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Your Best Life NOW? How?
By David A. DePra
The biggest goal of Satan in the lives of human beings is to get them to seek life outside of God. Not necessary a bad or wicked life. Just life. Period. To borrow the title of the most recent best-selling Christian book: Your best life now! And right from the hand of God Himself! Sounds good, doesnít it?
Of course, the deception here is the suggestion that there IS life outside of God. The Truth is, there is NO life outside of God. But Satan is good at making it look like there is.
In case you donít realize it, "life outside of God," is, by definition, life INDEPENDENT from God. But that, of course, is an oxymoron. For independence from God is separation from God. In other words, DEATH, not life. And yet, since independence from God comes so natural for us, we easily fall prey to the suggestions of the enemy. He offers us all kinds of things independent of Godís plan and purpose, and then convinces us that it is Godís will that we have them.
With regards to Christians, if a person is truly born again, they already have new life in Christ. Thus, Satanís goal, by necessity, must be on another level. What he offers, in that case, is -- again Ė life outside of God. But not, "salvation outside of Christ." Rather, Satan will offer to Christians all of the things that are carried WITHIN the Christian experience through other means. He offers them on manís terms Ė often good terms Ė but not on Godís terms.
Note that: Satan doesnít say, "Here is life, or a blessing, outside of God. Take it and die." No. What he says is, "Here is life and blessing! God wants you to have them! Take them and live." But the MEANS by which we must take them is not Godís way. It is manís way. Thus, what we end up with is a THING OF LIFE Ė maybe even one mentioned in the Bible Ė but acquired on our terms.
To make a long story short, the only way to acquire something that belongs to life in Christ, is to first DIE to our life; to our self. Life always comes through death. This is the case whether we are talking about salvation, or about anything of significance in the Christian life. I MUST DIE in order to be raised up in the will of God. But Satan offers us the SAME THING without the death. How we end up is in possession of a THING, but not in possession of LIFE. And many times we will be happy with this, totally deceived. And it will, in the end, wind up hurting us spiritually, if not making a shipwreck of our faith.
Satan will tell us that it could never be Godís will for us to DIE, suffer, or have to face the reality of our own sin and unbelief. No. Instead, we are told, God wants us build up our self-esteem. He wants to affirm us. God is here to simply enhance what we are, and to give us what we desire.
What emerges is the, "Gospel of Self-Esteem." Or, "The Power of Positive Confession." Or, "The Health and Wealth Gospel." All of these are much the SAME message. They are all heresy, and terrible misrepresentation of Jesus Christ. These errors have not invaded every corner of the church today, but the, "gospel of self-esteem," is gaining ground everywhere.
One of the latest titles to emerge is, "Your Best Life Now," a best selling book by Joel Osteen. This book, in many ways, captures all of these errant teachings and puts them in one package. But again -- all of these teachings are cut from the same mold: The mold of ADAM Ė instead of Jesus Christ. They legitimize the old creation, and dress it up with hugs and kisses, all in the name of the love of God.
Books like, "Your Best Life Now," are popular, in part, due to a reaction against the fire and brimstone teaching of years past. Letís face it, THE GOOD NEWS hasnít always been presented as good news. Often, the gospel has been presented more as a THREAT of punishment, then the good news of Jesus Christ. This wrong approach has opened the door to the gospel of self-esteem.
The reason, of course, that the Christian message seems negative to many people is that it deals with human beings the way they are Ė lost, dead, and in rebellion against God. IT MUST. The gospel MUST start there, because WE start there. This will seem negative to anyone who is comfortable with themselves in that terrible condition. An offer of deliverance will, to them, seem like an attack. But despite the necessity of pointing out our sinful and lost condition, the gospel remains good news. It offers deliverance from all of that -- through Christ Jesus. Thus, the gospel is really all positive in the end.
But you see, in order to embrace deliverance from sin, you have to be exposed as a sinner. In order to embrace deliverance from sin, you have to be brought to despair over yourself. This is actually a GOOD thing Ė if it results in deliverance. But as mentioned, it will not be received as a good thing by those who are content with themselves. In that case, the Cross will be an OFFENSE to them. It is at this point, and really, to such people, that the gospel of self-esteem makes an approach. The gospel of self-esteem doesnít openly deny Jesus Christ. No. It preaches Christ, but offers Him without the Cross. It offers Him void of conviction of much sin, and without the need to come to terms with your sin against God. Just understand that God loves you, avoid the sin question, and you are good to go.
The Gospel of Self-Esteem
One of the things I have noticed lately is that some of the worst teachers of heresy today have statements of faith on their websites that sound right. I have to wonder whether this is a deliberate attempt to put in writing that which they know will legitimize them, all the while they preach something else. Go, for instance, to the website of Dr. Robert Schuller. Read his statement of faith. You wonít find in it any hint that he believes and teaches the following. (bold emphasis mine) Please read each of these quotes carefully, and ask yourself: "Is this the gospel of Jesus Christ?" And if you answer NO, then ask: "Where is this message coming from?"
"I donít think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence counter productive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition." Robert Schuller, Christianity Today, October 5, 1984
"There are some things in the Bible I cannot swallow but you get saved not by the Book but the blood. Keep your message positive. Understand God is a God of grace and glory so forget the matter of justice ....Repentance is not a healthy response. Repentance is really defined when someone says, 'I want to live the dream you have, Lord.' Intelligent people do not understand the fear of God. Grace has been missed in Fundamentalism. Remember Jesus invested His stock in the Roman Catholic Church for at least 1,000 years prior to the Reformation. Now we need a new reformation with this message that God loves you and so do I." (Robert Schuller, 61st Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), March 11-12, 2004)
Robert Schuller says, "To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image -- from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust."..."Love yourself or die--physically and spiritually!...Love yourself or you will die spiritually."
"Salvation is to become the person God wants you to be here and now." (Robert Schuller, 61st Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), March 11-12, 2004)
"Classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be 'God-centered,' not 'man-centered'." (Robert Schuller, "Self-Esteem: the New Reformation," page 64)
"Jesus never called a person a sinnner. Rather he reserved his righteous rebuke for those who used their authority to generate guilt and caused people to lose their ability to taste and enjoy their right to dignity."(Robert Schuller, "Self-Esteem: the New Reformation)
"All of the problems, pressures, and perils addressed in the preceding questions arise from a basic defect in much of modern Christianity. What is that basic flaw? I believe it is the failure to proclaim the gospel in a way that can satisfy every person's deepest need - one's spiritual hunger for glory. Rather than glorify God's highest creation - the human being - Christian liturgies, hymns, prayers, and scriptural interpretations have often insensitively and destructively offended the dignity of the person..." (Robert Schuller, "Self-Esteem: the New Reformation," page 31)
"The classical error of historical Christianity is that we have never started with the value of the person. Rather, we have started from the 'unworthiness of the sinner,' and that starting point has set the stage for the glorification of human shame in Christian theology." (Robert Schuller, "Self-Esteem: the New Reformation," page 162)
"If the gospel of Jesus Christ can be proclaimed as a theology of self-esteem, imagine the health this could generate in society!" (Robert Schuller, "Self-Esteem: the New Reformation," page 47)
"And what is hell?...A person is in hell when he has lost his self-esteem."(Robert Schuller, "Self-Esteem: the New Reformation," page 14-15)
"Classical theology defines sin as 'rebellion against God.' The answer is not incorrect as much as it is shallow and insulting to the human being." (Robert Schuller, "Self-Esteem: the New Reformation," page 65)
Is it possible to find statements about Jesus Christ, and the Redemption, that are more corrupt, heretical, and really, pathetic? These are the words, not only of a heretic, but those of a lost soul. Iím not being harsh. Read your Bible. Do you believe that a person can make these statements who HIMSELF has comes to terms with his personal sin, has repented, and has received the grace of God? By hey, the man has DR. before his name, so who am I to question him?
