The greatest danger to Christianity in our world today is not the lost world outside of Christ. We hear this far too often. The church will at times, look on at the outside world in judgement and disgust while patting themselves on the back for their efforts at being more moral than everyone else. The lost world is not a danger to Christianity, because they are the ones that Christ sends us to share His love with. The greatest danger to Christianity is Christians who have a misunderstanding of the Gospel.
We Preach Jesus, Not Morality
Christianity is not based on the external, but rather the internal. Too many people inside of the American church preach plenty against sin, but very little on things like the attributes of God, the mission of God, and the Cross of Jesus Christ. Telling a person who does not know Christ to stop sinning is like telling a bird not to fly. Sinning is human nature.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:1-3.
This is a description of mankind without Christ. We are dead in our sins, and by nature we run to sin. So if we believe the Bible, that we are spiritually dead and we have a sin craving nature, do we honestly think that a creature can go against its nature? Evangelist Paul Washer says it like this;
“Man is a fallen, radically depraved, spiritually dead, morally corrupt, sin-loving, God-hating creature. In the very core of his being, he is as opposed to God as the devil himself. He cannot change and has no desire to do so. He loves a lie and will do everything in his power to restrain and suppress any and every truth about God and the more he knows about God, the more he hates Him, because God is righteous and man is evil. Now, how do you expect a creature like that to all of a sudden hear a Gospel message of self-denial and turn his back on absolutely everything he is and at all cost follow the Christ?” –Paul Washer.
Also, if all it takes to convert someone to Christianity is to tell them to stop sinning, then we really have no need for Jesus! If man has the ability to clean himself up and turn from his wicked ways, then that would make us fully capable of saving ourselves! However, this is not the case. We are by nature sinful. Enemies of God. Spiritually dead in our trespasses. We are children with no hope.
And we are in desperate need of a savior.
Take the sin of gluttony for example, which is the over consumption of food. Good food is tempting to eat. But God has said overconsumption is a sin, because it leads to idolatry, which is finding our joy in things other than God. Imagine if in my good intentions to assure people kept themselves from gluttony, I made a mandate that food was a sin, so everyone should get their nourishment from protein shakes. The Pharisees actually tried to do this! Not mandate protein shakes, but rather, create new rules to keep people from sinning.
There were many laws in the Old Testament regarding cleanliness and eating. Food was not to be unclean.
“And if any animal which you may eat dies, whoever touches its carcass shall be unclean until the evening, and whoever eats of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening. And whoever carries the carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening.” Leviticus 11:39-40.
And if you read Leviticus, this was just a small example of the extreme nature that the law spoke to cleanliness. With good intentions, and to guard people from breaking this law, the Pharisees added a law of their own on top of God’s law. That law being that you must wash your hands before eating. In fact, they thought so much of their man made rule, that they actually would deem it a sin if a person did not wash their hands before dining. But God never blamed sin on the externals, He judges sin according to a mans heart. If you add anything to the Gospel, it is no longer the Gospel. Jesus exposed mans error in creating rules on top of God’s law.
“While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. Luke 11:37-41.
The Pharisee was astonished that Jesus did not wash His hands! And Jesus knew that this would stir up controversy! But He did not wash His hands so that He may have an opportunity to point out their love of legalism and straying from the Gospel. Jesus said it is not the externals which make a thing sinful, it is mans wicked heart and perversion of that which God made.
Furthermore, if we believe that the law was given so that we may attain our salvation by checking off the ten commandments, then we totally miss the point for which the law was brought in the first place!
The law was never given to save us! The law was given by God to show man that he cannot save himself!! The law was given to point man to his utter depravity, and show him that he has no hope.
The law was given to show us that we need a savior.
Paul said as much to the Judaizers in Galatia. These false teachers were telling the Galatians that they could attain salvation only by keeping the law perfectly and being circumcised. Basically, abiding by a moral checklist. But look at what Paul has to say to these false teachers.
“I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Galatians 5:3-4.
Paul basically said, “If you are going to preach externals as a means to salvation such as circumcision and keeping the law perfectly, then you have made the law your savior. And in order to be saved, you better be able to keep every single law perfectly.”
