Gospel Freedom: How Free Are We? Beyond Entitlement Thinking

Gospel Freedom: How Free Are We? Beyond Entitlement Thinking January 27, 2014

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news that God’s saving grace is free of charge to all who believe; but how free are we who share it with others? The gospel or good news of Jesus Christ frees us to move beyond entitlement thinking in our outreach to others. Paul was so free he laid aside his rights as an Apostle to be served and to have certain entitlements so as to serve others. He did all this for the sake of the freedom of the gospel and others’ freedom in Christ.

The Apostle writes, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 9:1-2; all biblical quotations in this post are taken from the ESV). Although he had every right to receive such things as material support from the Corinthians, he did not make use of his right but rather endured anything so as not to “put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12b).

Later he writes of his freedom in sharing the good news with others: though he is free, he makes himself a servant of all:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Paul does not relativize the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. Rather, he personalizes it to each person or group with whom he comes in contact. Never once do we find Paul to be a chameleon, as one Christian leader I knew expressed concern over Paul based on 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. In response to the concern that Paul sounds like he is a chameleon and that he changes the good news or mixes and matches it to fit the consumer preferences of those he seeks to reach for Christ, it is important to make the following points. The Apostle makes clear that the gospel of Jesus Christ is constant. Paul expressed the constant and unchanging storied content of the good news later on in this very epistle (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). Moreover, he keeps referring to “the gospel” as the basis for his various decisions in chapter 9. Lastly, Paul realizes that he must be very disciplined so as not to be disqualified from the race he is running in sharing the good news with others; there are rules for engagement; he controls himself so as to receive an eternal reward (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Paul was no chameleon; but he was not a stuffed corpse either. Rather, he was the apostle of the heart set free, as F. F. Bruce claimed in his book titled Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Paul was so free in his care for Christ and others that he made sure that he got out of the way so that others could find the way to Jesus.

Here are some questions to ask ourselves based on 1 Corinthians 9, 1 Corinthians 15, and the rest of the New Testament: What are the essentials of the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ? What does it mean for Paul to become all things to all people so as to reach some with the good news? What rights did Paul lay aside for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ and those with whom he shared? What personal freedoms are we willing to renounce (even our rights) in order to reach people in and through and for Christ?

This piece is cross-posted at The Christian Post.

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