God has impossible demands that no one can meet! God wants perfection, but that’s not me. I’m tired of all the judgment and the rules. I can’t do anything right, so I guess I’m just going to unplug and do my own thing!
That’s the response many have to Christianity. And it happens because they have not seen the beauty of the Gospel, which is filled with Grace from an incredibly loving God.
Why don’t people see this beauty? Why do so-called ministers feel the need to run a PR campaign to make it more appealing? Why all the comedy skits, rock concerts and tattoo-covered “relevant” folks? Why are so-called Christians so desperate to apologize for something that is beautiful? Why do they need to dress it up?
I think, in some way, it’s in our nature to do that. The biggest sin for a writer is to “commit an act of literature.” I’m guilty. I could tell a you a story plainly and you might say, “wow, that’s a pretty cool idea!” Then, as I sit down to write … as I face that blank “page,” I feel … pressure. I need an opening like, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Or, for a more seasonal example, “Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”
I feel I must dress up the simplicity of the story to compete with these great works of the past.
We seem to rebel against the simplicity of the message … and we lose the beauty and, possibly, the power of God’s Grace.
The Apostle Paul fell into this trap, too. Many point to the “Mars Hill discourse” to justify the “seeker” friendly evangelism. We even have a brand of churches called Mars Hill.
Unfortunately, Paul’s efforts there were empty and reveal the futility of attempting to evangelize through philosophy or cultural appeal. Paul certainly riled the people of Athens up. He said that their altar to the “Unknown god” was their own ignorant acknowledgement of the one, true God. But he left there with “some” converts, though not many (Acts 17).
From there he traveled to Corinth, another metropolis. And there he determined to teach nothing but Christ, and Him crucified–no “lofty speech or wisdom.” (Acts 18:1-17, 1 Cor. 2:2).
And there, he set the foundations of a congregation!
The Gospel, as it turns out is simple. It doesn’t require a seminary degree or some human ceremony of authenticating before it can be told. It doesn’t require us to use some contemporary metaphor or say that it’s “messy” to make it sound relevant.
Here it is: God’s demands for Purity/Holiness are unattainable (for sure!). But God, in Jesus, attained them as a man (completely!). God’s demand for Justice requires the death of everyone who doesn’t measure up (it’s true!). But Jesus paid that penalty for all humanity when He died on the cross and descended to Hell (look it up!).
Here’s the response needed: Repent and believe.
In order to repent, one needs to see his or her own condition as hopelessly lost. It’s not an “identity” thing. It’s systemic. It’s born in our bodies. We are sons and daughters of Adam who rebelled against God. We inherit this trait and live it out. We are, as the Bible puts it, dead in our trespasses (Col. 2:13). Dead men don’t have a mistaken identity. They’re dead. They can’t “wake up.”
Unless they are called out of death by the giver of true life, Jesus Christ.
The call has gone out. He (or she) who has an ear, let them hear this call. Let them repent of their death (rebellion) and rise to meet their Lord and Savior.
Repentance and faith are so close together that they nearly could be the same thing. One will not repent if he or she doesn’t believe the word of God that they are rebels against God, and they won’t have faith in Jesus’ final answer to God’s wrath on their behalf if they don’t feel they need it.
Many try to couch the Gospel by saying “you’re spiritually dead,” instead of saying “a sinner.” The seeker-friendly version will avoid any mention of God’s wrath for fear that it will tarnish God’s image. How could we ask people to love a God who has wrath?
The problem is that all of these efforts reveal that people don’t understand the severity of our sinfulness. To soften God’s wrath suggests that it isn’t justifiable! This could only be the case if our sin isn’t really that bad. The seeker-friendly method is to emphasize the horizontal aspect of sin. We sin against others, or against ourselves. I kind of like what James MacDonald would often say, “When God says don’t, he means don’t hurt yourself!”
That’s true. And it’s true that our sin does affect those around us–disastrously, some times.
But that’s not the primary offence. Our guilt will not be due to the people we’ve hurt. However unlikely, it may be possible that a gentle person will never actually hurt anyone around them. But, if they have not loved the Lord God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength (even if they loved their neighbor as themselves), then they are guilty.
The fact is, all of us ARE that bad. Even our good deeds are tainted with selfish motives. When given the choice, we seek our own interests over the demands of God. We prefer to remain in the judgment seat, expecting God to accept whatever form of worship we may or may not dole out.
We worship ourselves over God.
I’ve recently finished reading Michael Wittmer’s Christ Alone, a book critiquing Rob Bell’s Love Wins. He has a very good illustration on how we should view our guilt before God.
He uses the illustration of a person who steps on an ant. Nobody will haul that guy into court for murder. If he tears the wings off a fly, we’ll raise our eyebrows, but do nothing. If he tortures puppies, he will get in trouble, yes. But if he murders another human, there will be more severe consequences.
We recognize that the severity of the crime hinges on the level of the victim. We–rightly–recognize that humans are higher than animals. We also recognize that animals are higher than insects.
God, is infinitely higher than humans. And we’re all guilty of murdering Him.
Now, some will claim they never raised a finger against God. Just as some will claim they are not guilty of violating the Ten Commandments in which it says, “Thou Shalt Not Murder.”
Yet, Jesus said that if you are angry with your brother, you’re guilty of murder (Matt. 5:21-22).
No one is guiltless. We’re angry with God. We accuse God of not giving us what we need. Some folks blame God for sin!
That is why God had to come down, become one of us and die in our place. That was the great rescue because of His great love. He paid for all our guilt right at that crucial time. He defeated death, buried our old natures and rose to new life.
When we repent and believe, we’re given new natures that love God’s Law. We’re no longer trying to please a wrathful God. Instead, we’re seeing more and more of His unsearchable love for us as we shed the grave clothes that had been wrapped around us. We drink the wine of this new covenant and it’s the best we’ve ever tasted. We never want to return to the slavery of sin (Egypt). We can’t fathom crawling back into the tomb with all its stench.
Finally, a point many struggle with: If Jesus paid for all the sin, if he died on the cross for all people, how can God send people to Hell and inflict His wrath on them? Wouldn’t their penalty be paid? Wouldn’t that be Un-Just, like double-jeopardy?
It’s true that God has paid each person’s debt in full. But the final judgment will not be on the basis of our sinfulness. It will be whether we accepted or rejected Jesus as our Lord and Savior (John 3:18).
There are many religious people (like the Pharisees) who know the Scriptures inside and out. There are folks who have some family lineage of being Christians. There are those who may preach and teach the Bible. But they disbelieve the nature, or name of the Son of God. They try to dress up His image, as if He needs their help. Ultimately, they teach a false Gospel.
The true Gospel is simple: Repent and believe. Anything else will lead to death.