An interesting thing has happened in to the church in the last few decades. America is becoming an increasingly unchurched nation. We have the tradition of church attendance largely due to our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our parents and grandparents largely attended church. Increasingly though Americans are eschewing church while “spirituality” is on the rise. Personally this became apparent to me while viewing profiles on mainstream dating sites of all places. More and more people are listing their faith as “spiritual but not religious.” I’ve exchanged messages with several and what they mean by that is all over the map. So we are more “spiritual” than ever but traditional “religion” is on the decline.
So the modern Christian church has tried to adapt to the changing population. Increasingly churches are catering to the unchurched. They feature contemporary style music, light-weight sermons, sermon series focused on “real issues”, and offer attractions like coffee bars and a plethora of children’s programs. Those things are not bad or wrong. However my concern is that in many of these churches their “preachers”, “tickle men’s ears.”
In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul wrote about this very thing:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
I call this the Tony Robbins Church. I am not knocking Tony Robbins. So far as I know he does not represent himself as a pastor, preacher, or theologian. He is a motivational speaker and I don’t think most people feel like they are attending church when going to a Tony Robbins seminar. Yet the church has seen men like Norman Vicent Peale, Robert Schuller, and now Joel Osteen and Jesse Duplantis (to name but a few) who do not preach the Gospel. In their zeal to be every positive they fail to preach the whole Word of God. They purposely skip those verses that deal with sin, damnation, punishment, etc. They preach a “health and wealth” Gospel. After all if they were to preach the whole Gospel of God they would not be able to afford their extensive TV networks! No one wants to hear about their sin! How negative. We would all love to believe that God wants us to be health, wealthy, and wise. He wants us to have that fancy house and luxury car and of course perfect health to go along with it.
Jesse Deplantis put it this way:
“I’ve never had the Lord say, ‘Jesse, I think that car is a little bit too nice.’ I’ve had vehicles and the Lord said, ‘Would you please go park that at your house. Don’t put that in front of my house. I don’t want people to think that I’m a poor God.'” (Jesse Duplantis, “When Will We Yield To The Anointing of Wealth II,” April 10, 2005)
Really Jesse? Where do you find that in Scripture? Did not Jesus and his disciples live often sleep outdoors with little more than the clothes on their back? Which of the apostles was rich? How many died of old age? History is full of the greatest pillars of the faith being martyred for their faith. Was their faith deficient and that is why they suffered thus? No most of the pillars of the faith died terrible deaths and lived very modest lives. Richness is not a sin. Neither though is poverty or poor health. God desires us to be spiritually rich and spiritually healthy. Guess what? We are all going to die and we can’t take anything with us. Do you still think God wants us all to be healthy and wealthy? No God does not want us to be poor or in bad health but He cares more for our spiritual well-being than He does for our material well-being. Those who teach otherwise are NOT teaching the true Gospel.
In Acts 20:24 Luke wrote:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Yes these men do not proclaim the whole counsel of God. They only preach what they feel are the positive verses. As I wrote in my previous blog article, the Good News is understandable only by knowing the “bad news.”
In a way they are lazy and concerned only with tickling ears and filling seats (oh and raking in donations). You see the truth is when we understand why God allows poverty, poor health, and suffering we see them through wholly new eyes. My dear sister died nearly a year ago from a nine month battle with pancreatic cancer. In the midst of dying her comment was not why God chose to inflict her but “why not” her. She understood that God was good and her cancer, thought fatal, was not a punishment. Her cancer drew her closer to God than anything else in her life ever had. She died in the arms of Jesus. At peace. Did her faith fail her because her health failed or did her faith triumph over her failed health?
Joel Osteen may pack the house and draw millions more via television but are they hearing the whole Gospel? Or are the only hearing those things that make them feel good about themselves?
God does not want us to feel good about ourselves. He wants us to glory in Him. When our will aligns with His will we will have all the desires of our hearts. Someone once wrote that “The purpose of the church gathered is to edify the saints. The purpose of the church scattered is to seek and save the lost.” I believe we have lost our vision. The church is the gathering of God’s people to worship Him and edify one another. It is outside of church, in our everyday lives, that we “seek and save the lost.” In other words, the primary mode of evangelism happens in everyday life. Inviting people to church and entertain or motivating them is not evangelism although God can and does use churches to save people. We must remember that when the church gathers our purpose is to worship God and edify each other. As such we would expect no less than the whole Gospel.
