We attended a really fun event recently with lots of Christian bands (at least most of them seemed to be. One band…..I don’t know). Anyway, I like a good night of entertainment, especially one that honors God with the lyrics and the “message” between songs. But one theme in one “message” seemed a little off.
I don’t want to mention names here, because I know these folks mean well, and I know that in large part they are only the product of our recent church “culture.” But the basic message seemed to be “Guilt is bad; conviction is bad. People don’t need to feel bad, they just need to know God loves them.” Is that enough? Is that the gospel?
Is it really enough just to tell people God loves them and Jesus died for them if they have no concept of why His dying is significant? I’ve often told people that I could go home and tell my wife “I love you so much I’m going to jump off a cliff and die for you.” How is that showing my love? How is that significant? Answer: it’s not. So how is Jesus dying significant and a demonstration of love?
To answer that we have to talk about sin, don’t we? We have to talk about the Law and holiness and God’s demands and how we’ve failed to meet them because of our sin. All these “God without religion” folks out there forget that God is the one who gave us the Law to begin with. He gave us that “religion” to show His holiness and His demand for our own holiness; to show us we could never live up to that standard on our own.
We need to tell folks that because of our sin, because we have violated the Law, we are deserving of wrath and death. All of us. All…of…us. Now we can talk about God’s love and Christ’s dying with some meaning. Now we understand that in love and grace and mercy, God sent Jesus to die in our place, to take the punishment we deserve, to suffer wrath in our place. That’s why His dying for us is a demonstration of love. Because it deals with the sin problem.
Unless we understand that, unless we feel the conviction of sin, then the truth that God loves us and Jesus died for us has no “teeth.” It’s not that we want to beat people over the head with a guilt stick, but the truth is they do need to feel guilty, at least at first because they are guilty. It’s not that we relish other’s suffering, but to know what life in Christ is all about, you have to first know that you are dead apart from Him.
Am I making too much of this? Is it ok to simply say that “God loves you no matter what you do, and you don’t need to feel guilty”? That doesn’t seem to be the testimony of Scripture, or of the church for the last 2,000 years. It seems only to really be the product of our 20th/21st century American mindset that is all about warm fuzzies and me-centered theology, where God is created in my own image.
Please hear me. I love to talk about grace more than just about anything. I mean, come on, look at the title of this blog for pity’s sake. But grace means nothing unless you understand what you are being given grace for. If you deserve His love, His love isn’t grace, is it? If you’re so loveable that God simply couldn’t resist, then His sacrifice in Christ seems a little pointless. It’s only in the face of sin, guilt and death that Christ’s love and sacrifice become a thing of grace.
So, please. All you out there who have the chance to speak to crowds of young people, or even just a few people in general. No, we don’t want to beat people over the head with a guilt stick, but people need to know the truth of their sin, and experience conviction under the power of the Holy Spirit, in order for true grace to be proclaimed and received. And then it becomes the most beautiful, most powerful, most breath taking reality ever. Because I’m dead, I need life. Because I’m guilty, I need to be redeemed. Because I’m lost, I need to be saved. Because I’m a sinner, I need Jesus. That’s the Gospel.