Actually, I donít need to BE anyone. Paul already tells us to expose people like Schuller publicly after they have been approached privately Ė and believe me, Schuller HAS. And having done that, Paul said to WITHDRAW FROM THEM. But no. What many Christians do is send in more money. Many other leaders embrace him because he has built a successful big church. And how can you argue with that? It must, many feel, be the result of Godís blessings.
You wonít hear any of these teachings stated on The Hour of Power. And despite the fact that this man has been approached countless times by leaders and appealed to as to the error of his teachings, he continues on. Other ministers Ė the likes of Jack Hayford, and evem Billy Graham, and many others Ė embrace him, and even visit his church. Jack Hayford participated in a leadership conference in January at Schullerís church. Schuller was invited to speak at the NAE in 2004, (some quotes above) by Dr. Ted Haggard at the New Life Church, Colorado Springs. Haggard is a regular contributor to the magazine, "Ministries Today," and a co-author of a recent Christian book with Jack Hayford, who himself is senior editor of that same magazine. The list of association could go on endlessly. All of these continue, I'm sure, in the name of love. In the name of Jesus, love, and unity. That is ALWAYS the justification, isn't it?
This is not only sad, but at some point, a participation in the heresy Ė even if these other ministers donít actually embrace the teaching of Schuller. When you know what a guy preaches, and invite him to preach in your organization, or go to his, you are affirming him, and responsible for what he preaches under your affirmation. Do these other ministers read Schuller's books? Do they even CARE what is being taught? Schuller has been at this for 30 years. There is no confusion here; no excuse. Do these ministers realize that when you embrace such a person publicly that you are telling everyone that you embrace his teaching?
Why do we think God tells us to withdraw from false teachers Ė because He wants us to be mean to them? To hate them? No. Because it is the love of God and the Truth that MANDATES that we withdraw from those who are preaching heresy, lest others stumble, and the Truth be polluted.
Robert Schuller doesnít simply teach false doctrine once in awhile. He promotes THE false doctrine of man's glory. Indeed, his written works, and ministry, are totally DEFINED by this false teaching. The bottom line of his teaching is: Man is not really guilty of anything except not loving himself enough. THAT is sin. (After all we do have to bring SOME Bible terms in, donít we, in order to sound as if we are preaching the gospel!) And so, the solution for man is not repentance of sin, and then salvation through death and resurrection in Christ. The solution is to be AFFIRMED Ė to have oneís self-esteem enhanced.
If you read through the quotes from Schuller, you will, in a nutshell, see exactly what Satan wants to promote: A gospel that affirms man just like he is Ė all in the name of Godís love. This is really the principle of Satan in a nutshell. You will see a gospel that never forces you to face what you are without God, and the fact that you have been wrong with Him. Rather, everything is redefined to keep you IN ADAM, affirmed, and simply needing, "a hug." And Jesus is provided as the One to give it to you.
But people keep sending Schuller checks. They keep watching. And high profile ministers continue to promote him as a man of God. So let's ask: Who IS guilty here? Surely, Schuller. But how about those that keep him in business?
The Principle of Satan
From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savor not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt. 16:21-25)
This passage illustrates the principle of Satan vs. the Truth as well as any other. Jesus told his disciples that He had to die in order to be raised. That was His path, and the only one that could be Godís will. But more, Jesus plainly stated it was the only path possible for US Ė if we want to find true life. Peter, in complete ignorance, tried to persuade Him that this could not possibly be the will of a loving God. Death could never be necessary to have life. Rather, Peter wanted Jesus to take the throne as Messiah, and have everything promise by God without the Cross Ė without death. Jesus did not mince words. He called Peter by the name, "Satan." Because Peter was ignorant, but in his ignorance wanted to do things the way MEN would do them, rather than the way GOD does them, he was able to be used, on that occasion, by Satan.
Again, the principle of Satan is to offer us LIFE, and all of the things of LIFE Ė but on our terms. Those terms will always avoid the Cross. And in the end, we will lose everything God wanted to do in our lives.
Satan wants to get Christians absolutely convinced that they can have everything God promises, but through means other than the Cross. What do I mean by this? I donít mean that Satan necessarily tries to say that you can enter into life without coming to the Cross for salvation. No. The issue here is not salvation. It is life after salvation. Iím talking about Satan convincing Christians that ONCE THEY ARE SAVED, that they can have all that is carried with eternal life, but he says they can have it independent of the kingdom of God within them Ė independent of the need to come UNDER the work of the Cross, and the governing of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Satan will say, "Since you are a son of God, you are entitled to everything that Jesus Christ owns."
The other day, I heard Kenneth Copeland preaching on television, and he stated that as sons of God, we are entitled to everything Jesus possesses. He said that because we are joint-heirs with Christ, that we can share in all of the wealth, health, and power that Jesus has. But not merely in the eternal ages. RIGHT NOW. Copeland stated that everything that is need for this is RIGHT NOW IN US Ė and all that we need to do is believe, speak it, confess it, and it will come to pass. He quoted this passage as proof:
The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. (Rom. 8:16)
Of course, this is the basis upon which much of what the positive confession movement is built. And it might sound right. After all, we are joint-heirs with Christ. And not just for the after life. We are joint-heirs now! So canít we have all that this means right now?
Well, indeed, if all we had was that much in Romans 8, then perhaps we ought to begin, "naming it, and claiming it." Perhaps we ought to be teaching that it is the RIGHT of Christians to be rich. We ought to begin taking possession of our rights in Christ. Because after all, spiritual blessings aside, doesnít Christ possess all wealth and material blessings? Didnít He win all of that by His redemption? So why canít we have all of this right now as sons of God?
Well, there is a big reason WHY. First of all, there is more to this verse than just what weíve quoted. In fact, once we quote the rest of the verse, things become plain in a hurry. Indeed, what Satan would like to use to deceive Christians is cleared up. The entire passage reads:
The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. IF SO BE that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom 8:16-18)
Note the big IF that continues the passage. We are joint-heirs with Christ IF Ė IF Ė IF we suffer with Him. Why? Because through suffering we are knocked off our throne, and Jesus is enthroned as Lord of our life. Until then, we cannot reign with Christ as joint-heirs because He isnít reigning! We are.
But you see, people donít want to hear that. In fact, those ministries that promise everything God has for us in Christ Ė but WITHOUT the suffering, and WITHOUT the Cross Ė are the ones raking in millions every year. Why? Because it is a message that appeals to Christian people. This false message is being preached, and it is being embraced and financed. It is sadly, "a team effort."
The Truth is, all of Godís promises are ours IN CHRIST. But until Christ Ė who is the personification of the kingdom within Ė comes to be the Lord of our life, many of those promises cannot be realized. They cannot because they are wrapped up IN HIM Ė and therefore are only unfolded and realized in our experience as HE is unfolded. You cannot have certain promises IN CHRIST unless Christ is your Lord in that area. You cannot. It would harm you, rather than do you good.
And HOW is Jesus unfolded, and made operative Lord of our life? Again -- through the ongoing work of the Cross. We may have surrendered our lives to Christ at salvation, and thus, became sons of God. But now we have to BECOME what we are, so to speak. We have to be shaped in accordance with the inheritance God has for us.
It is through the Cross, that yes, our sin, is dealt with, but also our SELF. Even our, "good self!" It must be so in order to experience the things of God, lest we introduce self into them, and end up becoming worse for it. The Cross will do a work in us that will not only bring us a revelation of Godís will, but will cause us, through our resurrection in Christ, to BECOME Godís will. You must come under the authority of Christ to possess the authority of Christ. It is that simple.
