Tastes Great, Less Filling
The first role of successful merchandising is to give consumers what they want. If they want bigger burgers, make their burgers bigger. Designer bottled water in six fruit flavors? Done. Minivans with ten cup holders? Give them twenty. You've got to keep the customer satisfied. You've got to modify your product and your message to meet their needs if you want to build a market and get ahead of the competition.
Today this same consumer mind-set has invaded Christianity. The church service is too long, you say? We'll shorten it (one pastor guarantees his sermons will never last more than seven minutes!). Too formal? Wear your sweatsuit. Too boring? Wait'll you hear our band!
And if the message is too confrontational, or too judgmental, or too exclusive, scary, unbelievable, hard to understand, or too much anything else for your taste, churches everywhere are eager to adjust that message to make you more comfortable. This new version of Christianity makes you a partner on the team, a design consultant on church life, and does away with old-fashioned authority, guilt trips, accountability, and moral absolutes.
One suburban church sent out a mailer recently, promising an "informal, relaxed, casual atmosphere," "great music from our band," and that those who come will, "believe it or not, even have fun." That's all great if you're a coffee house. But anyone who claims to be calling people to the gospel of Jesus with those as his priorities is calling them to a lie.
It's Christianity for consumers: Christianity Lite, the redirection, watering down, and misinterpretation of the biblical gospel in an attempt to make it more palatable and popular. It tastes great going down and settles light. It seems to salve your feelings and scratch your itch; it's custom tailored to your preferences. But that lightness will never fill you up with the true, saving gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is designed by man and not God, and it is hollow and worthless. In fact, it's worse than worthless, because people who hear the message of Christianity Lite think they're hearing the gospel-think they're being rescued from eternal judgment-when, in fact, they're being tragically misled.
The False Gospel of Self-Esteem
The true gospel is a call to self-denial. It is not a call to self-fulfillment. And that puts it in opposition to the contemporary evangelical gospel, where ministers view Jesus as a utilitarian genie. You rub the lamp, and He jumps out and says you have whatever you want; you give Him your list and He delivers.
Defending the true gospel has put me in pretty serious opposition to folks who don't want to take the Bible seriously. I always say that the people I pastor at Grace Church must have a heart to submit to the Word of God, because that's the message they're going to get, unadorned and unadulterated, every time they walk through the door. If they're not willing to face the hard truth of conviction over their sins, the hard disturbing reality of self-denial and the hard demands of following Christ, they're not going to hang around very long.
Some within the framework of evangelicalism will tell you Jesus just wants you well, and if you're not well, it's because you haven't turned in your spiritual lottery ticket. If you're not rich, it's because you haven't claimed it. Jesus wants you free from debt, and if you send the televangelists enough money, that act of faith will free you from the demon of debt. Your salvation through Christ is a guarantee of health, wealth, prosperity, and happiness.
The psychologically man-centered evangelicals tell you that Jesus gives you peace, Jesus gives you joy, Jesus makes you a better salesman, and Jesus helps you hit more home runs. Jesus really wants to make you feel better about yourself. He wants to elevate your self-image. He wants to put an end to your negative thinking.
It's interesting how this trend has come into the church. I've been around long enough to have seen it arrive. It blossomed, I think, most pointedly through the effort of the ever present small screen religious personality Robert Schuller and a book he wrote a number of years ago called Self-Esteem: The New Reformation. I reviewed that book for a national magazine. I thought Schuller's view was a turning point, literally, as the title says, an attempt to promote a new reformation. It was an effort to replace the biblical gospel with a new gospel. And it worked.
In that book, Robert Schuller attacked the protestant reformation. Calling for a new reformation he wrote: "It is precisely at this point that classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be 'God-centered' and not 'man-centered.'" So, according to Schuller, the first thing we have to do is put an end to classical, God-centered theology and replace it with man-centered theology.
