A FEW YEARS AGO, I
was working on a sermon for Easter, but it just
wasn’t coming together. Hoping for some inspiration, I went into our
sanctuary where thousands of people would soon be gathering. Nothing. I
still had no idea what I was going to say. This sermon needs to be good,
I told myself. Many people only attend church on Christmas and Easter. I
was desperate to make sure they would want to come back. What can I say
to get their attention? How can I make my message more appealing?
Finally, I asked myself, What did Jesus talk about when He talked to the
large crowds? I grabbed the Bible out of the chair in front of me and
quickly began to flip through the Gospels. What I discovered broke me
and changed me forever. I found that when Jesus had large crowds, He
would often preach a message that would cause many of the people to
leave. Ultimately it wasn’t the size of the crowd that Jesus paid
attention to—it was their level of commitment.
That Easter weekend I stood up on the stage, and with tears in my eyes, I
apologized. I told the crowd, "I’m sorry for sometimes selling Jesus
cheaply and watering down the Gospel." I explained that too often,
motivated by a love for people, I left out the passages of Scripture
that made it clear that the invitation to follow Jesus was an invitation
to serve, sacrifice and even suffer. The passage I preached on that day
was from Luke 9:23. Jesus said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must
deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (NIV).
I’m driving my car and, without realizing it, I am heading in the
opposite direction of my intended destination. However, my wife (who’s
also in the car with me) knows I’m going the wrong way. She loves me and
knows how hard it would be for me to hear that I’m going the wrong way,
so instead of telling me the truth she just tells me what I want to
hear. (Before continuing I should be clear that this would never
Now this scenario is just imaginary, but if I was going the wrong way, what would be the loving thing to do? It may not be what I want to hear, but the most loving thing to do is to tell me the truth. Because in the end, love without truth doesn’t win.
The Gospel can be communicated with the most loving intentions, but if it doesn’t include the difficult truth of what it means to follow Jesus, we end up with people who call themselves Christians but have little interest in following Christ. If they do follow Christ, they want to follow Him close enough to get the benefits, but not so close that it requires any commitment or sacrifice.
Is it possible that many of our churches have become stadiums full of these types of people? That’s what happens when Christians talk about forgiveness and say nothing about repentance, when the church preaches salvation but never gets around to speaking of surrender, when believers celebrate Heaven without warning of Hell, or when people start believing but never get around to following.
A few years ago I met a young, single father of two who had repented of his sins and surrendered his life to Christ. He went from being a casual follower of Jesus to a completely committed follower. Everything changed in his life. He went from spending his days smoking pot, getting drunk and chasing girls to reading his Bible every day, coming to church every weekend and telling everybody he knows about the difference Jesus had made. One day he asked me if I would have coffee with him and his mom. I knew his mom was a member of another church in town and she used to sometimes take her son when he was younger. I was sure she wanted an opportunity to encourage me about the difference Jesus had made in her son’s life.
Nope. That’s not what happened. She was upset with me and the church because, in her words, "My son has taken all of this too far." She was not pleased with how much time he was spending at church, or how he was giving some of his hard earned money or was always trying to witness to the rest of the family. Here’s what she said to me: "Can you please tell him the Bible teaches ‘everything in moderation’? He needs to understand that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing."
I don’t blame her. Really I don’t. My guess is for many years she sat and listened to a well-intentioned preacher who thought the loving thing to do was to leave out some of the truth.
I did my best to lovingly tell her the truth. The Bible does teach all or nothing.
Jesus doesn’t say, "Everything in moderation." He says, "Deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow me."
KYLE IDLEMAN is the author of Not a Fan, a book and DVD teaching series. He and his wife, DesiRae, have four young children. This article originally appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of RELEVANT magazine.