Autonomy and the Gospel

rick whiteRick White is the Lead Pastor of CityView Church in Fort Worth, Texas and serves as the Network Director for the South Central region of Acts 29. Rick has been married to Stephanie for 17 years and has four children.  


kneel at the crossOne of the most prevalent character traits of our culture is our desire for autonomy. When others infringe upon our perceived independence, we often get defensive and closed off. How can this be? After all, can there be such a thing as a “self-ruling person” in the Kingdom of God? In Matthew 11, Jesus gives us the answer:

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:25-30

To understand what Jesus is saying in Matthew 11:25-30, we must consider that in the prior passage Jesus has just highlighted several cities for their rejection of the Gospel. So as a follow up in the above text, Jesus describes the kind of people that DO have the capacity to respond favorably to the Gospel. What does He say? Three things:

1. Needy and utterly helpless people are ready to respond favorably to the Gospel. In contrast, self-sufficient, self-reliant, prideful people cannot receive the Gospel.

Jesus says that only those that come as infants – people in great need and wholly dependent - are ready for the Gospel. Put another way, the Gospel is something that a person must receive – it is not something that is found and it is not something one can take or appropriate for one’s own purposes.

A receiver depends on another; a taker is self-reliant. A receiver needs God to initiate a relationship. A taker only needs God to respect our autonomy and stand still while we seek to find Him.

What are some ways that we fail to receive? For one, we seek and find value from within ourselves and others instead of receiving our value and worth from the Father. Only God can reveal to us the truth about who we are as His created and precious children. We need God to define us, not ourselves.

Another way we fail to receive is that we often create truths on our own instead of receiving with gladness the truth in God’s revelation to us. How often do we approach the Bible with questions we demand to be answered instead of with receptive hearts, ready to hear answers to questions we haven’t even asked? Like Nicodemus (John 3), our non-receptive hearts can betray us as experts in the Scriptures teaching, yet immune to the Spirit that illumines the Scripture’s meaning.

2. Those that look to Jesus as the ultimate and final revelation of the Father can receive the Gospel. In contrast, those that try to look to everything but Jesus will never truly understand the Gospel.

Jesus is God. God entered our world to reveal Himself to us. Therefore, Jesus is our only hope for knowing who God is. Autonomy tells us to find God in other ways apart from Jesus through philosophy, theology, personal study, logic, or desire. Only God can reveal God to us.

Even when we look to Jesus, we often-times look to a Jesus of our own making. Without fail, our personally constructed Jesus always seems to agree with our thoughts and our pet-causes. Our personal Jesus is always on our side. It is only through a spiritually vital relationship with Jesus – by way of Holy Spirit – that we can know, experience and be submissive to our only image of the invisible God.

And while this passage doesn’t explicitly say so, Jesus has and will continue to say after this passage that it is necessary for him to die. He will be the final, perfect sacrifice for sins. For those that know they need God to intervene and rescue them, Jesus gladly reveals Himself as the answer to their rescue – and no other answer will deliver or satisfy.

3. Those that stand prepared to repent regularly are ready to receive the Gospel. Inversely, those that refuse a life of repentance cannot experience or live out the Gospel and the abundant life it promises.

Those seeking autonomy are a weary and burdened people – some realize it…others clench their knuckles and dig in their heels. When one tries to please God on their own, they end up serving idols that keep failing to deliver. Idols weigh people down because they offer instant peace but only supply more painful work as time moves on.

God's people are told to turn to restful work, submitted to serving God through the light, eternal yoke of Jesus. Verses 28-30 are our invitation to turn away from anything that reinforces our self-sufficiency and autonomy and to become joyful, burden-free workers for God’s Kingdom. These verses are our invitation to repent – not as just a point in time act – put as an ongoing receiver of God’s merciful grace-yoke.

What is keeping you from responding favorably to the Gospel today?