But WHY are things this way? Did God sit down one day and decide to make them hard? No. Life comes only through death because of the nature of things. It is because of where we begin Ė in Adam. We begin in a fallen creation, void of all Truth and life. Thus, all of that must first find itís death through the Cross of Jesus Christ. But not just as a thing Jesus did FOR us. In addition, there must be a death IN US. Only then is Christ made manifest.
You and I have no ability, no knowledge, let alone character, to rightly possess the things of God unless there is first a death to our self-interest. Self-interest may work in this world. But it cannot work in the things of God. We have to become those who want only Godís will, and indeed, are in the process of becoming those who ARE His will.
Do we actually believe that God is so foolish to hand over, "the glory to be revealed," to people who, while saved, have yet to have their wills surrendered to God? Or to those who know almost nothing about the Truth of God in Christ? Do we realize how destructive this would be? If God made it possible for you and I to move into the fullness of our inheritance just because we, "named it, and claimed it," we would become prideful and arrogant. We would ruin everything. That is why the Cross is necessary. When we enter into these things through death, there will be little pride left to ruin things.
The Kingdom of God
God fills the Bible with promises to His children. God promises to supply all of our needs. He promises an abundant life. He tells us that He wants us to prosper and be in good health. All of these things are in the Bible, and God wants them for us. But as we have seen, there is a BIG CATCH. This, "catch," isnít a bad thing. It is a good, necessary, and merciful thing. That catch is this: God offers none of those THINGS independent of offering us the PERSON. In other words, if you want to be blessed of God, then God may do this for many reasons, but His highest is to bless us with Christ FIRST, and then along the way, "all these things," can be added to us.
If you know the Bible, you recognize a paraphrase here of Matthew 6:33. There, Jesus gave the fundamental principle of His provision for us: Seek you first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things Ė basic provisions Ė will be added unto you. This is a principle that God is never going to violate. He may bless the just and unjust in the short-term, but in the end, everything is going to come down to His long-term purpose: Christ in us Ė who IS the kingdom or rule of God personified in us. And Christ in us will always take precedent. "All these things," will be added unto us as they serve this eternal purpose of God.
Now, if we had any sense at all, we would be grateful to God that He is faithful to maintain His eternal purpose, even when we do not cooperate. For if God was steered away from His eternal purpose, we would suffer the eternal consequences. But no. Jesus said to seek first the kingdom within Ė Christ in us Ė because that is what God is doing. And once that priority is established, then God will be free to add to us THINGS Ė because those things will also come under the kingdom of God, and be safe for us to possess, because Christ first possesses us.
Ok. But Iíve really said all of that to get back to the point at which I started: Satan wants to get us to seek first THINGS that we want, or even things that we NEED. Indeed, he wants us to be convinced that it is Godís will for us to seek THINGS. Or, to get to a bigger picture, Satan wants us to believe that it is Godís will for us to have, "our best life now." Not, HIS life in us, through the Cross, mind you, but OUR best life now Ė what we want, and how we want it. Just claim it as your right in Christ. Confess it. Speak it. It will come to pass.
Well, God wants to bless us. But just as a parent should not indulge children to their hurt, God would never do so to us. Thus, God tells us that if we want, "His Best Life Now," that the only way is by first surrendering OUR LIFE NOW to the Cross Ė yes, for salvation, but also through a daily carrying of our Cross. With God, life is always the product of death. But with Satan, life is the product of avoiding death; of avoiding the Cross.
The Best Seller
Satanís ploy is apparently working. For as mentioned, one of the best sellers today is a book entitled, "Your Best Life Now," by Joel Osteen. Not that Osteen has a unique message today. What he teaches in his book is really nothing more than a summary of what many other false teachings suggest. His book is quite positive, religious, and sounds like it is God honoring. It is NOT. In the end, it denies the Cross of Jesus Christ Ė if in no other way, by omission.
We have to recognize that for the principle of Satan to be able to deceive people, it must be somewhat clothed in bits and pieces of Truth. Heresy is always like that. It uses Bible terms, and in some places, says some things that are right. But in the end, the CORE is corrupt. Heresy, in the end, always end up legitimizing something LESS than Godís glory, Godís will, and our experience in Christ.
There is no such thing as heresy that sounds bad. No one would buy into it. There is no such thing as heresy that doesnít appeal to a certain type of person. Again Ė there has to be bait. So in a book such as this one, it is not surprising that the love of God is talked about, and that there are some things stated that are true. This is never the point. The question is: Does it represent God plan and purpose? It is the Truth? Answer that question, and the rest is moot.
This book is error. Indeed, it is somewhat of a handbook for the principle of Satan. I do recognize that when I say, "principle of Satan," that this may seem harsh to some people. But that is exactly what it is. You see, these heresies have crept into the church so slowly, and with such subtlety, that we have hardly noticed. Many who preach the principle of Satan are rich, and have thriving ministries. Surely, we think, they must be blessed of God, and therefore, they must be preaching the Truth. Not so. Not close. Sadly, even many of those who teach these errors are deceived Ė they are not necessarily knowingly preaching error. It is up to God to judge hearts. But we are COMMANDED to judge the teachings, and COMMANDED to, "test the spirits."
In Osteenís book, there are many things stated that are outright errors. But what is missing is the biggest error of all Ė the Truth that experiencing life in Christ is impossible without death to our life, our will, our plans, our dreams. Thus, what emerges due to this omission is the principle of Satan -- that your dream and your best life now can be yours if you will simply follow 7 steps outlined in the book. You donít need the Cross. You donít need the Truth to be set free. You need the seven steps.
But rather than ask anyone to take my word for it, let me simply cut and paste a description of this book from the website of Joel Osteen himself.
How do you break out and experience the full potential that God intended you to have?
The answer lies in a simple, yet profound process to change the way you think about your life and help you accomplish what's truly important.
In this straightforward guide, Joel Osteen gives you seven simple, insightful steps to improve your life for good, and help you experience victory, joy and satisfaction everyday!
This inspiring #1 New York Times Bestseller will put you on a journey to a brighter future. Your new beginning starts with these seven steps:
One - Enlarge Your Vision
Two - Develop a Healthy Self-Image
Three - Discover the Power of Your Thoughts and Words
Four - Let Go of the Past
Five - Find Strength Through Adversity
Six - Live to Give
Seven - Choose to be Happy
In this remarkable book, Joel Osteen offers you unique insights and encouragement that will help you overcome every obstacle you may encounter.
Your life has a divine purpose and destiny. As you put the principles found in these pages to work, you will begin living "Your Best Life Now!"
I guess we ought to be happy that God was at least mentioned in this advertisement Ė and in the first sentence. Note that these seven steps that we are given are said to be the way that you can, "experience the full potential God intended you to have." (In contrast, the Bible says to find your life in Christ, you must first LOSE it. Again Ė life from DEATH.) The book also teaches that your new beginning, "starts with these seven steps." (The Bible says that your new beginning begins with repentance from sin, death in Christ, and a resurrection. It is then that HIS will that emerges -- not your dream for yourself.) And lastly, as you, "put the principles found in these pages to work," you are told that you will, "begin living Your Best Life Now!" No. The way to begin living your best life now is to, again, lose your life now. And then begin living, not for your dream, but for Godís glory.
Joel Osteen, of course, is one of the latest products of the, "name it and claim it," crowd. Just read his step #3 above, "Discover the Power of Your Thoughts and Words," and you will see this. Pastor Osteen pastors one of the biggest churches today, and his popularity could not be at a higher pitch. People respond to his message.
