Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Bait-and-switch is a commonly used sales tactic. Typically, the customer is drawn to a store or website with promises of very low prices. Once inside, they find different items at higher prices. Sadly, some churches and ministries use bait-and-switch tactics in marketing a gospel that turns out to be no gospel at all.
A friend of mine shared a conversation he had on an airplane returning home from a trip to India. A young Indian woman sitting next to him asked what he had been doing in India. He explained he had been there for mission and ministry. She asked if he was Christian, and he said he was, so she asked, “Tell me about this Jesus!” He began by asking what she had heard. “Well, I’ve heard Christians and missionaries talk about a God who loves everyone and sent Jesus as a gift to save us. They then encourage people to become Christian so they can have a better life.” Then she paused—“But my friends who go to Christian churches say they find out it is not that easy. You have to give money to the church, work hard to keep the gift, and if you don’t do what the priest says, the God who is supposed to love you will send you to hell to burn forever!”
Fortunately, it was a long flight and by the time it was over, the Indian woman had heard the gospel message that God, who uses no bait-and-switch tactics, sent his Son, in love, to save the world by grace.
Unfortunately, some churches proclaim a false gospel that God won’t save people until they overcome this or that. Or they proclaim that God saves us by grace but then it’s up to us to maintain our salvation by works (using, of course, their programs). These unfortunate messages present salvation as a transaction rather than the freely-given, enduring relationship with God that it is.
The gospel that uses bait-and-switch tactics is far different than the one presented in Scripture. There we find that Jesus, who is truth personified (John 14:6), presents the gospel truth that God, who always is for us, came to us and lives among us by his Spirit. Jesus doesn’t call us to himself, then say, “Now change or be damned!” He draws us to himself unconditionally, through love and for love. As we get to know him more and more, we respond to his love with all we are and in all we do. We want to change because we want to be like him and involved in what he is doing. We want to enjoy as close a relationship with him as we can—a relationship in which we become like the one we love.
Perhaps the biggest change that we encounter in this relationship with God is learning to love others the way God loves them. As our perfectly loving heavenly Father, God is for all people and against all that is against them. He is for all that brings his children true life in ever-deepening relationship with himself. He desires that his children live in a way that reflects the glory of who he is—the glory we see in God’s incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
The gospel tells us that God is a triune being: Father, Son and Holy Spirit existing eternally in a relationship of love. God created us to share in this tri-personal relationship, and since he is perfect and complete without us, he does not need bait-and-switch tactics to trick us into anything. Though he doesn’t need us, in love and for love he desires that we experience and enjoy the loving relationship he is and has for us.
One of the biggest changes we face is learning to embrace and live out of our relationship with God. This is tough because most of us have grown up loving the darkness of self-love rather than the light of God’s love. Many seem unaware that God created us for relationship with him and with others. These relationships are based on the new commandment given by Jesus to his disciples the evening before he died for us: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
When Jesus makes something new, he makes it better than the old. There is more to Jesus’ new command than many realize. It’s about loving God and others the way Jesus loves us and his Father. Jesus gave himself completely for the sake of his Father and all the world. Jesus was God’s plan to bring us into an eternal relationship of love with himself. God, who is an eternal, relational being, invites all to respond to his love. His intent is made clear in the passage that is often called “the Bible in a nutshell”: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).
There is no bait-and-switch here. Jesus did not come to condemn and punish; he came to save. In the four Gospels we find Jesus telling people about his Father, about the Holy Spirit, about his Father’s kingdom, and about himself. Through acts of healing, helping, correcting and warning, we find him establishing the reality of who he is and why he came. All of this he did freely and even joyfully, out of the fullness of his relationship with the Father and in the Holy Spirit.
In Scripture we find Jesus serving, not asking to be served. He doesn’t draw people in, then drop the hammer. With Jesus there is no “gotcha,” bait-and-switch catch. Jesus is pure, consistent love. His love is based on who he is, not on what we do. The apostle Paul put it this way: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Notice, there are no conditions placed here on God’s love for us. God doesn’t say, “I’ll love you as soon as you clean up your act.” He doesn’t say, “I’ll sacrifice my Son if you promise to love me.” The Bible tells us that God’s love is always unconditional—there is no bait-and-switch here. God’s grace, by definition, is freely given—unearned and undeserved. There is nothing we must do or can do to cause or enable God to give it. Grace is truly the ultimate expression of love, which is the essence of God’s being.
God, who is love, never stops loving his creation. His anger (wrath) arises from seeing his beloved hurting themselves and others. When we embrace our relationship with God, his love works from inside our being by his Spirit to restore and transform us. Note Jesus’ prayer for his followers: “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:25-26). Rest assured, Jesus never uses bait-and-switch tactics with us, and such tactics are never part of co-ministering with him. We are called to know Jesus and his love, and to make him known by freely sharing his love with others.
Always thankful for the truth of God’s unconditional love,