The Bad News and the Good News of the Gospel
THE BAD NEWS AND THE GOOD NEWS OF THE GOSPEL
If we were playing a word-association game and I said "catechism," chances are you wouldn't yell "joy!" in response. "Drudgery" and "dry" are more likely, especially if your early religious training involved memorizing one. Someone once told me he thought CATECHISM referred to a primitive mechanical device used in a dental office. But a catechism is a teaching document in a question and answer format, and a catechism is what first got me thinking about joy in a way that changed my life. It is also a direct way to address the last of the joy busters: an incomplete gospel. In other words, we may be missing the inexpressible and glorious joy of the gospel because we don't fully understand what its message is.
The catechism I have in mind is a sixteenth-century confession of faith known as the Heidelberg Catechism. I have a calligraphic rendering of the first question and answer framed and hanging in my office. But it is the second question of the Catechism that has changed my life—and made me want to write this book. The two questions go together; you need to hear the first to fully appreciate the second.
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven [even if I am a cancer patient]; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to work for him.
GUILT, GRACE AND GRATITUDE
Magnificent! All that really matters in life and in death is covered by those words—identity, security, forgiveness, deliverance and hope. But how can we know the joy of this comfort? The answer to the second question is crucial.
What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
Three things: first, how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such a deliverance.
There it is—the Christian story stated as misery, rescue and joyous thanksgiving; guilt, grace and gratitude. These three are also joined organically. If the premise of gratitude and joy is the good news, then the premise of the good news is the bad news. Before joy comes tears. In fact, joy is frivolous and false without tears. So for the sake of joy we must think for a while about what the Catechism calls our "sin and misery."
—Ben Patterson. HE HAS MADE ME GLAD: ENJOYING GOD'S GOODNESS WITH RECKLESS ABANDON. Downer's Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005, pp. 54-55. ISBN: 0-8308-1743-3
[Perhaps you have seen a version of "Amazing Grace" that alters the original to "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a Soul like me." Why would they do that? The answer is easy. Many, even many in Christian ministry, have retreated from the biblical idea that we are desperate sinners who need a Savior (Romans 3:23). Miserere nobis.]
Have a great week!
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Music and Worship
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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