In an interview with Christianity Today, published on Oct. 5, 1984, Robert Schuller was quoted as saying:
“I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”
My oh my! What Bible was Robert Schuller reading? Let’s contrast this to the very first sermon given by a follower of Jesus. The preacher was the Apostle Peter and the occasion the Day of Pentecost right after the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Here is the last sentence of Peter’s sermon:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ. (emphasis mine)
Not the way to win friends and influence people! No Peter accuses the Jews of crucifying the Lord! Their Messiah. To be guilty of the death of God’s Holy Messiah is about the worst sin imaginable to a Jew. Yet Robert Schuller would say such a thing is “unchristian.”
Once again Romans 3:23 (written by Paul) says:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
First Peter now Paul! How can Robert Schuller say such a thing when the very followers of Jesus made clear to men their sinful state?
Joel Osteen was once interviewed by Katie Couric.
Host Katie Couric suggested that the popular minister does not “spend a lot of time in (his) sermons talking about good and evil, sin and redemption. It is a very overall positive message.” She asked, “Why don’t you give people more of a moral template?”
Osteen insisted that he does, but “in a positive way.”
“There’s enough pushing people down in life already,” he added. “When they come to my church, or our meetings, I want them to be lifted up. I want them to know that God’s good, that they can move forward, that they can break an addiction, that they can become who God’s created them to be.”
That sounds good and I don’t doubt Joel’s desire but at the same time what is it he wants them lifted up from? By far the #1 thing God wants them to be lifted up from is their sin! Sure God wants you to overcome your addictions, love your spouse better, etc, but without forgiveness from your sin those things are meaningless. If God is good then even the “negative” things He has to say are for our good.
I know it would seem I am picking on Joel. I am using him as an example just like Robert Schuller though I like Joel far better. Joel considers himself a pastor and the leader of a church. Yet Joel does not preach the whole Bible! He only focuses on those things he believes are uplifting and positive. Yet in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 wrote:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Not Paul said all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for training. He did not say “some Scripture” or “only the positive verses.” No he said it was all useful. So why doesn’t Joel, or Rober Schuller, or a host of others preach all of Scripture? One simple reason. Because if they preached all of Scripture they would not fill all those seats and raise all the money. They would not have worldwide TV audiences.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul wrote:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
If someone is offended by the message of the cross then that is not our concern so long as we are faithfully preaching the Gospel. For such it is foolishness. That is not our problem. We are to preach the Good News (which includes the Bad News) and leave the rest to God. Whether our church is big or small is up to God. Our job is to faithfully preach the truth.
I had the pleasure once to attend a series of lectures by Paul Matzat author of the book “Christ Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends.” Our generation is obsessed with self-esteem. We are told we have to learn to love ourselves, esteem ourselves. Only allow the positive in our lives so nothing can drag us down. Yet listen to what Paul Matzat wrote:
“The call of the gospel is away from self and unto Jesus, because self is the problem and Jesus is the solution.”
His book is aptly titled “Christ Esteem.” We don’t need self-esteem. Most of us already think to highly of ourselves. What we need is “Christ Esteem.” You see when you lose your life in Jesus Christ and realize who you are in Him then you have something far more valuable than self-esteem. When you realize the God of the Universe took on flesh and blood and died a terrible death on the cross to pay the price for your sin you will realize you are of infinite value to Him! Now what could be more positive than that?
God allows suffering to mold us into the image of His Son Jesus Chirst. Poor health, poverty, lost job, … are sometimes the way God gets our attention and increases our faith. Those things might be our fault but God uses them for good (Romans 8:28).
We don’t need our self-esteem built-up. We need our Christ-esteem built-up. We don’t need to feel good about ourselves. We need to feel good about God! Once we know who we are in Christ we will feel good about ourselves.
The church and many of her leaders are losing their vision, losing their way. The message of the cross and our need for forgiveness from our sin is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. If pastors will not preach on sin who will?
 As an aside I somewhat dislike the term “religion.” Religion is man’s attempt to explain God or some other higher deity. Christianity is God’s revelation to man. For some it may be a religion but what it really is at the core is God sending His Son to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him. Christianity is a relationship not a religion. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ. If it is not that at the core then it is not Christianity. We attend church because we want to be in the company of fellow disciples of Jesus (iron sharpens iron). It is not our church attendance though that makes us Christians. It is our faith.
