Chapter 1- Shortchanging Jesus
Talk to a typical Christian in the United States, and you will soon realize that, despite their claims to loving God and desiring to see others saved for Jesus, they don’t know a whole lot about the Bible. If you asked them how a loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God could allow evil and possibly be considered good, you are sure to get a glazed-over look on many faces, because most American Christians have never even considered such a question before. They may appeal to the free will of man, but the question remains, “How can a supposedly loving God, who is all powerful and knows all things, allow evil?” God made man with a free will, thus allowing the entrance of sin into the world. How can God do that? With that, I have just stumped the vast majority of American Christians.
You see, for my whole life (twenty-one years) I have grown up in a Presbyterian church and attended a basically Baptist Christian school from K-5 to graduation. In both cases, I have found the instruction to the congregation, and to the children, to be wanting. Further, I found that few young people were truly interested in the things of God, of knowing Him more deeply, past the age of eleven or twelve. I have several theories for why that is so, but the one that seems most obvious is that God loses his relevance by the time you are eleven or twelve or thirteen. What does God matter when you have reached puberty and you are becoming a more social creature? What does God matter beyond a few cutesy Bible stories like Noah and the Ark, Jonah and the Whale, Joseph and the coat of many colors, Daniel in the lion’s den? Neat stories, for kids. But you aren’t a kid at eleven or twelve or thirteen anymore.
Oh I know, believe me, I understand. There is more to the Bible than stories like that. After all, there is the gospel. And therein lies the problem- nobody is teaching the gospel to young children anymore (or the adults for that matter). Sure, you may hear in Sunday School that Jesus loves you, and will care for you, and that you should be kind to Jesus and learn about Him out of gratitude. You may even hear that God should be obeyed, and no doubt moralism wins the day in the teaching of our youngest children at church, and in the Christian schools.
But you don’t need Jesus to be moral. You don’t need anything to be moral really. Most people strive, by their very nature, to be morally upright people. What are the odds that your son or daughter is going to turn out to be a murderer, or rapist, or thief? Not that great. As long as you tell them about prison and teach them to be nice and respectful, voila, you have your typical human being, the outside of the cup not looking too bad at all.
The church has basically attached this moralism to Jesus Christ and called it the gospel. Don’t believe me? Walk into a church and see what they preach. Is it not essentially that, if you trust in Jesus, try and follow Him and what He says to do, and believe that He loves you and cares about you and died for you, then you will go to heaven? That is what they preach, no matter what special effects or outer garments they try to dress the message in. It is nothing more than a gospel on morality, intermixed with some emotional appeals to how Jesus loves you and calls you to be the best human being you can possibly be, and that without Jesus, life just isn’t quite complete.
Now, do we really need Jesus Christ as a life coach, pleading with us to do what is right? Of course not. Buddha fits that bill just as well, probably better. So did Gandhi. The only thing that Jesus offers in this moralistic gospel that Buddha and Gandhi cannot, of course, is everlasting life, forgiveness of sins. So the reward is better if you choose Jesus’ version of morality, and that’s the sweet piece of the pie that you have been missing, and can only be found in Jesus. After all, you get the Creator of the universe to swoon over you, make you His Son, save you from torment in hell, and grant you everlasting life where you get to strum harps and bounce off clouds all day. That may be why Jesus’ version of morality has usually won out over Gandhi and Buddha’s. Plus, Jesus has a Book, boosting His credibility.
And that’s it- that’s basically all the knowledge that most Christians have in America. Have a good day, I’ve just articulated American Christianity to you. They will preach to you this gospel of morality, offer you eternal life if you trust that Jesus died for your sins, on condition that you choose to live for Him and stop living for sin and for yourself. They couch the whole repenting business in easy-to-swallow terms of course, making it sound like you are getting a steal of a deal, something for nothing. That however, is not the case, which is evident if you read the last two sentences. The grievous error, above all else in this American gospel, is that it has placed the emphasis of being saved on a life-altering, self-sacrificing, morally commendable decision and commitment of men rather than the life-altering, self-sacrificing, perfect obedience of Jesus Christ to the law of God.
