This blog is likely to irritate some. I smirk even as I write this opening disclaimer. I am not surprised when people disagree with this kind of message. It’s too blunt and “divisive” in a religious climate that doesn’t like hard lines. There might be better ways to say it. But I guess that’s the downside of the blogosphere, anybody can say what they want, so I guess that applies to me as well. That being said, this is not a rant from someone who hasn’t given serious consideration to what he is saying. If I’m wrong then I really missed it because I think there is much to support my case, both scripturally and culturally. So I guess we’ll see what kind of response it provokes.
It is not uncommon to hear a preacher today say, “God will do whatever it takes to show you that He loves you and wants to have a relationship with you.” And, as often follows such a statement, we as God’s people are to do whatever it takes to help people come to know Christ. Most would acknowledge such a statement as biblical and would receive it warmly. God loves us and desperately wants to live in relationship with us. Thus we as God’s people have to do whatever it takes to see people come to know Christ. This is the resounding message in most of our churches in America. It can be heard from pulpits. It can be heard all over the radio and Christian media.
An urgency and a passion for seeing sinners come to know Christ should never be quenched, and sometimes such a perspective is the product of this kind of genuine passion. This should be applauded. However, there is some poor theology that undergirds this kind of statement regarding the nature of God as well as the missionary mandate of the church.
Unfortunately we live in a culture that continues to find new ways to make much of man. We are inherently good and deserve good things, including salvation. It’s a Stuart Smalley world: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, God likes me.” We have thought more of ourselves than we ought, embracing somehow that we are worthy of God’s affections and that God will spend eternity in some kind of cosmic bad mood if we say no to Him.
Likewise we have turned God into something quite different than the Bible’s presentation of Him. In the words of David Wells in his book God in the Wasteland: “we have turned to a God we can use rather than to a God we can obey, we have turned to a God who will fulfill our needs rather than to a God before whom we must surrender our rights to ourselves. He is a God for us, for our satisfaction….and so we transform the God of mercy into a God who is at our mercy.” Wells goes on to say that we have learned to think of Gd in this way not from the Bible , but from the marketplace. From this perspective God is weak, desperate and one who simply does the best He can to woo us to him. This is, ultimately a powerless god, a god who simply sits and hopes, wishing and waiting to see if what He has done will somehow convince us of His worth.
What’s not like about this scenario I guess, huh? We are the consumer and God is the salesman. And just as it is in the marketplace, the consumer here is sovereign. We hold the power, and God has to figure out how to sweeten the deal as best he can, lest we find His offer unsatisfactory. The initial statement offered at the beginning of this blog, ultimately, turns God into a glorified salesman, and us into spiritual consumers. God will do whatever it takes and so must we as His representatives as we engage a lost world. If one thing doesn’t work we’ll try something else. Whatever it takes.
Jesus certainly does not appear to be selling anything in the gospels. He doesn’t appear desperate at all. In John 6 Jesus offers the crowds a lengthy discourse that ultimately turns most of them away. Jesus did this on purpose. Those following Him acknowledge that what they have heard is indeed a hard teaching (John 6:60). Then in John 6:66 it tells us that many of His disciples walked away and followed Him no more. Jesus knew what He was doing when He gave this challenging teaching to those following Him, who were, realistically, more interested in the miracles and the food.
Likewise Jesus, all the while looking upon him with compassion, tells the rich young ruler that if he is to follow Him he must sell all that he has and give it to the poor. The young ruler leaves and does not follow Jesus, for his wealth was great and could not part with it. Note that Jesus does not follow after Him and soften the command after he walks away. He lets him go.
Over the course of His ministry Jesus found far more rejection than He found acceptance in His earthly life. His teaching was radical and challenging. Find no comfort in even the most basic of human provisions (Luke 9:58). Put him above even the most sacred and honorable of responsibilities (Luke 9:60). Love Him more than your home, family, and security in life (Luke 9:62). Make sure you know what you’re doing before you get into it and realize it’s more than you bargained for and you look like an idiot (Luke 14:28-30). His teaching in parables, it tells us, is an act of judgment on the hard hearted, not an act of revelation. Jesus Himself is the one who told us that the narrow road, the road less traveled, is the road that leads to life! As I read the gospels I come to a shocking realization: JESUS ISN’T AFRAID OF PEOPLE SAYING NO.
In reality, Jesus would not do whatever it took to get people to follow Him. He would do only what the Father had commanded Him to do. He would be faithful to the message of the gospel and the radical followship that it required. And so it must be with us. If our intention is to do whatever it takes to reach people then we will end up compromising the gospel to meet people’s own personal desires. We will acquiesce to the prevailing trends of our day. We will become salesmen. God’s desire is that we would be faithful to proclaim the true gospel in all the world. We go with urgency but we go with one goal: to make the gospel known and clear. It might be best said that we should do whatever it takes to make sure the gospel is clear, and clear to all. But that is all we do. What people do with the clear gospel is not on our shoulders. We don’t work on commission in the church. Like God, we are no salesmen. I will not do whatever it takes for people to be saved. God saves, not me. He can and will accomplish salvation through His appointed means. I will do exactly what God tells me to do and no more. In this way we trust God. We reveal our dependence on Him, rather than ourselves and our own abilities.