For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. –  Luke 19:10 NAS

If you have been in church for any amount of time, you have heard a hundred sermons and thousands of references to this verse. I only ask that you read the rest of this paragraph before you put this article down. Most translations of this verse read, “to save the lost,” but about 15 years ago I heard renowned New Testament scholar, Scot McKnight, make a statement that changed my life. He said that the KJV, NKJV, and NAS translations were right when they translated that Jesus came to seek and save “that which was lost.” My question instantly became, “What was lost?” My quest for an answer to this question has led me to a few conclusions. In this article, I want to share with you the first and maybe most important:

The essence of the Gospel and, therefore, Christianity is the healing of broken relationships.

Humans were created to live in relationship on four primary levels. The first relationship we see in the Creation narrative is the relationship between humans and all the earthly creation both to rule over it and to care for it, (Gen. 1:26-27, 2:15). The second, third and fourth relationships that we see are all related, interpersonal relationships. We were all created to have deep, unhindered relationships with ourselves as individuals, each other as people, and our God. To be honest, we don’t see these relationships initially. Instead, they only become evident after they are lost. Take a minute to read Genesis 3:6-11.

What did you notice? Looking closely at the text, first we see the destruction of Adam and Eve’s internal relationship with themselves. In verse 7, it says, “At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.” In these words, we see that at the moment Adam ate the fruit, something inside of them became broken. Their “eyes were opened,” and they felt shame. This inner brokenness, the destruction of their inner relationship resulting from their rebellion, destroys the second relationship – their relationship with God. This is seen clearly in their hiding from the Lord as He seeks their company, as He walks through the garden (v8). Finally, the destruction becomes complete as the third relationship, the relationship between the husband and wife, is destroyed as Adam casts all of the blame for his failure on Eve: “It was the woman you gave me…,” (v12). All of this results in the broken world described in Romans 5:12, “…and death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

The beginning of the answer is that Jesus came to restore these four relationships:

Your relationship with God

Your relationship with You

Your relationship with Others

Our relationship with Our World

Christianity is about Healing Broken Relationships

Everybody you know has relationship problems, and in a very real way, the quality of your life is in direct proportion to the quality of your relationships. Both my wife, Denise, and I were raised in broken homes, and that is just normal today. If Jesus came seeking what was lost, how do we heal these broken relationships? What is amazing is that God heals these relationships using the one thing we are all most familiar with. He uses sacrifice allowing for forgiveness.

God has always used sacrifice to allow for the forgiveness of the worshiper. Jesus said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” (Matt. 26:28). Now, we all know this. Jesus dies to set us free from the reign and penalty of sin and death. In this, He restores our relationship with God. That is a miracle. It is the beginning of what God desires to bring to His people. The problem is, this is where most of us stop, and because of that, this is usually as far as our healing extends. It just doesn’t have to.

At New Life Church, we do an inner healing weekend called Encounter. It is what has transformed our church from an aging, dying church of 90 to a vibrant, young church of about 250. The pivotal point of the weekend is always the session on forgiveness. In this teaching, we remind people about the Gospel, that Jesus has forgiven us and expects us to forgive in return. To many, this seems impossible until we teach Isaiah 61:1-3.

The Exchange

You know Isaiah 61:1-3, or you at least know part of it, as Jesus quoted it as His thesis message and purpose of His coming in Luke 4:18-19. Isaiah 61:1 says that Jesus came to proclaim the good news, and the result would be binding up/healing the brokenhearted, freedom for the captives, and release for prisoners. That is what comes from the Gospel/Good News, but verses 2-3 tells us how: “To give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…” Jesus is going to give the first in exchange for the second in each promise. So, we have to give Jesus something. We have to give him our ashes.

All of us have ashes. Ashes are the things that used to be alive, but are now dead. They are the dreams of being a virgin on your wedding night, destroyed by rape. They are the desire to sow riches into the Kingdom, when you have to declare bankruptcy. Simply, our ashes are all the remnants of our dreams that have been destroyed along the way. To us, they are only the things that remind us of the dreams that were never any more than that. He wants those. He wants to take all those things that you are ashamed of, all those mistakes, and in exchange, He wants to make beautiful. You just have to give them to Him.

So, how do we make this exchange? By forgiving and releasing. Many of you will remember Pastor Chester Wright and his teaching on shame. If you do, you will probably remember the prayer of forgiving and releasing. This simple prayer changed my life, but at the time I did not realize how this was the key to activating the healing of the four relationships. 

Forgiveness in the Kingdom of God is best understood as an exchange. That is why the Good News gives people beauty for ashes. It’s a trade. This is not just true of healing your first relationship (with God), but of every other relationship in your life. In fact, healing cannot come without the foundation of forgiveness.

Let me finish by saying that the healing of relationships God brings into our lives is both sequential and potential. What I mean is, they follow one after another, though clearly, there is going to be overlap. In other words, you need your relationship with God restored before you can get healed with you. And you need to get healed with your relationship with you to one degree or another before you can get healed with other people, but they are all available to you. That is where the potential part comes in. You have to choose to have these relationships healed. Jesus just gives you the choice to have that potential become your reality. It’s your choice, but if you choose it, the world is going to change.

I mean that last sentence literally, as I believe that it represents a present reality that God is inviting us into. You will probably remember that there were four relationships that people were created to enjoy to the fullest. The first three are listed in the previous paragraph, but #4 is Our Relationship to Our World. What is interesting with this relationship is that it reflects God’s stated purpose for creating humanity – that we should rule, having dominion as the image of God on the earth, (Gen. 1:26-28). You see, and this is the whole thing – when we get healed in our relationships with God, ourselves personally, and with each other, we open the door to unity. And when WE are healed, when we become ONE, it comes with a promise. Jesus prayed that all His children “may be one…that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). You see, when we get healed in our relationship with our “others,” unified, we can begin to extend this healing of peace and wholeness to others around us. This is the equivalent to a New Testament expansion of Eden, which today is the Kingdom of God, to bring healing to Our World – realizing Relationship #4. I believe that this is how we disciple nations. This is the Gospel.

When you look at it this way, suddenly everything makes sense. God is bringing things back into unity with Himself and each other by healing our relationships. That is why Ephesians 1:9-10 says, “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He set forth in Him, regarding His plan of the fullness of the times, to bring all things together in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.”

This is ultimately what the Gospel is about: healing the broken relationships that Satan destroyed through Adam’s rebellion. Therefore, that is what the Church is called to do. Jesus said He came to seek and to save that which was lost. This is the beginning of what Jesus did to bring humanity. The key to it all is this simple prayer below. Are you going to begin to reclaim your heart? It starts with a prayer.

Forgiving and Releasing Prayer:

“I Forgive and Release ______________ for ___________________ . “ “It made me feel __________________.”

Dr. David Ayer, and his beautiful wife Denise, currently pastor New Life Church near Williamsport, PA. Both have traveled internationally as missionary evangelists and conference speakers. David holds masters degrees in Christian Theology (TEDS) and New Testament (Ashland). His doctorate is in Christian Discipleship in a Postmodern Context (United). David is also the author of the book: Where Are The Davids?