The Collapsible Bridge Gospel
This week I had the privilege to teach one of our Sunday School classes. Sarah and I had taught this class before so I was looking forward to reconnecting with the kids. The lesson was from Matthew 19, where a rich young ruler asks a great question, “What good deed must I do to inherit eternal life?” The young man was clearly concerned about a very important topic. He had everything the world had to offer him now, yet he was concerned about what it would offer him later.
I posed this question to our children, “How would you answer the rich young ruler? How would you tell him to go about gaining eternal life?” Their answers included: go to church, pray, read your Bible, believe, love others, and respect your parents (I laughed at the last one!). We constructed a diagram of a bridge with supports that looked something like this:
In essence, the class gave a path for the rich young ruler that would lead to eternal life. He needed to walk down that path by going to church, believing, reading his Bible, loving others, and praying and then he would gain eternal life.
Then I asked the class, “If this is the bridge we have constructed, what happens if one of the supports goes out? What happens if the rich young ruler goes through a time where he does not believe? What then?”
The class was silent. I am sure many of us would have been silent as well.
You see, the message of Matthew 19 and the Gospel as a whole is that this bridge cannot exist. If it did, there is no way anyone would ever gain eternal life. Jesus tells the rich young ruler in 19:26, “With man this (gaining eternal life) is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Yet, how many times have I told someone that in order to be a Christian they must read their Bible every day (even though I don’t)? How many times have I judged a family for not coming to church? How many times should I be rebuked by Paul, as Peter was in Galatians 2:11-21, for setting up extra barriers to the Gospel?
You see, the Gospel is the simple message that your eternal destiny does not depend on your praying, loving others, or going to church. In fact, to put it simply, no action in the present or future will affect your eternal destiny other than the decision to trust that Jesus already died for your sins (Ephesians 2:8).
Praying, Bible reading, and going to church certainly have their place in the Christian’s life. They are a gift to his people and a sign of the fruit of a life lived as a servant of Christ (Ephesians 4:14, 2 Timothy 3:16) and in other places even commanded (Hebrews 10:25, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). They should never, however, be confused as the bridge to eternal life. That kind of bridge would collapse the moment it was built.
Jesus said as he hung on the cross, bleeding to death for our lack of righteousness, “It is finished.” How freeing this message is! How scary it is for some of us that Jesus calls us to give up our “going to church righteousness” and trust that the only thing needed for salvation is his finished work on the cross. This really is good news worth sharing. We cannot add one thing to the story of our salvation. Jesus has paid the full price for our salvation. He has built a bridge to eternal life with supports that will never fail.