Most of my readers know from whence I come, they have read my spiritual offerings, and they understand that the goodness of God brings a person to repentance. So I won’t apologize for the tone of this article. I love writing about God’s goodness, the spiritual life, and all that is the Kingdom of God. However, there is a new wave of theology that absolutely must be addressed or I would not be doing my job very well. The love of God is beyond the scope of words to describe, the spiritual life is the most rewarding form of living, and the relationship we have through Christ in the Holy Spirit is priceless and sweeter than honey. But we can never forget who we are without Christ, and we cannot teach those who desire entrance into the Kingdom that it is all rainbows and unicorns! When our children want to be fed, we provide them with the food that will help them grow and nourish them. They may want chocolate brownies and candy canes for breakfast, but we know that will only do them harm. A loving parent knows that sometimes what a child perceives as harsh is actually love, and so we must also understand that the world wants a chocolate brownie Jesus and a candy cane God. We must know that presenting this for breakfast will only ultimately lead to sickness. So with this tenor I enter into a quick discourse on what not to offer a person as they consider the decision to give their life to Christ.
There is a trend in Western Christendom that has become disturbing to many of the faith or at least to the ones grounded in the Scriptures. That trend is one of a happy, kumbaya theology that completely ignores the disease and focuses solely on the symptoms of a lukewarm church. This idea that Christianity is based on complete inclusiveness is faulty at best and deadly at worst. Some teachers will come right out and state this warm and fuzzy theology and others are crafty at couching it in tone, in inference and in what isn’t said. What do I mean? I mean that we are molding our theology to be a kinder, gentler gospel. Perfect examples abound and I won’t name any names. This idea is faulty in that the radical decision for the Kingdom of God has never and will never be easy. To somehow change the gospel of the Kingdom to make it fit our post-modern paradigm is in essence changing the message so as to not offend others. Jesus was offensive, the radical choice to follow Him required complete surrender, the call to be a disciple is not a decision to be taken lightly, and all who would heed the call to the Kingdom life will be asked to sacrifice all on the altar of God. Anything less is vanity.
Jesus was crystal clear in this mandate. The rich young ruler was asked to sell all and follow Him, the one who wanted to bury his father first was refused entrance, the one who wanted to say farewell to his family was refused entrance, and the list goes on and on. Jesus plainly intimated that the Way is narrow, that many are called but few chosen, and He explained the cost of discipleship as the “taking up of one’s cross”. Now taking up a cross is not the same as the popular phrase of “bearing a cross”; we bear burdens, not crosses. When we take up a cross, we are essentially taking up death. But in today’s world, we don’t want to die to self. In a culture that infuses us daily with the importance of self-esteem, self-centered goals, and self-satisfaction, the idea of putting to death self just flies in the face of what Christ stated. As most of us know, some Bible verses are subject to interpretation, subject to contextual considerations, and subject to the audience that Christ was addressing. Almost all of the verses where Christ announces the arrival of the Kingdom and the decision of said Kingdom, there is no room for interpretation! He speaks to individuals, not congregations. Remember, right after the feeding of the 5000 men, everyone followed Him looking for another free meal; when He started preaching the Kingdom, just about everyone took their leave! In the Old Testament, God uses the corporate nation of Israel as an instrument of His will, but in the new covenant, the impetus shifts to the individual. Jesus is calling me and you, not a corporate body of believers. He is calling Bob and Cindy and Joe and Beth; He is not calling a community or a city or a nation. Peter, in his epistle refers to us as “living stones” being built up into a spiritual temple. This is quite the opposite of the Old Testament temple. Do we even notice how radical this is? Think about it: the Kingdom of God is basically being rebuilt from the ground up, Jesus being the “chief cornerstone”; the Kingdom is not being sanctified or purified as a preexisting entity or an already established structure. The Kingdom is being built one person at a time, one commitment at a time, and one gracious invitation at a time.
