A few months ago, I had a conversation with a woman at church. She had expressed a desire to feel closer to God. Before answering her concern, I decided to concisely share the Gospel. I explained, “Coming to Christ means confessing that you are a sinner. You are not good.” She immediately stopped me, “I am not a sinner. I am a good person. Everyone tells me that I am good, kind, and compassionate. I help people out. I am not a sinner.”
Upon hearing this blatant statement of human sinlessness, I had her read out loud from Romans 3:10-12: “‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Having read the universal truth of man’s depravity, I said, “Who is good?” She answered, “No one, but I am good.”
This is an example of “Except Me” theology. I define it as taking a promise or statement of God and inserting “except me” in order to remove yourself from its application. For this woman, Romans 3:10-12 said, “None is righteous [except me], no, not one [except me]; no one does good, not even one [except me].” She twisted the straightforward reading of the text to say the exact opposite.
Another text—which self-righteous individuals manipulate—is Ephesians 2:8-9. Since they are trusting in their good works, they distort the Bible to say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith [except me]. And this is not your own doing [except me]; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works [except me], so that no one may boast [except me].” When a person has a proud view of self, he has no need to run to Christ and hang on for dear life. Therefore, salvation to him is faith plus works and not faith alone.
For secularists, they change the Bible to deny a coming death and judgment. Many times, while preaching on campus, I have heard students laugh when I say, “You are going to die someday.” They wrongly assume that they will live forever. I will even quote to them Hebrews 9:27, but they only hear: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once [except me], and after that comes judgment [except me].” They boastfully proclaim that they are the exception to the rule. How many graveyards are filled with people who thought the same thing?
In addition to the previous examples, the convicted, depressed, and downcast can often repeat this error. For example, the man who is burdened with a heavy weight of guilt—like Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress—may not trust in God’s promise. John 3:16 becomes “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him [except me] should not perish [except me] but have eternal life [except me].” Out of prideful self-pity, he thinks, “I am outside of God’s reach. He cannot save me. I have sinned too grievously. I am forever doomed to hell.”
For the depressed man, he rejects Matthew 11:28-30 as applying to him: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest [except me]. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls [except me]. 30 For my yoke is easy [except for me], and my burden is light.” The depressed man believes that Jesus can do nothing for him. He may be able to lift the heavy burdens of others, but his miseries are too heavy even for the Lord of Glory.
Finally, the downtrodden Christian is tempted to dismiss God’s sovereignty during trials. Romans 8:28-29 does not apply to him: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good [except me], for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son [except me], in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” The downtrodden Christian believes that nothing good can come out of his trial. He goes into a “Woe is me” perpetual cycle. Instead, he should remember God’s sovereign control. Through his unbelief, he also rejects God’s purpose; He “predestined” all Christians “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” God uses the trial as a means to shape a believer into Christ-likeness. As a result, all trials are for a Christian’s good since they contribute to his spiritual growth.
What error do all of the people in these examples make? They trust in their feelings and perceptions more than the Bible. In effect, they are calling God a liar. 1 John 5:10 says, “Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar…”. Moreover, it is an attack on God’s omniscience. Those in unbelief think, “God clearly does not understand my situation. The Bible does not and cannot apply to me.” Therefore, God did not have the knowledge of all human situations before composing the text. Consequently, the Bible is not sufficient. It must be supplemented by roller coaster emotions and illogic from finite beings.
Friends, do not make the same mistake. Your situation is not special. Do not pretend that your circumstances deviate from Solomon’s teaching, “there is nothing new under the sun.” You are not the exception. On the contrary, you are the rule.
In today’s postmodern culture, the one point of orthodoxy is this: “There is no absolute truth.” Many people argue that absolute truth does not exist. Instead, morality and religion are simply preferences with no right or wrong. Therefore, everybody can be right even if their beliefs contradict one another.
Of course, postmodernism is self-defeating. When a person says, “there is no truth,” he is making an absolute truth statement. By asserting there is no right or wrong, he is making a moral judgment that all truth claims are wrong. As a result, the postmodernist’s argument is inconsistent.
We must understand the crumbling foundation of postmodernism, because Jesus makes absolute exclusive claims about the path to heaven. Without seeing that postmodernism makes absolute exclusive truth claims, a person may see Jesus’ words as being narrow minded and antiquated. However, everyone believes in absolute truth.
What does Jesus say? In John 14:6, Jesus responds to Thomas’ question about the way to heaven. Jesus had finished telling the disciples that he was going to leave. He told them that they knew the way to follow him. Despite Jesus’ statement, Thomas did not understand. After asking about the way to heaven, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
The way to heaven is not through a path but a person. Thomas thought in terms of direction. Imagine taking your Garmin and putting “heaven” in the address bar for your destination. This is how Thomas viewed Jesus’ statement. On the contrary, Jesus meant that by trusting in him as the Son of God and the only means of forgiveness, then you will go to heaven. At the same time, Jesus is the way to truth. As God, his words are perfect. Therefore, he is trustworthy. If a person contradicts Jesus, then Jesus is right and that person is wrong.
