If a doctor knows his patient has a life threatening disease that can be successfully treated, is he being negative if he tells them their condition, or is he negligent if he keeps quite? If someone knows there are dangerous road conditions ahead, are they being negative if they warn fellow travelers, or are they negligent if they keep quite? I think everyone would agree that in these life-or-death situations, the right thing, the responsible thing, would be to speak up and clearly communicate the truth.
However, in matters of eternal life or death, we don’t seem to have the same clarity. Today’s Christian culture seems to operate from a deep conviction that above all else God wants us to say positive things. This misconception has rendered the church impotent when it comes to speaking life-or-death truths that desperately need to be heard.
Jesus is often perceived as “Mr. Encouragement”; always positive, always uplifting, always patting people on the back and telling them how much he believes in them. But if you get to know Jesus as he is actually revealed in the Bible, you will find that this warm fuzzy perception of Jesus couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus was fully committed to speaking exactly what the Father told him 1, and the Father told him to say exactly what we need to hear. This led him to say some of the most challenging and confrontational things in the Bible.
Here are some things Jesus said concerning salvation that you likely won’t hear preached in most churches.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt 7:13-14 ESV)
Jesus said the way that leads to life is hard, and few find it. What a sobering thought! The popular notion that receiving eternal life is as easy as raising your hand and asking God to forgive you is completely contrary to what Jesus taught. He spoke of the way that leads to life, not just a transactional moment. While it’s true that in every born-again believer’s life there is a moment when they pass from death to life, that moment happens because they choose a new way of living; leaving their old rebellious life and pursuing a way of living that honors God 2.
This in no way negates grace. Grace means that on the cross Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves. Grace means that forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life were purchased for us by Christ. But grace does not mean that laying hold of these things is easy, or that there is no personal cost to attaining the salvation that Christ has provided. Jesus clearly communicated that there is a cost we must pay to enter into salvation.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matt 13:45-46 ESV)
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 10:39 ESV)
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matt 16:24 ESV)
Jesus died for our sin, paying a debt that we could never pay; he did this on his cross. But he says there is a cost we must pay; the cost of losing our life and dying to ourselves on our cross.
“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:24-25 NKJV)
Once again, Jesus makes a statement about how hard it is to be saved. Most people in the United States probably don’t think of themselves as rich because we tend to measure our lifestyle by what we see around us here. But if we use a worldwide perspective, a middle income family in the US falls into the richest 2-3% of the world’s population, with an income that is about 30 times the global average. So the average American qualifies not only as rich, I but as very rich, and Jesus said it is hard for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of God.
I’ve heard people water down this passage by claiming that the eye of the needle refers to a small gate that camels could actually get through if they were unloaded and got down on their knees. But the response of those listening to Jesus doesn’t support this view. They were shocked by what he said, and asked “Who then can be saved?” (vs 26). Jesus went on to say “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (vs 27). While this gives us hope in what God is able to do, we should still take to heart the seriousness of what Jesus said about how hard it is for the rich to be saved.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt 7:21-23 ESV)
This is one of the most disturbing passages in the entire Bible. “On that day” refers to the Day of Judgment, when everyone will stand before Christ 3. Jesus says there will be those who think they are saved and have a relationship with him, yet he denies knowing them and drives them from his presence. He says many will experience this fate. How terrifying this is; MANY! Jesus said judgment will not be based on what we say, but on what we do. Many people will receive a terrifying shock on the Day of Judgment, but it will be too late to change their eternal destiny.
Not only did Jesus give several warnings about how hard it is to be saved, he also warned that at the end of the age there will be a great falling away.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt 24:9-13 NIV)
Jesus warned that when things get hard because of persecution, when it is dangerous to follow the Lord, many will not have what it takes to stand firm, and will turn from the faith. When sin becomes more and more prevalent and acceptable, many will be overcome and their love will grow cold. Again, these are very sobering warnings from Jesus.
In his warning about falling away, Jesus said there will be false prophets who will deceive many. When most people hear “false prophets” they tend to think of someone teaching really strange and bizarre doctrine. But that is not how false prophets are described in the Bible.
But I said, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, the prophets keep telling them, ‘You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.'” Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name”. (Jer 14:13-14 NIV)
They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace. (Jer 8:11 NIV)
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)
Most Christians think it would be wonderful if everyone spoke well of them. But Jesus used the word “Woe” to communicate a strong sense of how dangerous this situation actually is. Always being positive and failing to address uncomfortable things is often grounded in selfishness. It is fueled by the desire for people to like us and speak well of us. The false prophets of the Old Testament always had a positive message. They kept telling the people that there was nothing to worry about because they were God’s people and he would never fail to take care of them. Jesus used them as a negative example and warning to all of us. In contrast, Jesus used the true prophets as an example of what it is like if we hold to the truth and speak the truth.
Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23 NIV)
The apostle Paul gave us more insight into the riches of God’s grace and the depth of his love than any other New Testament writer. But the following verse makes it clear that Paul also presented a well balanced message.
So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:31 NIV)
This verse reveals that Paul actually focused more on cautioning and warning people than he did on assuring them that everything was just fine. He continues this approach in the following verse.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, (2 Tim 4:3 ESV)
Sound teaching means teaching that is healthy and free from defect. This verse says that healthy teaching must be endured; it often confronts and challenges us in ways that are not comfortable, yet are vital to our spiritual welfare. Paul warned that there will be a time when people will insist on hearing only what they want to hear, and it seems there will be no shortage of teachers to scratch that itch.
A church can be consistently accurate in what it is teaching but still fail to have healthy teaching. If the teaching focuses primarily on the positive, but rarely, addresses the dangers, the cautions, and the warnings that are presented throughout the scriptures, then that teaching is not sound. The imbalance of only focusing on the positive is not a true representation of the truth. So while the parts may be accurate, the whole is defective and misleading.
God doesn’t want his people to live in a culture of fear and doubt. However, he does want us to be firmly grounded in the truths, both affirmative and adverse, that are presented in his word, and to live in light of these truths.
The Bible has very encouraging things to say about God’s commitment and ability to keep us 4. And while these things should stir faith and confidence, they should not lead to presumption and complacency. God wants us to maintain a keen awareness of the difficulties and dangers we face; hence the explicit warnings presented throughout the word of God. We should be personally aware of these things, and also willing to share them with others. It is negligent, and eternally dangerous, to get so focused on the positive that we ignore the strong warnings that are spoken throughout the scriptures.
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:40 NIV)
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col 1:28 ESV)
- “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:49-50 ESV)
- “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13 ESV) “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8 ESV)
- “And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:42 ESV) “because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31 ESV)
- “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3 ESV) “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV)