Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” – Luke 2:8-14
So another Christmas has come and gone, and now we’re setting our sights for the more secular celebration of the New Year. And for another year, those of us who are Christians and therefore actually have a reason to celebrate Christmas) try to emphasise to the world the reason for the season.
And yet, it’s hard not to notice that the Gospel message that is preached today seems to be pretty different when compared to the way the Bible presents it. For one, we seem to have taken the notion of sin (Job 15:14; Eccl. 7:20; Mat. 15:19; Rom. 3:23), God’s just wrath (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18), Hell (Ps. 9:17; Mat. 25:41, 46; 2 Thes. 1:8-9; Rev. 20:15, 21:8) and the need for true repentance (Ps. 95:7-8; Mat. 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 15:10; Acts 2:38, 3:19, 17:30) out of it. Why? Because we live in the Great Cushion Era, where we have become obsessed with avoiding each other’s toes.
We don’t want to offend; we don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable; we want to see our churches filled with happy-smiley people. And I daresay that we have succeeded in this spectacularly, at least in the West where bearing the name of Christ doesn’t really cost much and can be dropped at the tip of a hat. Yet I hope you noticed that the Scriptures I just quoted all include Jesus’ own preaching. I wonder sometimes whether He’d be welcome to preach in most evangelistic events today.
Why is all this important? Because people’s souls are at stake. In today’s watered-down, Jesus-has-a-great-plan-for-you Gospel, the need for repentance is minimised, if not eliminated altogether. But without repentance, there can be no salvation (cf. 2. Cor. 7:10) because the person sees no particular need for it. There is no humbling before God’s Holiness; no brokenness over offending His perfect Law. How can I see myself as poor in spirit (Mat. 5:3) unless I have grasped that I have nothing of value to offer Almighty God (Is. 64:6)? After all, Jesus Himself said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mark 2:17). In other words, salvation follows repentance, and repentance follows an understanding of sin and its consequences.
And that’s not all. We also need to understand that a poor Gospel will create poor Christians, who in turn will create poor churches. Need examples to believe me? Look at the state of the Church today: the Word-Faith movement, the Charismatic movement, the Seeker-sensitive movement, and the recent post-modernist Emergent Church movement. Toronto Blessing, Name-it-and-claim-it, Jabez prayer. On one hand you have Robert Schuller with his melting-pot, it’s-all-about-you ecumenism, and on the other you have Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt and Rob Bell with their “We don’t know anything for sure” theology. And all this is just wolfed down by people who are disappointed with the “old” way of things and are looking desperately for something “new” and “more” to thrill them. Sounds like Hollywood? It should, because that’s the spirit.
Somewhere down the line we phased out all the “bad” stuff of the Gospel and left it standing on one leg. What is the meaning of the Cross if the sin that necessitated Jesus’ sacrifice isn’t mentioned? What does “Jesus loves you” mean to anyone if they don’t know that God is angry at their sin and will judge them justly in Hell for all eternity and yet paid the price for them? Instead, we proclaim a Gospel that sounds more like a self-help recipe than God’s commandment – and we subsequently treat the rest of His Word like that. It’s like Jesus said: “… he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47b – NASB)
The result? Man-centred churches teeming with unsaved people still headed straight to Hell but who think they’re “squared with God”. Ministers who jump from one gimmick to another in order to keep the herd happy and entertained, ’cause if they’re not, they’re out the door before you can say “Purpose-driven”. This is the stuff atheists see and then spout their own nonsense about the failure of Christianity. This is why Youth Groups see more sexual immorality than high-schools. This is why churches are rampant with gossip, backstabbing, perversion, divorces, religious hypocrites, money-taking and backsliding; this is why they’re driven by fads rather than the Holy Spirit and by human wisdom rather than the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). No wonder Paul wrote to Timothy:
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
But when a person understands the Biblical truths that:
1) They – like the rest of us – have offended God’s holy standard (see the Ten Commandments for example – Exodus 20:1-17)
2) That God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36) and, as a just Judge, He will send them to eternal hell
3) That there is nothing they can do in of themselves to avoid that deserved punishment,
then they will clutch at the message of salvation – that Jesus has fully paid for their sins on the Cross – like a terminally ill man that seeks out a potential cure. And that’s how the Bible always presents the message – there’s nothing in there about “asking Jesus into your heart” or “join God’s great plan”. It is a sombre, sobering and grave message of God’s justice, mercy and grace. And when a person comes to Christ like that, what can ever cause them to want to leave? How can they ever be spiritually proud or conceited? How can they not glorify God every waking moment and be eternally grateful? How can they ever take His Word lightly? How can they not seek Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength? How can they desire to sin? It is only then, at GENUINE conversion that the Holy Spirit indwells a person (Eph. 1:13) and makes him or her into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
Q. Isn’t all this that old-time Bible-bashing?
A. Maybe, though I’d just as soon blame the Church for NOT focusing on the Bible enough – enough to keep worldly priorities and values out. But if we are called to preach the Gospel like Christ Himself did, we would be hypocrites to do so without His own compassion and love for the unsaved (Mat. 9:36).
It’s time to pick up the sword of the Word before it’s too late. Satan thrives on rendering churches inactive and unfruitful, and his top strategy is in corrupting the Gospel message because that is where the root of everything lies. So, it is my prayer that, next Christmas, the angels’ message of “peace on earth” will receive its true meaning.