“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”
Romans 1:16-17, ESV
My generation of believers loves to discuss the idea of “relevant faith.” It sounds edgy and modern, as if our generation has stumbled upon something in the Bible that all the generations prior to us failed to notice. We love to discuss theology over our dark-roasted coffees, do Greek word studies, and wear earrings from the missions trip we went on to that impoverished nation that one time.
Of course, far be it from us to allow those discussions to actually alter our lifestyles. That would be close-minded and offensive. It also has the potential to make us look a bit irrelevant, which, as previously stated, is not the goal. We must yield to the idols of Tolerance and Political Correctness at all costs. Far be it from us to talk about Jesus. Don’t you know that His name is one of the most offensive and divisive of all?!
We’ve grown up in a world where we’re inundated by advertisements, much more so then generations previous. They’re everywhere we turn. And with the emergence of the internet, they infiltrate into our personal life. They show up as we peruse through our various forms of social media. They’re on the side of the web pages as we do research for papers. It seems as though everyone is trying to sell something to us.
I would even make the argument that the emergence of social media is one thing that has aided in this explosion of advertising. We want to portray ourselves a certain way, and social media is one venue we have to do such. We control our image. In a sense, we determine the “advertising” of our own life. All of us are journalists. All of us are photographers. We can generate our own media at anytime. This is a very recent phenomenon. In the past, there used to be “gatekeepers” that controlled what made the cut – what was newsworthy and what wasn’t. The internet has eliminated this.
With all this media noise, how can we be expected to siphon through it to make informed decisions? How can we really be sure in any decision we make? There’s so much information available to us at any given point, and new information is being shared all the time. It’s impossible to keep up, much less determine the legitimacy of the sources providing it. How can we know anything? The obvious conclusion is we can’t. We must remain carefully undecided about everything, lest we appear ignorant by having an opinion. We must remain apathetic towards everything, lest we look foolish in our passion. We must be carefully guarded, intelligently educated individuals who are faithful to plead the Fifth at every heated discussion. Appearing gutless and vapid is far preferable to having an opinion, obviously.
And so, the stage is set for the emergence of token Christianity.
You’re all familiar with the brand of Christianity I’m talking about. It’s the “feel good, God is love, you do you” Christianity that has so deeply penetrated my generation. “Do what makes you happy,” “follow your heart,” and “do what feels right to you,” are all pithy sayings that run in this same vein of thinking. And just to clarify, I’m not denying that happiness is important. Life is short. However, my question is this: is it the most important? The problem with allowing these types of clichés to dominate your thinking as a Christian is that it sets your personal fulfillment and individual autonomy up to be more important than all else.
This kind of thinking has led to a generation of cross-wearing Christians that have forgotten the Cross.
In an age of such heavy advertising, it’s hard to promote something that doesn’t necessarily “sell” very well. The temptation is to amp up the parts of faith that sound appealing and sweep the other, less inviting things under a rug somewhere.
I understand the temptation, friends. I’ve been there. But, I’m going to be very honest with you here: to create a gospel message that intended merely for mass appeal is to distort the gospel. I understand. Your intentions are good. But to “advertise” God’s love apart from God’s justice undermines the purpose of the gospel. Yes, it was love that energized it. But it was justice that required it. It was God’s justice that needed to be fulfilled. God’s love for us does not eliminate our need for redemption. It does not eliminate the fact that we are depraved sinners. In order to understand the gospel, people must first be made aware of the fact that they’re sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Repentance must take place. The incomplete gospel message is a different message entirely. Therefore, to take one attribute of God and set it up against His other attributes is a form of idolatry. You are then not worshiping God, but rather an ideal.
“By the way,” C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “This point is of great practical consequence. The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own and set it up as the the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them that will make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it is not. If you leave out justice you will find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials ‘for the sake of humanity,’ and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.”
My concern in this separation of God’s love from His justice – this splitting of hairs, to borrow a popular colloquialism – is that it not only eliminates the need for repentance and the gospel, but it also aids in the mindset that you can pick and choose truth for yourself. You can create your moral palette to taste rather than to truth. This makes the Bible out to be a buffet, where you determine what you consume based on how you feel. You don’t have to allow it to infringe on your personal freedom. The Bible is not meant to be digested like that. It is intended to be consumed in its entirety, like a wholesome meal.
As Matt Moore writes in a recent blog post, (see blog post here), “A ‘Christian’ faith that calls sin what it is but lacks love, mercy, and grace isn’t very Christian. Likewise, a ‘Christian’ faith that embraces the ideas of love, mercy, and grace, but refuses to submit to the Bible’s teaching on sin and repentance isn’t very Christian. The former fleshes out in angry, loveless religion that does not point to Christ; the latter fleshes out in God-belittling, powerless religion that does not point to Christ. And in my opinion, based on my understanding of the Scriptures, neither of these faiths has any kind of saving power. It is the holy faith of Christ characterized by love and truth that saves.”
Jesus loved. But He loved enough to speak truth. Can you imagine if Jesus had came to earth, and in His omniscience, said to the Pharisees (infamous distorters of the gospel), “Well, what you’re doing is all wrong, but I mean, whatever man. You do you. I just want you to be happy.”
You see, Jesus did want them to be happy. But in the true sense of the word. He desired them to find their fulfillment in Him, rather than the approval of those they were leading. He knew that calling sin “expressing yourself” and “celebrating individualism” was to celebrate death. He understood that truth and happiness are not mutually exclusive. Am I preaching a health and wealth gospel? By no means! Having a relationship with Jesus does not mean that the rest of your life will be painless and perfect. It instead means that you realize that there’s more to this finite existence than the present circumstances. There is deeper hope than what can be seen. You have no need to fear, because your eternity future is secured by grace, not by merit. This knowledge causes a paradigm shift in your thinking that radically changes the perception of the world around you.
When we belittle sin, we belittle the gospel. And when we are so paralyzed by the fear of being offensive that we don’t speak truth, we’re ineffective. Not to mention that conforming to the world to “sell” Christianity is a bit oxymoronic. We’re instructed to be in the world and not of it. People are longing to see authentic faith. Don’t undermine your own testimony through faulty notions of “reaching more people” that way. It’s beautiful to be passionate about something when that passion is not misplaced.
It’s not that the gospel is more relevant now than it has been in the past, it’s that it’s always been as relevant as it is today. It’s a message people need to hear in it’s entirety.
We are accountable to what we know. My prayer for my generation is that we will cease to be cross-wearers, and start to be cross-bearers.
“Then Jesus told His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.'”