This is the second to the last article in the series on “Running the Race.” I think most people will agree no one runs a race to lose it; rather, they run it to win the race and gain the prize. Next month I will address the prize we are to win, but this month I want to talk about victory that awaits the runner who finishes the course. Winning is not always based on the luster of the prize we receive, but on whether we have finished the race. The Apostle Paul talked about the prize. In fact he stated in Philippians 3:14, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Notice, he was not pressing to be the winner of all and the best runner, rather he was pressing toward the mark for the prize.
Through the years, we at Gentle Shepherd Ministries have found ourselves in a lot of races. It is easy to start out enthusiastic because you envision the finish line in your mind, but as you encounter rough terrain and what seems like endless obstacles, it is easy to lose enthusiasm, making the race seem like a grave drudgery. However, when a racer encounters obstacles, determination needs to kick in. My main concern has always been the desire to run across the finish line. The truth is runners rarely meander across the finish line for they often are forced to make a mad dash to the line even though it appears they are void of any strength to carry them.
Last month I talked about being missionaries in America. This seems like a strange concept to many Christians because we have so many churches in America; therefore, why would there be any real need for missionaries? However, I was challenged by this very concept early in my Christian walk.
In 1985 a South Korean singing group came to our community church. Their presentation was very Gospel centered. I will never forget the statement the overseer of the group made, “You sent us missionaries in the past for which we are grateful, but now we send you missionaries.” At the time his statement went into my innermost being. My thought was, “What do they know that we as Christians, as the church in America, are failing to see?”
A couple of years ago Jeannette and I were talking to a missionary from Mexico. Her husband had been a pastor at a local church here before they went into missions. We were sharing how God called us to America to be missionaries. I will never forget her response, “Oh, you poor dears.”
I understood her statement. The term that is often used to describe America is “Gospel hardened.” In America we may have many churches and much religion, but it does not mean that Christianity (saved souls) is the fruit of these institutions and activities. Buildings can prove lifeless, institutions political, and activities missing the true mark of godly service.
I must admit, working in this mission field has revealed, for the most part, that Americans have not been and are not interested in the Gospel message. To be honest, they are not desperate enough in their plight to see a need to really consider God, and sadly, it seems that some of the visible church in America is not all that interested in the Gospel because some of the preachers are not even bothering to preach it. To me this is a great affront to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul made certain statements such as, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2); “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me: yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16); “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things” (Romans 10:14-15)!
The Bible is clear the church’s commission is to preach the Gospel and to make followers of Christ. But, what is the Gospel? The Apostle Paul summarized it in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”
It is clear what the Gospel message is. Notice it is a message that much be preached. Preaching is the means for the Holy Spirit to awaken people to their sin and stir them up to respond to the message in repentance. The Apostle Paul also instructed the Corinthians to keep the message in their memory. One of the main instructions throughout the Bible is to remember, but what do we need to remember about the Gospel and why? The Apostle Peter gives us this insight in regard to those who are barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, “But he that lacked these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins (2 Peter 1:9).
The thing that is most forgotten or overlooked is why we need to be saved in the first place. We as believers can become so caught up in what we are doing for the Lord that we have a tendency to forget what He needed to do on our behalf and what He needs to continue to do in us to ensure we are a fit vessel for His use. The truth is we have a terrible sin problem that separates us from our Holy God. There can be no reconciliation with the Holy God until sin is properly dealt with. Note, the first aspect of the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins. God addressed our sins through Christ’s death on the cross. We need to remember our wretched beginnings to appreciate what the Lord has done for us (justified us through His blood), to keep in perspective what is He doing for us now (sanctifying us through His Spirit), and what He will do for us in the future (bring us to glory with Him). In justification He took away our sin, in sanctification He continues to address our sin nature and its fruits, and in glorification He will bring us into a state of perfection.
This brings me to the reason America is somewhat “Gospel hardened.” I admit I struggled with why many Americans seemed indifferent and bored towards the Gospel; that is, until a missionary finally provided me with the cause of such a state. He stated that America is “Gospel hardened” because sin has been compromised as to its seriousness, and in some cases completely deleted from the message of the Gospel. Without the harsh reality of sin, the “good news” has no real validity because there is no need to be saved. Without the awareness of sin there is no conviction of it as the Holy Spirit illuminates the real state of man, and no stirring on the part of man to flee from the wrath to come upon all disobedience (sin). Without the knowledge of sin, there is no need to hear and respond to the good news of the Gospel, which has to do with salvation.