Jesus is also the only way to life. Eternal life is a major theme throughout the Gospel of John. John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” A sinner can only have forgiveness and everlasting life through Jesus Christ alone. John 3:36 continues by giving the opposite consequence, “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” By rejecting Jesus as the only way, a person will die in their sins. God as a good judge will declare the sinner, “Guilty!” Then, he will be sent to an eternal hell.
Back in John 14:6, Jesus stresses the point of exclusivity again. He says that “No one comes to the father except through me.” Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. Therefore, the world has many paths to hell, but there is only one door to heaven. That door is Jesus Christ.
What are the implications? First, universalism is false. When a person dies, he will either go to heaven or hell. Unfortunately, many people will go to hell. Second, all religions of the world cannot be equally true. Jesus Christ makes an absolute truth claim which cannot be reconciled with the beliefs of atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. Hence, religious adherents from the various perspectives cannot join hands and pretend that our differences do not matter when the truth about eternity is at stake. Third, either Jesus is a liar or he is true. However, he cannot be one of many ways to heaven. His words demand absolute acceptance or outright rejection. What do you choose?
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he started out by saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15). Since this statement is Jesus’ first recorded words in the Gospel, then it sets forth one of the main themes of his ministry. Given its importance, what does Jesus mean by “repent and believe?”
The Louw Nida Greek lexicon defines the word, “repent,” as “to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness.” Repentance is a new relationship with sin. Instead of embracing sinful thoughts and actions, a repentant individual now agrees with God that sin is lawbreaking. As a result, he desires to hate sin and to love God.
The New Testament uses the term in three ways. First, repentance is a description of those saved from God’s wrath. Jesus says “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3). If sin is still your friend, then God is your enemy. Second, heaven rejoices when sinners repent. After telling the parable of the woman who found her lost coin, Jesus says, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10). Heaven erupts in celebration over one sinner who turns from his rebellion against God. Third, by God’s grace, a changed life produces the fruit of repentance. John the Baptist warned the Pharisees and Sadducees to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). A person may believe in God’s existence, but if he still loves, cherishes, and enjoys his pet sins, then God’s grace has not transformed him. Therefore, he is still lost.
If one side of the coin is repentance, then the other side is believing. The Greek lexicon defines it as “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance.” Jesus uses this term in John 3:18. “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.” If a person does not trust in the Savior alone, then Jesus says that this person is already sentenced for hell.
When a person believes in the Lord, he trusts in Jesus’ truth claims. He believes that Jesus is the Son of God, died on the cross for sinners, defeated the grave three days later, ascended to heaven, and will one-day return. However, believing is more than mental assent.
For example, if I build a wooden chair and allow you to inspect it, you may agree that it is well-built and can support your weight. Yet, you do not show that you trust in the chair until you bend your knees and set your entire weight upon it. At that moment, you personally trust that the chair will support you. In the same way, many people know that Jesus is God and agree that the gospel is true; however, they have not personally trusted in Jesus Christ alone for the removal of sins and everlasting life.
Do we only repent and believe once? No! Christians continually turn from sin and believe in Jesus. It is a fruit of being born again. Therefore, if you are a Christian, continue to flee from sin and run to Christ.
Last week, we examined the question, “Is Man Good?” After looking at the Biblical testimony, we concluded that man has been corrupted by sin. In fact, we have evil desires, motivations, thoughts, and actions. All of us are lawbreakers. Hence, we stand condemned before the perfect, good judge since we have rebelled against him. In these dire circumstances, is there any hope for forgiveness?
Yes, if we look to Christ crucified. At the cross, Jesus accomplished six things. First, he died for sinners. Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” Jesus physically felt the pain of nails going through his flesh. He agonized in misery before giving way to suffocation. As a result, Jesus died for those who transgressed his law. He took their place even though he is perfect so that sinners could have eternal life.
Second, Jesus satisfied God’s wrath against sin. Since God is a good judge, he loves holiness and hates sin. Therefore, God rightly has a controlled wrath against our sin. When Jesus went to the cross, God placed him there “as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:25). Propitiation means to satisfy. With his sacrifice, Jesus paid the penalty for sinners through his perfect atonement. Being God, he had the quantity and the quality of payment to satisfy the Father. Since he is man, he had a human nature which could die as a sacrifice.
Third, Jesus’ death gives us his righteousness. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is the great exchange. Christ traded spots with sinners. He took the sins of his people and died a condemned man. Yet, condemned sinners receive the reward for Christ’s perfect life which is eternal life.
