I recently heard of a man who wants to leave his wife because she does not make him happy in the way he believes he deserves. Marriage counselors want to point out areas he needs to change, ways he needs to grow, sins he needs to admit; and he does not want the hard work of admitting sin, asking forgiveness, growing, and changing. He wants to be happy, right here and right now, and happiness lies so temptingly in front of him, in the eyes and arms of another woman. This man is trapped in his sin, drowning in lies, and venomously angry with anyone who would seek to turn him from his path to destruction. And yet he claims to follow Christ.
When hearing words of warning, this man feels they are judgmental, and Pharisaical. He cries, “People have affairs all the time in the church, and you forgive them. People get divorced and remarried all the time. It’s not that big of a deal.”
How far have we drifted in our churches from the call of Christ that such blatant sin can be so easily dismissed as “no big deal,” “no worse than any other sin,” and “forgivable, regardless?” What gospel are we selling in our churches that is leading our members so far away from any recognizable form of Christianity?
People have believed a false “gospel,” sold right in their own churches, that Christ came to make them happy, that God’s chief end is to glorify and enjoy man, and that a joyful and meaningful life can be found by overcoming any obstacle that keeps them from seeking their own dreams and personal fulfillment. To our shame, this “gospel” of earthly prosperity and self-actualization is proclaimed from many “Christian” pulpits, printed in scores of “Christian” books, and blares on many “Christian” radio stations, because this is the “gospel” that so many “itching ears” want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
The man we met at the beginning of the article is not unlike many people today for whom sin is the end result of a “gospel” that proclaims that God can’t stand to live without us; that Christ died to forgive anything we do, whether or not we ever repent and turn from our sin; and that God’s greatest desire is to see us enjoy immediate wealth, possessions, and self-serving, self-gratifying relationship regardless of the wake of destruction we may leave behind us in the lives of others. This false gospel is rampant, and the pulpits, books, and songs that proclaim it have immunized hundreds of thousands of people from every being moved by the real gospel of Christ.
Reminding Ourselves of Christ’s Call
We have forgotten that the call of Christ is a call to die to ourselves—our dreams, our desires, our ambitions—to anything apart from seeking to know, enjoy, honor, and follow Christ.
"Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?'"
The Christian does not seek happiness. She does not seek wealth, or fame, or romance. She does not seek self-gratifying relationship or fulfilling experiences. The Christian meets Christ and is so moved with love and devotion to Him that she sees in Him a treasure greater than any of those things can offer. She sells all she has (Matt. 13:44). Her old life dies (Col. 3:1-4). She is driven now only to follow Christ, to honor Him, to love Him, even if it leads through suffering, hardship, and death.
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
Yet in the greatest paradox, the greatest plot-twist of all, in dying to herself the Christian finds true life. She lays her life down before Christ as a “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1) and finds that she is raised in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). She finds that her love for herself, which all her life bound her in sin is replaced with Christ’s Spirit and His power to love others (2 Cor. 5:17, Rom. 5:5, Rom. 8:1-7, Gal. 5:18-25). In seeking Christ’s kingdom and righteousness first all her needs are supplied (Matt 6:33). She follows her Master in repaying insults with kindness (Matt. 5:38-42, Rom. 12:18-20). Instead of harboring anger she forgives (Eph 4:32, Col 3:13) and goes quickly to be reconciled (Matt. 5:23-25). She remains faithful to her husband, even when it is difficult (1 Pet. 2:19-3:6). She loves her children (Titus 2:3-5). If she stumbles, she confesses her sins (1 John 1:9, James 5:16), and if she is rebuked she heeds warning (Luke 17:13, 1 Cor. 10:12). Though she may face much sorrow and suffering in all of this, she finds in them joy that surpasses the happiness she had been seeking apart from Christ (Rom. 5:1-5, Rom. 8:18-25, 2 Cor. 1:5; 4:16-17, 1 Pet. 1:6-9).
She becomes poor in spirit and inherits the kingdom of heaven.
She mourns and is comforted.
She is meek and inherits the earth.
She hungers and thirsts for righteousness and is satisfied.
She is merciful and receives mercy.
She is pure in heart and sees God.
She is a peacemaker and is called God’s daughter.
She is persecuted for righteousness’ sake and has the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:2-10)
She is the salt of the earth. She is the light of the world. When others see her they give honor to her Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:13-16) And that is what she wants. She wants His Kingdom to come. She wants His will to be done. Right here on this earth (Matt. 6:10). She doesn’t count the cost to herself, because she has died to herself and her life is hidden with Christ in heaven (Col. 3:1-4, Heb. 12:1-3, 13:14).
Which gospel have you believed?
Christ calls us to turn from our sin, and bear fruit in keeping with that (Matt 3:2-8, Acts 2:38). Apostle after apostle warn us that we must follow Christ’s call in dying to ourselves and living the way Jesus lived (1 John 1:6-7, 2:3-6; Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Heb 6:7-8, 12:14-17, 25) and yet there are among us many who claim in one breath their need to seek their own happiness and also claim Christ as their Lord.
This cannot be. We cannot have Christ and yet unabashedly nurse our sins. We either live for ourselves and in the end find death, or we lay our lives down to live for Christ and in the end find life (Matt. 16:24-26).
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis states this well:
“Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end; submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours...Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
Which gospel have you believed?