CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Real Faith vs Fantasy Faith

Oct 17, 2016

What does your faith consist of? More to the point, what sort of gospel do you put your faith in? If our understanding of the gospel is defective, we will have a defective faith. If we embrace worldly or fleshly gospels, we will end up with worldly or fleshly faith.

Real faith rests upon a real gospel. Fantasy faith rests upon a fantasy gospel. Thus it is imperative that we get things right from the outset. Yet tragically the gospel being proclaimed from so many pulpits today and by so many church leaders is not the biblical gospel but a sugar-coated manmade gospel.

I have often written about this sad reality. We have men-pleasers all over the place, but those who seek to please God alone seem to be in short supply. I am reminded of a line by A. W. Tozer which fits in here: “I claim the holy right to disappoint men in order to avoid disappointing God.”

real_or_fakeThe strange thing is, if you simply read the gospels and the book of Acts you will find what Jesus and the early church clearly declared what the gospel message should be. And it is so alien to that which we so often hear today.

I read through the Bible each year, and at this time of the year I am back in the gospels. Every time I read them things seem to leap off the pages. And it all seems so foreign to the sorts of things we hear in churches in the West today. Consider what I just read in the gospel of Mark. Two brief verses in the opening of his gospel tells us all we need to know about the real gospel as opposed to a fantasy gospel.

Mark 1:14 says this: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” Wow, just a few short words, but they are packed with vital truths about the gospel and what it involves.

Did you notice how it opens? John the Baptist is in prison. Why was that? Was he caught in the act of shoplifting, or vandalising a building, or lying on his tax returns? No, much worse than that: he was proclaiming the gospel and standing up for its political and ethical ramifications, and the powers that be did not like it.

As we read in Luke 3:18-20, John did what most believers today refuse to do: he took his faith seriously in all areas of life, and dared to have a prophetic voice: “And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.”

Yet most Christian leaders today would have rebuked John and told him to stay out of politics and controversial social issues – ‘just preach the gospel’ they would have told him. Um, guess what: the gospel proclamation involves being salt and light, it involves having a prophetic voice to the surrounding religious and political culture, and it involves challenging evil wherever it is found.

Sorry, I will stick with John any day of the week here. His gospel witness puts so many evangellyfish leaders today to shame. His message was one that impacted all of life. His was not a privatised faith or a truncated gospel. His gospel was about a kingdom which was now becoming manifest.

And Jesus says the very same thing: “The kingdom of God has come near.” Entire libraries have been filled with books discussing the kingdom of God. Suffice it to say that when the king arrives, then his kingdom also arrives. Let me offer a few words from the helpful commentary on Mark by David Garland:

This is not routine revival preaching. Marcus comments that the word of the gospel is not the proclamation of “timeless spiritual realities.” “Rather, it is a word that announces an event, the coming of God’s new world, which is even now breaking into the present.” The coming of the kingdom of God is a central theme in the Gospel….
Jesus announces that the time of waiting for God’s intervention is over, which means that all that God had said and done in history is reaching its denouement. If Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of God, then the kingdom of God is at hand. But when God steps onto the stage of human history, it always comes as a surprise and as a scandal to those whose field of vision is limited only to finite human possibilities and whose time is measured only by the tenure of transient human kings. In the midst of the present moment, one can easily forget that God bestrides time and history and works by a different clock.
When Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God, he announces that the decisive display of God’s ruling power over the world is about to be unfurled. The reign of God is not a spiritual category but a dynamic event in which God intervenes powerfully in human affairs to achieve his unfading purposes.

And what is the way in which the Kingdom is announcd by Jesus? What is the means by which we enter into this kingdom? What is the simple gospel which Jesus proclaims? It is to repent and believe. It is not about asking Jesus into your heart. It is not about coming to Jesus to get goodies and benefits.

As Mark Strauss comments, “The appropriate response to this kingdom announcement is to ‘repent and believe in the good news.’ Repentance means turning away from sin, and faith means acknowledging dependence on God. These are two sides of the same coin: repudiating a life focused on self and reorienting toward God and his purposes for the world.”

That repentance is a central message of John, Jesus and the disciples is clear from any simple reading of the New Testament. Yet today so many pastors and leaders refuse to even mention the “R” word, for fear of turning people off or rocking the boat.

They are proclaiming a fake gospel which is resulting in a fake faith and fake disciples. There is no Christian discipleship without repentance. Indeed, there is no entry into the kingdom without repentance. But this is one of the missing ingredients in so much of our gospel proclamation today.

Instead we tell people they should come to Jesus to be happy, healthy, wealthy and have their best life now. There is no mention of repentance and the cruciform life. There is no talk about non-Christians being sinners under the wrath of God headed to a lost eternity.

