Monday, November 1, 2010

The Controversy of the Gospel

Too many Christians today like to avoid controversy.  They have outreaches, services, churches, and lifestyles meant to be as minimally offensive as possible.  They water down the message to the point where they teach grace without wrath and salvation without sanctification.  They ignore such essential doctrines such as God's hatred of sin and His coming wrath against sin.  They go out of their way to avoid sparking controversy or hurting anyone's feelings.  This is not the example of Jesus.  The gospel is controversial and it is impossible to teach it rightly without controversy. 
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. or I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'" Matthew 10:34-36 NKJV
This separation the Lord speaks of here is a separation of believers and nonbelievers. We simply do not have the fellowship with the world that we once had.  And we are not supposed to either.  We should reach out and minister to the world, but we are also to be separate from the world.  We do not partake in what much of the world sees as fun and normal as, in Christ, we recognize those behaviors as sin.  We can not abide in Christ and sin at the same time.  We are not to have fellowship with the darkness of the world.
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you."  2 Corinthians 6:14-17 NKJV
This verse is often rightly used in regards to Christians dating nonbelievers. Not dating nonbelievers is just one consequence of what this passage shares.  I will deal with the full implications in a later post, but for our purposes today this verse teaches the general principle that Christians are to be separate from the world.  In Christ, we have no fellowship with the fallen world.  We are to come out of the world, not drape ourselves in it to become more palatable to sinners.  Sinners will reject a Christian living rightly because we are a reminder of their own fallen nature.  And so our very nature in Christ is controversial. 

As for our ministry, while we are to share the love of Christ we also need to share his entire message.  You can not teach the gospel without teaching sin.  We can not share salvation if we do not share the sinner's condition under the wrath of God.  God hates sin and in that example so must we and that hatred against sin must come out in preaching for righteousness.  How can you teach "Jesus saves" if you do not teach what you are being saved from.  How can you teach the message of forgiveness if you do not teach what someone is being forgiven of?  If you do, you end up with the huge crop we have today of people who call themselves Christian who do not have any intention of repenting of their former sinful ways.  They are Christian in name only and it is our fault that they were able to come to that belief. 

Let's look at some examples in Scripture of men who were controversial. First I will bring up Elijah and Elisha who were thorns in the side of Israel and her kings for a good amount of time.  We also have prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel and many others who preached a message of judgment to Israel.  We have John the Baptist who called people out on their sins.  We have the apostles who were imprisoned, beaten, rejected, and executed for preaching about Jesus. Outside of Scripture, you can read Foxe's Book or Martyrs for examples of so many brothers and sisters in the Lord who taught the truth of Jesus and paid the ultimate price. 

The greatest example of all, though, is Jesus.  Jesus was profoundly controversial.  In His home home town of Nazareth, they were so offended at his teaching they tried to throw him off a cliff.  In Jerusalem, they wanted to stone him and even picked up stones to do so.  He called the religious leaders of his day hypocrites and viciously preached against them.  He provoked confrontations by doing things like healing on the Sabbath when He knew it would result in a confrontation.  He taught against sin and even raised the bar in that mere ceremonial adherence to the law was not enough.  Jesus also never avoided confrontation in that when questioned he gave answers and he did not mince words.  He taught such lessons such as him being the bread of life causing many of his followers to fall away.  He told a rich man to give up his riches knowing it would result in him walking away from his interest in Jesus.  Jesus was so controversial, the entire nation of Israel was crying out to crucify him. 

Jesus commands us to do the same.
Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  Luke 24:46-47 NKJV
You can not teach repentance without teaching sin.  You can not teach the need for forgiveness unless you convince someone that they are a sinner.  You can not tell someone they are a sinner under the wrath of God and needing a savior without offending someone.  You can not teach the love of Christ without teaching that our sins were paid for by his brutal gruesome death.  You can not teach Jesus without teaching that every other faith, religion, and belief are wrong.  Think about it, in an outreach situation you are going to a complete stranger and telling that person they are bound for hell because of the sin in their lives and whatever they trusted their souls in before is wrong. You are going against everything society may have taught them about right and wrong.  They will be offended.  You will be controversial.  Even with someone you know, he or she will be offended. 

The gospel is controversial.  To act otherwise is to deny the example of not only our Lord but of the prophets who came before Him and the Apostles who came after Him.  To water down the message of Christ to be less controversial only denies the very people you are trying to reach from hearing the complete Gospel.  Preach boldly the Word of God. 
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.  John 15:18-23 NKJV

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