The ground under the cross is level, it is not a respecter of men or place or position, and the new kingdom is being built with the mortar of willingness: willingness to choose God unconditionally, willingness to be remade, willingness to admit being a sinner, and willingness to forsake all for the pearl of great price. Jesus made it abundantly clear that the righteousness of a religious person is just not enough; in fact, He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will not enter!” This left the disciples at the time in complete shock. You see, Christ demands complete surrender, not adherence to law. For in His wisdom, He knew we were incapable of earning righteousness. The Holy Spirit is not interested in part of your life; the Holy Spirit has to be your life! There is actually no call found in the New Testament to be a believer, but there is a call to be and make disciples. In the third chapter of John we see the word “believe” quite often; in fact, the most known verse in the Bible is John 3:16. The problem with this verse as far as its modern interpretation is that the Greek word for believe is interchangeable with the word obey! Believe and obey are synonymous. If you believe Jesus, the proof of that belief is obedience. Oh, how that stings in a society where we hate someone telling us what to do! But what does Jesus ask us to do? Does He ask us to be holy, to be righteous, or to be what we by nature are incapable of? No, He does not. He asks us to die; more specifically, He asks us to choose to die. Putting to death self is perfect obedience. And once we die to self (by the way, this is not a one-time shot…it is a daily affair), then the working of the Holy Spirit will show us and work in us the ability to live holy and righteous through love. But we have the order reversed. We must die to self first, and then through His grace and Spirit we are capable of living the Kingdom life. But we want to do it on our own and through our own efforts in order to gain access to the Kingdom. This, my friends, is an impossible task regardless and in spite of the load of rubbish being sold in the name of God in the marketplace of false teaching . We must surrender in order to have victory, we must sacrifice all to gain everything, we must die in order to live, and we must first see ourselves as filthy rags in order to be reborn into white robes.
There is no Christianity by proxy, there is no salvation through association, and there is no refuge in church or organizations or any other institution. We are in effect naked before God. There is no place to hide, no shadow to protect us from the heat of God’s justice, and there are no corporate umbrellas. The only place is the person standing before an almighty God with Him asking that one person: “Do you choose Me?” We find refuge in Christ, we find that wonderful Kingdom of God within Him, and He asks us bluntly: “Are you willing to give up all for Me?” Our answer to that question, more precisely, our individual responses to that question, govern the rest of our lives. We may seek to go another route, to reinvent the wheel, or to find an easier way; but, this is folly and an illusion. A leader may promise refuge, a man may convince you that by doing this, this, and this, that you can enter, a church may pretend to be a refuge, but alas, this is all illusion. Nothing takes the place of answering that one question with no one else in the room, with no one else helping you, and with no one acting as moderator in the intense face-to-face with Christ. Make no mistake, God is not interested in where you go to church, who your parents are, how good you think you are or how unworthy you think you are; He is interested in one thing and one thing only: whether you are willing to sacrifice all for Him. He speaks of and shows His love for you as an individual person by suffering on a cross; are you willing to do the same?
Lest we get drunk on zealousness, let us always remember that it is God’s uncompromising love for us that draws us to Him. For once we taste the Lord and know that He is indeed, good, it changes us. Fear won’t change us. But once the love of God has been expressed by coming face to face with the reality that Christ died for you, it then becomes your turn to make a choice. Without first encountering God’s fiery love and passionate desire for you individually, none of the rest makes sense! But all through the New Testament we see the folks making partial attempts at following Christ, we see people willing to go part of the way, we see people wanting the blessing without the heart totally committed to following Jesus, and we see all of the above failing miserably.
The new theology averts this clear and present decision and asks you to accept Christ as simply an olive branch to humanity, but circumvents the radical nature of an individual decision. We should be more concerned with God accepting us, not us accepting Him. This new theology speaks of God’s love without ever mentioning repentance. This new philosophy wants to convince you to “buy into” the social Jesus, the reformer Jesus, the friend of sinners Jesus, but fails to mention that all of these descriptions of Jesus are contingent on a choice to forsake everything to know that Jesus! Jesus isn’t selling us anything; He is offering us the ultimate gift…it doesn’t need to be “sold”. Jesus does embrace sinners, but under the condition that they recognize by being with Him that they are indeed sinners. Jesus does want to reform the worldly system with the Kingdom of God, but needs you and me to do it. Jesus is the social reformer, but He won’t draft you…you must volunteer to join the reformation! Free will is alive and well, and it will prove to be your salvation or your destruction. Is that harsh? If you think that is harsh, maybe you should do like others have recently and rewrite the Bible to fit your paradigm. I can’t apologize for God or justify His ways or even pretend to explain why it is what it is. There is an incredible beauty and glory and freedom in Christ, BUT only if you choose Christ. The idea that God can wink at sin is a lie from the pits of hell itself. Your sin is washed in the blood of Christ IF you choose Him. To think that somehow God is so benevolent as to forgive us without our initial repentance and recognition of how fallen we actually are, is to mock Him to His face. Can we not see this truth? Don’t be fooled by comforting words, don’t be fooled by a false sense of security, and don’t fall for the lie that God will be lenient on man for man’s sake. God will save you for His Son’s sake and for His glory. Now, if we choose to accept the terms of the agreement, then He promises to share that glory with us, to give us an eternal security, and to forgive us for all of our past, present and future sins…IF we agree to use our free will to choose Him and by doing so putting to death self.
