We must be careful with the way we present the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t just mean that we should avoid the errors of false teachers, which is obviously a critical task. I also mean that we must take great care to present the entire gospel, in its full strength, and not diluted by the culture or our desires to be relevant.
The proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, whether in evangelism or missions work or in our day-to-day prophecies to our friends, neighbors, and relatives, is dangerous work – dangerous because it raises the stakes for life. For us, it reminds us that we are stewards of the mysteries of God and that we must take care to truly know and live the Word. For those to whom we preach, their level of accountability has just been raised immensely.
St. Peter makes clear what Jesus and the writer of Hebrews also makes clear: that a person is in a better condition if he were never to have had knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ than if he had this knowledge and had escaped the pollutions of the world and then become entangled in them all over again (verse 20.) The first application is to ourselves. Take heed to the doctrine and teaching in your life. But more than this, take heed to your life and the deeds that you do. Peter says that it would be better for you to have not known the way of righteousness than, having known it, to turn from the holy commandments (verse 22.)
But this also means that we must be take great care in how we present Jesus Christ, for how we plant and water Christ has a lot to do with the kind of Christians that will be harvested. If we plant the Word of God in a shallow way in poor soil and provide little water, we will create people who have some knowledge of Jesus Christ but who will be more likely to be choked out by the cares of the world, or snatched by the Evil One, or to shoot up quickly only to wither away again.
This, in fact, is what happens, when we raise children or make Christian converts who know Jesus Christ but are not taught to be disciples. What happens if we make complete obedience to Christ and His commandments optional? What happens if we say, “You only have to obey the commandments of God to the level expected of Christians in 21st century America?” What happens if we say, “Don’t worry – all you have to do is try to show up for an hour a week and you’ve got it made”?
What happens if we as Christians take the approach to proclaiming Jesus Christ I have heard some take: “I don’t need to tell anyone about my religion because I prefer to show it by my deeds”? I’ll tell you what happens: we get a secular society in which people are all secretly claiming to be Christians and in which the deeds of the society becoming increasingly godless. We become like Christian mimes, only most of what we are miming isn’t even the gospel but just our own individual lives with few things undertaken specifically for Christ. Such a style of proclaiming Christ is an excuse for avoiding the difficult things our Lord has asked us to do. Thank God that He didn’t just “show by His deeds” that He loved us (of course, I’d be thrilled if Christians loved in deed as He did!). What if Christ was crucified but He proclaimed a silent gospel and gathered no disciples to remember it and inspired no men to preserve it in writing? That is our silent Christianity.
Therefore, the teachers we put in our lives are extremely important, and it is extremely important to consider the kind of teachers and preachers of Christ that each of us are. “For by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (verse 19.)
If you are overcome by the flattery and charisma of a false teacher who teaches what people want to hear then you will become a slave to this false teacher and his false gospel. If you are overcome by a preacher who proclaims that all you have to do is to name your blessing before God and truly have faith that God will give you health and prosperity, and He will be bound to give it to you, then you will become a slave to this lie.
If I, as a preacher, were to keep preaching about current events and safe topics like honesty, character, world peace, and not being judgmental – without preaching Christ crucified and myself crucified – then I will produce a church of Christians who believe in a Christianity without Christ. It reminds me of such a false preacher named Onnie Jay Holy in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. Onnie Jay proclaims a Holy Church of Christ Without Christ. “It’s based on your own person interpitation of the Bible, friends. You can sit at home and interpit your own Bible however you feel in your heart it ought to be interpited.”
In following such false teachers, we are really only following the false gospels of our own hearts. We follow such teachers because we want to believe what they say, not because it is true. Who wouldn’t want to have the right to interpret the Bible as he feels in his own heart it ought to be?
I’ll tell you who: one who has been overcome by Jesus Christ and has been brought into bondage to Him. Just as it is possible to be overcome by and enslaved to false teachers and our own lusts and desires, it is possible to be overcome by and enslaved to Jesus Christ. Such a person will be much less likely to go back to the pollutions of the world.
But to have people overcome by and enslaved to Jesus Christ requires that all who presume to preach in the name of Jesus Christ – and I’m talking about the kind of proclamation that all Christians are required to make – truly preach Jesus Christ. We cannot refuse to read the Old Testament and think we’ll be giving people the whole gospel. We can’t only cherry pick our personal favorite verses and theology from the Epistles and think that we’ll make disciples who will not return to the world.
No, we must present all of Christ, Cross and all, which means we present the whole Bible and that we roll up our sleeves and get down to the hard work of being and making disciples. “For by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.”
Prayer: Father, I thank You for Your Truth, Jesus Christ, in our lives. I thank You that He not only came to redeem me and the whole world but is also the Word Incarnate who speaks all truth. Help me to be a preacher of truth and righteousness that I may obey Your commandment to make disciples of all people. Amen.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to reflect on the kind of preacher of the gospel I have been. First, have I been willing to proclaim Jesus Christ to others? Second, do I accept all the commandments of Jesus Christ and take them seriously? Third, when I speak to others, including other Christians especially, do I know and proclaim the whole gospel?
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson