Today is a day set aside by Americans to give thanks to God for what He has done, and He has truly done great things. He is Creator to all and Savior to all who believe. However, there are many in the world today that are not thankful Him. They are not thankful because they, “tried God” and it “didn’t work” for them. We who are Christians and active in evangelical churches today are quick to judge them for not giving God a “fair shake” or being selfish in their expectations of what Christianity should be. But I think there is more to it than that. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, in his message titled “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church,” described this group as “Christian Alumni.” To some extent these alumni did have unrealistic expectations of what it means to be a Christian, but we the Christian Church, bear much of the blame for that. We teach them that Christ has forgave them for all they ever did in the past, but now it is their responsibility to walk the journey toward Christian maturity. I will let the words of Rosenbladt tell us what happens when that is the case.
(Speaking of a sermon’s “application” section) And if we do it badly, the sensitive Christian believer can be driven to a slavery as bad as any slavery done to them by a totalitarian dictator. If the Ten Commandments were not impossible enough, the preaching of Christian behavior, of Christian ethics, of Christian living, can drive a Christian into despairing unbelief. Not happy unbelief. Tragic, despairing, sad unbelief. (It is not unlike the [unhappy] Christian equivalent of “Jack Mormons” – those who finally admit to themselves and others that they can’t live up to the demands of this non-Christian cult’s laws, and excuse themselves from the whole sheebang.) A diet of this stuff from pulpit, from curriculum, from a Christian reading list, can do a work on a Christian that is (at least over the long haul) “faith destroying.” You might be in just this position this evening. Many of us have friends whose story is not a far cry from this. We all regularly rub shoulders with such “alumni of the Christian faith” – sad that the Gospel of Christ didn’t (for them, at least) “deliver the goods,” didn’t “work.”
Our churches are full of these people, guilt-ridden but pretending that they are happy in Jesus; not understanding why they aren’t more holy than they are, why they aren’t “further along” in their faith that they find themselves. They have lost sight of the cross and the freedom that it promises. Rosenbladt address the other outcome of feeling like God is not working.
The upshot is always the same: broken, sad ex-Christians who finally despaired of ever being able to live the Christian life as the Bible describes it. So they did what is really a sane thing to do: they left! The way it looks to them is that “the message of Christianity has broken them on the rack.” To put it bluntly, it feels better to have some earthly happiness as a pagan and then be damned than it feels to be trying every day as a Christian to do something that is one continuous failure —and then be damned anyway.
Trust me on this one. This is how things look.
It seems to me that the key question here is a very basic one: Can the cross and blood of Christ
save a Christian (failing as he or she is in living the Christian life) or no?
I hope that most of us would say that the shed blood of Christ is sufficient to save a sinner? All by itself, just Christ’s blood, “nude faith” in it, “sola fide”, “faith without works”, “a righteousness from God apart from law,” a cross by which “God justifies wicked people,” etc. So far, so good, right? But is the blood of Christ enough to save a still-sinful-Christian? Or isn’t it?
Does the Gospel still apply, even if you are a Christian? Or doesn’t it? It seems to me (1) that the category “sinner” still applies to me, (2) that the category “sinner” still applies to you, (3) that the category “sinner” still applies to all Christians… it seems that what Luther said of the Christian being “simultaneously sinful and yet justified before the holy God”(simul justus et peccator) is critical. Is what Luther said Biblical? Or isn’t it? … Are we Christians saved the same way we were when we were baptized into Christ, or when we came to acknowledge Christ’s shed blood and His righteousness as all we had in the face of God’s holy law? That all of our supposed “virtue” – Christian or pagan – is just like so many old menstrual garments (to use the Bible phrase)? But that God imputes to those who trust Christ’s cross the true righteousness of Christ Himself? We are pretty sure that unbelievers who come to believe this are instantly justified in God’s sight, declared as if innocent, adopted as sons or daughters, forgiven of all sin, given eternal life, etc. But are Christians still saved that freely? Or are we not? We are pretty clear that imputed righteousness saves sinners. But can the imputed righteousness of Christ save a Christian? And can it save him or her all by itself? Or no? I think the way we answer this question determines whether we have anything at all to say to the “sad alumni” of Christianity.
What the “sad alumni” need to hear (perhaps for the first time) is that Christian failures are going to walk into heaven, be welcomed into heaven, leap into heaven like a calf leaping out of its stall, laughing and laughing, as if it’s all too good to be true. It isn’t just that we failures will get in. It’s that we will probably get in like that! We failures-in-living-the-Christian-life-as-described-in-the-Bible will probably say something like, “You mean it was that simple?!” “Just Christ’s cross & blood?! Just His righteousness imputed to my account as if mine? You gotta be kidding!” “And all of heaven is ours just because of what was done by Jesus outside of me, on the cross — not because of what Christ did in me” – in my heart, in my Christian living, in my behavior?!” “Well, I’ll be damned!” But, of course, that’s the point isn’t it? As a believer in Jesus as your Substitute, you won’t be damned! No believer in Jesus will be. Not a single one!
