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"I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
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 Timothy 4:1-4 NKJV)
Back in the late 1990s, our family was visiting various churches in search of a new home church, and we noticed how many pastors would begin their messages with a Scripture but then launch into a lengthy talk that can best be described as a teaching based on behavioral psychology. For many sitting in the pews, this type of message had much appeal as the seeker-friendly movement was really taking off , and teachings about building relationships seemed more paramount than building a relationship with God based on the Word of God. At any rate, the preaching of the Gospel seemed to be held in second place, thereby creating a condition in the church where conviction of sin and the preaching of the Cross waned, while teachings appealing to the masses became more palatable and popular. Increasingly, it became a capital sin to offend your audience in a seeker-friendly church, and seeing as the preaching of the Cross is an offense to those who are perishing, the Gospel was seldom heard in these churches that were increasing in numbers – of which many were still unsaved. A case in point that illustrates this is a couple who attended Saddleback Church for years, but the wife was troubled by the fact that her husband did not know the Lord during that entire time. Then they started attending a church that preached the Gospel on a regular basis, and the husband got saved in the first two weeks. Yet Saddleback and the Purpose Driven movement have grown exponentially over the years. Ironically, for that couple, hearing the Gospel for two weeks, beyond saving the soul of that husband, did more to enhance their marriage relationship than hearing a social gospel for years. Suffice it to say, there is an unusual power to transform lives for the better when the Cross is preached and the doctrines of repentance, justification by grace through faith, and being born and renewed of the Holy Spirit are expounded upon. But, then again, the preaching of the Cross is offensive to those who are perishing.
Let us pause for a moment and think about what makes Christianity uniquely different from the world’s religions. Christianity teaches that man is sinful and God is holy and consequently man is unable to save himself. Heaping up good deeds does not atone for the fact that man’s sin has separated him from God. Then Jesus came as a sin offering to atone for sin, thereby eliminating our separation from God. As we receive Him by faith as our Savior, our sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit indwells and transforms us where we can rightfully say we have been born again. Jesus then has Lordship over our lives as we continue to trust and yield our lives to Him (we will say more about that later). But the religions of the world all teach the opposite – that man is basically good and has the power within himself to live a life pleasing to God and thereby through his good works is able to save his own soul. Unfortunately, when the preaching of the Gospel was set aside in favor of a more seeker-friendly social gospel, it seems that the armor of the church was also laid down, and much of the false teaching of the world’s religions crept in.
Whatever happened to the Christian church? Those of us who are old enough to remember can recall the unrest of the 1960s including the Viet Nam War and the Hippie movement. It was an era of a lot of experimentation not only with drugs but with eastern religions and varied lifestyles. Then came the Jesus Movement where many lives were transformed under the preaching of the Gospel. Many people forsook their old lives and habits. All over the land, the phrase “praise the Lord” could be heard, and Bible prophecy was so popular back then as countless numbers were considering that we could be in the last days. Yet, over time, the joy and excitement of that new era waned, but I have not heard an explanation why. Most likely, the answer does not lie in any one thing, but one thing in particular happened, and that again is the laying aside of the Gospel. Perhaps multitudes of believers, in the exhilaration of the times, had a sense that their needs and expectations would be met by the Lord.
But then stories of woe began to emerge at the tail end of the Jesus Movement. Many who had come to the Lord began to return to their old ways and habits. Some went back to drugs, others to deviant lifestyles. Others, who thought they would find sure victory in the Lord found that they lacked the power within to overcome their life-controlling and destructive habits. Also, you would hear stories . . . like the one where a trusted Sunday-school teacher had been molesting kids. And, those bound by pornography never forsook it, or they returned to it.
Now the question is, if all of these negative things were happening or beginning to happen again, who or what was to blame? It seemed that multitudes had given the Gospel a good shot, but for many it was not working.
Let me tell you, there is a great undoing effect to those who try to live as Christians but find they are living in defeat. Then, too, hearing story after story of Christians, many of whom you may have known personally, falling to a defeated lifestyle is also most disconcerting. In either case, the conclusion for many must have been that the Gospel was not working – that it was powerless to transform lives. Hence, the preaching of the Cross has been stilled. It has been estimated that at least fifty percent of American pastors view pornography (largely on the internet) on a regular basis. These estimates may in fact be quite conservative when we consider how many are probably too ashamed or afraid to admit their addiction. Pastors with life-controlling habits such as this are also often faced with a dilemma of who to look up to for help as they are supposedly at the top rung of the ladder and expected to live flawless lives. Then, when they go to preach on Sunday morning on the power of the Cross, they find that they cannot because they know their lives are marred by defeat. Likewise, the wives of these pastors go through an incredible hell as they feel both challenged and insulted by something that has now robbed them of their husbands’ affection and devotion. One thing I might say in passing is that years ago I heard there was an agenda among the communist party to destroy our nation, not by warfare, but from within by corrupting our morals largely through pornography. Now if the communist party has not attempted this, then Satan certainly has, knowing that the husband is a key figure and a prime target in destroying the family unit.
