Anyone who has survived military basic training is familiar with the phrase used with sadistic pleasure by drill instructors: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” While that may not be medically universal, it has some practical merit in that to achieve physical strength and stamina we must push through the pain of weak and flabby muscles being used beyond their limits.
I ran four years of track in high school, and I remember even 30 years later the “joy” of those first days of spring practice when more than a few – myself included – had to make visits to “talk to Ralph.” I won’t get more descriptive than that – you get the point! However, those days were absolutely necessary if we were to have any hope of breaking the tape.
As we remember, commemorate and celebrate the single most important act of sacrifice in human history, carried out by God Himself, it is a perfect time for personal and national heart checkups. All theological differences aside, the simple Good News of this act is clarified in Romans 10:9, 10:
… if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
This is not GOOD news, it is GREAT news – but in spite of all the nonsense peddled by cheap tricks and gimmicks – I’ll get to that in a moment – salvation is NOT free. It is not free in saving an individual and neither is it free in saving a nation. Jesus gave his life for you – you must give yours to Him.
Carved into the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring those who served and those who died in that “conflict” are the powerful words, “Freedom is not free.” It was not free for those who died or for those who carried physical, emotional and relational scars from it for the rest of their lives. Someone had to pay.
Rev. Charles Finney, renowned evangelist of the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s, said in his sermon “On the Atonement”:
When we seriously consider the irresistible convictions of our own minds in regard to our relations to God and His government, we cannot but see that we are sinners, and are lost beyond hope on the score of law and justice. The fact that we are grievous sinners against God is an ultimate fact of human consciousness, testified to by our irresistible convictions, and no more to be denied than the fact that there is such a thing as wrong.
Now, if God be holy and good, it must be that He disapproves wrong-doing, and will punish it. The penalty of His law is pronounced against it. Under this penalty, we stand condemned, and have no relief save through some adequate atonement, satisfactory to God, because safe to the interests of His kingdom. (“A Treasury of Great Preaching”)
Jesus Christ suffered, died and rose again so we can be restored to our God now and forever – not so we can have a new car, HDTV or even “our best life now.” The true Gospel has transformed lives and nations for 2,000 years. Why, then, does it now require such desperate measures as turning Easter service into a multimillion dollar, Las Vegas casino-style giveaway performed by Bay Area Fellowship Church in Corpus Christi, Texas?
It doesn’t. The simple preaching, teaching and living out the truths of the Christian faith have always been much more effective “marketing” methods than anything Madison Avenue can come up with, if the goal is to make disciples. Since our measurement in most cases is body count, we assume that the “mega church” is “successful.”
German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer declared in “The Cost of Discipleship”:
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. …
The abject selfishness and greed gripping our nation that have brought us to the brink of our own Iron Curtain are byproducts of shallow, weak and “pick and choose” Christianity in this nation. Thankfully, the remnant of bold and courageous pastors are stepping out! As Carol Mustian in North Carolina shared with me, “Our pastor declared last Wednesday that he will become a pastor in the spirit of John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg!”
As we both share the Good News and stand against evil and injustice, consider the compelling words of Pastor Erwin Lutzer in his must-read book “Hitler’s Cross” to pastors and all followers of Jesus Christ:
America is an angry nation – angry because of the emotional distress of the breakup of the home; angry because of crime; angry because of a perceived betrayal by politicians; angry also because each side in the culture war sees the other as the enemy of all that America should stand for.
We need to heal rather than hurt; we need to unite rather than divide. We have to model reconciliation in our churches so that the world will see what a redeemed community looks like. We must defend the Gospel, though not ourselves. No retaliation, no threats, no self-pity. Just endurance, patience and love.