Meditate on this reality. God gave the law to show man he was a transgressor, but much of the preaching today is all about man feeling good about himself, and not seeing the nature of his lost, damned state (Romans 3:20). God sent His Son so the cloak of sin could be taken away and man would see his need to be saved, but it seems much of the church in America is providing a religious cloak comprised of religious piousness, good works and dead-letter doctrine so that sin can be once again covered up by some type of outward reformation of religion and not inward transformation which comes from the born again experience (Matthew 22:8-14; John 3:5; 15:22). Jesus allowed Himself to be lifted up on the cross to draw all men to Himself as a means to save them from the slavery and judgment of spiritual death, but now in our politically correct cesspool of “everything goes” even in the religious environment, He has been adjusted to fit in every worldly arena, to hold every worldly title, to become just like everyone else, “one of the guys,” “a good guy,” “the man upstairs,” “a sugar daddy,” “Papa (or “Daddy”), a “special Santa Claus” or the “Great Spirit” that is here to do our bidding, ever being presented according to the popular preferences of the world, but never as God Incarnate who came to die on the cross for wretched mankind, men and women who stand under a death sentence, doomed to a hellish existence for eternity (John 12:32).
The preaching of the Gospel is intended to wake people up to their spiritual plight, to show them that they are walking towards an abyss of destruction, foolishly dangling on the edge of hell fire and damnation. It is meant to cause them to feel the fires of hell, taste the foulness of it, hear the gnashing of the teeth of lost souls, and to know how thirsty, how alone, how desperate they are in their lost, wandering state so the hearer will flee the pending judgment, and receive the love, mercy, grace, and salvation of the Lord.
I say all of this because the knowledge of my lost, hopeless condition of sin is what brought me to the foot of the cross of Christ seeking forgiveness and salvation from my terrible plight. Granted, no real preaching of hell brought me there for I never heard it, no threats of damnation brought me there because I already felt my hopeless state weighing heavily on my soul, but when Jesus was finally offered to me my inward knowledge of sin and the great, tormenting vacuum of my soul caused me to see Jesus as the only real solution to my plight. In my knowledge of sin, I saw the love of God reaching out to me. In my awareness of the emptiness of my soul, I sensed the faithfulness and grace of God drawing me. In my sickness and weariness of spirit, I heard the invitation of the Lord to come to Him.
Through the years I have talked, shared, written and preached about sin because most people do not believe they need to be saved. They see themselves as having “some good” in them, making them salvageable at some point. They see salvation as a merit system where it is about association with religion or a particular church, or to “good works,” where their so-called “goodness” will surely outweigh the bad, and even if it doesn’t God will surely grade them on a curve because at least they tried. But, Scripture is clear, man is totally one-hundred percent lost. There is no good thing in his flesh and his best is nothing more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 7:18). There is nothing worth salvaging in man: there is nothing in him that is acceptable to heaven. Probably the best statement to summarize the delusion that keeps many from seeing their plight and need for salvation is, “It is easy to get lost people saved, but what is hard is getting them lost in the first place.” If a person does not see that he or she is totally lost, why would he or she see a need to be saved?
This brings me to the problem confronting the church in America. Sadly, some of the church possesses a very Laodicean attitude which is described in Revelation 3:17, “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing…” It was clear this church was delusional about its real state. It saw itself as having no real needs, but in its delusional state here comes Jesus’ indictment against it, “…and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” The first problem is that it seems that much of the American Church is promoting another Jesus, another gospel and another spirit (2 Corinthians 11:3-5). Jesus is not one of the “guys” and He did not become man to wear different titles so the world will accept Him. This great affront against the character of Jesus has rendered Him to human status as many try to make Him presentable to the world, changing His glory by bringing Him down from the lofty height of being Holy God. Jesus has never changed, but I realize that to present a watered-down gospel, the character, nature, and work of Jesus would have to be watered down as well (Hebrews 13:5).
