A 'Right Now' Gospel of Joy
Evangelism is about proclaiming good news for today, not just tomorrow. One of the most significant errors in evangelism is seeing the gospel as merely relevant for where people will spend eternity. Salvation from hell and damnation are important parts of telling the truth of God’s story, but they should never come at the expense of the good news that is also for today. The gospel is a ‘right now’ message, carrying the capacity to restore lives and peoples who choose to embrace the bounty of God. In Isaiah 55:1-3 we see God’s invitation to bounty, an invitation that is both for today and ultimately for all peoples in the forever after of the story of God.
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”
The word ‘bounty’ refers to a wide variety of good things given freely to all people. The gospel is a call to bounty, an invitation to come to God’s table and feast on this wide variety of good things. Without ‘recompense’ or expectation of repayment, God invites ‘everyone’ to come to the table. In this passage, God invites us to good things, not the least of which is a relationship with Him-a covenant relationship, where we belong to God and the people of God! This is the very core, the center of evangelism-that we belong to God and in belonging to God, we belong to one another. As we share Jesus with those around us, we are not calling them to some mere metaphor but to an actual feast that is for today and for tomorrow. This feast is not just a feast of physical sustenance, but of lavish excess, indulgent and rich. It is a celebration because God is at the center. There is covenant relationship embedded in this feast.
The call to come to God’s table is a call that is relevant for people’s lives today, right now.
When we invite people to a relationship with God, we are providing them the solution for their deepest thirst, the hunger in their souls. Satisfaction, joy, belonging, inclusion, embrace. These things are all in this passage in Isaiah 55. This is what we invite people to. It is important to explain to people that they need forgiveness for their sins and salvation from hell. I do this all the time as an evangelist, but doing this without the express offer to the joy and sustenance of God’s dinner table is an incomplete gospel. People need to be told that there is joy, that there is satisfaction right now in Christ. Many people are so overwhelmed with the worries of today, that a gospel that is only good for tomorrow makes no sense. They cannot see that far ahead, being preoccupied with worries, concerns, thirsts and hungers right now. They need a right now gospel of joy.
Recently, I shared the gospel with a student audience in West Palm Beach, Florida. While I gave the call to faith, several students stood. Afterwards, Ben came up to me and shared that he hadn’t experienced joy or happiness in over a year. Ben felt trapped and hopeless but something about my message connected deeply with his hunger for more. Ben shared that life had lost its meaning, that he could not experience joy in any area of life. No matter how much he tried or indulged in things, it just didn’t seem to be a part of his life.
As I shared how Jesus turns ordinary water into extraordinary wine from John 2, I carefully explained how Jesus also turns our ordinary lives into extraordinary lives. I explained that Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection was God’s gift to create joy in the world and in our lives. “Jesus died for all that we’ve done and left undone and He is alive today because He was raised from the dead,” I continued, “Ben, the great news is that through Jesus you can be forgiven and made acceptable to God, but you can also be ‘born again’ and experience the kind of life you were meant for, a life of joy.”
I believe joy is one of the most important ‘fruits’ or evidences that we have had an encounter with Jesus.
Joy marks those who have been to the table, feasted on the bounty of God, and have found their fill. Ben had not experienced Jesus and as a result, was not experiencing joy. This is not to say that Christians don’t struggle with depression or have seasons where joy is hard to find but normatively, when we’ve been to the table, eaten our fill, we become the people of joy!
As I shared Christ with Ben after the program was over, the gospel made sense to him, not just for being saved from sin and hell, but for his struggle with joylessness. Ben decided to repent of his sin, pray to acknowledge Christ as his Lord but also ask God to infuse his life with joy. I believe in that moment of prayer, Ben began to experience a small taste of that joy as evidenced in his facial expressions and ability to give words to his longings and desire for joy.
When we begin to long for joy, to seek it, inevitably we will find ourselves looking further than the things of this world.
We can find a great deal of happiness and pleasure in the things of this world, but joy requires something deeper-covenant embrace, deep and abiding relationship with God and others! This is the promise of Isaiah 55 for now and for eternity!
R. York Moore (@yorkmoore) came to faith as an Atheist Philosopher at the University of Michigan. York is the National Evangelist for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA. He is also the author of Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away, and Making All Things New: God's Dream for Global Justice. His new book Do Something Beautiful is coming out this year. York is also the creator of an innovative new approach to campaign-oriented evangelism called “Justice Invitationals." For more information on York's ministry, visit tellthestory.net.