God knows that I am loathe to turn my family blog into a forum for theological discussion, but those of you who frequent here, like myself, love the gospel because in it God's message of grace is fully disclosed, and has liberated us to a life free of guilt and full of mercy. Because of this grace, we have learned to love the message of Jesus' substitutionary death for our sin and life for our righteousness; therefore, we want the gospel preached -- there is no substitute.
This morning on the Today Show I watched an interview between Katie Couric and Joel Osteen, a man who is being shoved more and more into the lime-light of Christian Evangelicalism. They were discussing Osteen's new book set to come out next year. His first book, Your Best Life Now, grossed millions and was # 1 on the NY Times Bestseller list.
I am concerned, however, when Osteen's view of life begins to become the face of Evangelical Christianity in America, because I think, with good intentions, and perhaps without knowing it, he is pulling a bait and switch -- he uses the term "gospel" to draw Evangelicals (and he does by the thousands each Sunday), but when the people sit down they hear "7 Steps for Living at Your Full Potential." This post is not aimed at Osteen's book, per se, it is aimed at the differences between the meaning of the gospel and "Your Best Life Now." Again, so I am not understood, people ought to live good lives, but living a good life should never be confused with the gospel. The following are 3 reasons (we could list many more) why we cannot allow this to happen.
1. The Gospel begins as a message of human hopelessness, whereas "Living at Your Full Potential" is humanly optimistic. I think it is imperative to understand, that true happiness in the gospel begins with a humiliating observation -- human nature is incapable of, unwilling to, and unrepentant about change. The gospel consists of the recognition that "without me, you can do nothing;" but the message of Full Potential begins, "you can be anything you put your mind to."
2. The Gospel is a message about receiving, but the message of Full Potential is a message about getting. What is the difference? Simply this, the gift of God vs. the work of man. Again, a good life requires hard work, but a good life is not the gospel because the gospel is about receiving grace (Eph. 2:8-10), and grace cannot be "gotten" by the means of a good life.
3. The Gospel rests on the obedient life of Jesus, while the message of Full Potential rests on the obedience of man. I will post more on this doctrine later, as I believe it to be the most liberating doctrine in Scripture, but allow me to say now that we must return to a focus on the work of Christ. The Scripture teaches that God looks favorably on me, and considers me to be righteous, holy, justified, sanctified and blameless because Jesus was perfectly obedient to his will (Rom. 8:1-4; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:3-7). The obedience of Jesus stands as my obedience -- because Jesus was perfectly holy, God considers me perfectly holy.
But the message of Full Potential is not about dependence on the obedience of Jesus' righteousness as our sufficiency before a holy, demanding, righteous God. Instead, it is about performance. The gospel is about performance, make no mistake, but the glory of the gospel is that it is not about my performance -- it was about Jesus' performance on my helpless behalf.
Friends, let us keep the gospel the gospel and keep self-help, self-help; let us accept no substitutes for the message of the gospel, because self-help is not "the power of God to all who believe," nor is it the "wisdom of God." It is not in the message of Full Potential that "the righteousness that comes from God is revealed from faith to faith," but only in the good news of Jesus's substitutionary life and death -- the message of the gospel. If the message doesn't end with "my every hope rests on what Christ has done," its just not the same.