Only a Gospel with no boundaries can set your soul free!

Pastor Jeff Struecker

Obviously, we’re talking about freedom. And I just want you to know that COVID set me free. It really did set me free last year. Now, I don’t want to be flippant about this, because there are still people, even in our church right now, here in Columbus, Georgia, that are struggling with the COVID virus. Maybe you are going through another lockdown in your country right now because the variation of the COVID virus has hit your location hard. I don’t want to be flippant about this.

But COVID really challenged me and honestly forced me to start to listen to the Holy Spirit. See, what can sometimes happen to pastors (and come on, Y’all; this can sometimes happen to church people, as well), is that we will start to tie the identity of a church to a building. 

Has that ever happened to you? In your mind, when you hear the word church, you start to think of a physical location. What COVID did is just took that issue off of the plate and started to set people free from the building itself, made it possible for believers to gather together in small groups all over the world and not need a physical location to do it.

That’s why I’m telling you COVID really did set me free as a pastor. What I want you to hear from the Bible today comes directly from John 4. Jesus is going to tackle this idea of tying an identity for a church to a building. In fact, I think there are some pastors today that still make the mistake that Jesus was trying to correct back in John 4. Jesus is going to describe radical freedom with a gospel that transforms every square inch of this planet.

If you want to understand what the Bible is saying in John 4, I’m going to give it to you in one short sentence: ”Only a gospel with no boundaries, no buildings, no limitations, only that kind of gospel can set your soul free.” 

Because if your gospel has some limitations on it, then maybe that gospel will free somebody else, but not you. The gospel with no boundaries, no limitations, is the only gospel that can set all people free over every square inch of this planet. 

Only a Gospel with no boundaries can set your soul free!

When I use the word gospel (and I’m going to say it a lot), I really need to describe what I’m saying, because maybe you’ve never been to church before in your life. In the English language, the word gospel gets thrown around an awful lot. Literally translated, that word just simply means good news. So people use this word gospel to refer to all kinds of good news.

But when I say the word gospel today, here’s what I want you to think: I want you to think gospel/good news is that Jesus set me free. But not just any old kind of freedom. You see, some people can get little tastes of freedom. The kind of freedom that Jesus came to give is freedom from yourself. And Jesus and only Jesus can give that kind of freedom. That kind of good news only comes from Jesus, because only through the blood of Jesus Christ can a man or a woman become free from themselves.

What we’re going to see today is who can actually have access to this gospel freedom from yourself. It comes directly from the Bible in the book of John. We’re going to be in chapter four today, and we’re going to hear a conversation, a scandalous conversation, between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. 

The Gospel crosses all cultural boundaries  

And here’s the first thing that you’re going to notice from John 4 today: the gospel crosses all cultural boundaries. Or maybe in the United States, it would make more sense if I told you the gospel shatters racism and crosses all racial boundaries. Maybe if you live in another country, you think cultural; maybe you need to think racial. Because what Jesus does here is not just dance around the boundaries; he smashes them on purpose. John 4:1 said this:

John 4:1-9 When Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard he was making and baptizing more disciples than John (though Jesus himself was not baptizing, but his disciples were), he left Judea and went again to Galilee. He had to travel through Samaria; so he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from his journey, sat down at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. “Give me a drink,” Jesus said to her, because his disciples had gone into town to buy food. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.

Jesus’ disciples are baptizing. The crowds are growing. And funny enough, Jesus decides as the crowds start to grow, “You know what, Y’all? We need to leave Judea, and we need to go back to Galilee,” which is a long way away, and he takes a very unusual route to get there. 

There is racism, blatant racism all over in your Bible. And John 4 just doesn’t hide it, doesn’t minimize it. It just shows how Jesus deals with blatant racism. The Jews and the Samaritans pretty much hated each other. They come from common ancestors, but their bloodlines diverged a little bit, and they want nothing to do with each other.

I think it’s fascinating that the Bible tells us that Jesus was worn out. He’s on a long journey, and this journey wore him out. If I were writing the Bible, I would not include that phrase in there because I like to think of Jesus as the Son of God who can never get tired, never falls down, never scrapes his knee. But what the Bible says is, he is also 100% man at the same time that he’s 100% God. He’s on a long journey. 

In Jesus’s day, the Jews would take double the distance and go all the way around Samaria rather than even step foot through these people’s land. And Jesus smashes that cultural practice. He decides, “I’m going to Samaria, and I’m going to Samaria for a very specific purpose. I’m going to a very specific place at a very specific point in time, and I’m going to meet a very important person when I get there. I’m going to Jacob’s well.”

