Christless Christianity7:30 AM
Read Arthur W. Pink's "Present Day Evangelism" for a better context.
It bothers me.
The grace gifted to me from a bleeding Substitute, the victory granted me through a risen Savior, the joy splashing through me thanks to the Lord of my life -- it rattles to get outside me. There is so much to say of salvation, so much of the trials we face, the grace we experience, the fellowship of believer and God. Those little revelations of Scripture we get when the tough is at its hardest -- that unaccountable sense of peace even when our heart hurts -- the firm way placed before us -- my Christian experience is like trying to define what life is.
I'll get a chance to share my testimony, to share the Gospel, to share who this God is who has worked through all and in all, and I feel all these things splashing out of my heart, fighting for words -- and all that comes out is stilted platitudes.
God loves you.
Accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Ask Jesus into your heart.
Just trust Jesus.
At the brink of the most literal life-changing experience...this is all we have to offer? A continued repetition of John 3:16? I see the faces of people who've heard this truth, this beautiful truth, that God so loved that He gave, and I see them impassive. Unmoved.
The most glorious news of salvation, that had disciples running, angels singing, heaven rejoicing -- it's summed up in quaint little sayings we've heard since infancy. And now, having come into a salvation that's so much more than just "asking Jesus into my heart," I want to define it as I see the Scripture saying, as my own experience has attested to, not what decades of Billy Graham evangelism has defined it.
But that is all I can say: canned phrases. Exhausted verses, stripped of the context of narrative and climax. I can't even elaborate on them in a way that's real, lived-out.
Evangelism today seems like reading a telemarketer's script.
Evangelist: Do you know where you're going when you die?
Sinner: Uh, I don't know.
E: Don't you want to go to heaven?
S: Sure. I guess.
E: Do you know what to do to get to heaven?
S: Be good? I don't know.
E: Trust in Jesus!
S: Okay, yeah. Then what?
E: Then you'll be saved!
S: That's nice. Is that it?
S: Then I'll go to heaven?
E: Absolutely! And this salvation is guaranteed to withstand all rust, moths, time, trials and doubt. Don't you want to accept Jesus into your heart and be sure of heaven forever?
S: Does it cost anything?
E: Not at all! Just believe. Do you believe?
S: Why not?
E: Congratulations! I'll be seeing you in heaven someday! Don't forget to get baptized and find a good Bible-believing church and read your Bible and pray every day, okay? Got it? Have a nice day!
When I was about ten, I sat down with my sister Hannah and took her through the resurrection eggs, one by one, retelling the story of Jesus, explaining salvation, patiently sharing that if she would just believe that Jesus died for her, she would be saved. The sense of excitement at "saving" my sister bubbled up inside me: she was listening! She was saying yes! She wanted to be saved! She prayed the prayer! I tried very hard not to rush to the end (surely soul saving couldn't be this easy), but the second we opened our eyes, I hauled her off to my mother.
"Tell her what you did, Hannah."
Hannah looked around blankly, smiling patiently.
"Go on. Tell her."
"I don't know."
"She just accepted Jesus!"
My poor mother, caught between ignorance and sincerity, probed a bit further, heard the answer "I don't know" enough times to seriously doubt my evangelistic skills and gently informed me that my sister hadn't the slightest idea of what had happened to her.
I knew it was too good to be true. (Happy note: the Lord got a hold of Hannah on His own several years later.)
This is No-Duh Evangelism. Unless you run into a hardened atheist or a devout practitioner of a certain religion, most people are smart enough to answer yes to the question, Do you want to get to heaven? or Do you want to escape hell? Duh. Especially with little kids, who's going to say no?
If I was faced with the choice to have a life of eternal bliss and a life of eternal torment and all I had to do was say "I believe in Jesus," I see the obvious choice. It costs me nothing to walk down an aisle all emotional, say sorry in a general way for being a bad sort of person and proclaiming, "I believe." Being told "once saved, always saved" is a good reassurance too, when I fall into a bad way and forget to attend church and bang up the corners of my life here and there.
Do you notice how absent and inactive Christ Jesus truly is in that so-called salvation? His main interaction with this newly-saved person is crossing off his name in the Bound for Hell log and entering it into the Bound for Heaven. The end.
See you in glory.
Heaven without Jesus
We preach the gospel as if heaven is the end goal in salvation: "Make sure you know where you're going when you die! It could happen any minute, you know." Christ died, so it goes, so that we can end up in heaven, as opposed to hell -- so we could walk the streets of gold eternally instead of fester and burn at the other end of the spectrum.
That has much more appeal than the happiness of being free from sin, enslaved to Christ.
Most "Christians" today are happy with a heaven without Jesus. Heaven to them is just a welcome relief from hell. That's the most exciting aspect about it. They'll see their friends. They'll be blissful forever. They'll sing songs and wear wings and occupy a mansion. We're just glad to get out of a hard world.
But our primary obsession about heaven should be that finally, finally we see Jesus face to face. We'll be rid of the sin that clouds our relationship. We'll be fully enabled to praise Him eternally. We'll serve Him forever. We'll be with Him forever. Our obsession of Christ on earth is now in this beautiful, eternal climax now.
A relationship with Jesus -- modern day Christianity doesn't really know what that is. Oh, of course, we recognize that there's something about us having access to God now, so that in case we really mess things up, we can pull the red emergency handle and transfer directly to the Heavenly Help Desk. That's the bonus of being saved, the big plus, the why of trusting Christ.
And all we have to do is believe in Jesus.
Count the Cost
Were I God trying to get as many people saved as possible, I would not offer the salvation Christ offered. I'd lower my standards, forgetting about righteous and focusing on nice. I would be satisfied with lip service instead of a heart transplant. I'd be happy with those who plastered fish signs and WWJD? bumper stickers on their vehicles. As long as they made room in their lives for me, saying grace at meal times, maybe, and giving to the church when possible, and trying hard not to swear and drink beer -- that's satisfactory.
And that's how we preach Christianity: an adding onto a life, instead of a supplanting. We tack religiousness onto full lives, distributing labels. But that's not the Christianity Christ preached.
When the Gospel was preached by those first disciples, when Christ's salvation was heralded by John the Baptist, the word was Repent!, not believe. Christ said to count the cost. Take up your cross and follow. He told the rich young man, not to believe, but to sell all he had. It's an emptying -- an emptying of the prideful thought that "I'm good enough," an emptying of carnality, an emptying of presupposed ideas about God. Only when our hands are completely empty can we accept the free gift of salvation.
Jesus wasn't a completely charismatic evangelist. He called the unrepentant Pharisees vipers. He didn't run after those who rejected Him, begging and pleading. He talked more about hell than heaven. He spoke in confusing parables specifically so that the multitudes would not understand.
He wasn't after numbers. He was after specific hearts: "I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours" (John 17:6-9).
He wanted whole hearts, renewed by the Spirit, molded by the Father, not confessions of belief.
Does it cost something to be saved? In a way, no -- Christ has provided our justification.
Does it cost something to be saved? In a way, yes -- everything. "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
It involves on emptying of everything I think makes me a good person. It involves taking on the trials that will mold me. It involves leaving behind my old life -- everything I once had -- and moving on to Christ.
If all you have is husks of religion, of attempts at a good life, of faceless blessings, of general gratitude and sorriness -- in other words, if you have something other than the pulsing worship of your Creator at the center of your salvation, you are not saved.
Because salvation isn't about me, my soul and my escape from hell. It's about the eternal glory of God.
And salvation isn't about being a good person and acknowledging Jesus as my Savior. It's living captive to Christ. It's knowing God. It's all about Christ.
Anything less is Christless Christianity.