There has been a resurgence of pastors preaching the real gospel. Not the gospel of health and wealth, that Jesus somehow died on a cross 2,000 years ago so that you can live in “victorious living” which amounts to you basically having a Bentley for each day of the week and never being sick again. Most of the world now understands that this is nothing but a lie perpetuated by schemers and charlatans. Joel Osteen and the like.
No, the real gospel – that Jesus is God in the flesh, that the God who we sinned against, has taken the initiative to reconcile us to Him, literally bringing peace on earth between God and man. Jesus was born into a poor family, lived a normal life outside from the fact that he never sinned. Never lied, stole, cheated – he was just like us and wholly different from us at the same time. Ultimately, he was murdered by the people that he came to save because he didn’t fit the model that they wanted. They were looking for a conquering ruler to crush the Romans and Jesus was there to crush their real enemy – idolatry and self-salvation. His substitutionary death on the cross paid the price for their sins so that they would be forgiven before God and the only requirement was that they believe in him – in his diety, purpose, power, and that his death in their place was sufficient to pay the price for their sins. 3 days later, as he predicted, he emerged from the tomb – wholly resurrected. His resurrection is the seal on his promise and power that he is the messiah sent from God the Father to atone for the sin in the garden.
Churches and pastors have done a much better job overall in proclaiming that message to the people. I would like to say that the death knell has been rung for people who proclaim that salvation through Christ is available to those who work for it, but I know that people who try to make a dollar at the expense of people who are hurting will always be present. For those people I am glad that God doesn’t bypass the sins of those people and that he says that they are deceivers and the “anti-Christ” (2 John 1:6-8) who betray God’s people for a profit (Titus 1:10-11) and that it would be better in the end for them if they were tied to a heavy stone and tossed into the deepest part of the ocean than to receive the wrath of God that will come upon them (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2). God will punish them more than we ever could imagine.
But, if there is any area that needs to be improved, I think, it’s that there needs to be some emphasis on a life change. Not that we do it but that our salvation is not a simple decision but a commitment to allow Jesus to invade every facet of your life and to radically alter not only your worldview but your entire life – throwing out your idols, maybe even stripping you of your personal dreams and aspirations so that you can be used for His purpose, not your own. A radical surrender, if you will. Too many people in this world are being sold a “purpose” for their lives and a “plan” from God that includes church membership and a promise not to be a jerk to people but the are missing out on the best that God has for them because they are too tied to their own idols of self fulfillment and are missing on the greater purpose that God would like them to achieve through His actions on their behalf. That, however, is uncomfortable. It means caring for the poor, and meeting the needs of others. It means that the money you’ve been saving up for a boat may better be spent helping a young couple in your church who just lost their only car to buy a new one with no expectation of that money coming back to you. It means that you may need to open your home to people from church when a pipe breaks and they need a place to stay or adjust your schedule to spend time with people who need help learning from you and your past experiences to focus their lives more closely to that of Christ.
Remember when Jesus said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26)” and “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” and the respondents asked “when did we come to you and help you” and he responded “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. (Matthew 20:31-46)”? In the first part he is saying that we must be so focused on Him and His purposes that it is as if we hate our own families and our own life (desires, dreams, etc) in comparison, and in the last section he is talking about our love for others in that our love for those “his brothers” (meaning the adopted brothers and sisters who are one with Him in His salvation – literally, those in the Church). Jesus Himself commands us to put our own lives on hold and, in some cases, to even abandon our own plans and dreams to serve the greater needs of his Church.
So, as I said, I think that the Church as a whole and especially new converts, would be good to see this as a model. Not something for them to emulate right off the bat but to know that it’s something that God will bring about in their lives through the process of surrendering ourselves to Him and His will in our lives.