Many of us call ourselves Christians (which by definition means “Christ followers”). Sometimes, when we honestly evaluate our relationship with Jesus, we realize we are not following Him. We are more like “fans” than followers. Though I believe in the assurance of our salvation, I also believe that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil. 2:12) When it comes to where we will spend eternity, we can’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and take an honest look at the answers that our lives offer. Is it possible that when asked, “Are you a follower of Jesus?” you quickly respond, “Yes,” only to be exposed as nothing more than a fan on that final day when we face the Lord.
Many people take the wrong road in life. Only few find the narrow path. If that’s true, then wouldn’t it make sense for us to slow down? Shouldn’t we hit the brakes, pull over to the side, and make sure that we are on the road that leads to life? This teaching of Jesus is the conclusion of his sermon known as “The Sermon on the Mount,” which is a message about raising the bar of the commitment for those who would follow Him. It’s a narrow road, but it’s a road that leads to life.
I can’t help but wonder if it’s possible to think we’re on the narrow road when we’re actually on the broad road. What if we’ve set the cruise control, turned up the volume on our favorite Christian radio station, and are traveling down the road of destruction with a Jesus fish on our bumper and a small wooden cross hanging from the rear view mirror. Perhaps we should slow down and look at some of the signs and ask ourselves what road we’re on. Is it possible that we can be wrong about being right with God?
Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”
It would not have surprised me if Jesus said a few will stand before God on judgment day convinced that everything is fine only to find out otherwise. But He doesn’t say few. He doesn’t say some, He says many. Many who assumed they were on the path to heaven will find out that heaven is not their destination. I know this sounds harsh, but it is an extremely important matter.
So, does your life reflect what you say you believe? For many Christians the concept of denying themselves was not considered part of the deal. They grew up with the message that such a radical decision really isn’t necessary. So they signed up to follow Jesus, but if denying themselves was part of following the Lord it was definitely in the fine print. This seems especially true of Christians in the United States. I might get some negative feedback for this, but I believe it has a lot to do with the collision of Christianity with American capitalism.
Many churches have become companies that measure success by the number of customers they have attracted. And how do we get more customers? By trying to make the customers feel comfortable, important and happy. We want the product (in this case following Jesus) to come off as appealing and as comfortable as possible. So when someone comes in “church shopping,” we try to show them what we have to offer. This actually undermines the invitation of Jesus to deny ourselves. The church sends the message, “Whatever you want you can get it here.” The invitation of Jesus is, “Give up everything.” The message of the church sounds less like “Deny yourself,” and more like Burger King’s slogan, “Have it your way.” This is what creates a church full of raving fans, but not many followers.
The obvious superstar in the so-called prosperity Gospel is Joel Osteen. As of 2012, Osteen’s net worth was reportedly $56,508,500. He lives with his family in a $10,500,000 home. He tells his congregation that God is a loving and giving God who rewards believers with wealth and happiness. It’s the centerpiece of all of his sermons. Osteen says he chooses to focus more on the goodness of God and on living an obedient life rather than on sin. He says that he tries to teach Biblical principles in a simple way, emphasizing the power of love and a positive attitude. This sounds a lot like do good things and God will reward you. During an interview on Larry King Live, Osteen said, “I don’t come at it from a theological point of view, and I think that’s part of my success in that I’m not trying to just explain Scriptures.” Osteen said a lot of what he teaches is simply how to live a great life. He avoids Scriptures like Romans 6:23, which says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Many Christians are being deceived today by charismatic and theatrical preaching because it tickles the ear and satisfies their desire to be entertained. They don’t want to be corrected, admonished, or be told they are living a life of sin. If your pastor relies on theatrics, philosophical illustrations, or the Holy Spirit to “fall” during service to the point where he can’t even preach because the glory is so heavy, then he is not preaching or teaching. Rather, he is entertaining his congregation. Many people are deceived by the easy going and welcoming demeanor of Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. These guys barely ruffle a feather when they preach, but they sure do reel you in by motivating you to live your best life now or to be driven by your purpose. They often quote a Bible verse to use as a basis for promoting their personal philosophy.
Motivational speakers need to have personal charisma. They typically have huge egos. Biblical preachers should be humble in order to be anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit. They are a conduit through which God delivers His message. Charisma influences emotions in the direction of self-actualization. The Holy Spirit influences the soul in the direction of godliness. Biblical preaching lifts up Jesus Christ. Motivational speaking tends to exalt man’s ability to fix his own issues. Biblical preaching proclaims the Gospel message of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. It talks about salvation. It does not steer the congregation away from the existence of Hell. We must repent. Turn away from our former sin-filled life. We are sanctified by the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. This is something I never hear Osteen talk about in his sermons or in his books. Motivational speaking might tack on the sinner’s prayer at the end of a how-to message, but that’s as close as they get. They display no real evidence that they are followers of Christ. Quite the opposite, they are marketing Jesus for profit. Osteen’s church averages $32 million in tithes every year.
Self-esteem is sought by those who have not yet “died to self” and risen to live for Christ. Healthy believers, on the other hand, hunger for God’s Word like a baby hungers for food. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2,3) Jesus never seeks to build up a person’s self-esteem. That is a dead end street as far as God is concerned. Paul said it best in Galatians 2:20, which states, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” That experience is a far cry from a life of self-esteem that needs to be constantly propped up by a motivational speaker. Such a person needs constant validation and ego stroking.
As humans, we tend to attribute worldly success, good works, ministry size, popularity, and number of followers with godly success. Therefore, the bigger the church, the more popular or successful a preacher, the more success we think a person or organization has. We even credit these successes to God’s blessings. This is particularly true with Osteen, who repeatedly tells his congregation that God wants to bless them richly. But worldly success, good works, the size of your church building, or even a large number of followers, is not necessarily the measure of godly success. A person can have all these, yet not be godly. This is what creates a church full of raving fans, but not many followers. Christ tells us to follow Him. Serve Him. Be His hands. Minister to His children from the Word of God. Only when a pastor does this can members of his congregation become true followers of Christ.