According to Dictionary.com, a preacher is “a person whose occupation or function it is to preach the gospel”. Sounds right. Now what is the gospel? The word “gospel” comes from two Greek words but in essence means “to bring the good news.” The same words were used to describe a messenger or runner sent from the front lines of battle to deliver news of victory to the King. So a preacher is someone who proclaims the good news. Now I come to the crux of the purpose of this article, what is the good news? What victory was won? What great thing happened?
Good news is good exactly because it is not bad. The military messenger’s message would not be good news if the army lost the battle. It is good news because there was an alternative and that was bad news. In the case of the gospel the bad news was not just a potential outcome it was a reality. Every human being is born under the outcome of the bad news. The bad news is that we are all born in sin separated from a Holy God. Theologians call it original sin. It is the sin of Adam and Eve and their disobedience applied to all mankind. When they fell (sinned) in the Garden we (all mankind) fell with them. It was a representative judgment where a group is judged by the actions of one or a few. As a result of that original sin we are born with a sin nature. By nature we are in rebellion against God, against His authority over us. We want to make our own rules, decide our future. We want to be our own man; our own woman. We want to judge for ourselves what is right and wrong. We don’t need God or at least we don’t need a God who is going to tell us how to live and stifle our fun. At least while life is good we can ignore God or at most look to Him as a cosmic vending machine who dispenses only the good things want. Leave religion for the fanatics, the foxholes, the dying, and anyone else not strong enough to stand on their own two feet and thus in need of an imaginary crutch to help them stand.
The Bible describes this state we are born into:
Romans 3:10-12, and 23
As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” … For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.(NLT)
So Paul’s letter to the Romans informs us that “no one is righteous” (i.e right with God). “No one is seeking God” (i.e. we are not searching for Him). We have all become useless. We have all turned away. No one does good. Not a single one. That is part I of the bad news. All means all as is in everyone! No one means not a single one. There are no exceptions. This is who we are in our natural state which we were born into.
In case you think Paul was not inspired and misrepresented Jesus then hear what Jesus had to say:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Jesus describes a narrow gate through which we may find eternal life and “few who find it.” We’ll come back to this but that doesn’t exactly sound like the universalist approach that there are “many paths to God.” If that were the case then the gate would be wide yet Jesus said the wide gate “leads to destruction.” Christians are often accused of being narrow minded precisely because we don’t embrace universalism (in case you are not familiar with that term it is a belief that all religion is equal and all bring man in harmony with the divine.) Christians are labeled intolerant because we don’t believe all beliefs are equal. Instead we believe in absolute truth (i.e. that their are absolute truths that cannot be violated and that two “truths” cannot coexist. Buddhism cannot be the path to the same “god” Christianity is. They are not different but equal paths to the same end. They are different paths to different ends.
So where does this leave us?
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)
Wages are something you are owed for services rendered. You sign an employment contract and you perform your work as instructed then your employer owes you wages as agreed upon in the contract. If not there are laws to protect you and enable you to recover your wages. So you earn your wages. Romans 6:23 says the “wages of sin is death.” What kind of death? Physical death? No worse. Spiritual death. Yes we will die physically and that is part of the punishment of the fall of Adam and Eve but note in this verse death is being contrasted with “eternal life.” Eternal life is eternal life with God which goes far beyond the physical.
There is another critical contrast apparent in this verse. Not that our sin is due wages (i.e. we are owed death) whereas the contrast is the “free gift of God” – eternal life. Can you earn a gift? Dictionary.com defines a gift as:
“something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned”
People give gifts not out of obligation nor expecting repayment. They are unmerited, unearned. Don’t confuse gifts as used in the Bible with our human institution of gift giving. We might withhold a birthday gift from an unruly, or ingracious child saying they don’t deserve it. However that is a contradiction. It would not be a gift if it had to be deserved. Gifts are not earned or owed. A good word to introduce now is the word grace. In the Bible grace comes from a Greek word meaning “unmerited favor.” If God gives a free gift it is pure grace.
So in summary here is the picture. We are born in sin. The wages of sin is death. The road to eternal life is narrow and few find it. The only way out is the free gift of God of eternal life. There you have the bad news. We are sinners deserving hell. There is good news though too! God offers us a free gift of eternal life. How do we get that gift?
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”
How many ways are their to God? Jesus said He was the only way. Can Buddhism lead you to God? Can Hinduism? Can Joseph Smith? Can your own spiritual beliefs? Nope. Is that narrow minded? Sure. Is it narrow minded to say “2+2=4” and not 5 or 3? Is it narrow minded to say water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit? No those are absolute truths. Too many people today throw around the term “God/god.” “God” can be anything to anyone. So when I speak of God I mean the God of the Old and New Testament. I mean Jesus Christ. I mean him and him alone. I have run into spiritual teachers who say they believe in Jesus but they also believe in Buddha, Confucius, and a host of others. No Jesus said He is the only way. He is not a path he is the (one and only) path.
