I have lost track of the number of times I have been accused by other Christians of being unloving, judgmental and ungracious – usually when I seek to share biblical truth, or even just quote from Scripture or a mighty man of God. I can get attacked for simply encouraging other believers into a deeper walk with God, or urging them to live a more circumspect Christian life.
Why is that? How can fellow believers actually get angry with you for sharing Scripture or urging them to a more devout and serious life? I can answer that one for you: they have traded in the biblical gospel for a gospel of “Nice”. They have simply stopped reading the gospel of Scripture and have instead imbibed of the world’s gospel of “tolerance,” “love,” and “acceptance”.
The world of course always gets it wrong when it comes to biblical truth. They twist and distort God’s good intentions for us, and they offer us a glamourous repackaged message which will lead people to hell, not to God. And so many believers today are woefully biblically illiterate, so they just parrot what the surrounding culture says, not what God Almighty has said.
Thus they get upset at believers who quote from the Bible, quote from the great men and women of God, and offer stirring challenges to be all we can be in Christ. Instead they run with cotton candy humanism, urging us to have “our best life now,” telling us we can be rich and never suffer if we are Christians.
I write about all this because I am back in the gospels again, as I am every time this year. If you read through the Bible in a year, beginning on January 1, you would have just finished the prophets and are now back in Matthew. And I am amazed at how things just jump off the pages, despite the fact that I would have read Matthew’s Gospel umpteen times now.
In the opening chapters of Matthew we find what are the first recorded words of the gospel message being proclaimed in public, first by John the Baptist, and then by Jesus. And believe me, they have absolutely nothing to do with the watered-down syrupy gospel message we mostly hear today in the West.
Indeed, if I were to simply repeat what John and Jesus said, I would be roundly rebuked by most believers today for being unloving, unkind, judgmental, and un-Christlike. They would rebuke me big time for not being nice and gentle and loving and agreeable.
So just what did these two say as the first recorded words of their ministry? Let me share them here – they may shock many of you. We do not read them saying, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” We do not hear about how God accepts everyone and just wants us all to get along and be happy.
We do not read about coming to Christ will solve all our problems, keep us wealthy, solve our low self-esteem issues, and make us King’s Kids. We find no prosperity gospel here, nor a hyper grace gospel. What we find is radically, powerfully different.
We read the very first words to come out of the mouth of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:7-12:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Wow, did you get that!? The very first words out of his mouth are, “You brood of vipers!” And then he savagely chews them out, demanding repentance and a changed life, and he even warns of hellfire to boot! Man, that sure does not sound like the gospel proclamation heard today in most Christian circles!
You can just hear all the Gospel of Nice believers getting bent out of shape here: ‘How ungracious John. How unloving. That was not very Christlike of you. You are turning people off. You should be ashamed of yourself for being so unloving and so judgmental! We must love people, not judge them. It is all about relationship, not angry words and denunciations!’
Well, surely Jesus would not be so rough, so abrupt, so bigoted, and so unloving, you might say. Um, have a look at the first recorded public words of Jesus to the crowds as found in Matthew. As we read in Matt. 4:17: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’.”
And the call for repentance, along with very hard, tough words, continue throughout all four gospels. The truth is, Jesus often said some shockingly harsh and tough things, which most namby-pamby believers today would find highly offensive, unloving, and – get this – un-Christlike! See here for more on this: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/10/21/un-domesticating-jesus/
And this rough and tough public ministry is true of the disciples of Jesus as well. Things are no different with the early church. We have hard-core calls for repentance in the book of Acts, along with less than flattering, no-nonsense words of rebuke and proclamation by the disciples. This was no Gospel of Nice they were sharing, but a tough love gospel which demanded a serious response.
Indeed, the simple fact that the love of God is never once even mentioned in the book of Acts is most telling indeed. If the heart of the biblical gospel was simply an undefined and anaemic love, love, love, then you would expect to see it mentioned dozens of times by Peter, Paul and the others. But we never hear the word – not once!
Instead we hear a lot about repentance, and the radical call of true, life-changing discipleship. Nowhere in Acts do we read about having your best life now. Nothing there promises the new convert riches and a life of ease. It is the exact opposite in fact.
When Peter was asked for a monetary handout by some poor person, he did not preach a sermon about how coming to Christ guarantees a life of wealth, luxury and the good life. Instead, he said this: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
And he was even more “unloving” and “ungracious” in his reply to Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin” (vv. 20-23).
And consider some of the first words spoken by the Lord to Ananias concerning Saul just after his conversion experience: “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
Hey wait a minute! You can’t say that sort of stuff to a new convert! ‘All that he must suffer?’ What are you trying to do – turn him away? Indeed, most believers today would angrily balk at this and say that is not what we should be telling a new believer. That will turn people off. We must tell them all the goodies we get when we come to Christ. You certainly don’t warn them about a life of hardship, suffering and persecution!
These are just a handful of examples of what John, Jesus and the early disciples publicly proclaimed in their days of ministry on planet earth. And it sure does not sound anything like what we usually hear today. Most church leaders would not even allow these folks into their churches, saying they are way too harsh, unloving, unkind, and judgmental.
So instead we mostly just hear a Gospel of Nice today – a gospel that will offend no one, upset no one, provoke no one, anger no one, and challenge no one. But it is a gospel message that will save no one as well. There is no power, no life, no Spirit in such a fleshly gospel. It is the anti-gospel.
Sure, you will get plenty of people flocking to your church if you proclaim a gospel-less gospel. Just look at what we see happening at Lakewood Church in Houston. The masses will always rush to hear a feel-good, humanistic, self-help message that guarantees them all their wildest desires and fantasies.
Such a “gospel” will not save anyone, but will send millions of people to a lost eternity. Give me the real gospel of John, Jesus and the disciples any day. That is what we desperately need to hear – not the accursed Gospel of Nice which flatters people while sending them to hell.