Our times back in the States are so rich. We look forward to the dialogue and fresh perspective that comes from talking with engaged Christians! We love sharing about the islands, of course, but even more we love getting people thinking about how the islands have something to teach the North Shore and vice versa, even about the gospel.
The gospel can be understood in so many ways. We like to talk about facets of a diamond. Like a diamond, the gospel is always precious and beautiful, but from different biblical angles it shines differently. Because the gospel is applicable to every area of life—because it changes everything—how the gospel applies is going to look different depending on the context. This also means we need to be careful. We can be tempted to see our preferred way of framing the gospel as the “right” way and that other ways are not as good or not as strong, perhaps because they don’t impact our hearts with the same strength. But that doesn’t mean the other ways of understanding the gospel—the other facets of the diamond—are any less meaningful. If you look at the diamond from the left and I look it from the right, we see different facets, but it still shines brightly and beautifully to both of us.
The prodigal son is a great example of how we can see the gospel in different ways through the same story. As Westerners we tend to see it through the facet of guilt, repentance, grace and forgiveness and we are right to do so. But we can also see this story shine through the facet of honor and shame. The son shames his father and family and leaves. He falls into shameful poverty and has no community. He returns asking not to be honored, but to be raised up above the level of a nobody. The father, however, scorns his son’s shame and scorns his own as he runs down to meet his son (honorable men do not run). He then removes his son’s shame and honors him with clothing, restoration to his position as son, and honored place in the community. The story can be understood through the lens of honor and shame. And how brightly the gospel shines!
In the recent Sunday school class “The Gospel Changes Everything,” the question was asked: “What is the gospel?” What about an answer like this:
The gospel is Jesus taking our shame on himself, dying a shameful death, but then God raising him to the place of highest honor, conquering shame and presenting us free from shame and highly honored in God’s sight.
Is this a fair portrayal of the gospel? Yes! Yet, no one wrote anything remotely like this in that class full of bright, wise, thoughtful Christians. It is just not a way we normally think about the gospel.
Here’s another example:
The gospel is like Jesus coming to a poor, dirty girl with no family and no connections and taking her into his family, dressing her in the most beautiful bridal raiment, washing her clean and perfuming her and placing her in the seat of highest honor in the community. He sacrifices everything to bring us honor.
Is this a fair portrayal of the gospel? Yes, and again, no one in the class thought of sharing the gospel in this way. But this was the way an island believer described the gospel to a friend without prompting.
Seeing the gospel through a different facet is exciting, but what is really exciting is helping people understand the gospel where it touches them most. Honor and shame is important on the islands, but what about here on the North Shore? You know, people used to say, “You have to get them lost before you can get them saved.” Or, “First they’ve got to know that they’re a sinner, then they can receive grace.” This is true. But what if these terms are not the ones that speak strongly to the hearts of lost people on the North Shore? What does speak to their hearts? What brilliant facet of the gospel will catch their eye and first transform their heart? What efforts are we making to find out?
Tom is a World Partner of NSCBC who is spreading the Good News in a sensitive area of the world, along with his wife Megan and their three kids.