A very dear friend posted an article on Facebook (Christianity is Harder Than We Pretend it is) that tries to make the point that Christianity is harder than we pretend that it is. He quoted things we might say to that effect such as “It’s a free gift” and “The peace and satisfaction your heart desires.” I noticed that he calls these things “pitches”, like they are a sales pitch. He makes the point that in reality, we are let down by these false promises. As pastors and ministers we obsess over church attendance, and obsess over solving today’s problems, and are determined to find the perfect fix. He says that we are constantly analyzing church traditions, techniques, and theology, to troubleshoot and improve and enhance the faith. However, he says, the pitch we are using to sell Christianity ends up being an empty promise, because there are plenty of difficulties we still face. We still have disappointment, pain, suffering, confusion, and we still sin and live among sinning believers. All this happens while we are trying to put on a facade of happiness and bliss, pretending that nothing bad ever happens. He says that we need to start communicating reality and start owning up to our mistakes and doubts and failures and pain and sin. So there is, he says, a bit of a division between the happy message Christianity is selling and the reality of things.
Of course as soon as I started to read it, I had a contrary opinion, because I am just that kind of guy! He is saying that the “pitch” we are making needs to be changed, but the reality of the ugliness of our actual day-to-day faith needs to be owned up to. I see things a bit differently. I think that we need to go back and reexamine the awesome splendor of our “pitch”, the message of the gospel. The disparity comes because our pitch is not the gospel, it is personal transformation. I’m looking through the article to see what the real message is that he thinks we should be letting on about, and it is not the blood of Jesus and forgiveness. It is all about the realities of evil in the world and of our sin, and our powerlessness to truly change. It is about our responsibility to be authentic and transparent — not about His blood and its place in all of that. Anyone of any stripe can confess their errors and moral failure; the solution is in Christ and Him crucified. Let’s suppose that most churches do not preach the holly jolly Santa Clause “pitch” that he posits. They preach that when you come to Christ, you will still have problems, but you will be transformed and you will become an overcomer. You will become the kind of person who can do all things in Christ, and they mean it the right way — that you can have joy in bad circumstances as well as in good. This is not the gospel, and it is a horribly damaging message. It is much worse than he is saying. He mentions that salvation is a “free gift” as if that might be wrong — but it is not wrong. The problem is that we say it and then walk and talk as if it isn’t true at all. This is the big problem. We say that salvation is a free gift but we believe that salvation is in some subtle way about our works. So our whole Christian thing is based on unbelief.
The reality on the ground is that if we say that we have no sin (present tense), we lie. We, as a group, are a community of sinners who have mercy and grace in His blood. We are new creatures in Christ, but sin still lives on in us as a kind of living dead zombie presence. We should be very very clear that the heart of the gospel is not that we are personally transformed. It is that we are justified. We are redeemed. We are reconciled. His propitiation for us procured these kinds of things. It is not that sin is removed from our experience. It is that the love which God has for us persists beyond our sins. While we are yet sinners He loves us, while we were yet sinners He died for us. It really is a free gift! His command is to believe the love which He has for us. It is for us, so we are now able to see our brothers and sisters as greatly loved, and worth the death of the Messiah. It does not mean we will never have trouble, never have unanswered prayers, never have evil prevail over us. That wasn’t even Jesus’ pattern! He did indeed get rejected by His people, and die on the cross. Everything wasn’t happy forevermore, even for Jesus Himself! It wasn’t the pattern of any of the apostles either. We aren’t better than Jesus and we aren’t better than the apostles either. However, that doesn’t remove the truth that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. It doesn’t change the fact that His commands are not burdensome. In Him we are so profoundly beloved and so unbreakably accepted that we are said to have eternal life. It really is a free gift. We are not thus asked to solve each others’ problems; we are asked to love each other. In Christ, I can do this. This puts our present experience together into a very different light. When things are really bad for me, when I am on my deathbed, when my miracle truly isn’t forthcoming, when my church can’t “be there” for me to heal me, I have a confident hope that I will be OK. When I actually sin and prove that I need an Advocate with the Father, I have an assurance that His love defines me and not my iniquity. I have a real hope. I will be eternally loved and safe. I have a peace beyond my current doubts, that is beyond myself, that I am saved. This works a tremendous peace and love into my current predicament. Since this incredible hope and salvation is not our pitch, since we don’t preach the gospel but rather personal transformation and social action, we flounder. The gospel is not a sales pitch. It is a message of a free gift which can be received simply through hearing it and believing it. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. I’m sorry but whatever you face, this is indeed very good news!