The Gospel Isn’t a Feel Good Message
Jesus wasn’t crucified for being nice. Nor was he nailed to a cross for proclaiming the golden rule or the royal law. He wasn’t killed because of the Beatitudes, creating a model prayer for His followers, or for telling a Pharisee that “God so loved the world…”
No, Jesus was crucified because of the authority He wielded and the power He demonstrated which testified of His innate righteousness. “And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’” (Matt. 27:37). The trouble with Jesus was that the sovereignty that emanated from Him demanded a response from individuals, nations, and the world itself.
Rebellion or acquiescence. Those are really the only two options when it comes to power. One acquiesces by choice or force and rebellion is a very definite act of the will. Accepting power is sort of beside the point. If you’re talking about real power the only place acceptance comes into play is whether or not you are accepted by the one who wields it.
And this is where many among us seem to have abandoned common sense. The church is not called to help sinners accept an accommodating God (see paragraphs 2 and 3). Rather, the church is called to utilize the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about inner transformation that makes the sinner acceptable to God!
I keep hearing people in Christian circles hammering away at the hatred and bigotry of those calling for people to turn away from sin. And their justification is to invariably point out just how loving and accepting Jesus is in the Gospels. Again, I would ask, ‘how did He manage to find Himself on a cross if He was known for being loving and accepting?’ Somebody did not believe He was all about love and acceptance.
But it’s not just Jesus many seem to have lost their capacity for common sense about. Which prophet in the Old Testament did not address sin and the dire consequences that would occur if repentance did not take place? That’s right…none of them.
Read Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:2-53. They didn’t make him the first Christian martyr because he counseled love and acceptance. And then there are the apostles. All of them were victims of violence and died rather nasty deaths and it wasn’t for sharing the love and acceptance of God. Pick up a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. You know from the title what you are about to read.
Obeying God has never been pleasant. Rewarding and glorious, but rarely easy. Those in our midst who refuse to address sin and how it suffocates the soul choosing instead to obfuscate the omnipresent biblical theme of repentance are deceived at best or diabolical at worst. The constant and rhythmic heartbeat of the Bible is a turning away from sin and a turning toward God. From God’s admonition to Cain that “sin is crouching at the door” (Gen. 4:7) to John’s jarring contrast in Rev. 22:14-15, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” the message remains the same.
Push back all you want to. There is no biblical model of comforting sinners outside of repentance. For goodness sake, just a few sentences beyond the most famous verse in the Bible (John 3:16) we read, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). So even after conveying that “God so loved the world…” Jesus still felt it necessary to address sin and judgment.
I am not advocating a steady diet of hell and judgment minus grace and forgiveness. But it is no healthier to advocate love and acceptance without wrath and judgment. If you think about it, it is actually worse. If you turn from your sin for fear of condemnation and hell, it is likely that you will come across mercy and grace (The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is a great example of this). But if you buy into God’s acceptance without repentance, how would you ever find mercy and grace? Jesus said the Holy Spirit would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Bypass the first and the second will only be revealed in the third.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote, “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner…Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance…” (from The Cost of Discipleship). We must refuse to scratch the itching ears (2 Tim. 4:3).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is abrasive and it is meant to be. When Jesus fielded Nicodemus’ question “How can these things be?” (John 3:9) He didn’t go out of His way to make Nicodemus feel more comfortable. He didn’t pat his hand and say, “Now, now, it will come to you sooner or later. Just relax and take your time.” No, He pretty much insulted the Pharisee by asking him how he could be so ignorant: “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10).
What about the woman at the well? She wanted to talk about the greatness of Jacob. Instantly, Jesus brought up the last thing in the world she wanted to talk about: her failed marriages and her current cohabitation reality.
The rich young ruler was told to give away his wealth. The Canaanite woman who implored Jesus to help her demonized daughter was first told that the children’s bread shouldn’t be thrown to the dogs (her). The apostles were invited to leave everything behind in order to follow Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount crowd was told that it would be better that they gouged out their own eyes and cut off their hands than continue engaging in sin.
There simply is no biblical mandate to save the lost with divine accolades of love and acceptance. In the earliest gospel (Mark) the first words of Jesus are: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15).
The prophets weren’t killed for revealing a God of love and a future of divine reward. Jesus wasn’t crucified for being the nicest and friendliest Man in Israel. The apostles weren’t murdered for preaching a message of divine accommodation of sin. Stephen didn’t have his skull caved in by rocks for reminding people that they were loved by God, and the early church wasn’t persecuted for holding hands and singing kumbaya to sinners.
Every Christian who has read the Bible knows Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). It is not any pastor’s or church’s job to get people to feel good about themselves. Rather, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). Now, how in the world does telling someone that God accepts them just as they are comport with a message of reconciliation? It doesn’t. Unless you’re implying God was wrong and is sorry for what He did.
Truth and common sense. Where have they gone in the church?