Most salvation sermons offered today are centered around the premise that Christianity is better and more beautiful than any substitute the world has to offer. How Jesus will fulfill the deep-seated hopes, dreams, and desires you’ve had in your heart all your life. How the love of God is sweeter than any other source, and to be filled with the Spirit is a better high than any drug you could find on the market.
All of these things are true, to a degree, but is it the full truth? Are we presenting an incomplete gospel that appeals to our flesh yet grieves the Spirit? Indeed when some pastors preach, “the message is so presented as to leave the hearer with the impression that he is being asked to give up much to gain more… But the weakness of the whole salesmanship technique is apparent: the idea of selfish gain is present in the whole transaction.” (AW Tozer)
Sure, the audience might accept—and perhaps with great enthusiasm. “But to what salvation have they been won over? “To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ?” (A.W. Tozer)
The problem is that some churches present this generation with a salvation offer they won’t refuse, and then hesitate – or rather fail – to inform them that in following Christ they must deny their flesh and reject any worldly activity or allegiance that runs contrary to God’s heavenly kingdom.
Jesus—our dear, sweet, ever-loving Jesus—said that wide is the path that leads to destruction and narrow is the one that leads to salvation, one that few people ever find. He also said that not all who call upon his name will enter his kingdom, but only the one who does the will of his Father—and to the rest, he will say, “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7).
Our meek and lowly Savior even separates His kingdom into two groups, saying that at harvest-time he will gather the wheat into his barn and burn the tares that have grown up looking like the wheat. He divides humanity into different types of soil, saying that only 1 in 4 (that’s 25% if you’re a math person) will ever receive and reproduce the seed of the gospel in their hearts and lives. (Matthew 13). “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings,” the friend-of-sinners says, “the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. (John 12:48)
You see, these are not peachey passages, but the prickly pears that make our ears itch instead of tickling them. As prophesied in 2 Timothy, the time has come when many INSIDE our church walls “will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3)
In our (rightful) focus on Jesus as God’s perfect plan for the reconciliation and restoration of all the nations of the earth, we sometimes forget that millions of people have – and will continue – to reject him, even after they encounter his breathtaking beauty and the glorious grace of his salvation.
In John 3:18, right after that sweet Sunday school verse we all know and love, we learn why people reject Jesus: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.”
That means that there are plenty of people who, when confronted with the light of Christ, will still prefer to stay hidden in the darkness of their own depravity.
But so often in the modern church, we avoid the uncomfortable parables that end in “weeping and gnashing of teeth” and emphasize the wholesome things Jesus taught—like turning the other cheek and loving our enemies. Well, that is a cute concept if you aren’t encountering true enemies of the faith. It’s not hard to “pray for those who persecute you” when you’ve lost sight of what makes Christians a target for persecution in the first place.
Jesus promised that his followers would be hated on this earth, just like he was. Hated. Not admired for their social graces, voted into office or given an encore at TED-talks.
“We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise, but an ultimatum.” (A.W. Tozer)
Any attempt to make Christ appealing according to the world’s value system is leading people into a false gospel—one that is centered on the glory of Man rather than the exaltation of God. And while the word “ultimatum” might sound harsh, Scripture says that “the word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). We must not be ashamed of this gospel, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Rom 1:16)
This is surely the same gospel preached by the apostles, who were the original martyrs of our faith. Peter and John had no interest in being accepted by their fellow man or finding personal happiness here on earth—indeed for them, the only option as a disciple of Christ was persecution unto death. But, alas, we in the West have only recently begun to suffer a few minor, non-fatal consequences for following Christ, and thus we are tempted to forget the inherent scandal of our faith.
The reality is that every person on this earth will choose to either believe or reject the Good News. And it is our job as Christians to remember why this news is so good—and it is for one very specific and singular reason: that Jesus Christ came to reveal Himself as the only Truth, the only Life and the only Way for us to reclaim the eternal glory with which and for which we were initially created. We must maintain the eternal resolve that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4)
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” Jude 1:3