(The Faith Forum Series – Batch 9)
There is a particular Preacher that I have been listening to (I wouldn’t say whether on radio or in person) but I have been growing increasingly unsettled, disturbed even, with something that he has been doing with increased regularity, which, while he may believe it is a good thing to do, I am not so convinced.
To be specific, this Preacher has adopted a course where he sees the need to constantly and regularly remind the congregation before him, of their wretchedness, not so as to encourage them to look to Jesus as the source of hope but seemingly, to make them feel worthless and discouraged.
Almost every time this Preacher opens his mouth to speak publicly before a Church gathering, one feels the need to cower, in advance, as a child would when it knows that a parent is about to hit it with a strap. In my humble view (and I’ve heard other persons comment distastefully on it as well), it feels as if the congregation is being beat over the head, mercilessly whipped and abused by his words and the tone in which he chooses to say what he says. It is almost as if this man is trapped in a web of anger and it comes out almost every time he speaks to the congregation. Sad to say, it does not feel as if he truly cares about the spiritual lives of the people to whom he speaks or what they may be going through, only fixated week after week, or as often as he has opportunity, to hurl insults at them.
To my mind, his conduct and words convey that he has either never truly understood the power and extent of God’s grace or stubbornly refused to accept it in its entirety, possibly due to pride. Pride finds it offensive, that God offers forgiveness to not just those who consider themselves to have committed only “small” sin or a few sins but those who have committed great sins and many sins. Pride finds it offensive, that although some people are so sinful and have done so much wickedness in their lives thus far, that God still reaches out to them and if they repent, at any age, he is prepared to wipe the slate clean, to cast all of their sins into the sea of forgetfulness and to remember them no more.
Of the depth of such grace, which David understood and had his own self experienced, him having lusted after a married woman, coveted, committed adultery and then commissioned a man’s murder, yet his life having been spared by God after he repented and his sins, though as crimson, being forgiven, he said:
- “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile… I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.” (Psalm 32:1-2;5)
While the Word of God states in James 2:13, that “mercy rejoices over judgment”, this, in my view, seems to anger this Preacher. Like Jonah, he seems to be wrestling with something inside where he is genuinely upset that grace is so wide and so deep and so generous, as to declare that whosoever will, may come. He seems genuinely upset, that someone who has sinned as much or even more than the Prodigal son in the Bible did or the thief on the cross who believed on Jesus, that God still extends to them an invitation in love and with arms wide open, to return to him and to come.
Week after week therefore or ever so often, this Preacher abandons all the other rich and bountiful treasures of God’s Word which can be used to properly feed and edify the Church, ensuring that it has a well-balanced spiritual diet and instead, is fixated seemingly, on this one purpose: To use his platform to remind attendants over and over again, that Jesus alone attained God’s standard of perfection, that they (the congregation) have fallen quite short, failed miserably and will always be failures. He gives the impression by his sermons, which are almost always delivered with great anger and aggression (not love, gentleness and compassion and definitely not righteous fervour or passion), that, although they are professing believers, that they should walk around feeling ashamed, guilty and laden with the burden that they are not good enough and are colossal failures! They must walk around with their heads low, as pathetic scum, knowing and being incessantly reminded by him in an angry tone and pitch, that they are incapable of ever reaching God’s standard and never will be able to.
It is not that these people have forgotten that they are failures but this Preacher makes it his duty to drive the point home almost every opportunity he gets and does not tell them of the joy that we can have in Christ, despite our failures, when we have believed on him and seek him in repentance for our sins.
After such Sermons, you don’t leave feeling refreshed, edified, encouraged or even rightfully rebuked or convicted (as passionate preaching from the heart and inspired by the Lord usually does) but abused, as if someone just beat up on you and for no justifiable reason.
Almost each week, this Preacher points out areas where he has assessed the entire congregation as having failed (without facts) and miserably so. He would make statements for example, accusing the entire congregation of being ashamed of the Lord, that none of them have ever gone through or are going through any thing for the Lord (when he has not a clue of this is true or not) and that he doubts whether they even love the Lord.
Mind you, while he has knowledge of what is happening in his own life and these statements may therefore be projections of what is true of him and what he is battling within, he does not have knowledge as to what is happening in the lives of each Christian there but yet, he makes generalized statements, branding all of them with the same brush as pathetic failures, people that the Lord is utterly displeased with and he says it without apology. In short, all this poor congregation keeps hearing, like a stuck record is: Hopeless failures, all of you!”
