The Four Spiritual Flaws (A Biblical and Cultural Critique of The Four Spiritual Laws)December 6, 2007
What’s wrong with The Four Spiritual Laws (TFSL’s)? Simply put: Law 1 and Law 2 need to have their order switched. Knowledge of sin must precede knowledge of love. Law 2 needs to be explained in much greater detail. Understanding sin is extremely important in evangelism. Law 3 will always remain vague until these corrections happen. Law 3 also doesn’t explain all that Christ has done for us as sinners. Lastly, Law 4 does a good job of explaining that our response to Christ must be sincere, but why not tell sinners that because of Christ’s work we can then have the best thing, namely, Christ Himself forever. Why not? He is the one to be marveled at forever. Also, God’s “plan” for us may entail persecution and death. Many who live on this planet (who aren’t in the U.S.) experience this every day! But the true Christian doesn’t mind once they know they still get Christ after death. Is the idea of a “plan” supposed to appeal to the un-repentant sinner, or is their need for Christ as a real Savior supposed to appeal to them the most? In addition, Law 4 should not be in the form of “do something with Christ”, but rather “believe and repent so you will know what Christ will do with you.”
In other words, I don’t find it to be the most Biblical to have a gospel which says 1. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life 2. you’re separated from Him because of going your own way 3. Christ died for you to bridge the separation 4. go across the bridge by receiving Him, be sincere in your response, and then you’ll experience His plan for you. Rather, don’t we see this as being the Biblical order which FORCES the unbeliever to be sincere in their response (not leaving it as an option) 1. God is holy, holy, holy 2. You are sinful, sinful, sinful. You haven’t loved God and others perfectly from day one 3. Christ lived the life you couldn’t, died the death you deserved, and rose to prove it satisfactory 4. Believe in Christ and His work for you and repent to know you are right with God, otherwise you are not right with Him and never will be. Then you will have the joy of knowing Him and His redeemed people forever.
Some may read all of my points and get offended because I have challenged their beliefs about what witnessing should and should not entail. One common objection I’ve heard is “well God can still use TFSL’s to save people.” I have no doubt that God could use TFSL’s or anything else to save people. People have even been saved through semi-heretical prosperity preachers because they even share at least tiny bits of truth now and again. But once people mature in their walk and begin comparing all things with Scripture (or vice-versa), they will thank the semi-heretical prosperity preacher for the tiny degree of truth that touched them and move on to those who are more faithful to the truth, or at least seek to present it comprehensively. The real matter at hand is this: “how can we Biblically and effectively witness in any given culture? In North America, how do we do so within our post-modern atmosphere that is drenched in relativism, atheism, and self worship?”
Out of the 40’s and 50’s the cultural climate said that some things were actually wrong. Imagine that, a little more then a few decades ago people commonly thought that things were really right and really wrong. Yet, on top of this, there existed many, many, many fire and brimstone preachers who seemed only to be interested in revealing God’s mean side, His wrath.
Only emphasizing our sin, God’s judgment, and our eternal condemnation produces legalism quicker than you can say “I try to be a good person”. Only mentioning these points of the gospel creates moralism, not true Christianity. Therefore, leading up into the 60’s, main-stream Christianity freaked out and didn’t know how to handle counter-cultural movements which embraced sex, drugs, and rock n roll which supposedly provided things such as identity, individuality, creativity, acceptance, and satisfaction, unlike all the other “boring traditions” and beliefs others had to offer them before. It didn’t know how to handle secularism. Kind of like how today main-stream Christianity doesn’t know how to handle relativism.
But going back to what I was saying, in the 60’s and 70’s many Christians began realizing that no one is going to be interested in a God who is a big jerk. So the gospel shifted to emphasize God’s love. God has a kinder and softer side along with a greater purpose for our lives. His plan for us is surely a better option then the secular alternative, namely, sex, drugs, and eeeeevil rock n roll.
I believe this was the climate by which TFSL’s were birthed, and understandably so. The question we need to ask decades later is, “what is the comprehensive gospel according to Scripture?” You know, the one that the apostles knew and preached. That comprehensive message will be pertinent to any culture, society, and will properly address any “ism” floating around. Our presentation of the gospel will change in how it relates to different cultures, societies, and prevalent “isms”, but the substance of the gospel will never change! That is unless God’s word is subject to change, but it isn’t. It’s eternal.