Fourth, for those who believe in Jesus, there is no fear of hell. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Christ’s sacrifice accomplish redemption once and for all. “It is finished” (John 20:30). Therefore, if you repent of your sins and trust in Jesus alone, then you have peace with God. Your sins will not be brought forward as evidence against you on the judgment day.
Fifth, Jesus’s sacrifice sets us free from the power of sin. Romans 6:6 says, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” The cross broke the links in the chain of sin for Christians. We have been set free to serve the Lord.
Sixth, Jesus’ death on the cross reveals God’s love and glory. He sent his son to die for ungodly sinners. On the tree, Jesus shows the glory of God’s wisdom, power, and holiness for accomplishing his plan. However, this good news is not for everyone. The Bible does not teach universalism. Many people will perish in the fires of hell, because they reject the gospel. There are only two choices. Either Jesus bore your sin on the cross or you will bear your sin forever and ever in hell.
If you stopped someone on the street and asked, “Are you a good person?,” most people would answer in the affirmative. Generally, people think that if they are good citizens by contributing to society through working hard, paying their taxes, and staying out of jail, then they are good.
Who does Jesus say is good? In his conversation with the rich young man, Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone” (Mk. 10:19). This is a startling fact that no one is good according to Jesus.
How does the Bible justify this teaching? Jeremiah 17:9 explains the state of man’s heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” In Romans 3:11, Paul says that “no one does good, not even one.” Later in the chapter he writes “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…”(Rom. 3:23). In Titus 3:3, Paul describes Christians before God converted them as “once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”
If you are still not convinced, then please take this test. Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen? Do you envy your neighbor’s possessions or spouse? Have you used God’s name as a curse word? Have you hated someone in your heart? Have you disobeyed your parents?
If you are honest, then you will admit to failing this test. These questions come from the Ten Commandments and reveal God’s character. He alone is good, because He does not sin. On the contrary, all individuals have broken God’s laws. We are not good, because we have not kept God’s law perfectly. As a result, we have failed to meet God’s standard for goodness. Therefore, you and I are not good. We are evil.
Why does this matter? Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Hebrews 12:14 also says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” If the standard for seeing the Lord in heaven is perfection and holiness, how are we who are lawbreakers supposed to become good? How can we go to heaven if we are unholy sinners? Next week, you will find out the answer.
Most faith traditions do not agree on Jesus’ identity. One religion says that Jesus is a prophet but not God. Another teaches that Jesus is one of many gods, and you can become a god like him. A third group claims that Jesus is the first being of all creation which means he is not eternal. Finally, many people think Jesus was a profound teacher, but he is not a prophet or God. What is the truth?
The Bible gives at least four reasons why Jesus is God. First, he performed miracles. In the Gospel of John, Jesus healed a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years (Jn. 5:1-17), feed 5000 men with a boy’s lunch (Jn. 6:1-15), walked on water (Jn. 6:16-21), healed a blind man (Jn. 9), and raised a dead man from the grave (Jn. 11:38-44). By performing these miracles, Jesus proved that he had authority over nature, sickness, and death.
Second, the Pharisees tried to kill Jesus, because he claimed to be God. John 5:18 says, “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” Jesus did not respond by correcting them. The Jewish leaders received his message clearly. In fact, Jesus continued to claim deity by using the “I AM” statements. In Exodus 3:14, God called himself, “I AM WHO I AM.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus used seven “I AM” statements as a way to ascribe God’s name to himself. John 8:58 says, “before Abraham was, I am.”
Third, other writers in the New Testament state that Jesus is God. The Apostle Paul calls him “the Christ, who is God overall” (Rom. 9:5) and “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). The writer to the Hebrews applies a quotation in Psalm 102:25-27 about Jehovah to Jesus in Hebrews 1:8, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” Finally, Peter calls him, “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1).
Fourth, Jesus received worship. In Revelation 5:14, God reveals a glimpse of the worship taking place in heaven. After mentioning the Father and the Lamb, John tells us that “the elders fell down and worshiped.” Who did they worship? They praised the Father and the Son. Additionally, Hebrews 1:6 says that the angels worshiped Jesus. In Philippians 2:10, Paul also writes that “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Unlike the angel in Revelation 19:10 who refused John’s worship, Jesus rightly accepts it, because he is not a creature. He is God.
Why does this matter? If Jesus is not God, then there is no hope for salvation. Jesus came to “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21) with his precious blood, “like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:19). If Jesus were a man or an angel, he would not have the infinite value to pay for the sins of his people. An angel or man could not save one person from their sins. Therefore, Jesus as the infinite eternal God put on human flesh to die on the cross for sinners. By having the nature of man, he could die. By having the nature of God, his sacrifice brought forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who believe in him.