When Jesus does this, he radically tackles racial hatred. In fact, it’s so scandalous that his disciples can’t even grasp what’s going on. If you have never had a chance to see any of the television series, The Chosen, you really should check it out. In the last episode of Season One, this mini-series deals with this specific incident from the book of John. I want you to see this really short video clip, and I want you to focus in, lean on the edge of your seat, and I want you to pay close attention to the look on his disciples’ faces when Jesus says, “Hey Boys, we’re going through Samaria, not around it.” 

The reason I show you this clip is because Jesus is illustrating (and this movie clip does it beautifully) the hatred between Jews and Samaritans. It shows up right there in your Bible; you can’t miss it in the words from John 4. In Jesus’ day, a Jewish rabbi would rather die than take a drink of water from a woman. And Jews would walk for days to skirt around the region of Samaria rather than going through it. This is not just accidental. He is smashing cultural boundaries right here. It was so bad that the Bible tells us that in Jesus’ day, Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans. 

And by the way, it worked both ways. The Samaritans didn’t want much to do with the Jews. But that word associate doesn’t mean that we didn’t hang out at a party together; we didn’t spend time together. No, this is the word that you would have used in Jesus’ day to refer to, “We don’t put that bowl on this table. That bowl doesn’t belong on this table; that bowl belongs in the kitchen, and we never associate that bowl with this table.”

There was no conversation between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day. He is smashing all racial hatred when He is crossing over these cultural boundaries, and he’s doing it very intentionally. 

Please hear what I’m going to say next: There is no room, none whatsoever, for racial hatred in Jesus’ church. I wish I could say that kind of behavior doesn’t continue in our country or in other parts of the world. I wish I could say that, but I can’t. I will say this: There is something wrong with your gospel if it allows you to hold on to racial hatred and feel no conviction, no guilt, no remorse for it.

A little interesting story: Not long ago, a lady was on my lawn telling me what she thought about me as a man. She made it very clear that the whole reason we were having this conversation is because of my son-in-law. My daughter married Kevin, who I am very proud to call my son-in-law, who is also African American. Now, not once, five times in a two-minute conversation, this woman let me know that I’m trash because of the man that’s in my house, this African American man in my house. 

I tried to handle myself as delicately as I could, but I need you to hear something about what this lady was saying, because maybe you come from the part of the world where you don’t use the phrase “white trash”, but it gets tossed around a lot in the United States. I need you to understand something: no human being on planet earth is trash. You have been created by the divine hand of God. You are so precious to God that he would send his Son, Jesus, to give his life up for you. So no one deserves the name trash.

And I’m telling you this if you’re in the habit of using the phrase “white trash”. But I also need you to understand something else. If there was such a thing as white trash, like the part of the tracks that you come from or the family that you were born into is trashy, then I would be at the top of the list for white trash. I mean, if there was such a thing as white trash, that would be me, no questions about it. Nobody else would fit that moniker better than me. 

What I’m trying to say is, this lady is hanging on to racial hatred and cannot get over what she sees with their eyes, because she’s still living under the bondage of hatred.

Now, listen to what I’m going to say next. If you’re uncomfortable being around somebody else because the color of their skin is darker than yours (and let’s just be honest, Y’all. This works both ways), if you’re uncomfortable being around somebody because the color of their skin is lighter than yours, then maybe there’s a soul-level problem that needs to be worked on. Maybe you have a problem with people whose eyes are wider than yours because yours are narrow, or whose eyes are narrow because yours are wide. And if that’s the cultural hatred that you’re hanging on to, we have a problem.

You see, the gospel doesn’t allow Christians to hang on to this kind of racial or cultural bias. It shatters those boundaries. And that’s what you see Jesus doing in John 4. 2 Cities Church exists, we started this church because this community has people from more than 100 countries living in it. But when they go to church, they’re supposed to check their culture or their ethnicity at the door. Churches don’t allow them to bring their cultural heritage with them. We decided, we’re going to be a church that allows you to not just bring your culture with you, but embraces your culture. We’re a church that crosses over cultural boundaries because we believe the gospel crosses all cultural boundaries.