Well, Iím not going to take the time to address each of his seven points. I would rather speak to his message more generally, because it typifies what is happening in the Body of Christ today. But for the sake of clarity, let me just put his seven points alongside of the Bible Truth, and see how they stack up.
|One||Enlarge Your Vision||Enlarge Godís vision.|
|Two||Develop a Healthy Self-Image||Become conformed to the image of Christ|
|Three||Discover the Power of Your Thoughts and Words||Discover how weak you are.|
|Four||Let Go of the Past||Learn from the past and repent where necessary.|
|Five||Find Strength Through Adversity||Find His strength through your weakness.|
|Six||Live to Give||Live for God.|
|Seven||Choose to be Happy||Choose Godís will.|
The fact is, this book, and many like them, are nothing more than pop-psycho babble. In fact, you donít even need to have the life of Christ in you to practice most of what is taught. Such things have been taught for decades by psychologists Ė stripped of the religion. These books are outright denials of the work of the Cross in the Christian life. They corrupt the gospel of Jesus Christ and offer a way that preserves, even exalts, a personís pride and self-esteem. Robert Schuller, Iím sure, loves this book.
If you listen to some of these preachers, you would swear that the reason we ought to come to Jesus is for all the things we will get as the result: Health, wealth, and favor. Somehow lost in this is the fact that we ought to come to Jesus because we want delivered from sin; delivered from ourselves. Delivered because we have been wrong with God and want to be right. And how about coming to Christ because we are accountable to God? Or because we have seen His love for us? But you see, once you avoid talking about sin and repentance, and the need for the Cross, what you pretty much end up with IS a picnic, isnít it? You end up with your best life now. Too bad Job, Daniel, Joseph, and the apostle Paul, let alone Jesus, didnít have Osteenís book. They could have saved themselves much unnecessary trouble and suffering.
The Gospel According to JoelIt is totally unnecessary to guess at what Joel Osteen believes and teaches. Not only do we have his book, but to promote his book, he recently appeared on Larry King, on July 3rd. He was asked direct questions by Larry King Ė questions which were obviously geared to getting him in trouble Ė if he actually took a stand for Christ. But worry not. Osteen did what he does best Ė sit on the fence.
Now take note of the fact that Joel Osteen was appearing on national television Ė a secular program. He was being called upon to publicly witness to Jesus Christ. Read His words. Does it sound like he was being forthright? Or does it sound like he wants to do anything he can, including compromise the Truth, in order to avoid offending anyone?
The following is taken verbatim from the transcript of the program:
KING: But donít you think i f people donít believe as you believe, theyíre somehow condemned?
OSTEEN: You know, I think that happens in our society. But I try not to do that. I tell people all the time, preached a couple Sundays about it. Iím for every body. You may not agree with me, but to me itís not my job to try to straighten every body out. The Gospel [is] called the good news. My message is a message of hopeóthat Godís for you. You can live a good life no matter whatís happened to you. And so I donít know. I know there is condemnation but I donít feel thatís my place.Ö
KING: Many evangelists feel that the church, the church it self, the religion, has failed. You share that view?
OSTEEN: Well, I think in a sense when you see certain things in society you would think that. But in another sense I see faith in America, faith in the world, at an all-time high to day. When I was growing up it was a big deal to have a church of 1,000. Now thereís churches of 10,000. So many of them. So I think in one sense I can agree with that point. But in an other sense I see a real spiritual awakening taking place.Ö
KING: Is it hard to lead a Christian life?
OSTEEN: I donít think itís that hard. To me itís fun. We have joy and happiness. Our familyóI donít feel like that at all. Iím not trying to follow a set of rules and stuff. Ií m just living my life.
KING: What if youíre Jewish or Muslim, you donít accept Christ at all?
OSTEEN: You know, Iím very careful about saying who would and wouldnít go to Heaven. I donít knowÖ
KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ, theyíre wrong, arenít they?
OSTEEN: Well, I donít know if I believe theyíre wrong. I believe hereís what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God will judge a personís heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don ít know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I donít know. Iíve seen their sincerity. So I donít know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.
CALLER: Hello, Larry. Youíre the best, and thank you, JoeóJoelófor your positive messages and your book. Iím wondering, though, why you side-stepped Larryís earlier question about how we get to Heaven? The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and the only way to the Father is through him. Thatís not really a me sage of condemnation but of truth.
OSTEEN: Yes, I would agree with her. I believe that.
KING: So then a Jew is not going to Heaven?
OSTEEN: No, hereís my thing, Larry, is I canít judge some bodyís heart. You know? Only God can look at some - bodyís heart, and soóI donít know. To me, itís not my business to say, you know, this one is or this one isnít. I just say, hereís what the Bible teaches and Iím going to put my faith in Christ. And I justóI think itís wrong when you go around saying, youíre not going, youíre not going, youíre not going, youíre not going, be cause itís not exactly my way. Iím justÖ
KING: But you believe your way.
OSTEEN: I believe my way. I believe my way with all my heart.
KING: But for some one who doesnít share it is wrong, isnít he?
OSTEEN: Well, yes. Well, I donít know if I look at it like that. I would present my way, but Iím just going to let God be the judge of that. I donít know. I donít know.
KING: So you make no judgment on anyone?
OSTEEN: No. But I ...
KING: What about atheists?
OSTEEN: You know what, Iím going to let some oneóIím going to let God be the judge of who goes to Heaven and hell. I justóagain, I present the truth, and I say it every week. You know, I believe itís a relationship with Jesus. But you know what? Iím not going to go around telling every body else if they donít want to believe that, thatís going to be their choice. Godís got to look at your own heart. Godís got to look at your heart, and only God knows that.
Osteenís answers sound SO loving, donít they? He refuses to judge. Wow. But wait. Read again his answers to Larry King. What Osteen has really refused to do is take a stand for Jesus Christ. He refused to speak the Truth Ė because he knew that it would paint him as a narrow-minded Christian preacher Ė something the media loves to do to those who dare preach the gospel.
You see, we live in a day and age where if you take a stand for Jesus Christ, you will appear to many people to be a mean-spirited, narrow-minded, religious fanatic, who condemns to hell everyone who is not a Christian. This is the stereotype that the media has succeeded in creating. And unfortunately, there are some preachers out there who give them plenty of ammunition and justification for doing so. But Christians Ė especially some preachers -- wind up doing all they can to avoid being put into that stereotype. But why are we getting into this arena? Why are we allowing the media, atheists, and agnostics, to make the rules? Why are we reacting to them, defending ourselves against them, and trying to make sure we look good the THEM? We are wasting our time! Why not just preach the Truth, in love, and allow the media, and anyone else, to make it mean what they want? They will anyways.
When we get to the place where we will not speak the Truth in love because we know it is going to put us in a bad light, make people mad, or cost us dollars, we have betrayed Jesus Christ. Read the book of Acts, and follow the life of the apostle Paul. Can you imagine them appearing on Larry King and giving the answers given by Joel Osteen?
Read the transcript again. Larry King is not a Christian. His questions were not asked because he was curious. He was trying to draw out Joel Osteen into taking a stand. Either Larry King wanted Osteen to take a stand, and thus, appear hateful as a Christian preacher, or King knew Osteen would not take a stand, and thus, Larry King and others would have more ammunition against those that do take a stand. But Joel Osteen was not the first Christian preacher to be on Larry King, nor the first to be asked those exact questions. There was very little spontaneous about this interview. Both Larry King and Joel Osteen knew that, and this leaves very little excuse for the answers Osteen gave.
What makes it worse is that Larry King did not ask Joel Osteen to judge an individual by name. If King has said, "Joel, do you think that Sadam Hussein is going to hell?," then Osteen could have said, "If he doesnít turn and repent, and surrender his life to Christ, he is going to hell. The same goes for me and everyone else." That would have been the right answer if King has asked Osteen about individuals Ė and it would have stopped short of deciding for God about Hussein. Yet that answer would have been the Truth: Unless we repent, we will perish. Jesus IS the only way to the Father. But Larry King didnít get that specific. He simply talked about GROUPS Ė Jews, Muslims, and atheists. He said, "If these do not turn to Christ, will they go to hell?" And Osteenís answer? Again and again, "Well, I donít know. I donít want to judge."
