The Gospels in Their Context

Please head over to the Barnabas Ministry and read Rescuing the Gospel From the Gospels. It's an excellent look into the context of the first four books of the New Testament - Why they were written, When and How the early church used them. To entice you to go check it our, here are a couple of quotes:

The gospels teach many ideals: love for enemies, humility, forgiveness, prayer, giving to the poor, and the like. Now what if we made a comprehensive list of all such items in the gospels? This is exactly what is done by those frustrated with the fallenness of the church or eager to prove themselves better than other Christians. They turn these ideals into a "Christian Law" -- requirements for salvation, and it becomes ten times more oppressive than the Law of Moses.
Been there, done that.
We can claim we do xyz, and may actually do xyz for a time, but have we done xyz enough? Sooner or later, and it's usually sooner, failure comes into the equation for the Christian. And the same is true for any and every example of "law" that might be mined from the gospels. Salvation does not come from following the law-- any law.
I can't even manage to follow my pet peeves, let alone live up to every standard put forth by Jesus in the Gospels.
The gospels teach what is true and good and right. These things are virtues-- things that lead to blessings and point the way to goodness. And they are ideals that point the way to spiritual growth, not requirements that stand against us. Those who want to turn the gospels into a Christian Law often look at spiritual performance as a "half-empty" sort of a thing. No matter what good happens, there is some failure. For those who turn virtues into law or ideals into demands, there is only unrelenting condemnation. Failures against this "law" are beaten against the hearts of those who seek to do right. (In fact, this is a leading control mechanism in abusive and unhealthy churches-- leadership persistently pointing out failures of the followers in order to maintain control over them.) Thus, the Christian is no longer free to do good, he is only condemned by his limitations. How is any of these "good news?" It just looks and sounds like complete and utter condemnation. ...

Jesus let virtues be virtues without looking for some failure in the performance. I believe that Jesus saw spiritual virtues as a cup "half-full." He recognized and praised the feeble efforts of people to do what was right; he did not stand over them pointing out their failures. God accepts our picnic basket lunches, our simple mustard-seed faith in him, our well-intentioned acts of repentance, and our sorrow for our sins. He doesn't beat us over the head because we haven't done enough.

I feel like I ought to say something here, but it speaks for itself.
The gospels give us ideals, things to shoot for, things that will bring blessings in heaven and on earth, things that advance God's work. We should not disregard them or be reckless concerning them:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

But we are only deceiving ourselves if we think we actually attain these ideals, or if we think salvation is tied to such a performance. And if we teach this to others, our message can hardly be called "good news." In the end, we need salvation after conversion just as much as we need salvation before conversion.

Please go read the whole thing, it's excellent.

Thanks to Pfredy for the link.

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