Instead of the Gospel being about Christ being lifted up on the cross to address everyone’s sin, it has become man-centered where it is about God wanting man to receive His many blessings. At best the popular gospels being presented in churches simply tack Jesus onto the message. These gospels emphasize how God loves us and wants us to be happy, and all we have to do is intellectually “accept” Him and we can go merrily on our way and pursue happiness in this present world. There is no mention of such a message being believed in the heart to ensure inward transformation, and assimilated into one’s life through discipleship and obedience (Matthew 16:24-25; Romans 10:9-10; 12:1-2). Such a gospel is what I called the cheap grace gospel that does not require genuine faith to be present, but there is also the Social Gospel that promotes the goodness of man in relationship to making the world a better place. Another gospel that has been gaining popularity for the last three decades due to the New Age influence is the Enlightened, Gnostic Gospel that takes on various forms. This gospel is where you just need to “realize the Christ within you.” As you become more enlightened as to the fact you are a little “Christ” or a little “god,” you can work your way to immortality, and we cannot forget the Positive Confession Gospel, where people can confess themselves into some spiritual reality where they can control events and situations which involve occult practices. Then there is Universalism. Promoted by the bestselling fiction book and now movie, “The Shack,” Universalism is where everyone is saved and each of us is going to live happily ever after in some existence that will certainly be one big endless party. You must wonder how many Americans, like the people of Judah, during Jerusalem’s third and final fall to Babylon, will be partying while destruction surrounds them, casting bets as to when their society will finally fall. This is just a couple examples of the different gospels that have bombarded Americans with a quasi-religious state that leave churches powerless, many Christians frustrated because they do not see any real victory, and many attendees still lost.
This brings me back to a “Gospel hardened America.” When you consider the array of gospels that are being presented to the ignorant, the vulnerable, and the seeking, why should people settle for the idea that there is one correct gospel, especially when they can choose a gospel that suits their particular palates and preferences? The problem is the more people resist the true Gospel message the harder their hearts can become towards it, making them more prone to accept a pseudo gospel.
For example, why accept a gospel that challenges and makes one feel uncomfortable, when there is a feel-good gospel being promoted? Why walk by faith towards God into the unknown when you believe you can control God by arm-wrestling Him to the ground in submission and surrender by using promises in Scriptures that have been twisted to fit a perverted narrative? Why accept the simplicity found in Christ when you can become “enlightened” enough to become a “Christ” or “god” over your small kingdom? Why accept the concept of a narrow way when Universalism is once again growing in popularity and is proving to be the latest fad (Matthew 7:13-14)? And, keep in mind there are many other gospels being presented out there I have not mentioned.
Not only do we contend with the different gospels flooding America, we also contend with an array of Bible versions that water down who God is, the real work of redemption, the Gospel, and salvation, by adjusting Scriptures according to wicked agendas, changing the meaning of certain words and Scriptures to comply with a false narrative, and do away with anything controversial and not politically correct. Second Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” The Word is to bring forth perfection in us that will be manifested in good works. Hebrews 6:9 talks about things accompanying salvation, showing that much like true repentance, there are fruits that accompany salvation. But, if you don’t agree with what my particular Bible says about a certain issue, you can go to another so-called “version” which waters down or changes the intent of the subject to explain it away or define it according to another interpretation on the matter, or leaves that particular verse, or verses, out altogether. The tragedy with all of these versions is that they undermine the concept that there is only one real standard of truth by which everyone will be judged accordingly.
False gospels and the many non-inspired “versions” of the Bible have definitely added to the fact that whether we want to admit it or not, Americans are suffering a spiritual drought because the pure Word of God is not being preached, taught, and upheld as the absolute standard of truth in some of the Church (Amos 8:11-12).
It is clear by the lack of serious runners in the harvest field, that the preaching of the Gospel is not the main priority of some preachers, discipling new converts—the serious call of the church, upholding a vision for the lost—the heart of the church, maintaining the urgency for the lost—the fire of the church, and the result is that the church is failing its commission. There are very few victories to be claimed and it appears only a remnant is preparing to cross the finish line to claim the prize. As Christians do we dare ignore some of the Scriptural warnings about a lukewarm state that hides behind a veneer of religion, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36); “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Does America need missionaries? Does some or much of the church need to return to its first love in repentance to renew its vision, and do Christians need to be reminded of why they are here—to pick up the torch of the Gospel and run the race with it lifted high through this present age with one goal, to cross the finish line for the glory of God, and praying others will surely follow suit.