Vaccinated Against the Best News

About Vaccination and the Best News

Vaccination against disease involves getting a small dose of something infectious with the result that one’s immune system gains the upper hand against the infection, eradicating it (smallpox) or nearly so (polio).

Vaccination against the best news involves getting just enough news to underrate and ignore it—or getting such a mangled presentation of the news as to reject it.

The best news is the news about Jesus. In Greek it’s called εὐαγγέλιον (good messenger or gospel), but as a reminder of its significance, I occasionally refer to it as the best news.

In brief, the best news involves the following: Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate around A.D 33, was buried, but rose from the dead and returned to his Father in heaven, sending his Spirit to us on earth, so that by faith we can share his life forever.

Non-Christians can be vaccinated against this gospel—and often are. Surprisingly, Christians, too, can be vaccinated against the very faith they claim—and this is a seriously bad vaccination.

How to Vaccinate an Unbeliever

Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. (from Matthew 13:18-19)

In Jesus’ parable, some people reject the gospel out of hand because they do not understand it. Too little understanding vaccinates them against believing—often for the rest of life. It happens this way: as they age, they later encounter the good news in various forms. However, first impressions being lasting ones, they (honestly) think to themselves: “Oh, that. I decided long ago that it wasn’t for me.”

When this happens, only something sensational or catastrophic—or both—will awaken them to the value of the best news. A divorce, an arrest, an addiction, an affliction, the death of a loved one, or the growing realization that one’s life is meaningless—such events may awaken a person’s faith.

A miracle can reverse the course of one’s vaccinated life, leading the person to earnestly look for Jesus. It may consist of experiences such as a physical healing, the exposure to a person of faith whose love and integrity cannot be ignored, or discovering that the words of the Bible suddenly make sense in a way they previously did not.

How to Vaccinate a Believer

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil. . . . (from Matthew 13:20-23)

A believer becomes vaccinated against the gospel by a lack of perseverance.

Difficulties, persecutions, disappointments, listening uncritically to skeptics and higher criticism, finding oneself in the clutches of a vice—all or any of these can dissuade one from believing. When things don’t always line up—and when does everything line up in this world?—we all tend to capitulate. Either the promises in the gospel don’t come true, or shiny things in the visible world start seeming much more interesting than seeking God. Material goods, social status, handsome and beautiful people, intellectual superiority—these and others may swarm into one’s life, rendering the initial enthusiasm and its attendant beliefs insignificant.

The lynchpin to getting a full vaccination is finally to stop reading or listening to the gospel altogether. Instead, listen to interpretations of it, particularly skeptical ones. Better, listen exclusively to alternate explanations of the meaning of life, including the one that dismisses as unimportant the meaning of life.

Allow me to grant the possibility that one’s previous commitment to the gospel may have been a genuine mistake. Assume that what I call “perseverance” increasingly becomes a gross denial of reality as one matures. This could be the case, and I’ve considered it a possibility in my own life. One element that keeps me believing in spite of this possibility is found within the gospels themselves. Repeatedly, Jesus warns against being bamboozled out of one’s faith. The parable of the sower quoted above is one example. Another comes from Luke 21:34-36:

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.

The Gospel of Matthew, similarly, has several reminders for believers to be vigilant, to “watch” both that one is not deceived by a false prophet or that one is not spiritually asleep at the return of Jesus.

I urge all of us: don’t miss the the true gospel. This is the one that Paul said comes not only in word but also in power. If Jesus told his disciples they were of little faith, so much more are we prone to mistaking a knowledge of Jesus for faith in him. It behooves us to humble ourselves and ask God to teach us how to live in power as well as in word.

It might take time and the discomfort of the unknown, but once the eyes of our heart are enlightened, then we will be free from being referred to as a people whose lips are near to God but whose hearts are far away.


Publishing Info
This post was first published on: May 29, 2024. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change in order to bring current posts to the top of the directory.

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