Thus, the organization ‘Campus Crusade’ should to get off its butt and update its website with more pertinent evangelistic material. Namely, material which is more substantive, comprehensive, and Biblical which will challenge, expose, and even relate to today’s predominant influences – especially those within college life. I’m talking about everything from how to make Biblical sense of political correctness, majority opinion, relativism, post-modernism, pragmatism, pluralism, atheism, agnosticism, naturalism, etc. I was a leader for Campus Crusade at my college and was frustrated when I wanted to offer our group some substantive worldview and gospel material, and all I was given was Donald Miller’s ‘Blue Like Jazz’ and TFSL’s! Blue Like Jazz was a good book in its own way. I think the overarching message of it was “don’t be a phony Christian who is too entrenched in the “Christian” sub-culture to where you don’t even act human anymore.” I like that. That’s a good thing to hear.
TFSL’s want to offer a God of hope, not a God people are afraid of. But Martin Luther said, “the first thing we do when we get on a horse is lean completely to the other side.” We used to mostly hear moralistic preaching in America that emphasized God’s judgment which isn’t the comprehensive gospel. Notice I didn’t say “it’s a false gospel”? It’s part of the gospel, just not the comprehensive gospel. So now we’re leaning to the other side of the gospel and are mostly hearing about how God loves everyone. This also isn’t the comprehensive gospel. It’s part of it, but not the full thing.
But real quick let me ask you, “So God loves Satan and demons as much as un-repentant people?” “Well of course not. God hates Satan and demons”, you say. But why is it easier to say that God hates Satan and demons but not unregenerate people? Because Satan and demons are uglier than people? In fact, Satan and demons are eternally condemned for the EXACT same reason people are. They have broken God’s law of not loving Him and others perfectly, just like you and I have. But for some egotistical reason God must be infatuated with people, but is allowed to hate Satan and demons even though both are separated from Him for eternity for the same reason. Just food for thought.
But going back to what I was saying, we have now leaned too far over the horse by emphasizing God’s love. This is our over reaction from emphasizing God’s law and judgment. What to we do? Do we throw both halves out, love and judgment, because it’s all too confusing? No. We seek to ride the horse dead center by proclaiming the comprehensive gospel message. We must share both halves of the gospel. Otherwise, it’s not the central, crucial, and clear gospel.
Lastly, to this introduction I want to also mention that “being saved” means more then participating in God’s perfect plan which will prevent us from ending up like a rock star who over-dosed. “Being saved” means what most evangelical Christians in America are backwards on and have never thought of. Being saved really means what Rom 5:9 says, to ultimately be “saved from God’s wrath”. Think about that for a moment. We’re ultimately saved from God’s wrath, not merely Satan’s lies. God punishes Satan for his lies, and then us for believing them! But without getting into that too much right now, also think about this: we are saved from God’s wrath, not just so we don’t have to be inconvenienced by pain forever, but so that we can enjoy Christ. We are saved from Christ, by Christ, to Christ. It’s not just that we’re saved from wrath, by Christ, so there’s no wrath. We’re saved from wrath, by Christ, so we can then enjoy Christ and no longer remain His eternal enemy! What great news! So in the gospel, we don’t just get a “plan”. We get Christ!
Today in western culture, part of our modern standard of living entails having much access to the best drugs, the best naked women, the best entertainment, the best travel spots, and the best lives right? WRONG!!! Welcome to the 21st century where people have it all and simultaneously have nothing. That’s why Americans today are taking more medication and being given more counseling to compensate for their psychological and therapeutic needs more then ever. It’s because they’re unhappy. Not because they don’t live in the 21st century, but because they DO and it has given us nothing but complete boredom.
True pleasure is Christ. True adventure is Christ. He must be presented as a wild Christ who will never be fully exhausted. What we know of Him in Scripture is enough to ponder for a million life times, yet this is just an ice cube of the iceberg. Thank God for death so that we don’t have to keep wondering but can see Him face to face soon! And thank God that we don’t have to keep wandering but can share Christ, not just to be the beginning of the gospel, but also the end! He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
Let me ask you a question. Is there a problem with some modern evangelism today, and if so what should change?
