A common strategy in sales (or at least a stereotype of the sales world) is to present a product to someone while maximizing the benefits but minimizing the drawbacks. After all, who wants to highlight why a product you are buying is not necessarily exactly what you want?
Unfortunately, this mentality is not limited to the business world, as it is easy for the church to do the same in its gospel presentations.
The gospel is a message of unfathomable grace. But it is also a message with a high cost (Luke 9:23; Luke 14:26-27, 33). And when people hear about the cost, they often don’t find it so appealing any longer (Luke 18:18-27).
So instead of staying faithful to God’s message, many gospel-sharers give in to the sales temptation of omitting the difficulties of the gospel message, viewing it in essence as a product they are free to advertise as they want, so long as they make the sale.
They want to present the benefits of the gospel without the consequences of unbelief. They want to focus on God’s love rather than what makes that love so incredible, namely, his wrath. They want to rush people to a “decision” without digging deep for a solid root of faith that will not be crowded out by affliction or by the world (Matthew 13:20-22).
But is this the way that it actually works? And what happens after the “deal” is closed?
The reality is that the initial favorable outcome is not always so favorable after all – especially in the long-run.
So what are the consequences of an easy gospel?
- Outright Gospel Rejection
The days are growing fewer and fewer where people feel compelled to live some form of Christianity to be socially accepted. No longer do Christians have an artificial home-field advantage. Declining church numbers may be the symptom of decreasing converts, but it may also simply be an exposure of the real situation.
But with no compelling other reason, a weak view of salvation doesn’t explain why a person should come to faith in Christ. A gospel of “God will fulfill your desires” doesn’t appeal to the person who is already finding his satisfaction everywhere else. A man with no pressure to come to church isn’t going to play the gospel game just to appease some sense of cultural appropriateness.
If your gospel can’t answer the question, “Why MUST I have this?” from an eternal perspective that centers on the soul of a person, you aren’t preaching the biblical gospel.
- Weak Believers
For those who actually do manage to come to Christ through such easy messaging, the damage is great. Their human wisdom is validated as the judge of all things spiritual. Rather than being required to submit all their thoughts to the word of God, they now stand in judgment of God’s word, getting to pick what part of God’s word they listen to initially and then carrying it over into their Christian life. Biblical authority is stripped away and the stage is set for conflict in the church when its members disagree over ideas they hold according to human judgment (the very circumstance, in fact, that caused Paul to address this underlying issue in Corinth – cf. 1 Cor 1:10-12). When this happens it is only a matter of time until the church slides into worldliness, deadness, or some other symptom of a church that has completely ceased to honor the Lord.
That’s simply the damage in the local church as a corporate body. The damage to an individual believer is no less tragic. He gets a weak view of God that will put a ceiling on his worship. He has little fear of the Lord and little understanding of the wickedness of sin – two essential elements for growing in grace. He does not understand the massive divine power required to bring him to salvation, so he does not understand the massive divine power that is now his by virtue of being in Christ. In fact, Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers (Eph 1:15-2:10) is that they would understand this very power that is now theirs in Christ, in light of God making them alive from a state of spiritual deadness.
The lighter the shade of gray that is used to draw the picture of an unbeliever’s life before Christ, the more clouded the light that shone in his heart to bring about salvation. Men who understand they have been spiritually resurrected make better worshippers than men who think they woke themselves up from a light nap – and this is just how God would have it.
Jesus saw and spoke of a woman who loved him much because she had been forgiven much (Luke 7:36-50). If you want to promote a love for Christ among his people, they need to be told up front just how much they need to be forgiven for.
- False Converts
For others, even this tragic state would be better than the one in which they exist. They are made to think that they are a Christian because they responded a certain way, not realizing their own need to actually repent of their ungodliness. The weak message they hear does not address the darkness of their sin, and their need for a savior becomes more a matter of picking the right door than of clinging to the only one who can forgive sin. There is no motivation to hold fast our confession of Christ (Hebrews 10:23) when having entered through an easy door is already accomplished.
More than this, when unbelievers’ desperate condition is not pressed upon them, they see other things as preferable to Christ – even if they make some effort to come to him for salvation. And why wouldn’t they? Everything Christ offers to sinners is dependent upon understanding the truth about God and salvation, something natural man rejects every time (Rom 1:18-21; 1 Cor 2:7-8). So when the “stuff” offered by Jesus doesn’t meet their expectations, they leave him every time (John 6:66). Their faith has not been resting on the power of God, but on the wisdom of man (1 Corinthians 2:5).
- Poor Reputation
Apart from the biblical reasons for salvation, the exclusivity of Christ makes little sense to the watching world. Why is Christ the only way to God? Simply because he is? Or because of the what the Bible says, which is his identity and relationship to God, and his work accomplished on behalf of his people to bring them into such a relationship?
When people think that it’s only a matter of picking the right religion or religious figure, Christianity becomes simply the preferred option among many and, consequently, those who say it is the only way to God are viewed as bigots. People who came to Jesus to save them from a bad life don’t come off very well telling other people that they are headed to hell.
But understanding one’s terrifying state before God changes everything. Why could Peter say, when all but Jesus’ apostles left him, that he himself would stay? Because only Jesus had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). And he knew that was the issue.
So what do people need to know in your gospel presentation? That Christ and he alone offers eternal life, and to forgive anyone’s sins, if they will turn from their sin, in faith, to Christ for salvation.
Don’t make it any harder than God by adding requirements, but don’t make it any easier lest you see these consequences take place.