God is scary. God is awesome and intimidating. Why do you think God sent Christ as a meek and humble servant? The Father sent His Son to show His love and for lack of a better term, His lovely side. For to show Himself in His full, unedited glory would intimidate us into running away from Him and not towards Him! The Israelites were a good example of how we would react: when God wanted an audience with His people, the people were like, “No way! That is one scary dude…Moses, you go for us and just let us in on what He says…alrighty then…good…have a nice trip up that mountain…we’ll pray for you.” God sent Jesus because He is approachable and represents God’s immeasurable love for us, but we can never forget that God is incapable of being in the presence of sin. End of story. Period. No “buts” to add at the end. If one has read the book of Acts, they would notice that the fear of the Lord was the precursor to all signs and wonders and miracles. That fear is not the sugar-coated version we hear today from the pulpit of a “reverence” or“awe”; that fear is defined as terror, as dread, and as true crap-your-pants kind of fear! Ever notice that in Scripture anytime someone is in the presence of God or angels or heavenly beings, that person falls flat on their face? To stand in His presence is an oxymoronic statement; it would be more like faint in His presence. Let us not be fooled and God mocked by painting a different picture of God. It might not be popular but the last time I checked, God is not in a popularity contest! Why is God not more tolerant or nice or approachable? Paul answers this with a question: Does the thing that is made look to the Maker and question him? Who are we? You see, it is the ultimate in pride to ask God why He isn’t more like us and think the way we think and act the way we act!
A popular and poignant preacher once compared our predicament to Satan holding us hostage. He stated that it is possible that God thwarted His judgment and destruction of Satan because Satan in essence had us held captive. So for God to destroy Satan would require He destroy us as well. But we are now in many ways subject to what is called Stockholm syndrome. We have fallen in love with our captor to the point of not recognizing our need for rescue! The liar has convinced us that God is so loving that He will indefinitely forgo judgment because of His love for us. Oh gentle reader, please hear me. Each one of us individually must come to the realization that the liar is smart, that he is cunning, that he doesn’t play by the rules, and that we have been brainwashed to think as he thinks. If you believe in God, then you consequently must believe in Satan. If you don’t believe in Satan, then he wins. If you do indeed believe in Satan then you just must know that he is profoundly deceptive. This new theology of a kinder, gentler God is false teaching at its very best. Don’t be fooled my friends. Remember, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of true wisdom. And yes, this is pure and undefiled crap-your-pants theology. If you doubt that it is true, I invite you to go directly to the source and let the Word speak it better than I.
So as painful as it might be for me to write this and for you to read this, I prefer to err on the side of caution. In our efforts to share the good news, we must first make sure that everyone is aware of the bad news. We lift Christ up and He draws people to Him; we lift up a loving and gracious God for all to see. But what you do with Him after that is your own decision. It is not my job to point out your sin; it is my job to point to a loving Savior. But I can assure you, when you encounter the Christ, His love will compel you to divorce the lover we call sin. This is a war of epic proportions and the enemy doesn’t fight fair. We ultimately are leading people down the wrong path by superimposing our worldview over the top of the ultimate reality. To wake someone up requires that that person understand that they are indeed asleep. Let us not be guilty of the same and preach an unrealistic dream of the way we think it ought to be.
Be blessed, be sober, be awake, and be salt and light,