By Brannon S. Howse
Some of what people attempt to pass off these days as the Gospel is overwhelmingly syrupy, Christian happy-talk. Sometimes the “good news” sounds more like it came from the pages of Oprah magazine or a Dr. Phil book than from the Bible. The real motive, I believe, for preachers who promote this form of Christianity is simply that they want to be liked by all and offensive to none. They shrink from the hard edges of the Gospel Jesus preached.
Some even consider “sin” to be a controversial subject. For example, on the June 20, 2005 edition of Larry King Live, King probed popular teacher Joel Osteen on some provocative issues, but Rev. Osteen would not take a stand on Biblical teachings:
KING: How about issues that the church has feelings about? Abortion? Same-sex marriages?
OSTEEN: Yeah. You know what, Larry? I don’t go there. I just ...
KING: You have thoughts, though.
OSTEEN: I have thoughts. I just, you know, I don’t think that a same-sex marriage is the way God intended it to be. I don’t think abortion is the best. I think there are other, you know, a better way to live your life. But I’m not going to condemn those people. I tell them all the time our church is open for everybody.
KING: You don’t call them sinners?
OSTEEN: I don’t.
KING: Is that a word you don’t use?
OSTEEN: I don’t use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don’t. But most people already know what they’re doing is wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change. There can be a difference in your life. So I don’t go down the road of condemning.
Not even the loosest of modern paraphrases offers any notion that the Bible says the problem of sinful humanity is a lack of self-esteem. Joel Osteen is one of a number of “evangelists” who don’t discuss atonement, dying to self, picking up your cross, hell, the wrath of God, God’s jealousy, or the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The same interview by Larry King also gives insight into the inclusiveness promoted by such people:
KING: What if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you don’t accept Christ at all?
OSTEEN: You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know...
KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They’re wrong, aren’t they?
OSTEEN: Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong. I believe here’s what the Bible teaches, and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God will judge a person’s heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.
Suggestions such as Rev. Osteen’s sound better to many American ears than warnings from Jesus about being hated by most people for His sake. But it remains that in large measure, anything less than Jesus’ straightforward teaching is heretical.
Unfortunately, this sort of approach to the Gospel is all too common among churches that attempt to be “seeker friendly.” Most such churches avoid talking about sin, the wrath of God, repentance, the cross, self-denial and dying to self. Setting out to make a church comfortable for sinners is as foolish as making a police station comfortable for criminals. The job of the police is to go out and catch criminals. No matter how we disguise the police station it will never attract lawbreakers. Likewise, the church needs to go out and apprehend sinners for Christ.
While we certainly should welcome the unsaved into our churches, the purpose of the New Testament church is for Christians to gather to use their spiritual gifts for the edification of the saints. The church is to be a place where we disciple, encourage and challenge the followers of Christ. It should challenge and equip members to go out, grab hold of the lost through Biblical evangelism, and bring new converts into the body. There they can be discipled and, in turn, go out and apprehend more of the lost.
If we want to evangelize like Jesus Christ, then we must learn to use the moral law as He did. That means we cannot be afraid to use the word “sin.” According to 1 John 3:4, sin is the transgression of the law. According to Romans, the moral law is written on the heart and mind of every person—thus the conscience (“con” means with and “science” means knowledge). Because of the conscience, every time people sin or rebel against God, they know it is wrong. Romans 7:7 assures us that the law convicts people of their sin.
Through the Word of God we come to understand that we don’t murder fellow human beings because murder goes against the character of God. Neither are we to lie, steal, or break any of the other Ten Commandments because doing so would go against who God is.
Romans 1:21 reminds us, “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” And Romans 2:15 points out that people “show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.”
People can either accept the guilty feeling of the law that accuses them of their transgression when they sin, or they can excuse the guilty feeling and learn to ignore it. If people ignore the guilt long enough or often enough, they will become liars whose “consciences are seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2). Norm Geisler explains how this works out in a person’s life:
[quote] [T]he root cause of the character disorders (moral corruption)…is directly associated with a person’s refusal to acknowledge and act upon what is morally right and reject what is morally wrong. It becomes harder and harder for the individual to get help with his character disorder because of the increased moral depravity. This increase is associated with greater levels of insensitivity in that person’s conscience. For example, during the progressive moral deterioration in the life of the person who uses pornography, his sequence of feeling-to-thought-to-deed proceeds with less and less intervention of the inhibitory mechanism of conscience and guilt. [end quote]
Even if a person’s conscience is seared, though, no one will have an excuse at judgment for rejecting God. Romans 3:19-20 explains:
"Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin."
Everyone has broken the law. No one can claim to warrant entry into heaven because they have “lived a good enough life.” God’s standard is that people must keep the complete moral law, and no one has done that. The purpose of the law is not to save us. It is to condemn us, to show us our true state, to reveal our sin, and to show us we deserve God’s wrath. Romans 3:20 explains that the purpose of the law is to get people to stop justifying their sin.
