HOW TO RECOGNIZE WATER DOWN GOSPEL
Blessings, but without obedience. Comfort, but without sacrifice. Happiness, but without repentance.
Many church leaders today communicate pleasant, positive, inspiring messages. In fact, their services are bulging with people who want to hear these promises! Their message, though, is only half of the gospel—and half of the gospel is no gospel at all. From a distance it looks like real Christianity, but it’s not. It’s weak and powerless. It’s attractive, but it can’t accomplish God’s ultimate purpose to radically transform lives. It’s fun to go to church where everything is positive, but this is a “lite” version of the Christian faith. It focuses on the grand and glowing promises of blessing, but it overlooks the requirements of courage, obedience, and sacrifice.
Not long ago a pastor asked me to come to his church to preach. I flew to his city and met with him on Saturday afternoon. He told me he was using a new ministry strategy to help his church grow. Confidently he explained, “We expanded our coffee shop so it’s the best in town! And our media department is knocking it out of the park every Sunday. We’re edgy, current, and attractive. I’m glad you could come this weekend.” He didn’t say it, but I was pretty sure he assumed I’d learn a lot from being at his church.
The next morning I was impressed by all the bells and whistles. A video looked like it had been produced in Hollywood, and the music was loud and entertaining. When the pastor introduced me, the band played a lick from “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.”
It was all balloons and cotton candy.
That morning I preached about Christ’s power to free us from Satan’s strongholds and secret sins. The expression on the faces of the crowd told me they hadn’t heard anything like this in a long time—maybe ever. The pastor had told me not to have an altar call “because it makes people feel uncomfortable.” I didn’t notice a small digital clock on the pulpit that was set for thirty minutes. Near the end of my message, people were visibly moved. Then the alarm went off. The entire church could hear it! I asked the pastor, “Do you really want me to stop now?” He shook his head and motioned for me to continue. That day people sobbed tears of repentance and worshipped the wonder, grace, and holiness of Jesus.
At lunch that afternoon I asked the pastor, “Are your coffee shop and media helping you see lives changed?”
He looked down and shook his head. “No, not really.”
I told him, “Pastor, I know you believe in the power of the gospel to change lives. When the transforming power of God is unleashed, direction is altered, broken marriages are mended, and people gladly sacrifice because they love God so much. Let me give you some advice: drop the latte and pursue the awesome presence of Christ.”
“I guess I forgot,” the pastor said weakly. “I moved away from the love and power of the gospel that saved me, and I’ve been promoting a show.” He sighed deeply and looked into my eyes. “Pastor Glen, can you help me?”
We need more. We need the real thing.
As I read the Scriptures, I find a lot of passages that challenge me to the core. A few passages are confusing and difficult to understand. I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about the ones that are crystal clear…the ones that destroy my comfort zone.
Death and Life
Jesus had a way with words. He was as gentle as a lamb. He welcomed outcasts as friends, touched lepers to heal them, and held children in His arms. But He also demanded utter loyalty and complete obedience—nothing else and nothing less. If we exclusively focus on His kindness and compassion, we understand only part of His character, His purpose, and His heart.
Today many Christians are convinced that Jesus Christ came to earth to make them happy and successful. In the church world we seem to gravitate to books and messages that focus on success, fulfillment, and pleasure. When they experience any kind of disappointment, they believe God has let them down. Pain isn’t part of the plan! They then assume God is mean because He let them be hurt. But Jesus didn’t come to make us feel better about our selfishness and sins. He came to forgive our sins, transform us, and change our hearts so we find sin detestable instead of desirable. To make that happen, something deep inside us has to die.
Here’s the truth: Jesus didn’t come to hurt you. He came to kill you.
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.
In the Pursuit of God A. W. Tozer writes a prayer that expresses my heart—and maybe your heart too.
O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.8