R.C. Sproul has said, “the gospel is given to massive distortions and over simplifications. People think they’re preaching the gospel to you when they tell you “you can have a purpose to your life” or that “you can have meaning to your life” or that “you can have a personal relationship with Jesus”. All of those things are true and they’re all important but they DON’T get to the HEART of what the gospel is. The gospel is called the “good news” because it addresses the most serious problem that you and I have as human beings. And that problem is simply this: God is holy, and He is just… and I am not.”
R.C. Sproul gospel excerpt (3:48 )
God’s love may not have been emphasized to your grandparents or your great grandparents, yet God’s love does not need to be over-emphasized within the gospel message, but PROPERLY emphasized. Universal modern evangelical statements such as “God loves you” or “Jesus loves you” have now become trendy and we assume that unregenerate sinners who are on Prozac are waiting to hear this. However, this distorts the gospel message because it focuses on the idea that God loves everyone the same when rather we should focus on finding out if God will always love someone the same. See the difference? In other words, the unregenerate sinner may be justified by Christ someday, or they may not.
If they are not then they will end up in gehenna (hell) just like Satan and demons, and for the SAME reasons as Satan and demons! Why? Because they have broken God’s moral law. Neither have loved God perfectly every second nor every person they come across from day to day. That’s the Great Commandment, which sums up all others. You haven’t lived up to the Great Commandment since this morning. You’re more lost then that TV show because of this command! And so am I. We ALL are! But we must know this truth in order that we might respond to Christ with belief and repentance, so then we can know that Christ will always love us the same and not someday rise up in anger and hold us accountable for our sins on judgment day. Namely, if Christ was held accountable for all our sin on Calvary. Again, we must not focus on uncertain un-biblical modern universal statements such as “God loves you”, but rather focus on how the unregenerate sinner can KNOW they are loved by God and will always be.
TFSL’s are big on God’s acceptance and soft on God’s holiness. Yet, God’s holiness is the most needed starting point for effective evangelism no matter the culture. The gospel first shows that God’s needs are of primary importance, not ours. God is holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6:5), thus holy beyond comprehension in Hebrew terms.
His purity is as vast as the comparison of a quantum particle to the entire universe (I can’t think of a bigger illustration). If we are found to be unholy because of our sin, then God demands perfect justice. He will execute His own wrath upon those who deserve it and will do so forever. (Rom 2:5, Eph 2:3) God’s needs are that sin and rebellion must be punished. Before we continue any further, we must keep in mind the essential gospel truth. It is simply this: “What God demands from us, Christ provides.” not “you’re being idle with your life and only Jesus can keep you busy with something more worth while.” See the major difference?
The gospel should not begin with God’s love for us, but first, God’s love for Himself.
As I always say “the gospel is not that God loves us in spite of our sin, but that He loves us by doing something about it.” We need a way for God to accept us as sinners. God must do this and not forfeit His love for Himself. We need a way for God to remain loving towards Himself, thus keep a firm grip on justice, and we need God to simultaneously accept lawbreakers such as ourselves. If God were to do so, it would be the greatest act of grace and love the world has ever known.
But those who continually reject Christ and never accept Him are not loved by God. In the end, they are hated by Him. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He sent His begotten son that those believing will never perish but have eternal life.” What then will happen to those who do not believe? Take a wild guess. That’s right! They will perish.
John 3:16 is touted so often by Christians as only being a love verse. But John 3:16 not only uses the word “love” but also “perish”. John 3:16 is both a love and hate Bible verse! There is a condition by which God loves us instead of hates us, namely, being counted as sinless by way of Christ’s perfect life in place of our imperfect life and His undeserving death in place of our deserved death. Therefore, God’s love is most assured to the unrepentant unbeliever… if they repent and believe.
We need to be careful that we don’t make losing out on “abundant life” the only real dread of the gospel, while it is indeed a serious loss. We must also make sure the unbeliever knows about the dread of a perfect Judge judging their imperfect life. The bad news of the gospel is indeed that we are shut off from our hearts true spiritual fulfillment, which is Christ, but it is more specifically that we are at infinite moral odds with our Creator. In the gospel, the sinner must know they are a great sinner. Then they’ll be ready to receive the sinner’s Savior, Jesus Christ. This is not a process of manipulation, but is reality. It is the reality of our wicked moral condition and our need for Christ’s moral perfection.
