LOWERING THE BAR

He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. … This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:15,17 (NLT)]

Never did God so manifest His hatred of sin as in the death and suffering of His only begotten Son. Hereby He showed Himself unappeasable to sin, and that it was impossible for Him to be at peace with it. [Jonathan Edwards]

blue flag irisIn a recent Doonesbury comic (written by Garry Trudeau), a pastor is explaining to the congregation what constitutes sin in the eyes of their church. The elders now will condone conduct such as, “lewdness, vulgarity, profanity, adultery, and sexual assault,” and exemptions from Christian values include, “greed, bullying, conspiring, boasting, lying, cheating, sloth, envy, wrath, gluttony and pride.” In addition, the church will overlook such things as, ”Biblical illiteracy, church non-attendance, and no credible sign of faith.” After the service, one church member says, “Lovin’ the lower bar, Pastor!” while another adds, “I feel like a freakin’ saint now!” Trudeau’s comic may be satire but it is closer to the truth than I care to admit.

The church of the 18th and 19th centuries often preached a fire and brimstone message that emphasized a wrathful and vengeful God. During the 20th century, the pendulum moved toward God’s love and mercy. In the 21st century, perhaps in an effort to fill empty pews, we see the pendulum moving to the other extreme where there are feel-good messages that come more from self-help books than the Bible, an emphasis on self-esteem rather than self-denial or self-control, an “anything goes” God who would never allow anyone to go to hell, and the absence of words like sin, guilt and repentance. The concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, appear to have gone out of style along with madras shorts, poodle skirts, and velour track suits. Rather than list acceptable sins as did Trudeau’s pastor, the church simply avoids mentioning sin or hell at all. This new age feel-good doctrine is correct that Jesus loves us and accepts us just as we are but it is woefully wrong when it neglects to mention that He doesn’t want us to stay that way! Since Jesus came to earth, suffered and died on the cross to pay for our sins, sin is an important part of any Christian conversation; without sin or hell, there was no need for a Savior.

Some people find this new version of Christianity an ideal arrangement: mankind loves to sin and God loves to forgive so it’s a win-win situation! Let us remember that a profession of faith that doesn’t result in a changed life and good works is not a true profession of faith. For the true Christian, deliberate sin is not an option; he should hate sin, not accept it! As St. Augustine wisely said: “It is human to err; it is devilish to remain willfully in error.”

It was said that when listening to the 18th century Puritan pastor Jonathon Edwards, one could almost smell the sulfur burning when he spoke about hell! That wasn’t all bad. Unlike Trudeau’s comic strip pastor (and many popular pastors in real churches), at least Edwards cared enough about his flock to warn them of hell’s reality and the dangers of sin.

Some people have no sense of the vileness of sin, and no sense of God’s infinite and holy opposition to it. They think God has no higher standards than they have! So they get on well with him and feel a sort of love for him, but they are loving an imaginary God, not the real God. [Jonathan Edwards]

You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. [Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT)]

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