In other words, we have short-changed Jesus. We have made Him an enabler to save man, depending on what man chooses to do. Instead of proclaiming salvation through Christ alone, we have claimed that we are proclaiming salvation through Christ’s work on the cross alone, all the while preaching salvation by a decision to be obedient to Christ by our own willpower, which is clearly another gospel and understanding of salvation altogether.
What gets taught is that Christ has done His part, He has done everything He can do. His death was an expression of His love for you, now you need to express your love for Him by choosing Him over sin, and then you will be forgiven. So, strum up the soft guitar music, dim the lights, everyone bow their heads and close their eyes, and let’s get down to business, shall we? Are you ready to make that all important decision for Christ? Choose Him, deny your sins, pray that He will come into your heart, and then you can know you are saved. Oh, and make sure you walk down to the altar and fill out this card, that’s very important.
Oh and one more minor thing, make sure for the rest of your life you don’t fall away from your decision for Christ, because, after all, the reason God saved you is because you chose Him, not because He chose you.
Is that good news? I mean, the only good news in that is if you add “I love Jesus” to your set of beliefs, you will get into heaven, while the rest of the world, ignorant of that phrase, will live equally, if not more moral lives than you, yet miss out on heaven and wind up in hell, a place of everlasting destruction where the fiery wrath of God is poured out forever. Awesome news, that is. You get heaven in exchange for your morality and your belief in Jesus loving you and dying for you, while the rest of the world gets hell for striving to follow (by and large) the same precepts that Jesus taught. Their great sin was doing it in ignorance of the name of Jesus. You, however, were fortunate enough to hear of Jesus and therefore you get heaven.
I don’t think I am misrepresenting American Christianity at all by saying this. There are exceptions, of course. There are those who still preach the true gospel. They are called monergists, and most of them are Calvinists. They follow the teachings of Jesus, of Peter, and Paul, and they don’t compromise on the gospel. They are more concerned about preaching the true gospel than how people will react if they don’t like what the gospel says. They are more concerned about proclaiming a Savior that actually saves and a God who sovereignly dispenses His grace and chooses who He will save, rather than making man the author of their own salvation by saying their salvation is up to their free will ability to give up their sin and clean up their acts.
Calvinists proclaim that only God’s grace can save you, and then actually preach the gospel of grace rather than a gospel of works and morality, unlike most other strands of churches and preachers today. They preach salvation as a supernatural work of God whereby the Holy Spirit gives new life to spiritually dead souls, sight to blind eyes, hearing to deaf ears, so that the gospel can and will be received with rejoicing and thanksgiving, rather than as a command for man to do something so that they can earn God’s favor and get out of hell. Calvinists preach a gospel that tells you what Christ did to save you. The typical American gospel tells what Christ did so that you can either do something, or believe in something, and through that belief or action, or both, you can be saved.
The difference is night and day. This American gospel, the one I grew up with before I became a Calvinist at eighteen years of age, told me to have faith in my own faith if I wanted to be saved, instead of having faith in the finished work of Christ alone for my salvation. The American gospel told me that Christ didn’t actually save me on the cross, because I still had to give Him my life and choose to live for Him before I could be forgiven. The result, of course, is that one can never be sure when he or she has placed enough faith in their own faith and works. One can never be sure one has done enough in obedience to Christ and His commandments to know that he or she is committed to Christ sufficiently to receive forgiveness. The tricky thing, as I have already said, is that this gospel is presented in such pretty wrappings that you don’t realize everything is contingent upon your ability to uphold your commitment of service to Christ and faith in Him.
