Monday, July 03, 2006

Warning to the "Feel Good Gospel" Preachers

"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for hi inquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul" (Ezekiel 3:18-21).

If a person were drowning, would you simply watch them struggle for life? If a child were about to be crushed by an on-coming vehicle, would you simply stand there or try to warn or rescue them? If you wife were diagnosed with cancer, would you deny her medical treatment? The answer to each of these questions is obvious. If you cared at all for the well-being of these individuals you would do what you could to save their life.

The prophet Ezekiel spoke a message of hope to a people who had lost sight of God's covenant relationship with them. The book of Ezekiel reveals a powerful, loving God who is able to breath life into spiritually dead people (Ezekiel 37). What I find compelling is the nature of Ezekiel's message. He didn't try to inspire Judah by preaching messages that made people feel good about themselves. He warned them of God's judgment for their sin. Not only that, but God told Ezekiel that what mattered is not whether or not the people responded positively or negatively to his message (2:5). What matters is that they know that "a prophet has been among them" (2:6). In other words, what matters is that they know they have heard from God.

I am grieved at the reports surfacing in many "churches" in Western culture who minimize the serious offense that sin is to a holy God. No, I don't believe that we should only preach hellfire and damnation to people. It is good to focus on the goodness of God. However, we cannot enjoy the goodness and favor of God until we first come face-to-face with the seriousness of our sin, come to the end of ourselves, turn away from a sinful, idolatrous lifestyle, and trust in the merits of Jesus Christ's work on our behalf on the cross by faith, securing our adoption as sons and daughters of God by God's grace.

The passage from Ezekiel 3 says that the "watchman", which is a closely related to the word "overseer" (pastor/elder) in the New Testament has a responsibility to warn the wicked and righteous about the seriousness of sin "in order to save his life" (3:18). If you care about people that you shepherd as their pastor, how can you avoid the problem of sin and still claim to love them and care about their eternal well-being?

There are even broader implications in this text. The "watchman" bears a spiritual responsibility before Almighty God for the spiritual condition of those entrusted to his ministry. The author of Hebrews makes this clear in his instruction for the people of God obey their spiritual leaders. "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who have to give an account...13:17). This is a sobering thought for those who have been called into ministry, particularly for those called to preach and teach.

Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, which boasts that more than 25,000 people attend their services weekly, recently said: "Listen; don’t dangle people over the fires of hell. Lisa and I always kid about you know we’re going to dangle them over the fires of hell. Listen, that doesn’t draw people to God. They know what kind of life they live. They know how bad they’ve lived. What you’ve got to do is talk about the goodness of God. Listen, it’s the goodness of God that brings people to repentance. It’s the goodness of God. One thing I always appreciated about my dad is that he instilled into us a good vision of who God was. We learned about a good God.” [Sermon: What the Resurrection Means to Us As Believers]

The problem in 2Peter was that false teachers were distorting Scripture to serve their own purposes. Osteen is right, it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance (Rom 2:5), however God's kindness is most magnified in the horrific execution of His Son Jesus on the cross for our sin. This is the good news of the Gospel: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. It seems to me that Osteen is walking closely in the footsteps of those leading people astray in 2Peter, using Scripture for their own gain and to validate their misguided message.

I mention Joel Osteen, not to slander him, but to warn him and others who would fail to expose people to the whole counsel of God's Word. Yes, we can draw a crowd by telling people how good God is and how He wants them to enjoy His favor. And this message is true. But it is not the whole message. You can't enjoy the benefits of the good news until you've first dealt with the reality of the bad news.

Those who claim to be men of God, called to share His Word with people everywhere, preach the Word. Preach of all it. The good news about God and the bad news about man. People need to hear it all.


At 3:37 PM , Blogger Royce Douglas said...

The truth that God's kindness leads us to repentance was a hallmark and cornerstone of the great puritan preachers, like Jonathan Edwards. But they didn't only preach this 'pleasant' half of the truth. They, indeed, put the goodness of God squarely within the whole truth of His pure and holy character, and of His pursuance of His perfect prosecutorial wrath against our rebellion and sin! Some good thoughts!
-Royce Douglas


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