It is amazing to me how many Christians have been hoodwinked into believing that if you call right and wrong by their names, that this is judging. It is not judging. For Peteís sake, God gave us Holy law to show us right and wrong, and to convict us as sinners, so that we will turn to Christ. God wants us to know right from wrong. Thatís why He gave His law to begin with!
The fact is, the closer you get to Christ, the clearer you are going to see right from wrong. But this is NOT judging. It is discernment. And there is a big difference.
To discern means to see the Truth Ė about anything. To judge means that I play God, and decide what an individual deserves. Thus, if I were asked whether I thought Sadam Hussein is going to hell, I could honestly say that unless he turns to Christ he is going to hell. I could even say that based on what he has done in his life, it is clear that to this point, that he has not turned to Christ. But it would be wrong for me to pronounce the sentence of eternal hell upon him Ė no matter how sure I think I am about what he deserves. Despite the fact that I can preach the Truth -- unless he turns to Christ he is going to hell Ė I can leave it to God to send him there.
But if I am asked about GROUPS, then I see no problem is making the same application of the Truth. If you are a Muslim Ė in other words, you deny Jesus Christ Ė you have no life in you. You arenít going to heaven. You CANíT go to heaven. The same goes for Jews. But the same also goes for a professing Christian, in this country, who denies Jesus Christ. There is no confusion about this. There is no middle ground. And the fact is, if you sit on the fence on these issues, it not only makes you guilty of teaching error and compromise, but it betrays that there is something terribly wrong between yourself and God.
The gospel of Jesus excludes NO ONE. Jesus died for ALL who ever lived. But only those who hear and believe are saved. Those who hear and refuse are eternally judged by God. The issue here, however, is not whether you are called a Christian. The issue here is whether you have eternal life Ė Christ Ė in you. That is the issue. And until you repent of your old life, and embrace Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you do not have life in you.
The reason Jesus is the only Way to the Father is because He alone is God Incarnate, who bore the sin of the world, and was raised. That is why. It is not because Christians think they are better than others, or that Christianity is an exclusive, narrow-minded religion. No. God invites all to believe and embrace Christ! But only those who do are saved.
The moment you water-down, or side-step, this gospel, you are not only denying Christ Himself, but you are hurting those for whom He died. You are leaving room for another way to God Ė and there are plenty of people who will embrace any other way except through Christ. You are actually, if you leave room for another way to God, a deceiver.
Back to Joel Osteen. Joel Osteen is at the height of his popularity. He has a church of over 20,000, and a national television audience. He KNOWS his responsibility as a highly visible minister. He knew he was going to be on Larry King, and surely had some sense of anticipation as to the questions he would be asked on such a program. Therefore, he had NO business being wrong about these issues, and NO business going on Larry King and speaking less than the Truth. If he is truly called as a ministry of Jesus Christ, he knows this. He KNOWS.
Thus, we are really left with only two explanations for his answers. First, he whimped out. He drew back out of fear of being criticized. Or, he just got confused about the most important question possible, and could not answer clearly about it -- as a pastor and supposed man of God.
I do want to be fair. Osteen actually DID issue an apology for the words he spoke on Larry King. That's right. But he did so only after being flooded with phone calls and emails. I will assume that he was sincere, and did not do this simply to keep himself looking good because of all of the calls. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
"I appreciate your comments and value your words of correction and encouragement," he said. "It was never my desire or intention to leave any doubt as to what I believe and whom I serve. I believe with all my heart that it is only through Christ that we have hope in eternal life. I regret and sincerely apologize that I was unclear on the very thing in which I have dedicated my life."
"It wasn't until I had the opportunity to review the transcript of the interview that I realize I had not clearly stated that having a personal relationship with Jesus is the only way to heaven,"
"It's about the individual's choice to follow Him. God has given me a platform to present the gospel to a very diverse audience. In my desire not to alienate the people that Jesus came to save, I did not clearly communicate the convictions that I hold so precious."(http://www.charismanow.com/a.php?ArticleID=11413)
I have a bit of a problem believing that he did not realize what he had said until he read the transcript, because again -- I'm not sure it is possible to give those answers to those most important questions and not realize it. Would not the Holy Spirit in you be grieved?
Furthermore, Osteen practically ADMITS that he DID realize what he was saying in the second paragraph above. He says, "In my desire not to alienate the people that Jesus came to save, I did not clearly communicate the convictions that I hold so precious." In other words, he is admitting that he drew back out of fear of alienating or offending people.
My goodness. In other words, because we don't want to alienate the very people that Jesus came to save, we don't openly proclaim Jesus? We let them believe that there are other ways to be saved? Does that make sense? Well, it does if we have little concept of the Truth, or simply want ourselves to look good.
Is this what the Bible teaches -- that Christ ought not to be preached openly, lest anyone get offended? No. In fact, despite speaking the Truth in love, the early apostles were put to death for what they preached. They offended everyone who did not want to come to Christ.
Ok, look, I don't want to condemn Joel Osteen, or pick him apart. He messed up, big time. He is human. But what is troubling is that this type of thing CHARACTERIZES his ministry. Think not? Well, here's another quote:
ďListen; donít dangle people over the fires of hell. Lisa and I always kid about you know weíre going to dangle them over the fires of hell. Listen, that doesnít draw people to God. They know what kind of life they live. They know how bad theyíve lived. What youíve got to do is talk about the goodness of God. Listen, itís the goodness of God that brings people to repentance. Itís 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.Ē [Joel Osteen, Sermon: What the Resurrection Means to Us As Believers]
God IS good. But let's ask: Does God send people to hell? Yes, he does. The point is, if you are going to talk about the goodness of God, you are going to have to talk about the badness of man. The goodness of God brings people to repentance because the goodness of God brings out the badness of our sin. Do you really think you can be saved without repenting of sin? And do you think you can repent of sin without seeing it, and being convicted? And do you really believe that people truly know how bad they have lived -- until they see their sin. My point is this: We are to carry God's message. Is the above suggestion by Joel Osteen God's message? Or is it only half of it?
I read in the above quote a bit of the same attitude as caused the confusion on Larry King -- we don't want to offend people with the Cross, sin, repentance, or their true condition. So let's preach a message which avoids all of that, and simply talks about how good GOD is.
The gospel of Joel Osteen is precisely the gospel of self-esteem, repackaged -- but not very much repackaged. It the gospel which says that it is God's goal to come and make us a beautiful person -- and that there is really nothing that He needs to subtract from us, like sin. It is the gospel of affirmation, not of true salvation.
Here is one last quote from Joel Osteen, speaking about his church, and why they don't have the Cross hanging up front:
It's not a churchy feel. We don't have crosses up there. We believe in all that, but I like to take the barriers down that have kept people from coming.
Once again we see the REMOVAL of anything that might offend people. Sounds loving, doesn't it? And it does get people into his church. But is that really helping people see the Truth? Is it really the gospel?
I've got a better idea: Let's put the Cross up front and center so that everyone understands that it is central to the gospel, and that sooner or later they are going to have to come to the Cross.
My suspicion is that those who preach this cushy gospel THEMSELVES have never come to terms with the nature of their OWN sin, and consequently, they have no concept of the Truth. Just a guess. But the message usually reflects what is going on between God and the messenger.
Do we see what is happening here? Joel Osteen, and others like him, have developed the idea that the way we get people to embrace the Truth is by hiding the Truth, lest they get offended by the Truth! In other words, hide the real Truth and spring it on them later? Gulp! The way we bring people to the Cross is by hiding the Cross? The way we turn people to Christ is by, "easing them into it," or by, "warming them up to the idea?" This is not what the Bible teaches.
Furthermore, Osteen has already told us that, "people know how bad they have lived." Right? We just read that in a quote. Well, if that is the case, then they won't get offended by the Cross hanging up in front of the church, will they? Rather, they will embrace it! -- because they know they need it!
