Picture the scene: Galilee is buzzing; Jesus had just miraculously fed over 5000 people with five barley loaves and two fish. Unsurprisingly, the next day, many people go looking for Jesus again. Upon finding Him, He points out to the crowd that they are seeking Him because they ate their fill the previous day [John 6:1-26]. Jesus then launches into a sermon markedly different from what they were expecting to hear or see. That sermon caused many of His followers to abandon Him [John 6:66-67]. This would be like most of the congregation walking out of a service because they didn’t like the sermon.
Jesus never pandered to His audience. He told people what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. People either shunned or drew closer to Jesus in response to what He said. However, it seems like some of us who follow Him today are too concerned with making His message palatable so that we don’t lose the crowd. We often forget that we’re His messengers carrying His message. We are not at liberty to alter or distort the message [2 Corinthians 4:2]. Last week, I wrote about examining what we hear, but let’s also remember that we’re accountable for what we preach too [Galatians 1:8-9, Matthew 12:36-37].
Take the subject of sin for instance. The Bible teaches that Jesus died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]. Christians cannot faithfully present the gospel of Jesus Christ without talking about sin. Sin is a pretty big deal. It’s why Jesus came and it’s why He had to die. Sin brings death to us because it severs our relationship with God [Isaiah 59:1-2, Psalm 66:18, Ephesians 2:1]. Instead of changing the penalty for sin, God chose to pay an unimaginable price to save us from sin and its consequences. This is the starting point of the gospel [Acts 2:38]. Thus, turning away from sin is the first step to becoming a child of God. Consequently, when presenting the gospel, we must be clear about God’s stance on sin. He forgives sin where there is repentance, but He never indulges it. If we avoid confronting or discussing sin because it may not be palatable to our audience, are we presenting the gospel accurately?
Sometimes, Christians avoid talking about holiness or judgement. Yet, God takes holiness seriously [1 Peter 1:16]. He won’t compel us to live by His standards, but He won’t lower them for us either. If we choose to follow Him, it must be on His terms. We deceive ourselves and others if we think otherwise. Yes, God loves us unconditionally, but He is also a Righteous Judge [Psalm 7:11]. He sees everything we do, and He will judge us according to our deeds [Revelation 20:11-15]. How often do you hear holiness emphasized from the pulpit? When was the last time you heard a sermon on judgement? Do we gloss over such topics because they aren’t popular? If we avoid talking about holiness and judgement because people don’t like to be confronted about their sinful lifestyles, what will we say to Jesus on judgement day?
Without Jesus, God’s judgement and wrath would be a terrifying prospect because we’re all sinners [Romans 3:23]. Mercifully, through God’s grace by faith, anyone who believes in Jesus will not experience the wrath of God [Ephesians 2:1-10]. This salvation through Jesus is available to everyone and that is incredibly good news indeed. Yet, if people don’t understand the gravity of sin in light of holiness and the severity of God’s judgement, how can they understand how amazing grace is? How can they understand the love of God? Therefore, we must preach this incredible message of grace. However, grace isn’t a licence to sin because those saved are to be zealous for good deeds [Romans 6, Titus 2:11-14].
Spelling out the cost of discipleship is another area where the Christian message is sometimes compromised. Often people are invited to follow Jesus without being told the implications. Jesus spelt out the cost of following Him which isn’t for the faint-hearted [see Matthew 10:16-40, Luke 14:25-33]. Therefore, the decision to be His disciple shouldn’t be taken lightly. As such, we must invite prospective Christians to consider the implications first. Their commitment will certainly be tested and only those who remain faithful to the end will receive their reward from Jesus. If this is the case, are Christians being taught the implications of following Jesus or are ministers worried they might walk away if they know? By the way, how antithetical is Luke 14:33 to the prosperity gospel message often preached today?
Centuries ago, Peter preached a sermon so convicting that he was arrested [Acts 3:11-4:3]. This reminds us that the gospel preached faithfully will be offensive to some, irrespective of how we preach it [1 Corinthians 1:18, 1 Peter 2:7-8]. We may also experience our share of persecution if we opt to preach the gospel message faithfully. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because Jesus warned that we would be hated on account of His Name [Matthew 10:22, John 15:18-20]. Nevertheless, He never compromised His message for popularity or His well-being, neither should we.
Like Peter, we must prioritize faithfulness to the gospel message over our well-being and popularity. Jesus never asked us to manage His image or run His public relations. He called us to be His witnesses and messengers with beautiful feet, faithfully carrying His message to the ends of the earth [Acts 1:8, Romans 10:15]. Therefore, our responsibility is to preach and model His message with integrity [Titus 2:7-8, 2 Timothy 2:15]. We must also leave room for the Holy Spirit to convict those we speak to about sin, holiness and judgement [John 16:8-11]. We’re not to focus on trying to grow the Church either because Jesus is responsible for growing His Church, not us [Acts 2:47].