I remember going to Disneyland for the first time, fidgeting in line at the main gate, body tense with excitement. A whole new world lay just out of sight, a magical world waiting to be explored. (I had not yet fully appreciated that this magical new world included two-hour long lines, terrifying roller coasters, and a limitless sea of hot and harried tourists.) To enter this wonderland, I simply needed to hand a rectangular slip of pink paper to the bored teenager standing at the gate. A ticket. So simple.
And, once I passed through the gate, what did I do with my ticket? Well, I put it in my pocket, of course. You see, I needed the ticket to get into Disneyland, but once inside it was useless. They include all the rides and attractions in the price of admission. The ticket gets you in, after that you can put it in your pocket. I suppose I could have thrown it away, but you don’t do that with your ticket. You hold on to it “just in case.” At least, that’s what my parents told me.
That’s how many of us think of the Gospel. We hear the Gospel as the good news that we can “get in” to God’s kingdom and live with him forever. There’s a whole new world waiting for us, and the Gospel is our ticket. Without it, we’d never get past the main gate. But, with it we have exactly what we need to believe so we can rush through the gate with all of the other children, eyes wide with wonder at all the new sights and sounds.
And, we could do worse than to think of the Christian life as an amazing new world that we can explore like small children delighting in God’s wonderful creativity.
But, there’s a real problem with this analogy. Once you’re inside the park, what do you do with your ticket? You put it in your pocket. You keep it “just in case” or as a souvenir for your scrapbook, but you don’t really need it anymore. You’ve already gotten in.
So, you tuck the Gospel safely away, confident that it has served its purpose.
I also remember the day that I got my driver’s license, that little plastic card that declares you to be a free agent, a real teenager, able to go wherever whenever. But, arriving home from the DMV, I was angry. Although I’d finally reached the pinnacle of teenage freedom, my parents weren’t going to let me drive. Not by myself. I was still too young and inexperienced. Maybe in a few weeks.
I needed to sulk. How could they do this to me? Didn’t they understand what a driver’s license was for? How was I supposed to explain to my friends that I had a license, but I still couldn’t drive? It was embarrassing.
Then I stepped through the front door. And my dad tossed me the keys, the car keys. In my memory, it feels like a scene from a cheesy movie. Everything slows down. The keys glint in the sunlight as they trace their gentle arc through the air. Cue the music.
I’m not sure who was more surprised: me or my mom. I found out afterward that my dad hadn’t consulted her on this sudden change of plans, and she was not at all pleased. I say I found out afterward, of course, because I was out the door before the keys had finished jingling in my hand. I wasn’t about to give anyone a chance to change their mind. I’m not even sure I knew where I was going. But that hardly mattered. I had the keys!
Racing to the car, I unlocked the door, flung it open, and jumped into the driver’s seat. It’s like I was afraid that it wouldn’t be real until I was in the car by myself…with the keys.
Then, with a contented sigh, I closed the door and placed the keys carefully in my pocket. “Isn’t this great?” I thought, “I’m finally in the car!” Reaching over I fiddled with the little black knobs on the radio. I found out that if I turned them all the way to the left, they made a little clicking sound. That was fun. Then I discovered the vanity mirror. It had its own light. Cool. But the best was the button with the red triangle. When I pushed it, these little green arrows on the dashboard started blinking. I liked that. I even said “Vrooom, vroom,” a few times and turned the steering wheel back and forth. All in all, it was a good evening.
Of course that’s not what I did. I was a teenager with a driver’s license, a car, and car keys! What good would it do to sit in the driveway with the keys in my pocket? I wanted to drive the car—roll down the windows, turn up the radio, enjoy my newfound freedom. But, to do that, I needed to use the keys. The keys make the whole thing work. You can’t leave them in your pocket.
So, I had the keys in the ignition almost before my butt hit the seat. And I was gone. Off on my first teenage driving adventure. I barely managed not to peel out in my parent’s driveway, wisely thinking that this might hinder future driving opportunities.
Unfortunately, many of us see the Gospel more like a ticket than a key. Both are good for getting into things. But beyond that, the resemblance ends. Once you’re in, you don’t need the ticket anymore. But the key to a car, that’s what makes everything work.
The Gospel is a key. It’s not simply what we believe to get into the Christian life; it’s what makes the Christian life work. As I hope you will see by the time you’ve reached the end of this book, the Gospel shapes every aspect of the Christian life—worship, ministry, work, family, theology, and more.
Why do you need to read a book about the Gospel? If you’re like me, it’s because we often think that the Gospel is only for the beginning. But, without the Gospel, all we’re left with are the knobs and buttons on the dashboard that my daughters like to twist and turn when I’m not looking. If you really want to roll down the windows, turn up the radio, and drive the car, you need to take the key out of your pocket and use it.
[This is the third part of a short series I’m doing on different ways I could begin my Gospel book. The first two were “I Don’t Want to Be a Dirty Klingon” and “A Place of Mystery, Magic, and Dirty Kleenex.” (Apparently I’ve had dirt on the brain.) This one takes things in still a different direction. Let me know if you have any thoughts/feedback.]