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Checkpoint Summer 2021: What Jesus has done for me

CMS missionaries Simon and Jess Cowell are serving in Bari, Italy, discipling university students. Simon and Jess reflect on witnessing to the revolutionary truth of what Jesus has done in meeting both religious and secular thinking with the gospel of grace.

The threat of legalism

Italy is steeped in spiritual legalism. Almost all Italians, even those who are not observantly Catholic, have a legalistic mindset, where people must do things in order to be acceptable to God. Even in the evangelical church, where there are some severe reactions against Catholicism, legalism is a constant threat.

The danger for any Christian group, including the groups we are part of in Italy, is that a certain set of behaviours become the definition—when what we do (or don’t do) is what sets us apart. At one level this is a good thing. The Scriptures exhort us to be distinctive in our conduct. We are no longer to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). And yet it’s not our conduct that defines us as Christians. It is the Lord Jesus himself. We are rightly called Christians, those who belong to Christ. He is our distinctive, and everything else flows from that, including our moral performance (see Ephesians 2:8-10). We have the joy (and challenge) of embodying the grace of Jesus in all our relationships.

…a real Christian would supposedly never have a tattoo, or struggle with certain sins…

We’ve had conversations with a dear brother from our church who was (and perhaps still is) convinced that if someone doesn’t explicitly follow Jesus, they will still be saved by God if they are a ‘good person’ and ‘do the right thing’. Yet at the same time, he would say that a real Christian would supposedly never have a tattoo, or
struggle with certain sins (especially around sexuality). This is also a very popular opinion amongst university students, most of whom have never read the Bible for
themselves and have the same legalistic assumptions as the rest of their culture.

Discovering Jesus

One of the joys of GBU ministry is inviting non-Christian students to read the Bible and discover for themselves who Jesus really is. Last year Martina* was invited along to one of our GBU Bible studies, where we just happened to be reading Ephesians together. Martina saw all religions as being fundamentally the same: telling people to be good. We had the chance to let her see for herself in the Scriptures, that the gospel of grace is the exact opposite of that—that instead of telling you
what to DO, the gospel tells you what Jesus has DONE for you. It speaks of his love and care, of his sacrificial death so that we might be the beloved children of God. We continue to pray for Martina, and for the numerous other students like her who think God is severe, judgmental and distant without any understanding of his mercy and grace.

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Do you have a heart to share the good news of grace with young people? There are opportunities for gospel workers to support high school and university ministries in several locations. Contact your local branch to find out more.

*Name changed for privacy reasons