Instead of a God-centred gospel we offer a man-centred gospel. Such a gospel will save no one. If I were a gifted filmmaker I might offer this movie to the Christian community: “Honey, I Shrunk the Gospel”. For that is what we have done. We have a shrunken, truncated, reductionist, vapourish gospel. It cannot save.

Paul Washer had it right when he said this:

Paul’s gospel not only contradicted the religion, philosophy, and culture of the day, but it declared war on them. It refused truce or treaty with the world and would settle for nothing less than culture’s absolute surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We would do well to follow Paul’s example. We must be careful to shun every temptation to conform our Gospel to the trends of the day or the desires of carnal men. We have no right to water down its offense or civilize its radical demands in order to make it more appealing to a fallen world or carnal church members.
Our churches are filled with strategies to make them more seeker-friendly by repackaging the Gospel, removing the stumbling block, and taking the edge off the blade, so that it might be more acceptable to carnal men. We ought to be seeker-friendly, but we ought to realize this – there is only One seeker and He is God. If we are striving to make our church and message accommodating, let us make them accommodating to Him. If we are striving to build a church or ministry, let us build it upon a passion to glorify God, and a desire not to offend His majesty. To the wind with what the world thinks about us. We are not to seek the honors of earth, but the honor of heaven should be our desire.

Enough of a fantasy faith based on a fantasy gospel. The need of the hour is a biblical gospel which will produce biblical faith. Nothing less will suffice. And nothing else will transform dead sinners into living saints.

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15 Responses to Real Faith vs Fantasy Faith

  • Thank you very muchly Bill, very wise words indeed! We really need God’s wisdom now more than ever before do we not? What is wrong with “worldly” wisdom? Rodin’s “Thinker” statue A sinful and unbelieving world is constantly building up a vast storehouse of knowledge and wisdom that we use all the time. Some examples:

    When you visit Uganda, you need to demonstrate that you have been inoculated against yellow fever. If you cannot prove inoculation you cannot even enter Uganda. Wise or foolish?
    We have been camping in a National Park with a friend and listened to the “dawn chorus.” Our friend could identify more than 10 different birds simply by their call. Wise or foolish?
    After the Canberra bushfires in 2003, the CSIRO did some research as to what kind of fence will best protect your property from bushfires. Their conclusion: A steel fence. Wise or foolish?

    The examples can be multiplied a million times over; we constantly use and approve the wisdom of the world. So why does the Bible reject worldly wisdom, calling it folly? Paul talks about worldly wisdom and godly wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1 & 2. See 1 Cor 1:20 “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”However, all of us are using worldly wisdom all the time. We constantly use and approve the vast storehouse of knowledge and wisdom that the world has built up. How does that fit with the Biblical emphasis on the folly of worldly wisdom? We need to ask ourselves in what way the knowledge gained by a sinful and unbelieving world is foolishness, and in what way it is wisdom.

    Let’s summarise what Paul says about this in 1 Corinthians 1 & 2. 1 Cor 1:17 – the gospel would be emptied of its power if Paul were to preach it with eloquent worldly wisdom. 1 Cor 1:18 – this is because the wisdom of the world judges the message of the cross to be foolishness. 1 Cor 1:19 – such worldly wisdom is therefore doomed to perish. 1 Cor 1:20-21 – worldly wisdom is foolish to the extent that it cannot bring people to God. 1 Cor 1:18-24 – God’s way of salvation through preaching Christ crucified is the power and the wisdom of God, though it is an offence to Jews and stupidity to Greeks. 1 Cor 1:25 – So, what the world sees as foolishness is in fact wiser than the wisdom of the world, because it brings people to God. 1 Cor 2:1-4 – for this reason, Paul avoids the wisdom of the world and centres his message on Christ crucified. 1 Cor 2:5 – he does this so that faith may rest, not on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power. 1 Cor 2:6-13 – this wisdom is wisdom from God, taught by the Spirit of God. 1 Cor 2:14-16 – He who does not have the Spirit will never have this true wisdom.

    The wisdom of the world is foolishness when it comes to the ultimate issues of the meaning of our existence. Paul is not saying that there is no validity in the knowledge of unbelieving people, but he is saying that such knowledge cannot give us any answers to ultimate questions. Wisdom literature in particular tells us clearly of the way God would have us live.

    Thanks again for another good article to spur us on in the correct exercise of our faith Bill!!

  • Blessings Bill, it’s all about our faith and world view!

  • Imagine how much power we’d have if Christians stood up to be counted where it matters?

