to the effect of, "They claim to be like Jesus, but we all know that's a joke - after all, Jesus was actually good (*wink wink*)."

The thing that grabbed my attention about this was the specifying of evangelical Christians. As opposed to Catholics, or people who identify with Christianity in some way but aren't going around evangelizing.

This is truly remarkable, and not at all flattering, and definitely worth stopping to think about. Somehow it's the evangelical aspect of Christianity that offends people.

It would be tempting for those of us who are evangelical Christians to fight back with our own snarky response, something to the effect of, "Well, yes, of course the gospel is offensive. In fact, allow me to read off the verses that promise to offend you." We congratulate ourselves for offending people. After all, this confirms the truthfulness in what we're saying, right? It shows how committed we are to God, right? It demonstrates our commitment by our willingness to make enemies, right?

Not so fast. This is a cop out. It's true that Jesus did offend people. But go back and look at who Jesus offends. It's those who are feeling good about themselves, about their ability to stand before God and say, "here's me," and expect him to applaud them for being willing to make enemies on his behalf. Jesus offends those people by saying, "Love your enemies." He's really saying, "Love my enemies." And he's saying this now, to us evangelical Christians.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

God is out there sustaining the lives, the heartbeats, of all those people who hate him. He's giving us, his children, authority and a story to explain that unprecedented grace. Being evangelical means having God's permission to tell anyone - yes, everyone - that he is right in the act of showing them incredible grace.

Evangelicals are, by definition, Christians who believe that if the enemies of God will see his goodness and believe in the one he has sent for eternal life - eternal goodness - then he will give it to them. We are called to see no one as an enemy of God, but as his creation, and, if in Christ, as a creation renewed.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)

What does it mean to be "evangelical"? Technically, it means we are bearers of good news.

Unfortunately, a lot of what the world sees in "evangelical Christianity" is a crabby, fiesty attitude that seems to give off the vibe that we're miffed about the fact that God has left us in the realm of his enemies. Sometimes I think we must seem as if we're saying to the world something like this: "People! Don't you know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life?! Why are you making this so hard for us to get across? Why won't you just believe what we're telling you so we can get on with living in a world full of Christians??"

It's like we resent the fact that people don't know and love the one we were sent to introduce them to and represent to him. Go figure.

When people hear "evangelical" I fear what comes to mind as synonyms might be closer to "resentful," "put out," "jaded," or "irritated."

What does - or should - being "evangelical" mean to us who would confess that label? Biblically, it simply means we've received grace, and, perceiving ourselves to be so rich and full in what God has given us, we feel compelled to invite others to share in it with us.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Being "evangelical" means we are carriers of something good - the best thing: eternal life. Being loved as God's children. The blessings of fellowship with him, and with each other. Forgiveness. Wholeness in our humanity. All good things. We are the good-newsies.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

God didn't send his Son into the world to condemn the world, and neither does he ask us to do so (John 3:17). Instead, we are to resist the temptation to grow weary of being lights in a dark place. We resist the temptation to resent the world for being the world, and we hold fast to our confidence that God is still a good-news God.

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 5:16-6:10)

An evangelical has but one job. Bring. Good. News. We can bring good news in literally any circumstances - good or bad. That's how good the gospel actually is: it transcends the world and lifts us up into the glory of the resurrection and victory of Jesus over death, sin, hell, evil, pandemic, dirty politics, and moral decline.

We don't have to be cynical, bitter, jaded, or irritated at the world. The world is precious to God. He made it, he's redeeming it, he came into it, and he lives here now in us. Let's live here now in the world as he would do, full of love and full of the good news of his love. Let's live up to our name.

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