What we find then is that the Gospel, both for pastors and their congregations, seemingly is not working. The natural recourse for this would be to blame God, but rather than do this, other avenues of finding victory in God are being explored. The fact of the matter is that once the Gospel has been determined to be powerless there is a scrambling for answers and new teachings. Hence, with this in mind, one can see why such a flood of new teachings has cropped up today – whether it be practicing eastern mysticism via contemplative prayer, the reemergence of the spiritual disciplines of the Desert Fathers, or the varied teachings of the emerging church. Brian McLaren, in his endorsement on the back cover of Alan Jones’ book, Reimagining Christianity, has this to say:
It used to be that Christian institutions and systems of dogma sustained the spiritual life of Christians. Increasingly, spirituality itself is what sustains everything else. Alan Jones is a pioneer in reimagining a Christian faith that emerges from authentic spirituality.These are the words of an emerging leader pointing to the work of another emerging leader and, in a nutshell, telling us that the power of the Gospel is dead, and we need to explore other options. And the options most commonly turned to are New Age and eastern meditative practices. And what you get from these teachings is that in the core of every human being is a “divine center” (i.e., God himself) and if you tap into that, through meditation, you will find your own divinity and have limitless power. Sadly, what Brian McLaren has to say in the above quote has become the running orders of many Christians who have forsaken dogma (doctrine) for experience. Rather than seeking sound teaching, they seek an experience or “anointing” that works for them and empowers their lives. But, all the while, as they are engaging in experience-based “Christianity” they are becoming further removed from the truth of Scripture.
The Bible affirms that there is power for the believer. David sang these words after being delivered from the hand of Saul: “God is my strength and power: and he maketh my way perfect” (2 Samuel 22:33). In Psalm 62, David sings, “God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God” (Psalm 62:11). Then in Psalm 68, David says, “O God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places: the God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people” (Psalm 68:35). Without question, Scripture declares overcoming power to God’s people, but then why are God’s people lacking it and looking for it now?
We don’t need to search very far for the answer to that question, for the answer can be found in the words of Paul:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16Then in his Gospel, John says, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). From both of these Scriptures, it is clear that God gives power to the believer for holy living – but that power is found in the Gospel to those who believe it.
Apparently, what has happened in the church is that there has been so much failure that believers have reckoned the Gospel to be powerless and have looked essentially to “other gods” for help. Jeremiah speaks of our day when he says:
But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward. Jeremiah 7:23-24Regardless of what our natural instincts may tell us, God has declared that His overcoming power is to be found in the Gospel. Yes, a struggle may ensue for a period of time, but that is all the more reason to hold fast to the Gospel because only in it can true and lasting victory be found.
In Romans, chapters 7 and 8, Paul describes the inner turmoil that may ensue in a person’s life as he struggles with sin. Theologians speculate if Paul was speaking of his own struggles, and if so, before or after his conversion. I believe that Paul was writing of both our struggles and his own struggles both before and after conversion. And the lesson learned is that once we become believers, we cannot go back to trying to live in victory in the flesh; just as it did not work before conversion, it will not work now. This is what is happening in the church today, and it will fail because victory can only be found in the power of the Gospel. We can never live an overcoming life in the flesh (i.e., our own strength). Our power and might is found in the Lord, and that is why Paul directs us in Romans to live in the Spirit:
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. Romans 8:1And this is all a part of the Gospel message because when we receive Christ at conversion by trusting in His atoning work as a free gift, God imparts His Holy Spirit to us (Romans 8:9), and we are born again or “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6). The life of the Christian means death to self (the flesh) but also new life in the Spirit that enables us to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Have you ever wondered how you can bear the fruit of the Spirit if your life is not empowered and directed by the Spirit? Each day we need to give Jesus Lordship over our lives – and that means that just as we trusted Jesus to save us on the day we came to Him we need to trust Him to guide our steps as we commit our way to Him. In other words, just as we trusted Christ to save us on the day we received Him, we need to continue to trust Christ to complete His work in us. Remember that we were purchased by God through the death of His Son, so our lives are no longer our own, but we belong to Him.
If you are a Christian and your life is full of struggle, do not forsake the Gospel, but cling to it more fully knowing that you are not strong, but God is strong. Whether it be facing temptation or being chased by life’s circumstances (as David was chased by Saul), our power and victory is found in the Lord only and not in ourselves. Do not ask the Lord to help you live the Christian life, but allow Him to live the Christian life in and through you. Eastern mysticism and the New Age teach that in the center of our being we will find God (and become God-like or Christ-like); Christianity teaches that in the center of our being we find a heart that is utterly wicked and deceitful. Have no dealings with the old nature, but be renewed in the Holy Spirit. Remember that God promised to make a new covenant with us, not written on stony tablets but engraved on our minds and hearts (Hebrews 8:10). This New Covenant has the power to transform the human heart. Before Jesus went to the Cross, He spoke of this when He said, “this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). In other words, Jesus was leaving a testament or will that would take effect after His death – with His own blood serving as the stamp or seal validating that will. It is interesting to note that if you take your Strong’s Concordance and look up the Greek word for covenant (like the one used in Hebrews 8:10 above) and compare it with the Greek word for testament (like the one just used by Jesus), it is exactly the same Greek word. Jesus’ death on the Cross was not only that perfect sacrifice for sin but it also sealed the covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31 and repeated in Hebrews 8:10 that God would write His laws on our minds and hearts. This is the marvelous transformation that so many people are looking for but think the Gospel is too weak to provide, yet it is the only sure and true way to holy living. The Gospel is that new covenant, and it is available to us when we acknowledge that apart from Him we can do nothing. Jesus said:
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. John 15:5So, if we abide in the Vine (Jesus) we will be victorious in our quest to live the Christian life. Have nothing to do with substitutes to the Gospel message. God saves and transforms people His way and not our way. Any other way is futility and idolatry.
We are living in a time of mass deception and delusion. If you were to fall off a cliff and only had a rope to hold you, would you not hold onto that rope more tightly? That is what we must do with the Gospel. Jesus’ death on the Cross purchased our salvation; we have also been bought by His blood, sealed in a new covenant, and His indwelling presence empowers us to live the Christian life. There is no other power to save!
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18
For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. 1 Corinthians 4:20
Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to everyone that is to come. Psalm 71:18