I have heard a gospel message preached, talking about the hope we can have in Jesus and the relationship we can have with Him. All good, except for one thing. When we talk about being saved, the question should be – saved from what, exactly?
To miss that part undercuts the foundation from the rest of the message. You are left with maybe a warm aspirational message, here’s a God who would like to develop a relationship with you, build you up, get to that spiritual itch you have from time to time.
That’s a rather different approach from what has been taken in the past. In the 18th century Jonathan Edwards preached “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Even the title would likely cause offense these days, let alone the content:
Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now
with some encouragement of obtaining mercy. But when once the day of mercy is past, your most lamentable and dolorous cries and shrieks will be in vain; you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God, as to any regard to your welfare.
Can you imagine such a sermon being preached now? I can hear the response – hateful, intolerant, bigoted and narrow-minded. How dare you judge me!
We have so little concept these days of being lost. Or of the reality of hell. And that’s in the Christian world, let alone outside the church. We often seem to have only a limited understanding (if at all) that the wicked the Bible speaks of – that is us, without the grace of God. We are not the good guys. We are complete wretches in need of that grace, lest justice take us to the end we so richly deserve.
We are, rather, as Jonathan Edwards says: “the foolish children of men miserably deluding themselves in their own schemes, and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow.” And that trust shall prove illusory on the day their foot shall slide.
Why are we in the Church so afraid of ruffling feathers when we speak of this? Because the fear of man consumes us, where we should be consumed with the fear of God. We see no revival because we do not treat our natural state, and the gospel message, seriously enough. Causing offence should be an expected by-product of our preaching. Consider our founder:
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”John 6 v60-66
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Now, that’s not to say we go about deliberately trying to shock and offend. But it is to recognise that the gospel – the full gospel – is and always will be offensive to those who are perishing. What? I said that? There are those who are perishing? Yes – and it is profoundly tragic to pretend otherwise.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.1 Corinthians 1 v18
It is only when we set the scene, and come to a full realisation of our abject state that the following words make any sense:
And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God
Truth is, being saved is essentially meaningless if there is no concept of what we have been saved from. We won’t get anywhere with the gospel until we can understand and attest to GK Chesterton’s response to the question ‘What is wrong with the world?’ …. ‘I am’.