In heaven we will meet cowards, scum, “bottom-of-the-barrel”, reprehensible, jerks, deadbeat dads, murderers, all sorts of rabble. And they died believing in Jesus and His blood as their
only hope. Ask yourself: Is sola fide (faith alone) true or is sola fide not true in the case of failing Christians? Is Paul’s letter to the Galatians true or not? And if Galatians is true …, can a failing Christian be saved simply by the cross and blood of Christ? Or can he or she not be so saved just by Christ’s shed blood alone? If you answer, “Yes, he or she can,” well, that’s the message that’s gotten lost on most “jack Christians” — at least the ones I’ve met. Many times the law has already done its work on them. Boy, has it ever done its work on them! They need more law like they need a hole in the head. The law was (is?) killing them. True, Paul says, the law kills. He
writes as if that is what the law is for. The law is designed to crush, to crush human pride and supposed self-sufficiency toward God. It is intended to kill, designed to kill. The Biblical connection is law/sin. What gives sin its power is the law. And more so, the law is designed to make the problem worse! It is to be gasoline on an already blazing fire! (Want to have sin run out of control? Go to a church in which the law is preached, then the law is preached again and more stringently and deeply, and then the law is preached even more!)
Did you catch that? It is actually that preaching of Law (my goodness, my works, and my performance measured against them), not the unashamed preaching of grace that tempts my heart to sin. It is only the grace that is found in trusting Christ alone that will melt a hard heart and bring about true change, not matter how slow it comes. When we don’t rightly understand this it can lead not only to guilt about not measuring up, but it can eventually lead to anger.
People like this often speak as if Christianity “baited and switched” them — just like a used car salesman “baits and switches” a young couple at a car lot. Christians promised them a new life in Christ in such a way that it was going to be a life of victory, God’s designed route to earthly happiness, a new, divine power that would solve the problems so obsessing them. Then, when the promises didn’t seem to work the way they were supposed to, the church put it back on these believers that they were somehow “not doing it right.”
They weren’t reading their Bible enough.
They weren’t praying enough or praying right.
They weren’t attending enough church meetings.
They weren’t making right use of the fellowship.
You name the prescription, you “fill-in-the-blanks” any way you want to.
Some pastor or layman told them that Christianity was failing them because “they weren’t doing it right.”
And often, these believers took that counsel to heart and set themselves to trying to “do it better” or “do it right” so that “it would work.”
But again, Christianity seemed “not to deliver on its promises.” It “didn’t work.” As they see it, they “gave it every shot” and Christianity “failed to deliver.” And then, to boot, they were called guilty “for not doing it right!” These people feel not just disappointed; they feel betrayed, “conned.” And they are deeply angry about it. Or take another example: those who heard much of Christ and His saving blood and cross in an evangelistic meeting, became Christians, and then heard very little of that wonderful message in the week-by-week pulpit ministry of their congregation. Instead, they heard recipes as to how to conquer sin — over and over and over. These people also often “give up on Christianity.” And they are angry about it! Really angry. And I don’t blame them.
The church has an obligation to preach the Gospel to these people on a weekly basis. And deep down, they somehow know that. But if that isn’t what happens, they react. I would, too! After all, what does the church have for a man, a woman, a child other than Christ & His work on their behalf? Not much! Not compared to the Gospel of Christ preached as crucified for them and for their sin, Christ risen from the dead for their justification…
To put it another way, we sinners are in need of a divine Mediator. And without a divine Mediator, we are doomed. Scripture says, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” At the judgment, the law of God will justly declare us condemned. And the Gospel is that God the Son freely agreed to die our death for us, to suffer our deserved condemnation and doom in our place. And He didn’t just agree from eternity to do that. He actually did it. On the cross. For free! And for each one of us. (Rom. 5:8)
…I recommend that you keep thinking about it. And keep asking the question, “Was Jesus really raised from the dead, or was He not?” Because if Jesus Christ was raised the third day, that is the best reason in the world to believe that He can make good on His claim that His death was a death for your and my sin, and that His cross and blood will be enough for anyone who dies still a sinner. Me. You.
Brothers and sisters, let’s continue to look to the Cross of Christ. To move from its shadow into religious moralism is the first step towards becoming a Christian Alumni – and that would be tragic. When we realize the magnitude of what is offered to us in the gospel, that though we remain sinners, we are passionately loved and unconditionally accepted by God because of what Christ has done our hearts will not cease giving thanks.