Sinful man cannot keep God’s perfect law. Not only can we not keep it, we don’t want to keep it! By nature we love sin and hate God. We easily forget that God’s standard is perfection. God owes no man anything except wrath due to our sin. God is perfect and a God of justice. So the question that lay at the very center of the true Gospel is, “How does a perfect God save spiritually dead, incapable of doing good sinners like us and still remain a God of justice?
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3-4.
To bring this verse more into context, I always tell my congregation to read the verse again and insert their names everywhere they see the phrase “the flesh” or “flesh.” Do you see it? The Gospel is that we are incapable in and of ourselves of doing anything right. We are lovers of sin by nature. In our unconverted state, our hearts have no desire to walk according to the law or even to seek God.
The law was given to show us that we can’t, and that Christ can. He is the savior, not us.
It is useless and legalistic to preach morality to the lost world! Do we inform them of what sin is according to God? Absolutely! But we don’t add rules to keep them in check. And we don’t preach morality in hopes of changing their ways. Because as John says, flesh cannot give birth to flesh. That which is born of Spirit if from Spirit! It is God who transforms a mans heart! Using the sin of gluttony, we now see that the food itself is not the sin. Rather it is man’s naturally evil heart that can easily make a God of that food.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:4-5.
Notice this verse was preceded by Paul telling us that by our nature, we are sinners. Now look at the first two words in the above verse. “BUT GOD..” It doesn’t say, “But man, you cleaned yourself up and decided to start living right.” Because again, that is something that by nature, man cannot do! Man cannot merely chose to go against his nature and become holy. Holiness must be attained and driven within the person not by himself, but by the indwelling grace of God. D.A. Carson summed it up best in this quote below;
“People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” -D.A. Carson.
God is the one who supernaturally changes a mans heart from fallen to righteous. I love the example in Matthew when Jesus distinguishes between false teachers and true Christians.
“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. Matthew 7:16-17.
We are all thorn bushes and diseased trees bearing bad fruit simply due to our sin nature. Can a thorn bush turn itself into a fig tree merely because it decides it would like to bear fruit? Absolutely not! By nature, it is a thorn bush! In order for a thorn bush to become a fig tree, a supernatural acts must occur!
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.
Can moralism be preached to a sinful man and he find it in himself to change his ways? According to Jesus, apart from Him we can do nothing! Therein lies the beauty of the Gospel. That our hope is in Christ alone. That we do not have the power to save ourselves through self improvement. Because thorn bushes don’t just become fig trees. This is the Gospel. That Jesus saves and He alone transforms the naturally sinful heart of man and causes Him to supernaturally walk in His ways.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:26-27.
The Gospel is scandalous. It is greatly offensive to even the most religious men. The Pharisees hated this Gospel. Because it robs man of taking any credit, or boasting in any act of the flesh. God alone receives the glory. Men hated this Gospel then, and they have a disdain for the message of salvation by grace alone even today. Because in our wicked hearts, we desperately desire to take some credit and not be viewed as the bad guys. None the less, this is the Gospel.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.
But to those who truly understand this Gospel and have been humbled by His amazing grace, what a beautiful Gospel this is! Therefore I boast in the fact as did Paul that there is nothing good in my flesh! I boast in the fact that I had no hope to deliver myself from the bondage of my sin nature. And that Christ saved me from myself!
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” Romans 7:24-25.
Adding rules to the law will save no man. Putting up new fences around externals in hopes of keeping man from making idols of them will only provoke sinful man to find a way to climb the fence. Spiritually dead man will not and cannot respond to a list of do’s and don’ts. Only showing preaching of the Gospel can transform a dead soul. Only God the Father revealing the fullness of His glorious Son has the power to change and save a man. God makes no man follow Him. All He must do is reveal Christ in all his beauty, and man will gladly follow. Consider the Apostle Paul, who was a murder of Christians before the Father revealed Christ to him.
“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” Galatians 1:15-16.
What did God do to get a sinful murderous man like Paul to preach Christ among the Gentiles? Did God reason with Paul or tell him to stop killing people? No. The Father simply revealed the Son to Paul, and that caused a supernatural change in him. Man cannot save man. Only the Lord our God has the power to bring the dead to life. We must have a right understanding of the Gospel. Saved by grace alone, so that no man may boast. What a beautiful Gospel.