To define man-centered theology (an oxymoron), he wrote further, "This master plan of God is designed around the deepest needs of human beings-self-dignity, self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem." For Schuller, the pearl of great price is self-respect and self-esteem. He went on to say, "Success is to be defined as the gift of self-esteem that God gives us as a reward for our sacrificial service in building self-esteem in others. Win or lose: If we follow God's plan as faithfully as we can, we will feel good about ourselves. That is success!"
Pardon me if I don't join. I can't think of a plan with which I'd less like to associate.
In this new reformation of self-esteem, the first thing required is to pull God down from His supremely elevated place so you can then lift yourself up, replacing God-exalting theology with man-exalting, self-esteem psychology. To pull this off requires altering and misinterpreting the Bible and the gospel for the grand purpose of making people feel better about themselves, so they can fulfill their dreams and realize their visions.
Maybe the most amazing statement in Self-Esteem: The New Reformation is the following: "Once a person believes he is an 'unworthy sinner,' it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ." So, if you want to be saved, according to this new gospel you cannot believe yourself to be an unworthy sinner. How twisted is that? How contrary to the truth is that? But it is just the sort of man-centered, self-esteem gospel that eventually became the seeker-friendly movement, which has hijacked so many churches. It's a kind of quasi-Christian narcissism, or self-love, that is characteristic of false teachers: according to 2 Timothy 3, which reminds us, "Dangerous times will come, for men will be lovers of themselves" (see 2 Tim. 3:1-2).
Christianity, in the hands of seeker-sensitive church leaders, has become a "get what you want" rather than a "give up everything" movement. These leaders have prostituted the divine intention of the gospel. They have replaced the glory of God with the satisfaction of man. They have traded the concept of abandoning our lives to the honor of Christ for Christ honoring us. As such, our submission to His will is replaced by His submission to our will. Since people usually reject the real gospel, modern evangelicals have simply changed the message.
A saint of many centuries ago got it right with this prayer:
"Lord high and holy, meek and lowly, let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess everything, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive. Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty, thy glory in my valley, thy life in my death."
"Thy life in my death"? That's the true gospel. Jesus said it unmistakably and inescapably, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matt. 16:24-25). It's not about exalting me, it's about slaying me. It's the death of self. You win by losing; you live by dying. And that is the heart message of the gospel. That is the essence of discipleship.
The passage mentions nothing about improving your self-esteem, being rich and successful, feeling good about yourself, or having your felt needs met, which is what so many churches are preaching these days in order to sugarcoat the truth.
So who's right? Is the message of Christianity self-fulfillment, or is it self-denial? It can't be both. If it's just a matter of opinion, I'll do my thing and you do yours, and we'll both cruise contentedly along in separate directions. But Christianity, the genuine gospel of Jesus Christ, is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of truth. What you want, or I want, or anybody else wants, makes no difference whatever. It is what it is-by God's sovereign will.
The Hard Words of Jesus
I have no idea how the fans of Christianity Lite reconcile their approach to religion with the teachings of Jesus, or how they become comfortable ignoring what He said. But the only acceptable approach-for me and you-is to take our Lord at His word in the single source of truth for every authentic Christian: the word of God revealed in the Bible. So let's go there.
Luke 9 cuts to the core of the question of what Christianity is all about. Here, Jesus was with his disciples shortly after miraculously feeding a crowd of five thousand, who had come to hear him speak, with one modest basket of loaves and fishes. In Luke 9:23-26 we read:
Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels."
It's pretty simple. Anyone who wants to come after Jesus into the kingdom of God-anyone who wants to be a Christian-has to face three commands: 1) deny himself, 2) take up his cross daily, and 3) follow Him. These words are hard to believe. They're not consumer-friendly or seeker-sensitive. Christianity Lite is nowhere to be found. But this is not an obscure passage, or something different from other teachings of Jesus. These are principles that He taught consistently and repeatedly throughout His ministry, over and over again in all different contexts.
This is not news. When Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation in 1517 by posting his ninety-five theses on the door at Wittenberg, he affirmed in the fourth thesis that salvation required self-hate. He wrote that "self-hate remains right up to entrance into the kingdom of heaven." The original Greek word for "deny" means "to refuse to associate with." The thought is that if you want to be Christ's disciple, and receive forgiveness and eternal life, you must refuse to associate any longer with the person you are! You are sick of your sinful self and want nothing to do with you anymore. And it may mean not just you, but your family.