But is this what the Bible teaches?
Don’t get me wrong. Undoubtedly we are failures and wretched sinners, saved by grace alone. Yet, the Lord Jesus does not invite us to look on his perfect righteousness, so as to make us discouraged by our own inadequacy, shortcomings and failures and to walk through life feeling hopeless, depressed, cast
down and perpetually ashamed, as this Preacher seems hell-bent on trying to make the congregation feel.
No. On the contrary, in seeing our inadequacies and where we have fallen short of the glory of God, the Lord wants us to not remain fixated in looking within at our helplessness or around at other people’s imperfections but to look up, to trust in him, to believe on him by faith, so that we can be covered by his perfect righteousness. In so doing, we can live with optimism with joy and with hope. For, although we have undoubtedly failed, by faith in our Redeemer and us having been forgiven, we are accepted in the beloved and although we do fail occasionally, we have an advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1-2).
Surely, this is reason to rejoice, not to walk around feeling cast down, guilty and discouraged.
1 Peter 2:9 says of us, as believers and partakers of an eternal inheritance: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
Given our identity in Christ, we are motivated by his wondrous love and faithfulness, to serve him and voluntarily, to do the things that please him, not to feel bowed down and discouraged day by day with the burden of our inadequacies.
When we fail as Christians, we are not to beat ourselves over the head and remain wallowing in dismay (as this Preacher seems to suggest and seemingly wants us to feel) but we are to look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, the one who invites all who labour and are heady laden, to come to him for rest, the one who offers complete forgiveness upon genuine repentance and who still loves us with an everlasting love. He is a God that redeems, reinstates and restores.
I therefore reject what this Preacher seems to be promoting and what he seems to be doing, which,
to my mind, is done to deflect from his own shortcomings and sin that he does not wish to be honest about to God in pride because it will require him to humble himself, to be broken, to acknowledge that he himself is a failure over specific sins that he has committed and to have godly sorrow, which proud people who love to give an air of piousness, hate to do. I reject what he has been pushing because it does not line up with the authority of God’s Word.
God never points us to our sin so that we can be consumed with guilt and shame by it and never move forward. No. That is what the devil does. The devil wants us to drown in the guilt of our sin and to be unable to move forward in life because of our failures. God on the other hand, points us to our sin, only so that having identified it, we can repent and cast ourselves on his Son the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect one, whom we can come to in repentance, for cleansing, healing and restoration.
When we sin, we have an advocate with the Father. Although mindful that I have failed God therefore and have not reached his perfect standard of righteousness and never will in my own strength or effort, as a Christian, I refuse to walk around under a heavy burden of guilt and despair all of my life and to feel
utterly worthless, as this Preacher seems to want the entire congregation to feel. Instead, I will seek the Lord in ongoing repentance where necessary and rejoice, even as David did, in sins forgiven. I refuse to walk around feeling discouraged but joyful, optimistic and grateful for God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness. For because Jesus lives, I can face tomorrow and because of him I will be joyful and upon good authority.
Although I am a sinner, I have been saved by grace and the Word of God consistently tells me, not to walk around with a guilt trip due to past sins that have been confessed, repented of and forsaken or with present burdens because of the fact that I am imperfect but in looking to Jesus Christ my Saviour, my Redeemer and my Advocate with the Father, to find rest in HIM.
In light of this, the Word of God also tells me:
- “But let all those that put their trust in thee REJOICE: let them ever SHOUT FOR JOY, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.” (Psalms 5:11)
- “But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall REJOICE in thy salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13:5-6)
- “My lips shall greatly REJOICE when I sing unto thee; and my soul, which thou hast redeemed.” (Psalm 71:23)
- “REJOICE in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)
- “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly REJOICETH; and with my song will I praise him.” (Psalm 28:7)
- “I will greatly REJOICE in the Lord, my soul shall be JOYFUL in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)
- “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will REJOICE and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)
- “Serve the Lord with GLADNESS: come before his presence with singing.” (Psalm 100:2)
- “My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be GLAD in the Lord.” (Psalm 104:34)
- “REJOICE evermore.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
(Written on 02nd July, 2023)