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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Beginnings and beyond

Let’s not stay infants in our understanding

Beginnings and beyond

(Exdez/iStock (Modified))

It’s a debate, it seems, that just won’t go away. This time it showed up in a letter from a WORLD reader in rural Texas. Although the letter was apparently written in early 1994, it showed up only a couple of weeks ago in a box labeled “UNANSWERED MAIL.” My wife Carol and I were preparing for a yard sale (something we’d never done before and will probably never do again) and in the process ran across several items that had inadvertently been set aside. 

But this little box was different. These weren’t the “crank” letters that are easy to dismiss. These expressed serious concerns, thoughtful warnings, and reasoned questions. I had apparently kept them because I sensed they were important. Now I still found them pertinent to WORLD’s journalistic mission.

I had discounted this particular letter, I could tell, partly because it was anonymous. But I couldn’t totally ignore its content. The writer urged us to leave behind our “preoccupation with all those secular things” and get back to the “simple gospel of Jesus.”

The letter was blunt. “If you’d spend more time urging people to turn to Jesus, you might not feel so sophisticated, but you’d do a lot more good. I get the impression you’re trying to skip what Paul called ‘the foolishness of preaching.’”

So let me say plainly: I do not dismiss that criticism as the naïve protest of a narrow-minded fundamentalist. Jesus repeatedly called His listeners back to basics—back to the fundamentals, if you will. He told one of His most learned and sophisticated questioners that he simply had to be born again.

Right at the core of that process of being born again is a rejection of our habit of self-dependence and a transfer of our dependence to God. To be born again is to admit that we are profoundly weak and broken and sinful, and to confess that God is powerful and whole and perfect. Most specifically, it is to understand that God’s power and wholeness and perfection are personified in the God-man, Jesus, and that God is willing to count Jesus’ righteousness on our behalf when we finally tell Him that our own righteousness is not good enough—that we need to be bailed out from our own failure.

The good news of the gospel has implications for morality and education, for politics and civil justice, for art and music and entertainment, for business and finance.

Such is the beginning of the gospel. Without some form of that basic understanding and commitment, no person has any right to expect to walk with God, either in this life or in eternity.

But just because the gospel starts there doesn’t mean it ends there. The birth of a baby is exciting, but no one really wants a baby to stay a baby forever. Birth is exciting because it means a new person has come on the scene, full of potential and personality. That’s why Jesus’ final instruction was to “go out and teach everything I have commanded you.”

The implications of this thing we call Christ’s “gospel” are profound and far-reaching. In one sense, this may all seem very complex. But in fact it’s pretty simple. God says to us, in effect: If you expect to trust Me for the details of your invisible, long-term existence, you might as well get used to that process by trusting Me also for the visible, short term as well. Yes, the gospel is about spiritual and eternal matters. But to prove its trustworthiness in those realms, I want you also to see how trustworthy I am in the realms you’re used to living in.

So the good news of the gospel, we discover, has implications for the here and now. It has implications for morality and education, for politics and civil justice, for art and music and entertainment, for business and finance. In all those areas of life and more, God calls His children to new perspectives that, like the new birth itself, may at first seem foolish. But the more we keep exploring them, and the more we learn to trust God’s ways in all those areas of life, the more He makes sense to us.

That’s one way of describing what we call a “Christian worldview.” To go exploring in all these nitty-gritty areas of life is never a denial of the basic gospel where we all must start. It is rather a logical extension of that magnificent journey. I hope WORLD’s pages will help you in your determination to trust God more fervently in all those “secular” facets of life.