In Matthew 10:32, Jesus talked about confessing Him as Lord and Savior: "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven." And then in verses 34-36: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'"
It's not a friendly invitation; it's a warning: If you come to Christ, it may make your family worse, not better. It may send a rift into your family, the likes of which you have never experienced before. If you give your life to Jesus Christ, there will be an impassable gulf between you and people who don't give their lives to Him. In fact, as the New Age Hindu mystic Deepak Chopra said to me on CNN Television: "You and I are in two different universes." I replied that he was exactly right. And that is not just true for strangers but also for family members, creating a severe breach in those most intimate of all relationships.
Verse 37 adds, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." If you're not willing to pay the price of a permanent split in your family unless your loved ones come to Christ-if you're not willing to pay the price of greater trauma, greater conflict, greater suffering in your family-then you're not worthy to be Jesus' disciple.
Verse 38: "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." Wait a minute. In Jesus' time, people associated a cross with one thing and one thing alone: a cross was an instrument of death. He was saying that if you're not willing to have conflict with the world to the degree that it could cost you your life, then you're not worthy of Him.
Verse 39: "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." This is an echo of Luke 9. It's about losing your life. It's not a man-centered theology, it's a Christ-centered theology that says, "I give everything to Christ, no matter what it costs me, even if it costs me my life."
The True Gospel of Scripture
This is a bedrock truth of Christianity that the Bible confirms repeatedly. Jesus said the same thing in many different ways. He said it in the familiar story of the rich young ruler. In Mark 10:17 the young synagogue leader ran up to Jesus, knelt before Him, and asked, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"
What a setup for personal evangelism! Jesus could have said, "Pray this prayer" or "Make a decision to accept Me!" He didn't. Instead He confronted the young man with the reality of sin to reveal whether he was convicted of his wickedness and penitent over his iniquities. Jesus offered several of the Ten Commandments as examples of the law of God the young man had broken.
Rejecting any thought of sinfulness and repentance, the young man bragged about having obeyed the Ten Commandments all his life. He thought he was a perfect candidate for eternal life. But he got a response he didn't expect. In verse 21, Jesus said, "Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." Jesus exposed his self-righteousness and then uncovered his love for money. The young ruler wanted Jesus to show him how to have eternal life. But Jesus told him that the price was giving up his illusion of self-righteousness, recognizing himself rather as an unworthy, wretched sinner. And he needed to be willing to submit to the Lord Jesus, even if it meant he had to give up all his earthly possessions. He might not ask, but the requirement for eternal life is the willingness to give it all up if He does.
The young man wouldn't do either-admit his sin or deny himself. As verse 22 tells us, "But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." He decided he'd rather hold onto the deception of self-righteousness, and have his money and possessions, than have Jesus. He had no interest in self-denial, self-sacrifice, or submission. Therefore he was unworthy to be Jesus' disciple, and he himself shut the door to the kingdom of salvation.
We all know someone like the rich young ruler-cocky, self-assured, impressed with his own goodness-who sees Christian salvation as one more goal he can achieve through performance, skill, money, and influence. The Bible tells us that's not how it works. The goal is the unfamiliar one of sorrowfully acknowledging sin, of submission and sacrifice. If we're not willing to separate from our families, separate from the world, separate from the material things that we possess, then Jesus isn't that valuable to us. It's an all-or-nothing proposition.
There's yet another example in Luke 9, where Jesus was walking down the road with some of his followers, and one of them promised, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus didn't say, "Hey, that's great. We're all going to the Ritz-Carlton for caviar." What He said, in verse 58, was, "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Jesus didn't say, "Follow Me, and you will be happy, you will be healthy, wealthy, prosperous, and successful." He said, "Just know this: I don't have anyplace to lay My head. Discipleship is going to cost you whatever you have. Don't expect comfort and ease."