Unfortunately, when you begin to look into what Joel Osteen has said in other interviews, what he writes in his book, and what he preaches, all of it pretty much lines up with why he said what he said on Larry King. He does not want to offend people. I wonder then, why Jesus said, "If they have hated me, they will hate you." And why did Peter write:
Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. (1 Pet 2:6-8)
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a threat of punishment. It is an offer of life -- but only through the Cross. And if it is preached in Truth, and in love, it is going to offend everyone who loves his life, and who will not come to terms with his accountability before God.
It is probably hard for many Christians to accept that someone this popular, with that big of a church, with that much money, and that much support, even from OTHER ministers, could actually be OUT of the will of God, preaching what amounts to heresy. But that is exactly the case with Joel Osteen. But he is not alone. There are many like him today. Have we forgotten that we are in the midst of a great apostasy?
The True Gospel
Joel Osteen makes people feel good about themselves. His success and popularity is a testimony to the fact that this is exactly what CHRISTIAN people want. I understand that many are not deliberately buying into this false message, but are deceived. I also understand that part of the reason why deception is so rampant today is due to the complete lack of Truth being preached. But all of this is nothing more than what the Body of Christ Ė and I speak in general terms Ė has produced. Preach the Cross and NO ONE will donate money to your ministry. Preach the gospel of self-esteem and get rich doing it. This isnít the case everywhere, or all the time, but watch Christian television. What is the message you continually see there? Answer that question and you will know what message Christian people are financing Ė and believing.
I donít know Joel Osteen. But what he is preaching is error. Terrible error. And I donít care how many people pat him on the back, or how many people attend his church. I donít care how successful he is, or how many popular ministers back him up. Paul the apostle told the Galatians that if anyone preaches a gospel other than the true gospel, that he was, "accursed." Those are sobering words. Do we believe them? Or do we put them aside and think that it really doesnít matter? What gospel does Joel Osteen preach? What gospel do we find in his book, and his answers to Larry King?
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not fire and brimstone. But it is a gospel that must begin by making us aware of our lost condition. Apparently Joel Osteen is completely unaware of the need of human beings to be delivered from their sin, delivered from the snare of the Devil, and delivered from the path of self-destruction typical of human beings from the start. Apparently, Osteen believes that if we just avoid all of that, and tell everyone that Jesus loves them, and refuse to preach the real Truth, that somehow God will get His way.
God doesnít tell us we are sinners to bring CONDEMNATION upon us. He tells us we are sinners to bring us ILLUMINATION. The gospel exposes us as sinners so that we will realize we are without hope unless we receive Christ. But unless we see the Truth about ourselves, we will NEVER think we need a Savior. We cannot value what Christ has done for us unless we see our own spiritual poverty and lost condition. In short, it is absolutely impossible for you and I to repent of sin unless we see we are sinners. It is absolutely impossible for you and I to embrace Jesus Christ with saving faith unless we first see we are DEAD in trespasses and sins. You leave that part out of the gospel and you are not preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. You are preaching heresy. You are denying the very core Ė the Cross of Jesus Christ.
If I were a Muslim or a Jew, and had recently heard the true gospel, and had begun to be drawn to Jesus Christ by God, would what I heard Joel Osteen say on Larry King have furthered my salvation, or hindered it?
Joel Osteen preaches the gospel of self-esteem. He preaches a gospel which, to appear legitimate, mentions sin, repentance, and holiness. But in the end, it is a gospel geared to pleasing everyone, and making us feel good about ourselves. It is the gospel of, "Your Best Life Now."
I was sitting in a dentistís office the other day, and to my surprise, there was among the magazines, a, "financial accountability statement," issued by one of the most familiar Christian TV ministries today. It was issued by one of the prosperity, "name it, and claim it," ministries. According to this statement, this ministry collected close to seventy million dollars last year in donations. Tax free, of course. But rather than get into what is done with the money by this ministry, my point really has more to do with the fact that this much money was given to this ministry, and many others like it, by Christians. Why? The answer may sound negative or critical to some, but I believe it is the truth: Most Christian people give money to these ministries because they are promised blessings from God in exchange for their donations. It is that simple. This may not apply to all who give, but it probably does to most. And THAT is a sad commentary.
Are there no financial needs among the body of Christ? Ė such that the people that gave all this money could not find any place else to give their money? Are there no poor among us? Sure there are. But you see, poor people cannot promise blessings in return for financial help. These ministries do. So they get the money from Christians.
I think about 70 million dollars donated. Seventy million dollars, when there are Christians out there who cannot even pay their light bill. Seventy million dollars to that TV ministry, when some folks cannot afford medicine, or even gas for their car. Seventy million dollars Ė and that is just one ministry. We might excuse this by saying that the ministry in question gives some of the money to charity, but it is a lame excuse. WE can give to charity, and avoid the middle man. WE can give to needy people. Probably every one of us have people in the very church we attend that need help. Or, perhaps we know of ministries, without all of the hype, that teach the Truth. But the facts are, those kinds of needs are NOT being met today by Christians. So often, those that promise health and wealth in exchange for donations are the ones who are being given all this money.
Letís ask ourselves a rather daring question: If a preacher got up on television and said, "I will accept donations. But I donít believe that God requires tithing, so donít send me your money if it is a tithe. I cannot accept it. I also donít believe that it is my place to guarantee you a blessing from God as a direct reward for your donation to me Ė for that is entirely up to God, and not me. Furthermore, donít send me money that you cannot afford to give. That is not Godís will either. You are to give from what you have Ė not from what you donít have. I will accept donations for one reason: You recognize that what I am preaching is the Truth, and as that, you value it. I will accept it if your donation is from a sincere desire to see to it that this message gets out."
If a preacher did that, how much money do you think would come in? Iím afraid to guess.
If you discovered that any donations you make, to ministries or individuals, has no reward attached to it, either now or for eternity, would you still give money? Out of pure love? Because you want the Truth of God to be preached? Because you have compassion for people who are in need? Ė and nothing more? You see, once we ask that question, it really exposes our motives, doesnít it? Yet read the book of Acts. Youíll find NO OTHER reason for giving except love for God and people. And no hesitation upon that basis.
Incidentally, Iím not saying God wonít bless us if we give. Iím saying it is up to Him whether He wants to bless our giving. But be careful. God isnít likely to bless us if we are giving to those preaching error. And He isnít going to bless us if we give to get. He blesses us Ė in His time, and in His way, according to His overall plan and purpose Ė if we give without any expectation of a pay back. But that is not something you will likely ever hear on television.
The Bible teaches that if you give without strings attached Ė and that is what it would REALLY MEAN to give by faith Ė then God will be free to give to YOU without strings attached. The measure you give Ė the Greek means, "the method you use to calculate your giving Ė is the same method that you will receive from God. But this is a Truth that should govern not just giving money. It is the Truth of Godís grace, and it ought to govern our lives in every way.
How money is handled, according to Jesus, tells much about where our heart is. Thus, where Christians give money, and more importantly, WHY they give it, tells plenty about the real motivation of our lives.
Losing Our Life
Do you and I want, "Our Best Life Now?" The Bible says that if we want to find our life we must first lose it. Translated, this means we must die to everything we want Ė even die to our right to ourselves Ė and then, and only then, will we find our life in Christ. The life we find will be everything we could have wanted.
But are we instead going to believe that the way to have our best life now is to follow Osteenís seven steps? Do we still think that we can treat God like He is a slot machine, and that all we need to do is push the right buttons, pull the right levers, and the money will pop out? This is utter nonsense.
Again Ė it cannot be said too many times -- Jesus actually gives us ONE step to follow if you want your best life now: Surrender to Him your best life now. Lose it. Let it go into His hands. Then, He will give us HIS BEST LIFE NOW Ė in us. And all things will be added unto us which God sees fit to give us.
