"The dawning of the 21st century finds the church of America in a moral and spiritual crisis. Decades of self-centered living and worldliness have taken their toll. Years of compromise and toothless gospel preaching have had their effect.”
Thirteen years ago in 2000, I wrote that admonition in my book TheJesus Manifesto. Ten years before that, in 1990, I sounded a similar alarm in my book How Saved Are We?:
“For years, we have preached a cheap gospel and peddled a soft Savior. We have taught salvation without self-denial and the crown without the cross. We have catered to the unsaved and compromised with the world. Now we are paying the price.”
Tragically, what I and others warned about has now run its dangerous and deceptive course.
You don’t have to look too far today to hear Christian leaders teaching that it’s wrong to expect born-again believers to change their conduct, calling those who do “religious” (as if that’s a bad word) or, worse still, “legalistic” if they preach repentance to the church and to the lost. Today, you can practice almost any sin, work in almost any ungodly profession and still be accepted as a follower of Jesus Christ.
How in the world did we depart so far from the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus?
Consider these examples:
A glamorous spokeswoman for conservative Christian values explains that, “I am a Christian, and I am a model. Models pose for pictures, including lingerie and swimwear photos.”
A well-known rapper claims a conversion to Christianity and states, “I love God, Jesus Christ is my savior, and I’m still out here thuggin’.” He has been baptized, attends church regularly and says, “I still love the strip club, and I still smoke and drink. I’m faithful to my family, so I wanted to make an album where you could love God and be of God, but still get it poppin’ in your life.”
I am not making this up.
And we don’t dare call out anyone on their sinful, public lifestyle lest we be guilty of what is now considered the worst sin of all—judging. Yes, these days it’s considered worse to judge someone for sinning than it is to commit the sin.
With regard to the lingerie model and, even more so, the rapper, it would be one thing if we said that they were spiritually and morally confused, totally immature in their faith, in need of serious discipleship and a real encounter with the Lord. But so often that’s not what you hear. Instead, many believers in America today find nothing wrong with the idea of a “Christian” lingerie model or a “born-again,” profanity-using, smoking, drinking rapper who frequents strip clubs. What kind of nonsense is this?
The New Cross for Sinners
More than 50 years ago in his classic article, “The Old Cross and the New,” A.W. Tozer wrote, “The old cross would have no truck with the world. For Adam’s proud flesh it meant the end of the journey.” In contrast, he noted with profound insight, “The new cross does not slay the sinner; it redirects him.”
Today we could take his insights one step further and say that the new cross does not slay the sinner; it empowers him or her: Jesus came to make you into a bigger and better you. Jesus came to help you fulfill your dreams and your destiny. Put another way, the gospel is all about you—not Jesus.
Scan the programming on Christian TV and listen to the latest “hit” sermons, and take note of how often you hear messages about all the wonderful things God can do for you—including prosper you financially. Contrast that with how seldom you hear messages about the wonderful things we’re called to do for the Lord. And see if you can count even five times in the last year that you heard a message challenging you to sacrifice and service for Jesus (and I’m not talking about making a financial sacrifice for the TV preacher).
Yet Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NIV). When is the last time you were stirred to the core of your being with those words? Yet their message runs throughout the Gospels and forms a fundamental part of the message of the Lord. (See Matt. 10:37-39; 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 14:26-33; 17:32-32; John 12:24-25.)
“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:3), as opposed to, “Enjoy personal success with me as a good entrepreneur of Christ Jesus.” And he exhorted Timothy to use the Word to “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction,” warning him that, “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (4:2-4).
The Gospel of Hyper-Grace
We are living in such a time today, a time in which the gospel of personal success has been merged with the gospel of hyper-grace, thereby rendering the listener impervious to warning or correction or rebuke: “If it doesn’t make me feel better about myself, it’s not from God. If it draws attention to my sin, it’s not from God. If it challenges me in any way, it’s legalism, it’s bondage, it’s the law.”
According to the latest version of the message of hyper-grace:
Nothing you do will negatively affect your relationship with God.
As a believer, you never need to confess your sins to God or repent of your sins.
God doesn’t see your sins; He always sees you as perfect through the blood of Jesus.
You can follow Jesus effortlessly.
And still, there is more. We have become obsessed with the need to be “relevant,” trying to become like the world to win the world. We want lost, confused sinners to know we are just like them: “Is your life messed up? Our lives are messed up, too. You will feel completely at home in our church. And you will really be able to relate to our pastor. He’s up on the latest hit movies—even the raunchy ones—and sometimes he spices up his sermons with off-color language. We are not uptight religious people here.”
Misleading Our Young People
Moreover, as young people leave our churches by the droves, we compromise our message even more. We fail to realize that young people are leaving our churches because they have not seen us living out the gospel. We haven’t told them the truth, and we haven’t ministered to them in the power of the Spirit.
But where the gospel is going forth with power and conviction, young people are flocking to hear the Word and be changed. The more we water down the message, the fewer disciples we will produce and the less God will back us.
During the days of the Brownsville Revival, I wrote a little poem called “Pablum From the Pit.” It seems apropos to share it again now:
Cootchie, cootchie, cootchie-coo, God loves me and God loves you! Smile sinner, don’t be sad; God’s not angry; He’s not mad. Even when you leave the path, There’s no hell and there’s no wrath. So don’t you fear, just do your best. Judgment Day won’t be a test. God sees your heart and that’s enough. The Judgment Seat won’t be that tough. For you can’t sin away His grace Or take that smile from His face. ’Cause God is love and love is good: He’ll treat you like you think He should! Just trust me, sinner, to the end. My name is Satan, I’m your friend.
May God awaken His church again today beginning with us, His leaders. And may we take up the cross and preach the cross regardless of cost or consequences.
In more ways than we realize, the fate of the nation is in our hands. And if a compromised, watered-down message could bring death and destruction, an uncompromising, Spirit-empowered, compassion-birthed message could bring life and transformation.