The story continues in verse 59: "Then He said to another, 'Follow Me.' But he said, 'Lord, let me go first and bury my father.'" The implication here was that his father wasn't even dead. What did he mean, "go bury" his father? Did he mean go to the funeral? No, he meant hang around until he got the inheritance! He wasn't going to have anything if he followed Jesus. Jesus had nothing to give him, so he wanted to stick around the house until he could pack a fortune in his bag and then come after Jesus. He disappeared too.
A third would-be follower of Jesus wanted to return home and organize a big farewell party with friends and family-to secure support for his venture. Jesus told him that those who entered His kingdom didn't go back to bring along elements of the old life. Rather they were like a farmer, who, once he grabbed the plow, kept looking forward so the furrow was straight (Luke 9:61-62).
Jesus set the standard for total self-denial. In Luke 14:26, a great multitude was following Him and He turned and spoke to them: "If anyone comes to Me"-meaning those who wanted to be His true followers-"and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." Self-hate? What a powerful truth! This is not salvation by good works but the very opposite: salvation by rejecting all hope of pleasing God on our own.
Following Jesus is not about you and me. Being a Christian is not about us; it's not about our self-esteem. It's about our being sick of our sin and our desperation for forgiveness. It is about seeing Christ as the priceless Savior from sin and death and hell, so that we willingly give up as much as it takes, even if it costs us our families, our marriages, and whatever else we cherish and possess.
It might even cost us our lives, as Jesus had said in Luke 9:24 and reaffirmed in 14:27: "And whoever does not bear his cross"-that is, be willing to die and give his life-"and come after Me cannot be My disciple."
It can't be any clearer than that. If you try to hold onto you, your plan, your agenda, your success, your self-esteem, you lose forgiveness and heaven.
In John 12:24, Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain." In other words, "If you're going to be fruitful in following Me," Jesus says, "it's going to cost you your life. You're going to have to die." Verse 25: "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." The path that Jesus was going down was the path to persecution and death.
So you want to follow Jesus, do you? It'll cost you absolutely everything.
The Lord might not take your life. He might not take all your money. He might not take your family or your spouse. He might not take your job. But you need to be willing to give it all up, if that's what He asks. You need to be desperate enough to embrace Christ no matter what the price.
If you want to follow Christ right into heaven, here's the message: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. Do you hear that in the contemporary gospel? Do you ever hear that in a message a television preacher or an evangelist gives? Do you ever hear anybody stand up in a crowd and say, "If you want to become a Christian, slay yourself! Refuse to associate any longer with yourself, reject all the things your self longs and wants and hopes for! Be willing to die for the sake of Christ, if required, and while living slavishly, submit in obedience to Jesus Christ!" That doesn't sell! That's not smart marketing.
It's a message that's hard to believe, because self-denial is so hard to do. It just happens to be the truth.
The Narrow Gate
So, what do you want to do? According to lots of churches and preachers, the answer is to popularize the gospel: get rid of all this slaying-yourself and carrying-your-cross stuff, and get a decent band up there on the stage. Tell everybody God wants him to be happy and successful and full of self-esteem.
The only problem is that saying those things gives people who don't know any better the illusion they're saved, when they're not. And someday, when they face Christ, they're going to say, "Lord, Lord!" and He's going to say, "Depart from Me. I never knew you." What's a good band worth then? About as much as healthy self-esteem.
Mankind wants glory. We want health. We want wealth. We want happiness. We want all our felt needs met, all our little human itches scratched. We want a painless life. We want the crown without the cross. We want the gain without the pain. We want the words of Christian salvation to be easy.
That's how people think. But that's not God's instruction to us. According to Hebrews 2:10, suffering made perfect the captain of our salvation. And so we also will go through the crucible of suffering. What we suffer first of all is the death of all hopes, all ambitions, all desires, all longings, all needs that are human.
Listening to a seeker-sensitive evangelical preacher today, we're likely to think it's easy to be a Christian. Just say these little words, pray this little prayer, and poof! you're in the club. According to the Bible, it doesn't work that way. In Matthew 7:13 during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus admonished His followers, "Enter by the narrow gate." The connotation of "narrow" here is constricted. It's a very, very tight squeeze. We can't carry anything through it; we come through with nothing.
