Jesus Christ is no mere helper. He is the Savior, the Redeemer, the only way by which man can be restored to God’s divine presence and blessing.
In the early centuries of the Christian church, when Christians were in the distinct minority, certain of the church leaders took it upon themselves to change the public perception of Christianity. To do so they began writing to various public officials, presenting their beliefs and practices in terms that, they hoped, would sound “normal” and non-threatening to these unbelieving rulers. Modern scholars refer to these writers as the Apologists (the term “apologist” does not refer to making apology, but rather is derived from the Greek word apologeomai, meaning to answer or defend, as in a court of law).
The Apologists no doubt had noble motives, for the prejudice and outright persecution directed toward Christians in their day was unprecedented. But in their attempt to make Christianity acceptable to man, they changed its message. Furthermore, though some secular leaders may have been appeased by these writings, they were also read by Christians. The effects of this are still being felt in the church today.
The Apologists failed to recognize an essential truth: methodology cannot be separated from theology. In other words, God’s message must be presented in God’s way or it can cease being God’s message at all.
We face a similar challenge in the church today. Many Christians, having a sincere desire to bring others to Christ, have concluded that the least offensive, and most effective, way to do so is to focus on the needs of the individual. We address their personal happiness, their relationships with others, their bank balances. We present Christ as an easygoing pal whose only wish is to make all of our hardships go away. We fail to ask ourselves a vital question: if this is the Christ I preach, what kind of Christ are they believing on, and what kind of Christ are they expecting to follow?
One of the best-known verses of Scripture speaks of God’s reason for sending Christ.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Jesus Christ is no mere helper. He is the Savior, the Redeemer, the only way by which man can be restored to God’s divine presence and blessing. Who needs him? “The world.” In other words, everyone. Why do we need him? Not merely for a better quality of life, but for life itself. Jesus spoke of this in language that is figurative, yet powerful.
Matthew 5:29, 30
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
What is at stake is not merely the well-being of the individual, but his or her very life, eternally. There is no “gray area” here. There are two possible outcomes, and only two. Knowing this, what would any sane individual not give to ensure their inclusion among those who have life? The bald truth is that no eye, no hand, no price that any man can pay is sufficient to buy this assurance.
But Jesus Christ purchased it for us, by his perfect walk and perfect work on our behalf. And all of the benefits of his sacrifice are offered to us, freely, through believing on him. This is the message of Christianity.
Don’t these benefits include things like prosperity, happiness, true and loving human relationships? Oh, certainly. But in truth, though guaranteed, such things are merely byproducts. Compared to eternal life, restored righteousness and the ability to approach God Himself as a son, a saint, a beloved one, such byproducts have much less significance for the Christian than they do for the man or woman of the world.
How sad, then—and how shameful—that we are producing a generation of Christians the majority of whom can look no higher than their immediate personal need. Who, in towering proclamations of truth like John 10:10 or Romans 8:37, see nothing more than their personal furtherance. Who speak to others of a “savior” who apparently saves from nothing but personal discomfort.
If you were hosting a reception for a notable dignitary, or for your only child’s wedding, would you attract attendees by talking about the menu? Certainly not. And I doubt if you would want that room filled with people whose only interest was, “What kind of food are you gonna have?” Rest assured, God’s “reception” serves only the best—but the table is not its focus, and it contains more glorious attractions than simply stuffing myself.
As someone once put it, “What you lead them by, you lead them to.” In other words, the Christ we preach is the Christ that will either draw or repel them, and the Christ they will follow. If that “christ” is merely a pale reflection, then we should not be surprised to find ourselves surrounded by pale, shallow “christians.”
If the church today is to regain the power, the confidence and the grace that is so evident in the church of the first century, then we must first recapture its message. Perhaps we need to stop letting the world persuade us that this message is outdated, that pointing out man’s sin and God’s provision is somehow shameful.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
Yes, this gospel we have been called to deliver is blunt and uncompromising: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief (I Timothy 1:15). But this gospel, and this gospel alone, is the power of God unto salvation.
Earthly benefits end in the earth. In Christ we do not forsake earthly benefits. Indeed, in Christ such benefits abound. But they become almost insignificant when compared with the entirety of the new life that Christ came to impart. Look up! For us, as Christians, to spend our short time here studying the ground but missing the glory would be a tragic waste of the new life, the abundant life that we’ve been given.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.