Branded, Labeled, and the Gospel

Recently, I have been exploring with my students the idea of redemption, forgiveness, healing, salvation and the living out of the gospel. The idea of “what it means to be a Christian” has been taken captive by our American Way and American dream (i.e. consumerism, McWorld– to use Tom Sine’s phrasing) that it is hard to explain to students what seems to me to be simple concepts.
This brings us to labeling. Teenagers understand the power of labels, brands, groups, etc. In the past, we in youth ministry have talked about peer pressure, conformity, and the negative influence of the brands we associate ourselves with and the labels that we place upon one another (geek, loser, prep, jock, etc.). We have talked about such ideas in such moralistic terms.
As I began to explore the realm of the gospel (redemption, forgiveness, etc.), my attention began to turn towards the concept of labeling and branding. As we pay attention to the life of Jesus, we see him walking amongst labeled peoples and persons– adulterous women, tax collectors, Samaritans, Zealots, Pharisees, etc. Jesus extended love to these people and groups. He saw past the labels. He “re-labeled” the individuals he came in contact with. He helped them realize their true identity. He transformed the way that individuals saw themselves. In doing so he brought healing, redemption, and salvation.
Dallas Willard chides the idea that Christians are “just forgiven.” I agree with him. It is interesting that this is the primary message that we send our students. Talks about forgiveness abound– either about God forgiving me or about me forgiving those who have offended me. However, the idea of being a follower of Jesus and sharing the good news is about spreading forgiveness, not just to those who have offended us (although this is noble and right), but also to those who have been labeled and branded. Following Christ is about healing the deep wounds and scars that exist in people. It is about helping them understand their identity in Jesus. It is about a transformed understanding of humanity, existence, community, and Earth.
Our students deserve good theology that can be lived out in real life. Our moralisms must be chucked. Our consumption-laden values must be burned. We must experience forgiveness and share that experience with others. It brings true freedom, restoration, and salvation.

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