A wide religious gate also exists, and I am saddened to think so many preachers, and so many churches, are leading people through it. They're saying, "You don't have to do all that hard stuff to get into heaven. We're open-minded and inclusive, and we think everybody who wants to, should get saved."
We've actually come to the point where people who call themselves Christians have apologized on behalf of all us hopelessly inflexible nitpickers: those who hang onto old, outmoded ideas that Christianity should be biblical, exclusive, inflexible, and inconvenient. Recently, a group of more than fifty pastors and laymen, including a divinity school dean, representing half a dozen mainline Christian denominations, placed an ad in a major daily newspaper insisting it was "wrong-ethically, morally and spiritually-for anyone, whether individual, group, church, or religion, to claim exclusive access to God or God's grace, blessing, or salvation . . . Claims of exclusivity by Christians and others have played a self-justifying role in causing untold human suffering …"
Excuse me, but if Christians don't acknowledge and preach the fact that salvation is through Christ alone, they are herding unwitting people through the wide gate that leads to destruction. That's not my opinion; that's the Word of God. People are breezing through those wide, comfortable, inviting gates with all their baggage, their self-needs, their self-esteem, and their desire for fulfillment and self-satisfaction. And the most horrible thing about it is, they think they're going to heaven. And somebody thinks he's done them a big favor by coming up with a consumer-friendly gospel about which everybody feels good.
But that gospel is a false gospel, a treacherous lie. That easy-access gate doesn't go to heaven. It says Heaven, but it ends up in hell.
"Because narrow is the gate," Jesus said in Matthew 7:14, "and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." I agree that we have a hard time finding it, especially today. You could go to church after church after church and never find it. It's a very narrow gate.
The same teaching appears in Luke 13:23-24: "Then one said to him, 'Lord, are there few who are saved?' And He said to them, 'Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.'" It's hard to find, and it's hard to get through.
Why is it so hard to find today, and why is it so hard to get through? It's hard to find because so many churches have strayed from teaching the truth of the gospel. And it's even harder, once we've heard the truth, to submit to it. Man worships himself. He's his own god. What we need to tell people is not "Come to Christ and you'll feel better about yourself," or "Jesus wants to meet whatever your needs are." Jesus doesn't want to meet our needs-our worldly, earthly, human needs. He wants us to be willing to say, "I will abandon all the things I think I need for the sake of Christ."
It's hard to get through the narrow gate because it's so hard for us to deny ourselves. Jesus' first requirement in Luke 9 was for Christians to deny themselves, but that's just about impossible to do. Self-importance is the reigning reality in human fallenness: man is the master of his own soul, the captain of his own fate, the monarch of his own world.
To say he has to deny and slay himself is simply too much to swallow. Preach a gospel that doesn't include that, and people will flock around to get out of hell and into heaven. But start preaching the true gospel, the hard words of Jesus that call for total and absolute self-denial-the recognition that we're worthy of nothing, commendable for nothing, and that nothing in us is worth salvaging-and that's a lot less popular. Take it from someone whose brains have been targeted on national television.
Counting the Cost
In Luke 14:28-30, Jesus asked, "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it-lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all those who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'"
If you're going to come to Christ, you're going to have to count the cost. Have you counted the cost? Do you even understand there's a price to pay? We know what the price is because, as we've already seen, the Bible tells us clearly, unequivocally, and repeatedly. The price is a willingness to hate your father and mother, if necessary, hate your own life, carry your cross, and come after Jesus. Nothing in the world must we hold so dear that we will forfeit Christ for it.
Continuing in verses 31-32: "Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace." You either make peace with the enemy if you can't conquer him, or you make sure you've got the troops that you need to win the battle. In other words, Jesus was saying, "Don't come to Me unless you've counted the cost. And the price is self-denial, self-crucifixion, and self-submission."