One of the most common philosophies for ministry argues that a church must be relevant to attract a crowd. Of course, relevancy is defined in this approach by the desires of the unchurched and not by the Bible. In response, a church must follow Walmart’s lead by gathering data on their consumers to find trends in their purchasing habits. Then, the church implements the non-Christians’ preferences. The downside to this approach is that it requires keeping up with the trends of culture. An unbeliever’s desires for a church in 2017 will look differently in comparison to 2027. In summary, this type of church trusts in the magnetic power of relevance to attract sinners to Jesus instead of Jesus Himself.
What does the Bible say? In John 12:32, Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Jesus speaks these words a few days before his crucifixion. Some of the Greeks who gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover asked Philip if they could meet with Jesus. Based upon Jesus’ response, they apparently asked about the way of salvation. In the dialogue that followed, Jesus tells us that His death on the cross will draw people to Himself.
In this passage, the Greek word for “draw” means “to pull or drag, requiring force because of the inertia of the object being dragged” (Louw and Nida, 207). Christ’s death will pull people. It will drag people to Him. Why? They will see their wicked sin before a Holy God. These sinners understand their desperate need for a Savior. When they look to Christ, His beautiful death as the innocent God-man for the ungodly is attractive. It is at the cross where they will find forgiveness of sins and peace with God. They are drawn by Jesus’ sacrifice to Jesus.
Notice that the sinners are not drawn to a thing. They are not primarily drawn to a church building, body, or program. They are not pulled to a denomination. Their hearts are grabbed by their maker. His glorious sacrifice brings the lost sinner to Him.
Here is a quote from Charles Spurgeon which summaries why sinners are drawn to Jesus.
A part of the attraction lies in the wonderful blessings which come to us through Christ’s death. We were drawn to Him because we received pardon through His wounds. We came to Him because we found eternal life through His death upon the tree. Jesus bore the sin of His people, He died in our place and, by doing so, He put away all our iniquities, blotted them out, cast them into the depths of the sea! Only as He was lifted up upon the cross could that be said to be the case. But when He was crucified, He finished transgression, made an end of all, and brought in everlasting righteousness. Beloved, this is a great attraction to perishing sinners—it is a drawing of love to which they must yield. When Jesus thus attracts us, we run to Him because pardon and eternal life are to be found through His lifting up on the cross. (Sermon No. 2338)
Does your church believe that Jesus Christ is powerful enough to draw sinners to Himself? Or does your church trust in gimmicks, inventions, marketing, and consumer research to draw a crowd? Has your church replaced Jesus Christ as the main attraction of the service?
Spurgeon warns us again to keep Jesus as the center of our worship services.
No man ever comes to Christ unless Christ draws Him and the only magnet that Christ ever uses is Himself. I do believe that we slander Christ when we think that we are to draw the people by something else but the preaching of Christ crucified. We know that the greatest crowd in London has been held together these 30 years by nothing but the preaching of Christ crucified. Where is our music? Where is our oratory? Where is anything of attractive architecture, or beauty of ritual? “A bare service,” they call it. Yes, but Christ makes up for all deficiencies! Preach Christ and men will be drawn to Him, for so the text says, “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” They are held back by Satan, but the cross will draw them. They are held back by despair, but the cross will attract them. They are held back by lack of desire, but the cross will breed desire. They are held back by love of sin, but the cross will make them hate the sin that crucified the Savior. “I will draw them. All sorts of men I will draw unto Myself,” says the crucified Christ. (Sermon No. 2338)
Magnets work by having opposites attract. If Christ is a holy savior, then He will attract individuals who see themselves as desperate sinners in need of cleansing. However, if a sinner sees himself as basically good, then he will not see the appeal of Christ. Then, how will the church attract this unchurched man? The leadership has two options. First, they can wait upon the sovereign Lord to change the self-righteous sinner’s heart by the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. Or, second, they can change magnets. Instead of using the crucified savior to attract people knowing that it will repel the self-righteous, the church uses the magnetic field of relevance to draw people into the building.
We can learn from this passage that the magnet a church uses to draw someone is at the same time the object to which a person is drawn. If your church trusts in Christ to pull sinners to the services, then they will be drawn to Christ. At the same time, if a church uses entertainment, rock concerts, giveaways, watered down preaching, etc., then the sinners will not be drawn to Christ but to these gimmicks.
By putting one’s trust in relevance to fill church buildings, a pastor dishonors Christ. He actions are saying, “Jesus is not powerful enough to attract sinners.” This comment undermines the words of Scripture and attacks Jesus’ character. Is Jesus omnipotent? Then, we should trust in preaching Christ crucified and not trust in having wooden pallets leaned against the back of the stage with candles and mood lighting to create a rustic atmosphere to attract sinners. By not trusting in Christ to build His church, a pastor is saying, “Christ is not beautiful enough. He does not have the glitz, glamour, or cool factor to bring in a crowd. We need to have other attractions in addition to Jesus.”