Now some of you may have been reading earlier in this article and raised an understandable question. Why should I be born in sin because of what Adam and Eve did? That doesn’t seem fair. Shouldn’t I stand or fall on my own? Hmmmm…ok do you really think you could live a lifetime and never sin? Have you ever even made it through a day or a week? You’ve never lusted in an improper way? You’ve never had hateful thoughts toward someone? You’ve never lied? Never cheated? We live in a world today full of temptation. We have Internet porn, unlimited access to entertainment of all kinds not all of which are good, streets full of sights and sounds meant to entice us to sin. Now think about Adam and Eve. They lived in a beautiful garden. No tv, no radio, no billboards, X rated movies. Just the two of them and God. Plus they were born without original sin. So they had a nature that could truly chose between right and wrong. Yet what happened when temptation came in the form of a snake but in the person of Satan? They caved in minutes. Do you really think you could have done better? Really? Ok so maybe you do. Maybe you think you could have lived a lifetime without every once sinning. If so you would have then been very lonely in heaven as I don’t think anyone else would be joining you! Was it really unfair of God though to judge us through Adam and Eve? Consider the flip side of that coin. In 1 Corinthians 15:45 Paul refers to Adam as the “first man” and Jesus as the ‘last man.” Remember the story of David and Goliath? The Philistines had this giant of a man that no one could defeat in battle. There mere sight of him put fear in men’s hearts. Goliath taunted the Israelites offering to fight their best man winner take all. It was really psychological warfare as the Philistines knew nobody in Israel would dare take on Goliath with the nation’s fate riding on the outcome. What they were proposing though was representative form of war. We each pick our best warrior and let them decide if for the rest of us. We should be able to relate to that. Many of us live in democratic countries where we elect our representatives. We don’t get to vote on bills they do. On a much larger scale our military represents the whole country. During WWII the US had approximately 16 million men and women serving in the military in some capacity. That represented about 11% of the total population. In subsequent wars the percentages have been much smaller. Still 11% represented 140 million.Had they failed out country might have eventually fallen. Let’s go back to the free gift of God or grace. God could have left us in our sins, sent us all to hell, and we would have had no right to complain. Instead He freely gave of His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus was our David. He took on that giant of sin and through His death on the cross and His shed blood he won the victory. He sacrificed Himself for us. Except His death was not the end as death had no hold on him. 3 days later her rose from the dead. All we have to do is accept his death and victory on our behalf and put our faith and trust in Him and Him alone. That sounds like good news to me! If you don’t like the good news and think you can do better on your own then I hope you can lead a sinless life. I’m sure it’s already too late for that though. Plus we are born in sin so you are born condemned and incapable of leading a sinless life.Jesus is the way. The only way.
Would the Good News be good news if you did not know the bad news? Imagine the king when the runner appears and announced we won the battle and the King says “what battle?” “All my troops are resting and none are at battle so I don’t know what you are talking about.” Until we realize we have a sin problem that has eternal consequences we are tempted to think we are fine. We think we are a “good person” and therefore surely God will let us into heaven. We don’t, nor could, understand the absolute holiness of God. He cannot allow sin in His presence. Not any amount. No one can be good enough.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
You can’t earn your salvation. As we saw earlier it is a gift not something you earned and God owes you. It is “not as a result of works.” This is a stumbling block to the pride of man. We want to believe we are good. We want to believe we contributed to our salvation. It is a blow to our ego to admit we can do nothing to save ourselves. God has to do it all. Yes when we truly understand the “bad news” we are so grateful that God made a way. He could have left us in our sins but chose to send His Son to die for us. We can be washed by His blood and have our sins erased. We marvel that God would save us.
I took pains to explain this because in my next post I want to address the trend today to ignore the bad news and even aspects of the Good News. Many pastors/preachers today are motivational speakers rather than preachers of the Bible. They are more Christian Tony Robbins. Yes there is tremendous motivation in the Bible but Christianity is not about being healthy, wealthy, or being positive all the time. God wants something greater for you. He wants to give you spiritual health, spiritual wealth, and an eternal perspective that allows even the negative things to be seen as part of God’s great plan.