In Luke 14:33, He delivered the point: "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." We're not going to get saved by dumping all our earthly goods, but we have to be willing to do so. That's how devoted we have to be to the cause of Christ. We will deny ourselves all of our worldly longings. We will even deny our own right to live, and give our lives, if need be, for the cause of Jesus Christ. We will submit to His will, following Him whatever He asks, whether He says we must lose these things or we can keep them. That's up to Him.
Jesus told two parables in Matthew 13, beginning with verse 44. He said, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." In the next verse, He told the story of a man who found a pearl of great price and sold all he had to buy it. The complete surrender of all possessions is the essence of salvation. It is: "I give up everything. I deny myself. I offer my life, both in terms of death, if need be, and in terms of obedience in life."
Earlier we saw those who insist that the pearl of great price in the Christian faith is "genuine respect and self-esteem." It is nothing of the sort. The pearl of great price, the treasure worth everything you and I possess, is the saving grace of Jesus Christ that we are hopelessly undeserving of, but that we can claim as our own by denying ourselves, picking up our cross daily, and following Him.
This is the message of the gospel. When you call people to Jesus, that's what you have to say.
Keeping the Customer Satisfied
Now comes the issue that's behind all the pop music and self-congratulation and "fun" that the seeker-sensitive churches promise: people aren't going to buy Christianity if it's that hard. If it doesn't meet their needs, they won't be interested. If they want six fruit flavors and you've got only two, you've lost them. They need Christianity that tastes great, and if it's less filling in the short run, well, we'll explain all the hard stuff later.
There's a name for that in the marketing world, and it's called bait and switch. You advertise a TV for a rock-bottom price, but when the consumer gets to the store, that particular model is unavailable. There's a more expensive one here, however, that's a lot like it. It's not what we promised you. In fact, what we promised never existed. The offer was a sham.
What happens at a seeker-sensitive church when somebody takes the bait? He thinks, "Hey, this Christianity thing is not hard at all. Meet nice people, hear an inspiring message and some cool music, get to heaven." But at some point the truth comes out. The hard words of Jesus come out: "It's not about you, it's about Me and sacrificing yourself to follow Me."
It's absolutely true that nobody's going to want to be a Christian under those circumstances, unless the Spirit of God is working in his heart. Unless the Spirit of God is doing the work of conviction, is awakening the dead heart, and generating faith, nothing's going to happen, no matter what you do. And then only the true message of Jesus, connected with the work of the Spirit, will produce true salvation. The fountain of grace will open and flow to the self-denying sinner. This is the very essence of grace. It is when we offer nothing in ourselves as worthy of salvation, but affirm our hatred of worthless self, that God grants us grace to rescue us from sin and hell.
We can't reinvent the gospel to suit ourselves, our own comfort and convenience. But that's what people are doing today. That's why I've written this book. If you modify the message to make Christianity more attractive, then what you have is not Christianity.
I'm not promoting legalism in any form, only fidelity to Scripture, though some people have decided I'm sort of harsh and hard-nosed. One well-known evangelical friend thought he was complimenting me when he introduced me by saying, "This is John MacArthur, who is much nicer in person than he is in his books."
I smiled and said, "In person it's much easier to demonstrate the love of Christ."
Well-meaning congregations and pastors go to great lengths to steer around the teachings of Jesus that are hard to believe. They don't do it because they're sinister, or malicious, or consciously out to deceive anybody. They do it because good news is fun to deliver, but hard words aren't. Hard words are sometimes confusing and embarrassing; it's hard to make eye contact when you repeat some of them.
Christians don't know how to interpret and share the hard words of Jesus, so they skip over them. But delivering half the message is almost worse than delivering no message at all. All of what Jesus has to say is important. It's not up to us to decide what we'll pass on and what we'll try to hide.
My prayer is that this book will help you understand that the right invitation to Christianity is the one that's complete and transparent; that hiding the truth doesn't help but, in fact, infinitely hurts people; and that there are ways you can use the full dimension of the gospel to proclaim a powerful, compelling evangelical message that the Lord will bless.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.