Friends, this is like a father who desires for his son to have friends. His son is a high schooler, but he does not get along with the people in his class. The father decides to talk to some of the boys to see if they will hang out with his son. When he approached two of his son’s classmates, he said, “Will you please be friends with my son?” One of the boys retorted, “No way! He is hard to be around. I don’t like him.” The Father sweetens the deal, “If you start coming over to our house, I will make it worth it. I will buy my son a Ford Mustang. I will let both of you drive it. Also, our farm has 4-wheelers. You will be able to come over and ride on them. Our house has NFL Sunday Ticket. You can watch the games in the basement on the 6 plasma screens. We will also have pizza. You can have all of this if you will be my son’s friend.” The boys look at each other and see that it is worth it. They become friends with the lonely son.
Did the boys become friends with the son because they liked the son? No! They started to hang out with him in order to satisfy their desires for material possessions. By offering the bribe to the classmates, the father was saying, “My son does not have an attractive enough personality to friends on his own merits.”
In the same way, churches are treating Jesus Christ like this son. They do not think that He is attractive enough through the beauty of His sacrificial death to draw people to Himself. Therefore, the church offers bribes which aim at the sinners’ fleshly desires to bring them into the building.
What are preachers to do? Heed Spurgeon’s advice. Trust in the gospel to draw sinners.
But if you say, “Now, to get a congregation, I must buy an organ.” That will not serve you a bit. “But we must have a good choir.” I would not care to have a congregation that comes through a good choir. “No,” says another, “but really, I must alter a little my style of preaching.” My dear friend, it is not the style of preaching, it is the style of feeling! People sometimes begin to mimic other preachers because they are successful. Why, the worst preachers are those who mimic others whom they look upon as standards! Preach naturally. Preach out of your hearts just what you feel to be true and the old soul-stirring words of the gospel will soon draw a congregation! “Where the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” (Sermon No.139)
Through medical advancement and specialized care, death has been segregated in our society. Most of the individuals in first world countries expect to live into their 70s and 80s. When a person is diagnosed with cancer or dies in a car accident in their teens, we are shocked that death has interrupted our expectations for a long life. In the event that a person does reach their eighth or ninth decade, usually their declining health requires them to be sequestered in a nursing home where death’s approaching day is out of sight and out of mind of the community.
Our culture’s expectations about death are a recent development in human history. In the medieval period, the people in Europe lived with sub-par medical care in the midst of the black plague. Death saturated their culture. Timothy George writes about how the preachers at this time used the fear of death to insist that the congregation be spiritually prepared to die.
A Franciscan friar, Richard of Paris, once preached for ten consecutive days, seven hours a day, on the topic of the Last Four Things: death, judgment, heaven, hell. He delivered his sermons, appropriately enough, in the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents, the most popular burial ground in Paris. Hardly less dramatic was his contemporary John of Capistrano, who carried a skull into the pulpit and warned his congregation: “Look, and see what remains of all that once pleased you, or that which once led you to sin. The worms have eaten it all” (Theology of the Reformers, 23).
The most dramatic displays in the modern era would be preaching at a funeral with an open casket for all to see the reality of death. However, the increasing popularity of cremation and closed casket viewing has helped to scrub out the stench of death.
Despite the insistence of our culture to think that “death touches everyone but me”, the church must preach on the subject. Even if many of the young people dismiss the topic, pastors must plead with them on the relevance of being prepared to die. It is like a banker warning someone about their excessive college, car, credit card, and mortgage debt. If the man does not change his habits, then the bank will repossess his car and home. However, the man does not take it seriously because someone has always bailed him out. He does not think the rules apply to him.
In the same way, the church is most relevant when preachers preach that death is real. You will die. Here are five reasons from Scripture on why preaching death is relevant.
1. Life is short.
James warns his readers that we should not sin presumptuously by assuming that we will be alive to perform our plans for today or tomorrow. He writes, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Every person needs to be warned that our lives are temporary. They can suddenly end without us planning on it. Therefore, we must be prepared to die today since tomorrow is not promised.
2. Sin is the cause of physical death
What could be a more relevant question than, “Why do people die?” Theologically, we die because of the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden. Adam as our representative sinned on our behalf. Therefore, the sin nature is passed down to every single human being.
Besides this inherited sin, we die due to our actual sins. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…” Through our willful disobedience, every person has earned death through his law breaking. James 1:15 says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Our desires lead to actual sins which will bring the consequence of physical death for both saved and lost.