But you see, that completely takes out of the picture any possibility of US directing GOD, controlling God, or deciding our so-called dream. It removes from us the right to decide what IS our best life now. Rather, it calls us to surrender and LOSE our lives, and leaves it to God to decide. Many will not do this. And today, more and more, this great Truth of the Bible is being totally obliterated by the heresy of the health and wealth gospel.
Open your Bible, if you would, and find ONE VERSE where it ever says that God wants to bring to pass YOUR dream. Find ONE VERSE where it is ever suggested that Godís purpose is anything less than HIS WILL in us and through us. You canít. But what you do find is that right from the beginning, from the garden of Eden, through the OT, and right in the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, Satan has tried to get man to bring to pass what seemed like the will of God on his own terms. THAT has always been the deception.
Get that. If Satan can get us to do our own will, he will be happy. But for Christians, Satan usually tries something else. He will offer us GODíS WILL Ė but manís way. Thus, we have the gospel of self-esteem, which seems good to some people because, surely we think, God wants us to be happy with ourselves. We have the gospel of health and wealth, because surely we think, God has promised health and wealth. But everyone of these false teachings leaves out the fact that God has NEVER promised anything to anyone except on HIS TERMS. And Godís terms are always through THE CROSS, and according to His will and purpose. Always. Ignore that, and what might have been a blessing from God becomes a deception and heresy.
The Good News
So often the gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached with the right words, but in the framework of a false picture of God. Preachers begin the gospel by telling folks they are sinners, and that is right. But they present the gospel as a message that is more a threat of punishment than an offer of life. They say, "You are a sinner. Believe in Jesus or God will send you to hell!" This is something that does little in this day and age to convict people. And what has happened is that many have turned to this hybrid, false gospel of self-esteem.
The gospel of self-esteem offers people everything God wants to give us, but not through repentance of sin. If offers LIFE in Christ, without the necessity of the Cross. In other words, we are told to just, "come to Jesus," or, "accept Jesus into your heart." Sounds right, doesnít it?
But behind these words is really nothing more than an invitation to sort of, "join a club," or, "get on the Jesus bandwagon." Thus, salvation is not LIFE. It is feeling good about yourself. It is really an affirmation of YOU, rather than an affirmation of Christ. And frankly, once people are told about everything God will give them in exchange for, "believing in Jesus," they agree, well, to believe in Him! This has NOTHING to do with repentance, or with coming to Christ as someone who realizes they are dead spiritually. It turns Christ into nothing more than a blessing machine.
This is NOT the gospel of Jesus Christ. But neither is a gospel that is preached as a threat of punishment. The real good news of Jesus Christ is not a message that states, "Believe in Jesus, or God will send you to hell!" (Although hell IS the alternative to Christ.) The real gospel states, "You are already lost and on your way to hell. Jesus came to give you LIFE." That is good news.
The Truth of the gospel will bring you to a total despair about yourself. Perhaps not right away, but eventually. But the Truth isnít going to leave you there, in despair, or depressed. Because the Truth always presents Christ as the solution Ė not the solution as a nice idea to believe in, but the solution as life personified. And with the Person who is LIFE, comes all the THING of life Ė as God determines fits into His plan and purpose for us.
The average human being has no frame of reference for a life where all confidence and all joy is taken in someone other than themselves Ė namely Jesus Christ. This requires a miracle Ė an alteration of what makes us tick. It requires a complete dismantling, and then a rebuilding of our inner constitution. Indeed, unless the Holy Spirit is at work in a life, we wonít even know that any such thing as this IS Godís goal, or that there IS such a condition possible. This blindness is part of the reason why the false gospel of self-esteem makes inroads. We know there is something wrong, and this false gospel may, for some, seem to fix it.
Normally, we know of only two options when it comes to SELF. We have LOW self-esteem, and we have high self-esteem. But if we really knew the Truth, we would see that BOTH are from exactly the same motivation. High self-esteem is confidence and pride in self Ė a confidence that is bringing satisfaction. Low self-esteem is likewise confidence and pride in self Ė except that presently it is NOT bringing satisfaction. Thus, both high and low self-esteem have the same goal and the same focus: SELF. Pride. Yet at present, one is working and one isnít.
The Truth of God in Jesus Christ does not feed high self-esteem, but neither does it create low self-esteem Ė although initially it will bring us low, and even to the point of utter despair over ourselves. But in the end, what the Truth does is SET US FREE FROM SELF Ė indeed, it teaches us to leave ourselves alone. It does this by revealing to us Jesus Christ. In the process, we DIE in Him, and are raised to newness of life Ė life where HE is our focus, not ourselves.
But you see, if all this is to us is a teaching, or a clever way of presenting the gospel, then we will never get it. You only enter into the reality of what I have just described, not by believing you need to die, but by dying. You must die daily. But the gospel of self-esteem has cleverly side-stepped this whole necessity of carrying our cross, and offers a substitute as the real in the place of life in Christ.
The Pivot Point
Letís go back to something I touched on earlier. There is ONE THING that the entire gospel messages hinges upon. If you eliminate that ONE THING, there is no need for a gospel, or for Jesus. And that one thing is this: By natural birth, you are DEAD. You arenít dead because you have sinned. You sin because you were born dead. Every sin you commit is the result of you being dead spiritually. Thus, what you need is LIFE. And all the self-help books in the world canít give you life.
There is only one way to get life. You have to first DIE. Life always comes through death because of the fallen race. The old must die or there cannot be a new. This false gospel of today, however, denies this basic Truth Ė and offers life another way. And in doing so, this false gospel is denying Christ Himself.
WHO YOU ARE IN ADAM must be addressed. Adam cannot be ignored, made to feel good about himself, or helped. Adam must DIE Ė in Christ. And despite the fact that when God begins to deal with us along this line, it might seem as if He is coming down on us, He is really trying to get us to see the Truth about ourselves Ė we are dead in sin. Only then will we turn and receive Christ on Godís terms.
There is probably no better way to completely destroy the gospel of Jesus Christ than to refuse to admit that people are sinners. Yet this is exactly what Joel Osteen, Robert Schuller, and other like them, are doing. Letís read a few passages from scripture for emphasis:
And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.(John 16:8-11)
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hates the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. (John 3:19-20)
And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (1 Tim 1:14-15)
I tell you, Nay: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish. (Luke 13:5)
There is simply no way to be saved unless you realize you need to be saved, and unless you turn to Jesus Christ. That is the pivot point Ė to see you are a dead sinner who is WRONG WITH GOD. The Truth starts THERE. Take that out of the gospel, and you pretty much end up with the gospel of self-esteem.
The reason people interpret the convicting words of the gospel as being, "negative," is that they are comfortable in their dead condition. They have no sense of need. Thus, any message that challenges that condition is going to be considered an attack on something good. But attack our complacency the gospel MUST. Yet the gospel is MORE. The good news is GOOD, not because it tears into people and tells them they are sinners. It is good news because once we are illuminated as to the TRUTH ABOUT OURSELVES, we are given a way out in Jesus Christ.
The Offense of the Cross
The Bible says that the Cross Ė where we come AS sinners Ė is an offense to those who are, right now, in the process of perishing. Get that: The Cross will offend you if you are in the process, right now, of PERISHING. How will it offend you? By telling you Jesus died on the Cross? No. That doesnít offend anyone. The Cross offends people by telling them that there is absolutely NOTHING about themselves that can be salvaged. By telling them that the only thing they can do, and the only option they have before God, is to take even, "their best life now," and bring it to the Cross. It offends people by telling them that they are lost sinners whose only path to salvation is through death.
