I am shocked and disappointed. I have been to several dynamic, growing churches who end a service and asked if anyone in the audience wanted to “pursue a relationship with God?” or even “connect with Christ.” When hands were raised, EVERY time Jesus’ death on the cross was not mentioned, sin and repentance was not mentioned, heaven and hell were not mentioned in any way. I know that people who don’t know Christ are “on a continuum,” but what happened to Paul’s words: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the POWER of God unto salvation for those who believe.”
Where has the gospel gone? And where can we, in good conscience, bring people to a hunger for knowing Christ without giving them clear direction about the next step? The four spiritual laws may sound corny, but at least the gospel was clear and a choice had to be made or rejected. What has happened to our churches and pulpits today?
A Frustrated Christian
Dear Frustrated Christian,
Seduced by relevance and relationships, we can find it easy to neglect the cost inherent with the Gospel. Relevance and relationships are great tools for getting people to come and enjoy church.
However, I have noticed among many churches and church leaders a thundering silence when it comes to sharing the true essence of the Gospel.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put the Gospel like this: “When Jesus Christ calls a man He bids him come and die.”
In fact, I dare say that the Gospel is not fully communicated until people have enough understanding to say, “No.”
Jesus put it like this to the Rich Young Ruler: “Go and sell all that you have and come and follow me.” Jesus looked on him with compassion as he turned to walk away. I can imagine the Disciples thinking, “Surely, Jesus didn’t mean like that. Surely, He will all him back. We need people like him. But, Jesus did mean it that way and He let him walk away.
Bonhoeffer put it terms of cheap grace and costly grace: “Cheap grace doesn’t cost a person anything, and leads to Hell. Costly grace costs a person everything that he has, and leads to Heaven.”
A.W. Tozer, a Canadian pastor and writer put it like this: “Thank you America. You’ve given us instant coffee, instant TV dinners, instant communications and now you have bequeathed to the world instant Christianity by which a person can walk down the aisle of a church and say, “I believe in Jesus,” and in thirty seconds complete a divine transaction that he/she need seldom think of ever again.”
In a generation of relevance and relationships it’s easy to keep quiet about the cost of discipleship.
Once upon a time I was in a small group discussing the importance of understanding different cultures and responding accordingly. We were studying was Acts ( ) where Paul was preaching to the Greek inteligencia about Jesus and the Resurrection. We discussed how Paul referred to their idol dedicated to an “Unknown God” (just in case they had forgotten one). He spoke in terms that identified with his audience and with their cultural understandings.
A discussion ensured about how to make the church more relevant to our contemporary culture. We stopped there and it was time for fellowship and refreshments. But, first, I asked for permission to address an intriguing sidelight to the passage which only comes through in Greek.
Unlike English, Greek words are masculine, feminine or neuter and are declined accordingly. In Greek the word “Jesus” is masculine and the word “Resurrection” is feminine. The Athenians thought Paul was introducing them to a pair of new gods named “Jesus” and his female compatriot named “Resurrection”. They listened gladly until it dawned on them that Paul was really talking about a new God named, “Jesus” and His physical resurrection. About that time Paul got to the point of the Gospel: “God commands everyone to repent…” Most of the Greeks began mocking Paul and his speech, called him the “Babbler” and climbed down the hill. They faced the Gospel’s demands and they rejected it. Several remained and wanted to hear more.
That night, Paul, scorned by the most prominent philosophers of his day, spent the most depressed night of his life.
Julie said later in the car, “Did you see how some squirmed when you said that the Gospel is only fully presented when people are led to point where they have to make an intelligent, determined choice, “yes or no”?
The cost of discipleship is the most expensive decision we can ever make.
I was teaching in the Ukraine, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to several hundred Ukrainian pastors and wives concerning the cost of discipleship. If anyone knew of the cost these persecuted Christians certainly would. Under the communists they had been on the front lines of martyrdom and persecution every day for years.
I began one teaching session by addressing Paul’s longing in Philippians 3:10-11: “I want to know Christ—and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain the resurrection of the dead.”
“How many of you want to know Christ?” I asked. All hands rose.
“How many of you want to experience the resurrection power of Christ?” All hands rose.
“How many of you want to share in the fellowship of His sufferings. No one moved. They, like very few others, understood the cost of following Jesus. Slowly, one hand went up … then another … then another … until all hands were in the air. Several men and women raised both hands!
We must help people understand the difference between cheap and costly grace. Their eternal destiny is at stake.
Some may feel that I am minimizing the importance of relevance and relationships. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Many churches are using relevance and relationships as creative ways to lure people into a user-friendly church setting. I agree wholeheartedly with this tactic. Relevance and relationships are essential in laying the foundation for sharing Christ. However, this is only good if the church has other ways to give people enough information and truth to make an intelligent decision to follow Christ, or not.
Decisions come in all shapes and sizes. The easiest person I led to Christ was a high school friend sitting in the front seat of my car. He looked at me and said, “I want to be a Christian. Can you tell me how?”
“Of course I can.” We talked about the wages of sin and the need for forgiveness and the life-time surrender to Jesus Christ at any price. He said, “yes” to Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior and he and his family have followed Christ faithfully ever since.
My most heartbreaking experience was watching a man cry as he said “no” to Jesus. Keeping his mistress meant more than following Jesus.
Julie led an ex-con to Christ one evening in her office at church. He prayed all the right prayers and said all the things. We arranged for several Christian friends to watch over him and help him along in his Christian life. He ate Easter dinner with us. He was so grateful.
Several months later we discovered that he was a contract killer. He stabbed his target 37 times behind an office complex. He and his “employer” are in prison for life without parole.
Wisdom and balance are essential in leading people to Christ. After all, no one has to know everything.
Buckner Fanning was approached by a seeker who was having trouble believing that the miracles were true—especially the Virgin Birth. Fanning advised him go ahead and think and act as if he had commit his life to Christ and to let the miracles take care of themselves. Several months later he returned to say, “I can see now how it all fits—even the Virgin Birth.
No one must know everything and have all their questions solved before they can have their sins forgiven and make a decision to follow Jesus at any price.
After all, I became a Christian when I was seven. I didn’t even know what a virgin was.