If Jesus were preaching today, would He place consumer expectation and drawing a crowd as top priorities? Or would He value truth above all?
Today, when we walk into a church, what are the sermon topics we are most likely to hear?
Blessings, success, prosperity, God’s unconditional love and mercy, eternal security, comfort and peace, what faith can do for you?
If Jesus were preaching today, would He place consumer expectation and drawing a crowd as top priorities? Or would He value truth above all? (John 6:14-15, John 6: 60, 61, 66).
Why do church leaders today often avoid unpopular topics? If they teach the harsh truth, church attendance and coffers will fall. Furthermore, to avoid being labeled as harsh and offensive, leaders try to give the congregation what they would like to hear (seeker-sensitive or consumer-oriented approach).
On the other hand, what are the sermon topics we are least likely to hear today? Holiness and repentance.
Other areas leaders often avoid or downplay are hell, judgment, self-denial, obedience, trials, suffering, persecution and the need to overcome. But, for the moment, let’s focus on holiness and repentance.
Long ago when God chose a nation as His own special people, He had already established the ground rules by which they were to relate to Him: “Be holy as He is holy. Repent; or else face His judgment.”
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.”
Some might say, “Is this covenantal relationship with God and His demand for holiness in our lives applicable to believers today?”
Certainly. Like the Israelites who were once slaves in Egypt under Pharaoh, believers were once slaves too, under bondage to sin and the evil one. But because of our faith in what Christ has done for us at the cross, we were forgiven, made righteous in God’s sight and reconciled back to Him. The power of sin and satan has been broken in our lives (Ephesians 2:1-2, Ephesians 2:4-5, Colossians 2:13-15).
When Jesus came, He not only reinforced God’s requirement of holiness—He raised it to a higher level. Holiness now is not merely an outward conformity to a set of rules or laws but should reflect an inward condition of the heart.
Christ came to fulfill and uphold the law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
For example, Christ asserts that today even ‘anger’ may incur God’s judgment whereas in the past it was a more serious infringement of the law, ‘murder’. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Similarly, Christ warns that even looking at a woman lustfully is tantamount to committing the act of adultery. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
To reiterate, Christ reinforced the fact that holiness is an invariable, non-negotiable quality that God requires of believers, those chosen by Him under the New Covenant.
Apart from upholding holiness and the importance of keeping God’s law, Christ also raised the barconcerning God’s requirements. By not committing the overt act, namely murder and adultery, wecannot be as deemed holy in God’s sight if we are angry with our brother or lust after a woman in our heart, respectively.
Paul commands believers to be chaste for the Holy Spirit indwells the body of a believer.
“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Paul commands believers to be separate from the world for we are the temple of the living God.
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6: 14).
“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you’” (2 Corinthians 6: 16-17).
Peter declares that believers are God’s chosen people, called out of darkness into light; therefore, we have to live up to our high calling by being holy.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2: 9-10).
Since God is holy, those whom He has called must be holy, a principle that continues under the New Covenant. As God’s moral standards are not only upheld but raised under the New Covenant, His people must continue to uphold these high standards as an example to the rest of the world. In fact, believers are called to be the salt and light to the world (Matthew 5: 13-16).
If holiness is a topic often avoided at the pulpit, so is repentance.
Radical no-lordship proponents assert that repentance is not part of the gospel, arguing that we only need to believe: When the jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, the latter replied: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household” (Acts 16:31).
But faith is a word with broad ramifications. If a person claims he believes in Jesus but fails to make Him Lord in his life—and continues to willfully live in sin—his belief is fake, spurious and questionable. Genuine faith has to be evidenced by good works. Faith, by itself, without works, is dead (James 2:17, James 2:26).
True repentance involves not only believing that Jesus paid the price for our sins but requires us to turn away from sin and turn towards God. Repentance must involve a change in thought and behaviour—and goals, aspirations and lifestyle as well.
A change in behaviour, in itself, does not constitute true repentance, which involves a change in mind, heart and will and, consequently, transformed behaviour.
According to Berkhof, repentance has intellectual, emotional and volitional components. The intellectual element of repentance is described as “a change of view, a recognition of sin as involving personal guilt, defilement, and helplessness.” The emotional element is seen as “a change of feeling, manifesting itself in sorrow for sin committed against a holy God.” The volitional element involves “a change of purpose, an inward turning away from sin, and a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 486).
Perhaps those who claim that repentance is insignificant—and is not part of the gospel—have not taken the following passages into account:
Jesus, having emerged victorious from the temptation in the wilderness, preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15).
Peter, in the first sermon given at Pentecost: “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 38).
Paul affirmed that “I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21).
In his defence before King Agrippa, Paul stressed: “I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do” (Acts 26:20).
Though he was the forerunner to Jesus, John the Baptist preached on repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). He also urged the people to bear fruits in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8).
Let’s not be fooled by those who tell you that repentance is not part of the gospel. They are only trying to pull the wool over your eyes. “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
Finally, Christ used an incident to illustrate the fact that, unless we repent, we will all perish. Some Galileans, while offering sacrifices in the temple of Jerusalem, were killed by Pilate soldiers and their blood were mixed with that of the sacrifices at the altar. To those who think that these unfortunate souls must have been great sinners, Christ has this to say: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).
Sermon topics such as holiness and repentance seem harsh and even offensive. But they show us the way to eternal life and blessings forevermore.
Building Bridges VS Consumer-Oriented Approach
Building bridges, which is positive and done without compromising the truth, must be distinguished from a consumer-oriented approach. Here are two examples of Paul’s willingness to cross ethnic and cultural barriers, provided truth is upheld:
Paul did not condemn the practice of idol worship among the men of Athens when he addressed them. He jumped on it as an opportunity to share the gospel: “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). If he had condemned them outright, he would have lost the chance to witness.
Elsewhere, Paul showed that he was willing to be identified with whoever he comes into contact so that they may be won over to Christ: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9: 19-23).
God’s word and His faithful teachers may hurt you with the truth but they will never comfort you with a lie and give you a false sense of security
Minimising the significance of harsh truths has its dangers
Speaking positive words from scripture to bless and encourage others has been the usual practice. Out of politeness or fear of upsetting good relationships, we are afraid to use the Word to correct or rebuke.
By David Wilkerson
Whatever happened to repentance? You rarely hear the word mentioned in most churches today—even in evangelical circles. Pastors nowadays seldom call for their congregations to sorrow over sin.
Seeker-sensitive services originally promised to woo post-moderns back into the fold. Out the stained glass window went the somewhat formal 45-minute exegetical sermon, replaced by a shorter, story-based talk to address the “felt needs” of the congregants while reinforcing the premise that following Jesus would dramatically improve their quality of life.
Jesus understood that the irreducible gospel message—that we are all sinners in need of being saved—was, and always will be, offensive. No brilliant marketing campaign could ever repackage it.
Jesus stood up for truth, not popularity
“When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself” (John 6:14-15).
“Many of his disciples said, ‘This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’” (John 6:60-61).
“At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him” (John 6:66).
Once dead in sin, now alive and victorious
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air (satan), the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
“You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, He (Christ) disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities (satan). He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15).
Called to be salt and light
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5: 13-16).
NOTE: This article is a personal perspective of the writer, presented for the edification of readers. Christianity Malaysia remains neutral and impartial on all reflected opinions of all writers published on this website.
|Share The Good News|
Lim Poh Ann