Here we see a very poor attempt to explain to a walking corpse how sinful they are. TFSL’s just say “because of his own stubborn self-will, he chose to go his own independent way…” How in the world is a sinner today supposed to truly repent when this is all they are told about how sinful they are?! This will only make one think, “man I need to stop being so selfish. Maybe this whole Jesus thing will sort of counsel me out of it.” But Jesus MUST first be needed as a Savior and received as Lord (Boss), not used as a third base coach to cheer you on and help you become a model citizen.
TFSL’s simply do what most modern evangelical Christians do. It simply brings up the word “sin” yet fails to address any SPECIFIC sins. My teacher in college once said, “here’s an example of a vague concept: sin” I thought if only Christians did their job and used the Ten Commandments to help explain what sin specifically is she would never have said that! 1 John 3:4 says “Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, sin is lawlessness.”
The Ten Commandments are not for righteousness; they are to find fault in us to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:20). They reveal to us God’s perfect and holy character, thus our imperfect and unholy character. (Exodus 20, Deut 5) So once we are found to be sinful, the reason it is so serious is because God does not grade our rebellion to Him on a curve. He is not partially holy but completely holy. We are required to be flawless (James 2:10, Gal 3:10, Deut 27:26).
In Scripture, what is sinful is not vague. It is crystal clear.
We are to be forever separated from Christ if we have loved ourselves at the expense of others, considered ourselves worth more than others, believed we are not evil and are good people, brought God down in our minds to be less, defied even helpful authority, willed harm to others in our hearts, caused harm to others because it was first in our hearts, swam in our perversions, stolen even little things, lied to protect our self image, and hated others for having what we want to make us appear to be a winner in life. These basically sum up the Ten Commandments in practical language.
In other words, let me put it this way: “have you loved God with all of your mind, heart, soul, and strength and been selfless to every single person you have ever encountered?” If the answer is anywhere near “no” (which it absolutely is) then you are at fault before an infinitely holy God.
TFSL’s do not mention any of these crucial reasons as to why we should be eternally separated from God Almighty. It just states that man tries to reach his “goals through his own efforts”. Can you say “marshmellow gospel”?
Am I emphasizing that we are right with God based on what we do? Not at all! I’m simply sharing the bad news before the good news. In other words, the worst news before the best news. Why? Only so that the best news will actually be best news! There is no other reason than this.
It’s not to tell people “come on buddy… get your act together. Start upholding God’s commands so He will accept you!” If I were to say this then I would have side stepped the actual gospel which says we are only accepted by God because of God. So instead if I say, “Christ lived the life you couldn’t by upholding every command God requires you to uphold, died the death you deserve so you can be accepted by Him, and now if you receive Christ as Lord His Spirit will live in you so you can be in relationship with Him and His people and start upholding His good commands” then I am pointing them to Christ in a Biblical, effective, and truthful way. This also shows that my heart is for them to depend on Christ, not themselves to be accepted by God.
Therefore, my motives are Christ-centered which is love. One’s mention of sin, law, judgment, and wrath does not necessarily indicate the evangelist’s motives, but where he directs the sinner immediately after this will! It is the Westboro Baptist Church, the Fred Phelps “I hate fags” people, whom only mention sin, law, and judgment, but never, never, NEVER mention hope in Christ after doing so! This shows they’re not interested in the comprehensive gospel too. So do we direct the un-repentant sinner to humanism and moralism? Or do we direct them to Christ, the only human who was fully moral for our sake? Or do we just not mention sin, law, judgment, and God’s wrath because we think it’s too confrontational and unloving? Well you do believe God that the comprehensive gospel is the power unto salvation right? Or do you think it’s your awesome ability to maneuver around egg shells that will save souls?
Now we are on the topic of the cross as the 3rd spiritual law. But again sin has not even been properly addressed yet. Thus, the notion of why Christ would need to die remains extremely vague. You can’t wrap your mind around why Christ had to receive the penalty of death until you understand the penalty of lawlessness (not loving God and others perfectly). A single sin is enough to separate us from God forever.
