At times I’ll hear someone talk about how the gospel is offensive. In virtually every case, what the person has in mind is something along the lines of “non-Christians don’t like the ‘gospel’ because it confronts them with their sin.” Yet I want to suggest that this doesn’t match with what we find in the New Testament in most cases—or at least not in the way we think. I love this quote from Rachel Held Evans: “I’m beginning to wonder if what makes the Gospel offensive is not who it keeps out, but who it lets in.”
The gospel is offensive to the proud and the powerful, especially the religiously proud and powerful. If you look through the New Testament, the vast majority of persecution comes not from the pagan gentiles but rather from the religious Jews. The religious Jews felt that they were better than others because they made the best show of keeping to the cultural rules. They were offended by the gospel that opened the doors to all the people who weren’t good enough in their book. They weren’t offended by a gospel in which Jesus came to save the good Jews. But they were offended by the gospel which said that Jesus came to save everybody. As long as they were still in charge of who looked good enough, they weren’t offended (see Galatians).
It’s the same today only it’s Christians who now have their own religious culture. Many well meaning people are a part of it, just as many sincere Jews were a part of the culture which opposed Jesus in the first century. The people who are offended by Jesus are the ones who are trying to control and manage both their own righteousness and that of others. When they are more concerned about people “looking the part” (or in other words, fitting into the religious culture), they have missed the mark and will fight the God who welcomes everyone who comes to him.
Most importantly, we need a better understanding of this so that we don’t continue to use “the gospel is offense” as an excuse to deflect criticism for non-Christians’ offense at our wrongful actions. We offend them through disrespect, uncalled for criticism, and outright hate. We are supposed to display the “fruit of the Spirit” and the reality of God’s kingdom and love, but instead we demonstrate that we are children of our father, the accuser (John 8:44).