3. Death is followed by judgment.
Hebrews 9:27 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” All of us are like a milk carton. We have an expiration date. The difference is that we do not know what the date is. When that day comes, we will be judged by God. We will either go to heaven or hell. Hence, it is imperative for every individual to think about death now before it is too late. Therefore, if the church loves her neighbors, then we should warn them about the judgment to come even if it is not popular.
4. Salvation comes to those who look to Christ.
In Acts 7, Luke writes about the first martyr who is named Stephen. Before the mob rushed at him to throw stones, Stephen looked to the sky. God gave Stephen a glimpse of heaven. He saw Jesus Christ sitting on the throne. This narrative is an example to follow. Pastors should instruct sinners to look to Christ in life and in death. He is the only hope to avoid the judgment of condemnation to hell and later the lake of fire. We are only saved by trusting in Christ’s atonement on the cross to pay for our sins and grant us eternal life.
5. Christ’s resurrection guarantees resurrection for the believer.
By bleaching the pulpits from all references to death, the pastor fails to offer the hope of the resurrection. Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20-2). The brethren need to be reminded that the sting of death has been removed by Jesus’ resurrection. He has defeated death. Therefore, we have hope of eternal life in both the spirit and the body.
This message prepares the cancer patient, who has been given only three months of life, to die. He may face death with his hope set on the unfailing promises of God. 2 Timothy 1:10 says, “and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” Since Christ defeated death and promises eternal life to all who believe in Him, then the cancer patient can praise the Lord as he passes from this life to glory. However, how is a Christian to be prepared to die if the pulpit is silent on death?
One of a pastor’s responsibilities as a shepherd is to prepare the flock for not only their death but the death of a loved one. What is more relevant than teaching a widow on how to grieve in a godly way? She does not grieve for her deceased believing husband as one who has no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Yet, she should not be a stoic who tries to push away all emotions. Jesus gave us an example by weeping for Lazarus (John 11:35). Instead, she should grieve knowing that her husband lives because Jesus’ tomb is empty.
Brethren, preach on death, because the Bible teaches on it. Besides taxes, death touches every single life. Therefore, be relevant by saturating the pulpit with urgency and reality of death. Then, you will be faithful in preparing the saints and in calling lost sinners to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ.
Imagine a young woman approaches her manager to ask for time off. She says to him, “My biological father died yesterday. Can I have Friday off so that I can go to the funeral?”Her manager replies, “I am so sorry to hear about your loss. Of course, you can have the time off.” The young woman responds by thanking him. Before she turns to walk out of the room, the manager asks, “How old was your father?” The young woman immediately looks flabbergasted. “I don’t know.” “Oh,” replied the manager. “Were you and your father very close?” The young woman said, “Since I was adopted as a baby, I did not grow up with my father.” The manager responded, “I see. How do you come to know him?” “Well,” the young lady said, “He contacted me several years ago. He wrote me letters but I never took time to go meet him.” The manager said, “So you got to know him through the letters. What was he like? What did he do?” The young lady became sheepish. “I did not spend much time readying his letters. I read a few lines here and there, but I mostly put the papers in a file and never looked at them. But I know that he loved me and I really loved him. I felt so close to him when I received the letters in the mail. It is an experience that I will never forget.” “I don’t understand,” said the manager. “If you really loved your father, then why didn’t you take the time to get to know him?”
Many of the churches in America are like this young woman. The people in them claim to love God. They gather on Sunday morning to worship Him. Yet, few know more about the Lord beyond ubiquitous Christian clichés. How many Christians could explain the Trinity? How many could explain the two natures of Christ? How many could briefly differentiate the ministry of the Holy Spirit from the ministry of Jesus? How many Christians can define the word, love, according to God’s character? How many people could define omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent?
Why are people ignorant to God’s character and nature? The pastors are not focusing their preaching on God. If we meet together to worship the Lord, then shouldn’t we focus on knowing the Lord we worship? In an effort to be relevant to the culture, some churches have become discipled by the culture in order to reach the culture. The leaders desire to be “a church for the unchurched.” They assume that the lost do not come to church because the church is too churchy. The culture is foreign to them. Therefore, the leadership changes the church to embrace the culture of the society so that the church will attract non-Christians. The music in the service becomes based upon the stylings of the culture. Even secular music is played by the worship band to make individuals feel comfortable. The sermon is condensed to 30 minutes on a relevant topic: money, marriage, parenting, and addiction. As a result, the church practice becomes man centered as it tries to reach the unchurched man. What is the consequence? God is not the audience for our worship. Instead, the unchurched man is. The leadership seeks his approval and not God’s.
By being “relevant,” these churches have thrown overboard the eternal truths of God. In part two of the blog series, we will examine seven reasons why preaching about God makes the church relevant.
