Lost focus – To some extent, every other threat I mention is a part of this one. It is so easy (and common, and frequent) for us to apply our human ways to the clear message of the Gospel. Repeatedly the church has moved away from the clear picture of the life of the one whose name we claim. Jesus never called us to form comfortable bodies. He called us to “go and make disciples.”
Legalism – It’s so easy for our desire to be as holy as possible to turn into legalism. We start building human-made “thou shalt nots” on top of the simple message Jesus brought. Isn’t it interesting that the Bible doesn’t show a single example of Jesus being angry at sinners? The only people Jesus became angry with were the “good religious folk” who had adopted all sorts of rules for life and began expecting everyone else to follow them. These Pharisees started with the best of intentions, but they corrupted the message of grace and infuriated Christ. (If the idea of a message of grace sounds too “New Testament”, remember that as far back as Hosea 6:6, the prophet speaks for God saying, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Even then it was clear that God was more concerned about loving hearts than the letter of the law. This is such an important concept that Jesus quoted the verse to the Pharisees in Matthew 9:13.) The Pharisees were angry with Jesus because he didn’t follow the lifestyle rules they had invented. It doesn’t bother me if today’s Pharisees are angry with me for not following the lifestyle rules they have invented.1
Politics – Jesus lived in a time when his people were suffering under one of the most corrupt, repressive governments in history. I can’t find a single verse in which he tried to change the government or encouraged his followers to do so. He specifically told people to support the government they were under—at least with their taxes. Elsewhere in the New Testament we’re taught to “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden”(Heb. 13:17).“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Rom. 13:1).
Rather, Jesus thought his time was best spent by focusing on individual souls. Our culture isn’t going to change until the hearts of the people within it have been changed by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. I like the way Tony Evans put it: “Of course they’re sinning. They’re sinners! That’s their job! And they’re going to keep right on sinning until they accept Jesus.” If we want to change the world, the only lasting way to accomplish that is to win people to Christ.
Anger – How easily we move away from Jesus’ tender words on the Mount of Olives. “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7). “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matt. 5:11). “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matt. 5:21). And before you get too excited about the word “brother” in that last quote being a loophole, remember Jesus’ response in Luke 10. He told the story of the Good Samaritan in which the supposed heathen was the true brother.
Negativism – A corollary to the threat of anger is the threat of negativism. To the unchurched world, Christians are known today by what they are against! Jesus said the world would know we were his followers by our love. The message of love was Jesus’ strongest message, but that’s not what the world sees in us.
Comfort – I could include tradition as part of this threat. The battery charger is comfortable. Our churches are filled with people who think more or less like we do. Few people challenge our beliefs there. It’s a security blanket—and often a refuge in which we dress the same, sing the same, and talk the same as people did decades ago. Meanwhile, the world around us continues to change dramatically and we’re no longer in touch with the people God called us to reach. Comfort is the greatest enemy of progress.
1I confess. I play cards. Yes, that would keep me out of some churches. I’ve been called before church leadership for discussing masturbation, too, because “that’s not supposed to be discussed in the church.” But I don’t believe that our kids are better off learning proper attitudes about sexuality from their secular schoolmates.