Further, 1 John 3:4 says, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” And Romans 3:10 explains, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” Finally, Romans 3:23 concludes: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because everyone but Jesus Christ has broken the law, any who have not repented of their sins and trusted in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ will not be pardoned for breaking the moral law.
To repent means to turn from sin and to stop practicing sin as a lifestyle. This does not mean a person will never sin again, but there is a big difference between stumbling into sin and willingly jumping in.
A repentant heart is born out of an awareness of a person’s deep-seated sinfulness and the understanding that everyone deserves the wrath of God. A repentant person who surrenders his or her life to Christ receives eternal life with Christ. Eternal life is theirs at the moment of salvation because Christ fully paid for sin by dying in place of sinners. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 says:
"Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death."
True repentance is a “godly sorrow” for sin. It is turning and going in the opposite direction of a willfully sinful lifestyle. True repentance leads to a change in a person’s life as he or she grows in relationship with Jesus Christ.
Mark Cahill wrote an outstanding book entitled One Thing You Can’t Do in Heaven. In his book, Mark offers a superb explanation of the real meaning and result of repentance:
[quote] One topic that I believe we must talk about when we discuss sin is repentance. It seems to be a word that we don’t use much in witnessing, and a word that some people don’t want to use at all. Yet the word “repent” and its various forms is used over one hundred times in the Bible. It must be a very important word then, and something that we must understand.
The apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
John the Baptist preached in the wilderness, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2).
Jesus preached this same message of repentance. Mark 1:14, 15 says, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel.’”
In Mark 6, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples two by two. Verse 12 states, “So they went out and preached that people should repent.” If Jesus sent the disciples out preaching that people must repent of their sins, we ought to do the same.
Repentance is not when we feel bad because we got caught doing something wrong. True repentance is when we change our mind about our sin so our actions will not continue to be the same.…
I was sitting around talking one night with a young man I had met at a camp. He was telling me about his life and confessed that he had been using cocaine for the past thirty days. About forty-five minutes into the conversation he asked, “Is this the point where you are going to start talking to me about Jesus?”
I said, “No.” He looked rather surprised. “You’re not?” I told him that he was not ready for Jesus, and that it was not his day to get saved. He did not hate his sin enough to want to repent and walk away from it. He loved the world way too much. It was very interesting that he didn’t argue one bit with me. He didn’t want to get saved that day. He wanted to use drugs. He had gone to a Christian high school, so he knew all the right answers. The issue was repentance, and he didn’t want to do that….Repenting means to make a turn, and that is what you see in the true Christian life. [end quote]
Did you catch the meaning of the word repentance? Mark describes precisely why we must use the moral law to reach people. God’s law teaches them they are guilty sinners needing a new heart. God’s Holy Spirit uses His law to teach us we are guilty sinners deserving hell. God’s saving grace by God’s mercy opens our hearts to surrender our will to Christ. The moral law has the power to create a heart that hates evil. As Proverbs 8:13 says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil.”
In Galatians 3:24, Paul tells us that the law is the schoolmaster to bring us to repentance. Many seeker-friendly churches use a man-centered form of evangelism that simply creates false converts. Man-centered evangelism encourages people to say a “sinner’s prayer” before the individual understands what he or she has done that has offended God for which repentance is necessary. As Ray Comfort has explained to me, “People need to understand they are lost before they can be saved. We must preach the disease before we preach the cure.”
The false converts that are created through today’s man-centered evangelism efforts often are people that see grace as a way to justify their sinful lifestyles. They believe they can live however they want because they are under God’s grace and God has to forgive them. Tragically, such individuals are still workers of iniquity. A worker of iniquity is someone who willfuly breaks the moral law. The Bible is very clear that God’s grace or forgiveness is only extended to those who repent.
John Wesley said we need to preach 90% law and 10% grace. Ray Comfort in his presentation, “Hell’s Best Kept Secret,” explains that when we use the moral law in our churches and evangelism efforts, we create converts who:
1. Understand the reason for God’s wrath
2. Understand God’s grace and mercy
3. Understand their sinful condition
4. Have gratitude to God for salvation
5. Understand they don’t deserve the hope of heaven based on their own merit
6. Have gratitude that creates zeal for sharing the moral law with the lost.229
And that leads to repentance.
Oswald Chambers offers a perspective on the kind of thing seeker-friendly “happy talk” teaching does to Christians:
“Satan’s great aim is to deflect us from the center. He will allow us to be devoted to the death to any cause, any enterprise, to anything but the Lord Jesus.”
Hebrews 13:9 instructs us to not be carried away by all sorts of strange teachings (deflected from the center), but, sadly, that is exactly what is happening for many.
Copyright 2006 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative.