Longing for the Divine

Attractive Gospel

There is something about evangelism—the tracts distributed on street corners and the conversations about gospel—that bothers me. It’s not just that it uses pushy and confrontational tactics to get people to believe; it also instills in them an unwholesome fear of judgment that turns the gospel into a contractual message. Evangelists approach strangers, insisting that they are lost and condemned souls who must have faith in Jesus to avoid eternal damnation—as if there were just enough goodness among their sin and lostness to generate the kind of faith needed for salvation. Do human confession and faith change God’s attitude?

How does my resolution to meet the conditions of salvation make a difference? How does walking down an aisle and raising my hand win merit points? Why am I urged to learn about and confess the magnitude of my sin before I become a Christian? You may not agree, but I think we are selling people a misrepresented gospel, perhaps even a false one.

It’s notable that Jesus never told others that the gospel was about being justified, being personally saved, or going to heaven. His message of redemption was more about the person and presence of God. Jesus’ faithfulness brings a whole new realization. The way Jesus lived, taught, and died reveals not only what God thinks about us but what God’s character is really like. There is something much better than my attempts at faith, and it comes through the faithfulness of Jesus (Philippians 3:9).

When I experience the beauty God’s character, I find that faith is an experience that happens to me, not something I make happen. If you asked me about God’s goodness toward sinners, I would reply that He works to include us in this marvelous experience even before we believe. I find His love wooing and beginning to function inside me as His presence permeates my mind and affects my actions.  

I see God as my guaranteed lover, showing me mercy like no other as He takes me back again and again. Even when I fail to respond, the embrace of His love refuses to let me go. I see God’s goodness in His compassion and grace. I see the tenderness, the truth, the winsomeness, and the unmatched loveliness of Jesus as He welcomes sinners. As I gaze, I find myself pulled in the direction of faith. I find His matchless beauty occupying my thoughts, transfixing my very soul. I find myself desiring to endure faithfulness and unwavering fidelity to such a person. This is my experience of falling in love with God, and I find myself gradually growing into His likeness as my capacity to know and trust Him continually enlarges and deepens.

I have come to believe that my spiritual transformation depends upon seeing God as He really is. In beholding His beauty, I become changed. I am convinced that we need a better—a clearer—picture of God. As described in Isaiah 6, transformation is all about knowing and experiencing God. It’s the unmatched and untarnished beauty of His holiness that allures me. As I fix my eyes on Jesus, I experience the charm and attraction of His love, which draws me closer to His presence (John 12:32).

When the prophet Isaiah was seized with a picture of God’s holiness, he sensed his true self. We hear Isaiah’s cry: “Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5, NIV). Isaiah’s lips were then touched with a live coal from the divine altar, which removed his guilt.

When I look at the King—at the “beauty of His holiness” (Psalm 96:9)—and am swept up into His loving arms, I am blown away. His stunning beauty is greater than anything I could possibly imagine, and this glorious revelation makes our sinfulness clear to me. This can be a painful experience, but not because God is condemning us. Like Isaiah, we are free to see ourselves as we really are because we stand secure in His presence. Though the reality of my sinfulness is terrible, the burden is lifted as God holds out a living coal to me. I am undeserving, but God’s mercy and forgiveness are great, filling me with acceptance and hope. Like Isaiah, I see grace and receive it.

I believe that our speech about God must likewise be cleansed. Until we can share truthful speech about God, it is better that we place our hands over our mouths, waiting for our lips to be purged with the burning coal of God’s holy love. It is only when confronted with the beauty of Christ that we can see our sinfulness and proclaim His glory on earth. May God’s beauty humble us and intimately touch us, allowing us to see Him with clear eyes and speak plainly of His love to attract others to the saving beauty of Christ.

Like Isaiah, I want to I stand transfixed, beholding and cherishing the King until I am so enamored of His beauty that I am changed and compelled to share it. The charm of God’s glorious beauty wins my heart and shows me how He wants me to display it to others. It is the beauty of God’s character as revealed in the faithfulness of Jesus that prompts us to live in ways that “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10, NIV).

Craig Ashton Jr.

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