1. God is the creator.
What is a more relevant question than this: Where did I come from? Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”
2. God has revealed Himself to man.
God showed His character to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7. “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’” Since the Lord has revealed Himself, a person disrespects God by not studying Him. Besides this, with more light through the availability of God’s Word, we have greater responsibility for not learning about Him.
3. Christians are to be like Christ.
1 Peter 1:14-17 says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” How are we to strive to grow in becoming more like Christ if we do not know what Christ is like? We must learn about God’s character so that we know what true holiness is. Then, we pursue it by the grace of God.
4. God’s Character brings comfort.
Since God is omnipresent, a Christian cannot be separated from God’s love. (Romans 8:35). Since God is omniscient, a Christian knows that His Word is true (Isaiah 46:9-10). Since God is omnipotent, a Christian can trust that He can accomplish His will (Matt. 19:26; Rev. 1:8). Since there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, a Christian can trust that he is forgiven (Romans 8:1). Since God does not change, a Christian ground his life in the promises of God’s Word (Hebrews 13:8). What could be more relevant to every second of every minute of every hour of every day of your life?
5. God’s Character reveals our sin.
John Calvin wrote in The Institutes, “Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. In particular, the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn our eyes upwards; not only that while hungry and famishing we may thence ask what we want, but being aroused by fear may learn humility.”
The more we learn of God’s perfection, beauty, and holiness, then we see our wicked hearts. We join Isaiah by shouting out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).
6. God’s Character reveals how He will judge.
Revelation 21:8 says, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Unrepentant sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God. God will show His justice by rightly condemning them to the lake of fire. Henceforth, since God’s law flows from His character, then learning God’s character shows us the perfect law by which all men will be judged.
7. God’s Character reveals His mercy.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” His forgiveness is only accomplished through Jesus Christ’s substitute sacrifice on the cross. He spilled His precious blood for His people. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” What could be more relevant than learning about the Savior who bought you with His precious blood? What could be more pertinent than studying that salvation can only come through Jesus Christ?
God is the most relevant topic for all people. As we gather to worship every Sunday, our services should intentionally proclaim the glory of God’s character. I would challenge pastors to preach God centered expository sermons. In addition, plan a sermon series on God’s attributes. For example, Pastor Curt Daniel preached 55 messages at Faith Bible Church which I would highly recommend.
As we discuss the topic of relevance, we must ask, “What is relevant from the vantage point of eternity?” In 100 years from now, no one living today will find a movie clip incorporated into a sermon as being germane. But every soul, who has died and gone to heaven or hell, will see the relevance of knowing the God of heaven, earth, and hell.
American churches continue to pursue cultural acceptance. Many pastors think that the culture must view the church as being relevant in order to grow their congregation. Unfortunately, some evangelical churches use the term “relevant” as a synonym for cool. For them, relevance means appealing to surface level concerns and desires by using culturally hip methodology.
Here are six examples. Create a sermon series on the family which uses TV sitcoms: All in the Family, The Cosby Show, and Married with Children. Start a church coffee shop to signal to the culture that we know Folger’s is an anathema. Have the pastor ride a Harley on stage with the song, “Born to be Wild,” thundering from the speakers. Begin the service by singing songs from the 90s bands “Boyz II Men,” “New Kids on the Block,” and “Backstreet Boys” with synchronized dancing by the praise band. Reject the inerrancy of Scripture to accommodate the modern man’s views of evolution, truth, and sexual ethics. Finally, refuse to address the cultural sins of the society out of fear of pushing people away from church. As a result, the pulpit is silent where God speaks.
In this blog series, I will define relevance differently. Relevance is not making the culture think that the church is cool and tolerant. Instead, relevance goes below the surface level to address the core issues about God, man, sin, death, salvation, and purpose. These topics matter to every person of every country of every age of every time period in history. As a church, our task is to proclaim the truth even when society does not see the relevance. Their opinion does not make it irrelevant. Instead, it shows their blindness. Therefore, by teaching God’s eternal Word, we trust the Holy Spirit to awaken lost sinners to the pertinence of these truths.
Having reviewed the wrong ways to pursue relevance, what is the solution?
1. The church must be a prophetic voice.
A prophet in the Old Testament had two tasks. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, he would forewarn of future events. For example, Jeremiah predicted the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. Prophets would also forewarn the people by putting them on trial for breaking God’s law. In Jeremiah 7:9, the prophet confronts the people for breaking the Ten Commandments: theft, adultery, swearing falsely, and making offerings to Baal. By calling the church to have a prophetic voice, I am using the second purpose of the role of prophesy. The church must preach the Biblical truth and call people to repent and believe.
Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:15, “if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
God has authority over the church which is the gathered body of believers. He has entrusted the truth of the Gospel to the body. The church is to protect the good news of Jesus Christ from distortion. This task requires the church to speak out against error. Immediately following this section in chapter 4, Paul rebukes the false teaching which forbids marriages and requires abstinence from foods (4:3).
