If you’ve been plugged into the blogosphere you’ve probably heard of The Naked Gospel and the story of how it’s author, Andrew Farley, came to write it.
Farley was burned out with “obsessive Christianity disorder.” The pressure he felt in trying to perform for Jesus reduced him to a nervous wreck. He had been a successful student and a motivated evangelist. He was intense to the point where he lost all his friends. And yet he was miserable and felt far from God. Then his life fell apart.
Farley’s story is hardly unique. A survey done by Willow Creek Church measured attitudes and behaviors of folk in over 400 churches and found no connection between church activity and those who were growing and fulfilled in their Christian walk. It’s not hard to find Christians who are burdened with religion. As Farley writes, “many of us are still apathetic instead of ecstatic over the gospel” (p.15).
What set Farley free was the naked gospel, the bare truth of what it means to be in Christ and to have Christ live in you and through you.
According to Farley, what messes up some Christians is that we don’t understand the significance of what Jesus has done on the cross and what makes the new covenant new. The old covenant hinges on us and ultimately reveals our inability to remain faithful. The new covenant solves this problem by shifting the focus to Jesus and his perfect faithfulness. We are supposed to depend wholly on Jesus. Problems come when we think we need to add in a little religious insurance based on works of our own.
The obstacle to experiencing victory over temptation is the way in which we’ve gone about the battle. When we arm ourselves with the law, we set ourselves up for failure every time. We may call it self-discipline or accountability – or plug in some other inventive term. But when it’s anything but dependency on Christ within us, it’ll inevitably put the wheels of human effort in motion. (p.56)
Few Christians would call themselves legalists. But in the name of discipline or “keeping short accounts with God,” many mix grace with the rules. We justify this by thinking we need guidelines or boundaries. Or perhaps we think the rules show us how to please God. But according to Farley, it’s the rules or it’s Jesus. You can’t have both. To think “Jesus saves” and then think we need rules to live godly lives, is to cheat on Jesus.
This book is a good introduction to the gospel. Farley covers what are fast becoming the central tenets of the grace message; that Jesus’ death brings complete and unconditional forgiveness, and that Jesus’ resurrection brings new life characterized by a new nature and new desires. From these truths Farley demolishes many church traditions pertaining to, for example, confession, divining the will of God, and what it means to “abide” in Christ.
I would say I am well acquainted with the grace message, yet there were a couple of things in this book that took me by surprise. Consider the distinction between nature and nurture. Many churches emphasize nurture as the means to spiritual growth, hence we have small groups, Bible study, accountability groups, etc. These things are helpful, says Farley…
But do you see what I see? The Bible talks about considering ourselves dead to sin and realizing that God has raised us up and seated us with him (Romans 6:11, Ephesians 2:6). In light of these truths about nature, we’re told to not let sin reign and to set our minds on things above (Romans 6:12; Colossians 3:2). This is not nurture talk; this is nature talk! (p.186)
Christianity is not a matter of asking, what would Jesus do? It’s a matter of unpackaging what it means to have Christ within us. It’s not about imitating others. It’s about having the supernatural life of Christ flow out of us naturally. We are all unique canvases on which the Master paints.
The simple truth of “Christ in you” has been buried under a counterfeit gospel that motivates believers by applying religious pressure. When you are uncertain of your standing in Christ, you will begin lean on your own effort. “Do this to get that blessing” or “don’t do this and stay free.” It sounds reasonable but it leads us away from dependency on Christ and teaches us to trust in ourselves. We may justifying it by telling ourselves that we’re co-laboring with God. But the true gospel is “Jesus plus nothing.”
How do we live upright lives if we don’t use the Ten Commandments as our guide?… The only sensible choice is to allow Christ to be himself through us…. Principles, rules, standards – no matter how “Christian” we believe they are – are poor substitutes for a life animated by God himself. (pp.57-8)
The Holy Spirit is more powerful than we give him credit for. Farley asks, how can we not believe the Holy Spirit is sufficient to bring about genuine change in our lives?
Another thought which blindsided me was the idea that God has made each of us a certain way and that most of the time we’re called to live inside our comfort zones. This is not an appeal to a life of comfort and idleness. It means that displaying Christ through us is something we have been uniquely designed to do. Each of us is a custom-special, tailor-made by God. So when we are who we’ve been designed to be, it feels right. Too often the call to live outside of our comfort zone is interpreted to mean, be someone God never meant you to be.
The adventure of life is in discovering the new creation that God has made each of us to be. The life we live we live by faith in the Son of God. Consequently we “genuinely want what God wants” and because he has placed Christ’s desires within us “we’re only satisfied as we fulfill them” (p.196). I would go a little further and say that true meaning is found in matching our God-given uniqueness with his message and mission.
The truths covered in The Naked Gospel are obvious once you hear them. The problem is we don’t hear them often enough. Or we hear them and don’t believe them saying “grace can’t be that good” or “the gospel can’t be that simple – there must be something more I have to do.” The real value of this book is in distinguishing the raw gospel from the empty traditions of men that have crept in and enslaved us.
It’s amazing how simple and straightforward the naked gospel really is. In fact, most of my exposure to the New has involved more unlearning than learning. Once we remove the clutter from our theological closet, the gospel shines brightly again. (p.216)