And if you call 2 Cities Church your home, I need you to buy into that with every fiber of your being. If you’re struggling with that, let’s talk. If you have no desire to ever get there, time for you to find another church. This is what we mean by living free, free from racial hatred. Jesus smashes some cultural boundaries when he crosses over into Samaria. And when a Jewish rabbi sits down and has a conversation with a woman at a very specific, very prominent place in Samaria,  let me tell you what Jesus does next. He doesn’t just assault cultural boundaries, he actually assaults religious boundaries. He shatters all of those religious rules that were going on in that day, that have crept back into the church today. And a lot of those rules still show up in churches today.

The Gospel shatters all religious rules   

Let’s pick up the story where we leave off. Jesus is now tired. It’s the middle of the day. He’s sitting down at this well, this very prominent place, a very specific well. By the way, if you were to go to Palestine today, there’s a couple in our church that drank from this well. It’s still there. It is so deep and so prominent that it still yields water today, where Jesus has this conversation. And let’s see what happens next when Jesus engages in this scandalous conversation with this Samaritan woman. Starting in verse 10:

John 4:10-25 Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.” “Sir,” said the woman, “you don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do you get this ‘living water’? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.” Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.” “Sir,” the woman said to him, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.” “Go call your husband,” he told her, “and come back here.” “I don’t have a husband,” she answered. “You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’ ” Jesus said. “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” “Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus told her, “Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

She starts to get into a conversation with him about the prominence of this place in Palestine. “Hey, you Jews ignore Samaria, and you act like you have no business being here. But Jacob, who was a heavy hitter in the Old Testament, dug this well and gave this well to his son, Joseph, and all of their family after them.” Basically, she is tying her identity back to her Jewish heritage. And Jesus immediately starts to turn the conversation to a spiritual conversation. “Hey, I didn’t come here to talk about water. I’m thirsty. I’d really like a drink of water, but apparently that’s not on the table right now; it’s not on the menu. So let’s talk spiritual things for a minute.”

And here in the story is where we get to the heart of the issue. Come on, Y’all. The issue of the heart is always the heart of the issue. And she’s hinting around about it. She’s starting to dance around about it. And what Jesus does next is not let her off the conversation. He doesn’t allow her to skirt the real heart of the issue. In fact, Jesus is just going to go straight to this woman’s heart and had a conversation with her about what’s going on in her heart, not what’s happening inside this well and inside the buckets.

And listen to me, when you start to share your faith, when it starts to get close and people start to ask questions that really sound like they’re getting angry, or maybe it’s totally off-topic, chances are, something bad has happened to them in the past. And chances are, they’re struggling with something that they’ve experienced in the past. 

And if you will just act like Jesus, I think in many cases you can just listen well enough, and people will tell you what their problem with the Bible is. People will tell you what their problem with the church or with Jesus is. They’ll just tell you if you’ll listen. Because Jesus now turns the conversation, and now we’re going to talk about the real issue that’s going on. Why is this woman at the well in the middle of the day instead of when everybody else goes to the well early in the morning? Jesus knows exactly why she’s at the well right now. 

Jesus is sitting there talking to this woman, and she’s got an issue that’s holding her back. And Jesus just goes straight to the heart of the issue. Now, in Jesus’ day, if you wanted a divorce, you could go to a rabbi or to a religious leader and ask them to give you a certificate of divorce. Sometimes they would give you one once, sometimes on rare occasions you would be given a second opportunity to divorce a second husband. But in Jesus’ day, culturally speaking, any other relationships that you had, even if they were certified in marriage, it was considered adultery after the second divorce. This woman is now on man number six.

Jesus just goes straight to the heart of the issue. She’s not just a woman, and it’s a scandal for a Jewish rabbi to talk to a woman; she’s not just a Samaritan, and there is racial hatred between Samaritan and Jews right now. But she is a notorious sinner. The reason she’s there in the middle of the day is because of her relationships, and everybody in the town knows who this woman is. Everybody in the town is up in her business. And so, she has to get up and go to the well at the worst time of the day just to avoid the gossip and the backbiting from all of the other people in town when they go to the well early in the morning.

I want to pick up the video where it leaves off and see how this conversation goes. I want you to see the look on this lady’s eyes when the moment happens and it dawns on her, and she finally starts to understand who she’s really talking to. Check this out.

This woman came looking for water, but she left with life. Life has just beat her up, and it’s knocked her down. Chances are, she tried to be a good girl, but it didn’t work for her. She tried to follow all of those religious rules, but no matter how hard she tried, it wasn’t working for her. And then the religious leaders would step in, and they would let her know how much of a sinner she was, that she was not accepted in a synagogue, and you can’t go to Jerusalem to the Temple because you’re the wrong color of skin. You come from the wrong culture. And now this woman is struggling with belonging. She’s struggling with identity.