  • We are strong when we are weak, it is by faith that we are made strong. Hebrews 11 documents the fact well, beginning with: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for”. Hebrews 11:1-2

  • Hi Bill, this is a very thoughtful treatise on Scripture. It is also a very forceful argument to accept without compromise what the Gospel Writers had recorded. It is quite fitting that you refer to two heavyweights from the N.T. i.e . John The Baptist, and The Apostle Paul. Both these men had personal encounters with Jesus Christ. Both of these men were not afraid to take on their calling in the face of severe persecution and ultimate death. My own encounters with the teachings of the Gospels began when I was very young, and I am the first to admit that as a young person, I took the Gospels and the teachings of Paul as just “interesting stories”. It was not until I went through the darkest years of my life as a young adult that in desperation I turned to God in prayer, and He in turn gave me a Remah word. It was John 6:37 in the Good News Bible. I quote; “I will never turn away anyone who comes to Me” unquote. Bill that one verse sustained me for five long dark years. In summarising, for me personally, it has been through times of personal trial and adversity, that I’ve learnt that God’s Word can be trusted. This in turn, gives me the confidence to share it “warts and all” with others. Once again Bill, good solid teaching. Kind regards Kelvin. P.S. THANK YOU FOR NOT COMPROMISING!

  • Dear Bill,
    Thank you again for sharing with with us. I appreciate the thought, prayer and study you must put into them and how they often flow from your regular reading of God’s Word.
    I was recently gifted with ‘The Banner of Truth’ Magazine Issues 1-16 of Sept. 1955 – Aug. 1959, by my lovely wife. It is providing wonderfully scriptural and prescient reading. An example of this is from an article written by the Rev. Sidney Norton, in which he includes this quote:
    “When a nation is to perish in its sins, ’tis in the church the leprosy begins.” He goes on to say: ” A great part of knowledge lies in the knowledge of causes: the true cause of a disease found out goes far to the reaching of the cure. What is the cause of the dread leprosy upon the church which has sapped its strength and rendered it incapable of of giving a cogent answer to the power of Satan today? We believe it is this, that the church has dethroned the sovereign will of God and has enthroned the sinful will of man in its place. This is the root cause of our trouble today.”
    This appears to be happening when the Christian church accepts such as Evolution, the GLBTQ etc. thinking in an unbiblical way, the ‘Health, Wealth and Prosperity’ teaching, Arminian / Pelagian teaching and practice, amongst other humanistic tendencies.
    Regards and we pray for you and your most helpful ministry.

  • Another excellent article, Bill

    May your voice be heard in all the churches and halls of government not just in Australia but around the planet

    God bless you

    Jeff

  • You are certainly correct about preachers that have no incentive other than being men pleasers.

    “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.”

    Is this not exactly the attitude we see in the world today? The fornicators would love to see nothing more than those annoying Christians silenced. History tells us that Herod died in madness which many believe was brought on by syphilis.

    I do take a little exception to your denouncing of asking Jesus into our heart.

    Rev_3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him and he with Me.

    I don’t think we can ignore the dramatic change that occurs in people’s lives through conversion and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The only question is whether they receive the word on the hard or the good ground or among the weeds and whether they go on to show the fruit, which of course, the scriptures associate with repentance. (Luke 3:8, Mat 7:17-21)

  • Thanks Michael. Yes that is a great verse, but as with every text, it has a context. And the context is the lukewarm Laodicean church in general, and verses 19-21 in particular:

    Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.

    So yes one might ‘let Jesus in one’s heart’ but only if it is accompanied by repentance and with overcoming. Otherwise it it may just be an emotional response with no real saving basis to it, which is the point I and Washer are trying to make.

  • Hi Bill
    Thank you for another timely article! (Long-time reader, first-time commenter).
    The foundational doctrines of our faith are so important. This is something that has been impressed heavily on my heart recently, causing me to examine exactly where my belief lies regarding certain aspects of Christianity. The result of prayerful searching of the scriptures and receiving sound biblical teaching (such as is found in your articles along with many of yesterday’s greats, and is not often heard from today’s pulpits) is solid, unshakable faith in the unadulterated Word of God.
    You mentioned John the Baptist who understood well the message of Christ and we find in Luke 3:18 “And with many other warnings besides these he announced the Good News to the people”. A gospel message unaccompanied by warnings is no gospel message at all.
    Thank you again for your diligent study and unwavering faithfulness to the Truth.

  • I felt this post went to the heart of the reason for the other, ‘culture of death’ post. If we are not showing those who wrongly seek death the true purpose of Life – “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever” as the Westminster confession of faith goes, no wonder they turn to other things and even seek to end lives. Where are the muscular Christians who by their lives AND words are proclaiming the need for good news and that news itself? I feel convicted that my life is not what it should be in this regard – though I do repent and ‘try’ again. So many of us are not telling it as it is. Fear of man is one sad reason. Fear of putting people off is another. Let us indeed seek to ‘please God alone’. We have a wonderful resource at our disposal as the title of a Tozer book “Man the dwelling place of God” says – we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
    Katharine H

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