If TFSL’s were all we had to explain the gospel in today’s post-modern relativistic society, then the cross would seem to be some mystical event which brakes a mystical spell between us and God which enables us to achieve our goals in life and reach our full potential to become model citizens.
So once we’ve revealed God’s holiness to the sinner, and have clearly shown the sinner why they are not good, then we’re ready to explain to the sinner what THEIR needs are. We go from God’s love for Himself, to God’s love for us. Not the other way around (while most have no concept of God’s love for Himself).
We have naturally flowed from God’s needs (justice), to the sinner’s needs (forgiveness). The cross is the only place where the former is accomplished and the latter is available. The only place! It’s where these two “cross”. Otherwise, there is no gospel and there is no hope against all hopes for us begging sinners.
Again, it is not that we emphasize our need to be loved (even if you’re witnessing to a latchkey kid on prozac), while then God’s need of justice gets put on the back burner. It’s that the reality of our sinfulness is amplified, and God’s need of justice is emphasized so that God’s grace and love to us makes perfect sense and becomes the most beautiful thing! We must not assume we will mention justice later when the convert is “finally ready” to hear about the high blood pressure doctrines. Namely, the doctrine of God’s eternal wrath upon deserving rebellious sinners which is now for some reason taboo, politically incorrect, and considered altogether false within modern evangelical “Christianity”.
No, God’s justice is the very doctrine that pushes one to be a real Christian from the outset because it assures that their need for Christ is for the only genuine reason! I DON’T mean that we merely tell people “receive Christ so you don’t have to go to Hell forever” and have a dread of hell being their reason for repentance, but more personally “receive Christ so you may be pardoned for the sins you know you’re guilty of and which make you deserving of God’s wrath (Hell).” The former is appealing to their inconvenience of the “hot place”, and the latter is revealing their true heart, their true moral condition, their eternal predicament, thus reveals to them their real need for Christ. See the major difference?
Lastly, TFSL’s only mention on this 3rd point that Christ died and rose on our behalf, but that is not everything He did for us sinners. He also lived for us! Jesus Christ did 3 things to ensure that the infinite gap of our sin was bridged. First, He lived the life we couldn’t. No one has loved God and others perfectly, but Jesus did. Then He died the death we deserved (for not living the life we should have), and rose to prove it all satisfactory.
Again, Jesus lived for us (Rom 5:19, Heb 4:15), He died for us (Rom 5:6-10), and He rose to prove it satisfactory (Rom 4:25, 1 Cor 15:17).
It’s absolutely Biblical and crucial to call people to believe in Christ, just as TFSL’s say to do. But we should make sure we’re doing so in accordance to the real gospel, otherwise an unbeliever’s belief may be in vain. The gospel call is not “do something with Jesus”, but more correctly “believe and repent so you will know what Christ will do with you!”
And it’s worth pointing out that Revelation 3:20 is NOT about salvation, but about Christ knocking on the door of the church (actual believers, NOT unbelievers), so that He might be let in and get to be center focus again. Is Christ the center of your theology? Is He the very center? Is He the point of every text of Scripture, the answer to all the questions, the hope within the gospel, and the focus to your life? If something else is replacing Christ, more important than Christ, or more interesting to you then Christ, then you probably 1. have the wrong Christ, or 2. border-line have the wrong Christ!
Many of TFSL’s points are absolutely Biblical and important. However, in today’s weird and floating moral climate, we need to address specific sins before we invite sinners to receive the sinner’s Savior. The common misconception is that the majority of God-hostile sinners (Rom 6:6-8) are looking for forgiveness. They aren’t. It is our job to show that they need to be and that the good news of Jesus Christ is where they will find an infinite pardon from their infinite injustice, which then brings infinite satisfaction for their infinitely desperate souls.
Finally, I leave you with these witnessing tips. As Kim Riddlebarger says “Be sensitive to someone’s past—if they’ve had a bad experience in church, struggle with a particular sin etc., be understanding and compassionate. Don’t be a self-righteous “know it all,” who is there to correct them!”
“When people are apathetic about sin—use the law. When people have doubts or are skeptical—use basic apologetic arguments. When people express guilt for sin—present the gospel.”
NOW PLEASE TELL ME YOUR THOUGHTS!!!