The question undoubtedly becomes this: If I must commit my life to Christ and His ways to be saved, what constitutes saving commitment? If in a few weeks, a few months, or a few years from now I fall away from my commitment and start sinning like nobodies business, was I ever saved in the first place? Do I simply need to rededicate my life to Christ, redouble my efforts? And say I do rededicate, what happens when I struggle and stumble again? I saw many students at Christian school rededicate their lives to Christ, multiple times. Many have fallen away from the faith altogether, and understandably so. Christ claims to offer rest, that His yoke is easy and burden is light. This American gospel, however, is a heavy yoke that no one can bear.
That is the vicious cycle that I want to break everyone away from, and only the true gospel, the gospel of Calvinism, and the Calvinist’s God, can do that. For many who are not Calvinists, that will sound extreme. Surely, you may think, Calvinism cannot claim a monopoly on the gospel? Surely there is room for interpretation? If that is what you are thinking, I think by the end of this writing you will be persuaded differently, if you are open to the truth of Scripture. Can a non-Calvinist truly be a Christian? Yes, but don’t let out your collected breath just yet. The yes is a qualified yes. The qualification is only if the non-Calvinist Christian is affirming a contradiction, an inconsistency. And this great contradiction and inconsistency will malign your efforts to serve Christ, and it will diminish your joy as a Christian. Maybe you think you are quite happy and comfortable as a Christian. Maybe you are, but when you get that nasty contradiction, that horrible inconsistency cleared up, I guarantee you you’ll be happier than ever before.
Before I close this chapter, let’s return to the question I opened with. How can God be a kind and loving God if He is all-powerful and all-knowing, yet allows evil? God also claims to know the end from the beginning, so He cannot claim ignorance. God knows what will happen; He knew Adam and Eve would fall into sin, yet He let it happen anyways. Why? The curse of sin, the fall of man, all the pain, suffering, death, and hell that ensues, is a result of God’s plan for man as much as it is man’s plan to disobey God, if, after all, Ephesians 1:11 speaks the truth when it says that God works all things according to the counsel of His will. Some skeptics and atheists say that this makes God, if He were to exist, a moral monster. The reason why most Christians have yet to ponder such a question is quite often due to their lack of interest in the Bible and the deep things of God, or it may be that they have been so indoctrinated into a false belief system, a non-Calvinist belief system, that they cannot recognize the real questions anymore. Many live in a “Christian bubble,” where their friends are primarily other Christians, being taught the same shallow and flawed teachings.
But I think there is a reason why Christians today do not have an interest in the deep things of God, and that reason is in large part due to their poor understanding of the fall of man.
What I am saying is that the church in America is getting the gospel wrong because they are getting the Garden of Eden and the fall of man wrong. Because they are getting the fall of man wrong, they cannot answer the question posed at the beginning of this chapter with any degree of satisfaction, so they shy away from addressing the question, opting instead to leave it open to mystery, as if that is more God-honoring. Or, they say it is due to God wanting to honor man’s free will, which, when that argument is probed, falls under the weight of scrutiny.Free will plays a part in it, to be sure, but it has nothing to do with God wanting to honor man’s free will, nor does it have anything to do with God having to ‘respect’ man so much that He gave them the free will ability to disobey Him, or else He truly would be ‘evil’. That, of course, is a nonsense statement. Why is that a nonsense statement? Because if you asked me, or anyone, if I would rather be in hell with a free will, or a robot in heaven with no free will at all, I would of course rather be a robot in heaven. I’ll take puppetry over free-will-eternal-torment any day. Wouldn’t you? Yet the truth is, puppetry doesn’t exist, and the existence of evil is a good thing rather than a bad thing. Also, this free will theory belies a greater problem- that God is apparently not allowed to make man for His purposes. Instead, God is limited to creating beings in His own image only if He gives them complete choice to do whatever they want. He is not allowed to do anything that could guarantee their obedience or disobedience, since that would destroy man’s right to free will. Where does this right come from? It is hard to say, since God nowhere in Scripture ever gives it.