Does our Christian witness depend on how appealing we portray the gospel? Some believe so, offering a get-what-you-want gospel of self-fulfillment and ease of life; replacing the glory of God with man’s edification and the abandonment of our lives for his purposes with the demand that He grant all our wishes. Our submission to his will exchanged for his submission to ours.
“…if the message is too confrontational, or too judgmental, or too exclusive, scary, unbelievable, hard to understand, or too much of anything for your taste, churches everywhere are eager to adjust that message to make you feel more comfortable... do(ing) away with old-fashioned authority, guilt trips, accountability and moral absolutes.”1 Is the preaching too long? We’ll shorten it! Attire too formal? Wear your sweat suit! Is the worship service boring? Wait till you hear our band! And while none of these things are in and of themselves bad, they do speak to a general trend of church consumerism that is; especially if the gospel message is compromised in the process. Because the true gospel of Jesus Christ repeatedly calls for self-denial, rather than self-fulfillment; consistently entreating us to repent of our sin and to then follow our Lord in a life of self-sacrifice. (Romans 12:1)
The heart of the gospel and the essence of discipleship can be found in Luke 9:23,24, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Anyone not doing so disqualifying himself for discipleship, if not salvation. (Luke 14:27) Matthew 10:38 adding, “…anyone…not take(ing) his cross and follow(ing) me is not worthy of me.” It’s not about personal needs, desires or stature in the community (See Matthew 23:12), it’s about the death of self where you win by losing and live by dying. That’s hard to believe and harder yet to follow. (Certainly not consumer-friendly or particularly seeker-sensitive.)
The clarion call of the church must be for genuine conviction over sin, fostering desperation for forgiveness – which is freely offered – that brings about our acceptance of Christ as our only Savior from the threat of death and hell; willingly, even eagerly giving up as much as it takes, whatever it takes, to follow him. Jesus again setting the standard with, “…any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:33 The kingdom of heaven most effectively advanced through the power of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit’s working in our lives and God’s willingness to use us as ambassadors of his kingdom; as opposed to human cleverness, power politics, media popularity and public opinion. Which often occurs in spite of, as well as in response to antagonism and hostility from unbelievers.
From the world’s perspective, our message often appears silly, insensitive, antagonistic, exclusivistic, bigoted and shameful. And yet Paul pointedly asks, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since …the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” 1 Corinthians 1:20,21 Warning that, “The wrath of God (will be) revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1 :19,20 And the core of that message is, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 “…which is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved …the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
Crucifixion was a degrading form of capital punishment, the idea of worshipping someone who had been executed in this manner unimaginable for Jews and Gentiles alike. (The idea that anyone should be punished for anything in our own day almost as unimaginable for many.) Paul remarking that, “Jews demand miraculous signs (as proof of the veracity of his claims) and Greeks look for wisdom (seeking to fully understand Him), but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
Notice the claim that Christ is the power and wisdom of God, making his gospel then the exclusive means by which we are saved. (See John 14:6,7 & Acts 4:12) The cross proclaiming a double message – a guilty verdict on man’s sinfulness with its requirement of death (Hebrews 9:22 & Leviticus 17:11), and an offer of salvation through the wonder of substitution. (Romans 1:16) It really is that hard and that simple. Paul insisting that, “When I came to you,… I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the God of glory. However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him…’” 1 Corinthians 2:1-9
1From John MacArthur’s book, Hard to Believe – The High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus, Thomas Nelson Publishing
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