I showed you this long video clip because I cannot find the words that do the drama of this conversation at the well justice, like Jesus meeting with a woman who has crossed every boundary that you can cross, and Jesus still shows up and engages her in a conversation and invites her to become part of his family. 

Listen, I am done following the religious rules, the religious rules that tell you, “If you be a good one boy or a good girl, God’s going to love you. If you will read your Bible and pray and really give your money, then God will be pleased with who you are.” I am sick and tired of the religious rules, because all they do is make life difficult. All that it does is disappoint you. I’ve followed the rules. I’ve watched people follow the rules. And it doesn’t create disciples; it just makes difficulty.

Jesus just showed up at this well, and you can’t miss it from chapter four, He said, “I’m not playing by the rules. I’m not following the same religious rules that every rabbi, every Pharisee, every Sadducee is asking you to follow. I’m simply looking you in the eyes and saying, ‘It’s an issue of the heart. It’s now not where you go, it’s not the rules that you follow; this is very much an issue of the heart.'” 

The rules just hold people back. In fact, religion kills the soul, this dead religion that just simply says, “Follow these rules.” When we say, “Live free,” we tell you, “Live free from the religious rules.” All that you need to do is surrender to Jesus Christ and get up tomorrow morning and follow his Holy Spirit. That’s the only rule that you need. You do that, and everything else will take care of itself. Man! Jesus shatters the religious rules. He crosses every racial boundary, and he leaves no room for cultural or racial hatred.

The Gospel conquers all sin 

The last thing that I need you to understand, because you can’t miss it in this passage, is that the gospel crosses all boundaries and conquers all sins. This is the first moment that Jesus publicly declares who He is. There are some Bible scholars out there that don’t trust the Bible, and they will tell you, “Jesus never really did claim to be the Son of God. He just called himself a good man, the son of man, or he was a prophet.” No, you can’t miss it from what he says next. In John 4:26, this woman says, “Only the Messiah can fix this mess.” Jesus looks at her in the eyes, and he told her:

John 4:26 Jesus told her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.”

The English translation here changes the word order around. What she heard is, “I am YHWH [the divine name of God]. You’re right. Only God can fix this mess. And I am the one that Jacob followed. I am the one that met Moses at the burning bush. And I am the one that can fix the mess that you’re going through right now.”  You see a relationship with Jesus Christ conquers all sin.

Last week, I was in Oklahoma. I was going from one event to the next. I was in a vehicle with several other people. We were all driving to a speaking event. There was a lady sitting next to me, a middle-aged lady, and we started to have a conversation. It was about an hour-long drive. I started to share Jesus with her, and I asked her about her faith. Her name is Heather. 

I said, “Heather, can you tell me about your relationship with Christ?” She started to explain how she goes to church, she prays, and she tries to follow the rules. And then in Heather’s own words, almost her exact words, she said, “But there is this one in my past I’m still wrestling around with.” I looked at her in the eyes, and I said, “Heather, I’ve heard from enough people. You can just say it out loud because I can already tell you what this one thing is.” She said, “Okay, I had an abortion, and I’m wrestling around with whether or not that God can forgive me for what I did a long, long time ago.”

This is a middle-aged woman who’s carrying around shame and carrying around guilt for what happened many, many years ago. I had the privilege in this vehicle of describing unconditional love that says, “Heather, no matter what you do, you can’t make God love you any less. That’s what unconditional love means. But I also need you to understand something, Heather, no matter how good of a girl you are, you can’t make him love you more. Unconditional love. So, there are no conditions that he places on you. He loves you, and he wants you to be free from this. And he has sent his Son, Jesus, to set you free. And Heather, if he can set you free from that, then there’s no reason why you should still be holding on to this guilt and holding on to this shame.”

It is my prayer that Heather found real freedom because there is no sin so terrible that the blood of Jesus Christ cannot wash it away. But I need you to understand something. That means there is nothing that you could do to be a good enough boy or a good enough girl, to earn your way into Heaven. The rules of religion say, “Do this and don’t do that, and God’s going to love you.” What Jesus showed up to say is, “Those rules are broken from the start. You come to me and hold nothing back, and I will make you pure. I will make you perfect.” 

You’ve got nothing to regret. You’ve got nothing that hangs over your head like a dark cloud, like this woman at the well, like Heather in the vehicle on the way to an event in Oklahoma. You see, I need you to understand something about what you’re reading from the Bible today: The gospel is designed to set people free.