In Acts 20:27, Paul testifies to the Ephesian church “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” The word, shrink, means “to cease doing something of presumed positive value because of adverse circumstances or fear.” Paul taught comprehensively. He did not let the fear of rejection silence him from teaching God’s truth.
In addition, Paul exhorted Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). The Apostle commands his mentee to preach without regard to the cultural climate. In this context, “season” refers to convenience. The Bible must be preached when the culture cheers the message or when it rejects it. Society’s response does not change the church’s teaching. On the contrary, pastors are commanded to preach the whole counsel of God, because it is God’s revelation. Therefore, all of it is relevant.
As the Scriptures have shown us, pastors cannot be neutral. We are required to preach every issue which God’s Word touches. God did not give us the authority to edit His Word through silence. We cannot avoid preaching on the hot button sins of society. Instead, God has commanded us to warn sinners that they are headed to hell if they do not repent. God has spoken. Your action is a sin. You are condemned before God. However, the good news is that Jesus Christ has come to save sinners. He died on the cross to save lawbreakers from God’s wrath. All people who turn from their acceptance, approval, and celebration of their sin and believe on Jesus Christ for salvation will be forgiven and saved.
What are the consequences of the church not being a prophetic voice?
1. Ironically, the church is not relevant by being silent on cultural sins.
When the pulpit does not address the culture’s acceptable sins, then the church loses its voice. By avoiding the discussion which is promoted on TV, internet blogs, and books, the church shows that it is irrelevant.
2. The church’s silence escalates sin.
After Solomon’s death, Israel split in two. The wicked king, Jeroboam, led the northern kingdom of Israel while Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, sat on the throne of Judah in the south. Jeroboam instituted idolatrous worship in order to keep the people from going to the temple in Jerusalem. He desired to break affection for the temple worship. In response, the godly Jews from the north moved to Judah. 1 Chronicles 11:16 says, “And those who had set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Lord, the God of their fathers.” Their presence strengthened the kingdom of Judah for three years. As a result, Israel did not have a prophetic voice to warn the people of their false worship towards goats and calves. Their migration removed the conscience from the land.
In the same way, if the church does not speak prophetically, we are like the Jews who moved from Israel to Judah. However, our failure to speak does not come from relocation but fear. When the church is silent, the sons of the devil fill the void by proclaiming lies.
3. The church fails to disciple the sheep.
How are the sheep to know proper sexual ethics if the pulpit remains silent? As the culture bombards Christians with lies, the sheep will be led astray if the shepherds do not teach the truth. Jesus does not give the church permission to be silent. In the Great Commission passage from Matthew 28, Jesus says, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” In practice, everything Matthew includes in his gospel should be taught to disciples.
Does Jesus address marriage? Yes (Matthew 19:1-12). Does He teach on murder? Yes (Matthew 5:21-22). Does He instruct on lust? Yes (Matthew 5:27-30) Does He warn against greed? Yes (Matthew 6:24) Does He warn against false Christians? Yes (Matthew 7:21-22) Does He teach on hell? Yes (Matthew 13:41-43)
Brethren, pastors must disciple their people on the whole counsel of God or the world will disciple our people with Satan’s lies.
What issues should the church address?
2500 babies are killed daily. We must preach the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
Jesus defined marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:1-12). Any other definition is an aberrant fraud.
3. Sexual Ethics
Sexual relations are only reserved for the marriage bed. Therefore, the church must speak against fornication, co-habitation, adultery, and homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Churches need to teach that the Lord is the foundation to any education. Unfortunately, many kids are following two separate antithetical discipleship programs simultaneously. On the one hand, Christian parents along with their churches desire to see their children become faithful followers of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, public schools instruct from an atheist perspective with the goal of implementing a secular worldview. Should we be surprised that so many young adults leave the church?
Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Truth does exist. Everything is not relative. Truth cannot be found in a person’s feelings or desires. It is only found in Jesus Christ.
Americans are obsessed with material possessions. Regardless of economic class, our society covets more and more stuff. We must proclaim the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)
The universe does not revolve around you. It centers on God. He is on the throne. Jesus Christ is being worshiped in heaven by the angels and saints. The culture promotes self-esteem which puts the Napoleon complex on steroids. Besides this example, the transgender movement teaches that a human is a little god who can determine his gender regardless of his anatomy. The church must proclaim that God is the creator. He made us to worship Him and to serve Him. Come! Die to yourself and follow the Lord Jesus Christ!
May the Lord use the local church to trumpet His truth courageously. May the Lord use the proclamation of His Word to instruct the flock and warn sinners that God has a universal moral law. May we beg our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to flee God’s wrath by finding safety in the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ.
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.