We shed tears watching emotional movies. We’re sorrowful when we see a dog stranded on the streets. But do we have a heart heavily burdened with empathy for the lost?
May 20, 2021
God has supernaturally taken you back in time. The date is September 10, 2001, the day before the attack on New York’s famed Twin Towers. You and two other speakers have been invited by the United Nations to address one thousand employees at the top of Tower One of the World Trade Center. The subject you have been given is “The Benefits of My Religion.” The other speakers are a well-known Hindu and a New Age teacher from Santa Barbara, California.
There is something magnetic about Meyer Yogi Bharmu as he stands before the microphone. His brown robes and dark flesh contrast with the whites of his sparkling eyes, giving him a fresh and healthy appearance. When he smiles, his white teeth add to his amazing charisma.
The benefits of his religion included “the joy of yoga” and what he maintained was good health and a lasting peace that came through daily meditation. His serenity and joy-filled smile were a powerful testimony to what he had to offer, something reflected in the captivated expressions on the faces of his hearers. The deafening applause at the end of his speech confirmed that he had made his point: Hinduism wrapped in yoga and meditation was an attractive package for those caught in the rat race of the new millennium.
The second speaker, a graduate from U.C. Berkeley, spoke with even more charismatic eloquence than his predecessor. He was a multimillionaire who had reaped his financial crop in the mid-nineties and sowed his money into a huge New Age estate in sunny California.
The benefits of his “religion” were a mixture of healthy living, communal exercise, therapeutic music, financial stability, and, of course, a true and lasting peace that came through a relationship with God. His image of the Creator was attractive. No hell-fire preaching here. To him, God was nothing but a loving and merciful Creator who gave “the herbs of the field for the pleasure of mankind.” Each morning hundreds of life-loving New Agers would meet and meditate on God’s goodness, expressed through His beautiful and bountiful creation.
His PowerPoint presentation was worth a thousand words. Each “believer” grinned with joy as he stood outside his low-cost but opulent beachfront house, complete with an Eden-like organic vegetable garden. Picture after picture exuded beaming smiles and obvious delight at each believer’s one-with-God-and-nature lifestyle. The applause at his conclusion was even more rousing than after the first speaker.
What Would You Say?
He takes his seat. Your turn has finally come. You have a free reign to preach the entire gospel. What an opportunity! You gather your things and take the podium, but as you look over your notes, you become uncomfortable. They begin with, “My religion is unique in that it offers genuine peace and joy…and true lasting happiness.” You had planned to give a personal testimony that after trying many things in life, Jesus alone was able to fill the God-shaped vacuum in your heart. Then you would give what was usually the confident climax of your gospel presentation: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
You suddenly feel a catch in your throat. You know what’s going to happen tomorrow, September 11, 2001. Can you really look these people in the eye and tell them, “God has a wonderful plan for your life”? Within 24 hours almost every one of your hearers will die in unspeakably horrible ways. The “plan” God has for the rest of their lives is far from what any sane person could consider “wonderful.” Remember, God has taken you back in time, but the Twin Towers are still going to come down. You cannot alter what is about to happen. All you can do is preach the gospel.
You clear your throat, straighten your notes, and take a sip of water. The crowd gazes back at you in anticipation of what you’re about to share. The pause has been uncomfortably long. You clear your throat again, and your heart begins to pound in your ears, but you simply can’t speak as you consider the future these people know nothing about.
“Only by being made righteous in Christ can guilty sinners escape the just wrath of a holy Creator and be brought into a right and loving relationship with Him.”
In an instant of time, many of these now pleasant faces will become human torches as jet fuel saturates them and their bodies ignite. Others will be horribly suffocated in a huge ball of fiery, poisonous gases as their burning and heaving lungs gasp for breath. Rather than face the horror of burning to death, some will jump over one hundred stories in inconceivable terror to their deaths on the unforgiving sidewalks of New York. Those who manage to stay alive on the upper floors will eventually come down along with the earthshaking weight of twisted metal and concrete…their bodies so horribly mangled as to be unidentifiable. Many more working in the lower stories will be crushed like helpless spiders under the weight of a resolute human shoe.
These unspeakable images flood your mind, and in their wake an appalling realization begins to dawn. If the message “God has a wonderful plan for your life” isn’t applicable for the thousand people standing in front of you, how can it possibly be the biblical gospel? The shock of it strikes you like a train derailing.
What Are the Benefits of Knowing Christ?
You take another sip of water and look down at your open Bible as you prayerfully whisper, “What are the ‘benefits’ of knowing Jesus Christ? If it isn’t the promise of a ‘wonderful’ life, then what is it?” Your Bible on the podium has fallen open to the book of Isaiah, and you read:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (Isaiah 61:10).
“Christians must stop telling unbelievers to come to Jesus for the promise of a happy lifestyle. Why? Because Jesus didn’t promise a happy lifestyle.”
God’s plan of salvation was for Jesus to suffer and die on the cross so that humanity could receive the gift of righteousness. That is the uniqueness of Christianity. Only by being made righteous in Christ can guilty sinners escape the just wrath of a holy Creator and be brought into a right and loving relationship with Him.
You turn back to your notes that were slipped into the book of Romans. Again your eyes fall upon the scriptures as they present the plan of salvation:
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness…. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above)…. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 9:30-31; 10:3-6; 10:10)
You remember how Jesus warned His hearers that unless their righteousness exceeded that of the religious leaders, they wouldn’t even enter the kingdom of God. In your mind, the message of salvation is suddenly bathed in a completely new light. You realize now that it’s not about telling a dying and Hell-bound world that Christianity will give them a better, more “wonderful” life. An unexpected relief washes over you as you realize you no longer have to try to “out-joy” the world.
You whisper, “God forgive me,” and prepare (with His help) to preach the true gospel, pleading with your hearers to embrace the message of salvation: “Flee to the Savior for the righteousness that God offers only in Jesus Christ! Turn from sin and surrender to Jesus Christ so that your sins may be blotted out and you may be saved from the wrath to come.”
What’s the point? Christians must stop telling unbelievers to come to Jesus for the promise of a happy lifestyle. Why? Because Jesus didn’t promise a happy lifestyle. He promised that His followers would undergo temptation, trials, and persecution. We don’t come to Jesus for a happy lifestyle. We come to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ so that our sins will be forgiven and we won’t end up in Hell for all eternity. It is imperative that every Christian learn how to share the gospel effectively, biblically—the way Jesus did.