But you see, if you donít have any sense of being a sinner, then being told you are a sinner will offend you. If you are hardened and callous to your absolute bankruptcy before God, then to be told you are a sinner who must come to the Cross will offend you. And if you are so blind, deceived, and prideful Ė to your own sin Ė then you will fashion a positive message which by-passes the Cross, because you will have no clue as to the true condition of man.
If, as a preacher, I avoid using the term, "sinner," and NEVER preach about the Cross in my life, maybe I donít want to offend people. But I would also suggest it is because the Cross is an offense to me. Paul said, "God forbid that I should glory in anything but the Cross."
God does not tell us we are sinners to beat us down. He tells us we are sinners so that we will wake up to our lost condition and turn to Christ. It is all UNTO LIFE and REDEMPTION. But again, if you and I have no frame of reference for needing Christ, we will interpret the gospel as negative. It will offend us. After awhile, we wonít even think the Truth IS the gospel. Weíll look to messages that affirm us as being ok, and tell us that our dreams are what really matter.
Do you think Iím being overly critical, or judgmental? Iíve got news: These teachings today are an abomination in the eyes of God, and He is going to bring judgment upon, not only those preaching them, but upon those funding them. Paul said, "Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, who are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." (Phil 3:18-19)
Do you want your, "best life NOW?" Good. Start by relinquishing your old life NOW. It starts at the Cross. But you wonít read that hardly anywhere on the Christian bestseller list. Indeed, such a message would stand little chance of even getting published today, because publishers know it is a message people will not buy.
Losing Our Dream
As believers, our life is NOT about God giving us what we want Ė our dream. Life is supposed to be about KNOWING HIM. And the sobering fact is, in order to set us free from the bondages of what we want, God must sometimes shatter OUR dreams. But that is not the end of the story. It is only the beginning. Because if we will fall into Godís hands, and let Him determine the outcome, we will come into a relationship with Jesus Christ that IS our dream. And included with that will be everything else God has for us in this life. The real question, therefore, is, "Do we believe this?"
God knows, everyone has dreams for their life. We have wants, desires, and needs. And really, there is nothing wrong with that. We are human. A Christian is not a person who, the minute after he turns to Christ, is so yielded to Christ that he ceases to have feelings, or wants. No. Christianity is NOT asceticism. Furthermore, Christians have many of the same problems, and the same flaws, as do unbelievers. Itís just that if you have surrendered to Christ, you have a new direction Ė a direction that ought to transform your thinking and goals for living.
When I hear ministers of the gospel promise people their dream, I get really uneasy because such a promise is, in many ways, the antithesis of the Truth. When I hear them operate under the assumption that what you and I want in life surely must be what God wants in our life, well, this makes me wonder what Bible they are reading. Again Ė it isnít because I donít think God cares about our hopes and dreams. He does. And I certainly reject the idea that if I have a hope and a dream that surely it cannot be Godís will! Nonsense. But somehow all of this preaching, especially when it is tied to giving THEM money, doesnít line up with scripture.
You see, part of the problem in saying that God wants to give us our dream is that our dream IS our dream often for reasons we cannot suspect. Sometimes our dream is nothing more than an extension of our pride. Often, our dream is a matter of us wanting to possess our life for ourselves now. Sometimes our dream is nothing more than a reaction to spiritual bondage. Maybe we are so ill-equipped for our dream that it would destroy us! Furthermore, do we really believe that we are qualified, before God, to know what is best for us? In reality, if we saw the Truth in Jesus Christ, many of the things we say we want we would no longer want! And we would end up thanking God for NOT giving them to us!
When Jesus said to ASK, and we shall receive, He wasnít saying that whatever we want, God will give us. No. Rather, He was saying, "Seek God. You will then discover His will. Once you do, ASK and you shall receive." Our ASKING is our opening ourselves to God, once His will becomes clear. God is NOT going to give us anything but His will. And it is impossible to have faith for anything except the will of God Ė impossible to move God from HIS will, over to ours, by using our faith! If we are trying to do that, even in ignorance, this is not faith that is of the Holy Spirit. It is our human efforts, emotions, and faith.
If we have dreams that are of God, then God will bring them to pass. But not because WE moved Him to do so. Rather, He will first get US exhausted of our own efforts, and bring us to a rest IN HIM. In short, we cannot move God. God must move us, and usually, this amounts to something ironic: God must MOVE us to the place where we are STILL.
So really, there is only one way to find out if your dream is of God. Surrender it to God. Thatís right. Surrender it Ė not a fake surrender, as a religious hoop to jump through in order to get God to bring it to pass Ė but surrender it and take your hands off of it. If it was of God to begin with, there was never any chance that you were going to bring it to pass anyways. If it was of God, He always intended for you to first surrender it.
In short, if you want to FIND your dream, you must first LOSE YOURSELF in Christ. This, of course, is a paraphrase of a passage in the gospels.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Mat 16:25)
But ask: When is the last time you heard this verse explained in the context of God giving you, "your dream?" It sounds more like God is telling us to surrender our dream Ė before ANYTHING can happen at all! The only time Iíve ever heard this verse so much as mentioned on Christian television is when someone tries to use it to convince people that if they empty their bank account for the current fund-raiser that they are, "losing their life." Does anyone out there really believe that this is what Jesus is referring to?
Jesus doesnít merely want our money, or things from us. He wants US. Our life. That is what He is saying. And He is saying that it is so vital that we cannot find real life in Him until we surrender ourselves to Him.
Now notice something. We donít merely surrender, "our dream" Ė the THING we want. Rather, we surrender OURSELVES. Your, "life," is YOU. Then, after that, your life includes everything in your life. So if you want to find all of that Ė in Godís will Ė you have to first let yourself go, and all of your dreams, into the hands of God.
Iím not talking here about, "giving your life to Christ," as in salvation. That is a given. Iím talking about what happens after salvation. You are going to encounter situations wherein you must make a choice to surrender to Christ, or save your life for yourself. You will encounter specific situations, and you will have overall, more extended situations. But these things are not abstract concepts. They must be lived out over real issues. God wants US, and uses all manner of situations to bring us to these choices.
This is actually a big key to understanding how God works. God is not after THINGS in your life. He is after YOU. God doesnít simply want to show you a THING called, "His will." He wants to reveal HIMSELF to you. If you have spent a long time trying to get God to give you this or that, or trying to get God to show you this or that, this may be the key. God wants YOU, and He wants to give you HIMSELF. This is about RELATIONSHIP, not techniques. Focus on that end of things.
The sobering reality is, it is entirely possible that the dream I have is totally outside of Godís will. I need to come to terms with that. God has never promised that whatever we want, desire, or hope for, is necessarily OF HIM. Now, donít get me wrong. My dream COULD be Godís will. It MIGHT be. But even IF IT IS, it is not going to come to pass until we surrender it. Then God will be free to give it back to us.
Your Best Life
If you want, "Your Best Life Now," donít follow Joel Osteenís seven steps. Instead, come to the Cross of Jesus Christ and spend the rest of your time on this earth carrying it. This will put to death everything that hinders His life IN YOU. And what will emerge is His resurrection life.
Donít fall for the ploy of Satan in his continual attempt to preserve and legitimize Adam, all, "in the name of love." Realize that Jesus Christ died for a reason Ė to save the lost. And that until people realize they ARE lost, they will not turn to Him.
How many of us have realized that the very spirit of antichrist is, in fact, "Christ without the Cross?" Think about that. It tells you exactly where this modern gospel is coming from, and worse, where it is going to lead people.
The gospel of self-esteem is not going to go away anytime soon. It is coming to characterize this day and age among Godís own people. Would that Christian people would be SHAKEN to their foundations and turn back to the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and once for all put these people that preach this terrible heresy out of business.
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selvesÖÖ (2 Tim 3:1-2)
Do you want your, "best life NOW?" Good. Start by relinquishing your old life NOW. The result will be resurrection life in Christ Ė HIS LIFE in us.
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