If, as we say, the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” is heaven’s Good News, and if this good news is the answer to mankind’s deepest, biggest, worst problems, and if it’s free and eternal and for everyone, one would think people would be crashing through the church doors to get in on it.
Why aren’t they?
Not only are they not breaking down our doors to partake of God’s free offer in Christ, most of our neighbors act as if the church is completely irrelevant to anything that concerns them. And, if and when we do have the opportunity to enlighten them on Christ’s wonderful blessings of grace, some laugh in our faces or even scoff and dismiss us as nuts.
What’s going on here? Why are people not clamoring to get in on this wonderful thing God has made available for all mankind in Jesus Christ?
1. Many do not know.
(We’ve previously told on these pages some of the accounts that follow, but for the benefit of the complete article and for those who missed it the first time, we repeat it here.)
My pastor introduced me to a young man named Bill. “Bill was baptized last Sunday night.” When I expressed appreciation for his salvation experience, Bill said, “I had a real hunger in my heart.”
Later, the pastor explained that Bill, a carpenter, had mentioned to some of his co-workers about that inward spiritual hunger. One of the men, a believer, invited him to church. He was not prepared for Bill’s response.
“How do I do that?”
The friend said, “How do you go to church? Simple—you get in your car and drive down there, you park, and you walk inside.”
Bill said, “You mean just anyone can walk inside a church?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Anyone.”
The next Sunday Bill heard the Gospel of Christ and responded by going forward during the invitation time and giving his hungry heart to the Lord who alone could fill it.
I said to my pastor, “We make such assumptions. We just assume that everyone knows they would be welcome in our church. We assume they know when we meet and what goes on, and so we never tell them.”
The pastor (Dr. Mike Miller) said, “You know my story, don’t you?” I didn’t.
Mike was grown and dating Terri, who would become his wife, when he attended her Methodist church on Easter Sunday and for the first time in his life, heard the story of the resurrection. That week he called his dad, a lifelong Baptist.
“Did you know about the resurrection, Dad?” “Oh sure, son,” he said. “Everybody knows that story.”
Mike said, “Dad, I didn’t.”
His father said, “Aw son, everybody in Odessa, Texas, knows that and how to be saved and all.”
Mike said, “Dad, how was I to know that? You never taught me. You never bought me a Bible or read it to us.”
God’s people just assume that everyone knows how to be saved and that they would be welcome in our churches. Consequently, we don’t tell them.
I once knew a church that refused to erect a sign out front announcing the times of their worship services. “Everyone knows when we meet,” the leaders protested. “Besides, it would mess up the decor of the church.” (I was happy not long ago to drive past that church and see a new sign that clearly announces their services.)
Some people do not come to our churches because they don’t know they would be welcome. Some do not open their hearts to Christ because no one has told them how.
2. Some know, but do not want it.
God’s word puts it like this: “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19). Have you ever seen a man miserable in church? The same fellow is right at home in the tavern or with his buddies gambling or swapping their smutty stories. He is out of place at church and will be until God changes his nature. He must be born again.
To be sure, there is pleasure to be had in sinning. Scripture speaks of “the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). My friend Jack Smith, a veteran hunter, says, “The only problem is the season is too short.”
On the Panama City beach a fellow stopped me halfway through my gospel presentation. “Listen, buddy,” he said. “I appreciate what you’re doing, but that’s not for me. I’m having too much fun to turn to God.”
I thanked him for his honesty and asked him to take the booklet I’d been sharing with him.
That’s why many are not in church. They like what they are doing and do not want to change.
3. Some know about salvation and want it, but on their own terms.
I had this driven home to me once in a mission house the ladies from various of our Baptist churches had set up to distribute clothing to the needy. As I was being shown around inside the center, I was impressed by the organization and neatness of the display. Every item of clothing had been sized and set into stacks with appropriate signs.
My hostess apologized for the state of the door. “The people in the neighborhood have just about broken down the door,” she said. “We’re going to have to replace it.”
I said, “Why are they trying to break in?”
“Oh, to steal the clothing.”
I said, “Everything inside here is free! And they want to steal it?”
She said, “Interesting, isn’t it?”
I remembered a sign I’d seen in one of the rooms: “Thou shalt not steal. Ask and it shall be given you.”
The people of the neighborhood wanted the clothing, but they wanted it on their own terms. They did not want to be beholden to anyone. They would prefer to steal it.
Jesus told of a similar attitude of a fellow in the 22nd chapter of Matthew.
A king arranged a wedding feast for his son and sent out the servants to inform his invited guests that all was ready. The servants returned and reported that all the guests were declining. Thinking there must be a misunderstanding, the king sent other servants with the same message.
However, the invited guests scoffed went on about their business. Some abused the servants and even killed several. When the king heard about this, he went into action. His army sought out the offending parties and made short work of them.
Then the king said to his servants, “We will have guests at my dinner! Go out into the highways and back alleys. Bring anyone you can find. Good, bad, it doesn’t matter.” In so doing, they filled the tables with guests for the banquet.
Now, none of the guests had an inkling that morning that he would be dining at the palace that day. This was the ultimate come-as-you-are party. However, as each one entered the door of the palace, he was given a wedding garment, perhaps a white robe. (We’re not told.)
Finally, the king entered to survey his banquet hall. Every place was taken, everything was ready. Then, he spotted someone out of place, a fellow sitting there dressed in his own clothing.
The king said, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And the man was speechless. He had no excuse.
Had that fellow come in by the door, the servants would have dressed him appropriately. He had entered the palace by sneaking in a back way. He wanted what the king was offering, but wanted it on his own terms.
The king told his servants, “Bind him and throw him into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
A perfect picture of many in our time who want the salvation and full benefits of Heaven, but on their own terms.
4. Many do not come because we (the Lord’s servants) are sending out mixed messages.
If God’s good news is so life-altering, if it is the best thing in the world, one would expect that we who are Christ’s disciples would be telling the news wherever we go. However, since we tend to keep the news to ourselves, or worse, to act bored by the whole thing, the world concludes there’s not a lot to it and turns away to something exciting, like “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars.”
God says, “If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8)
The church today–and most believers–are giving out uncertain sounds. We are not clear and solid in our gospel message.
Amazingly, many calling themselves believers do not even agree whether people are lost without Christ. If we are not clear on this, our offer of salvation will be meaningless.
Too many of those who claim to believe that people are lost without Christ and that the cross alone atones for our sins live as though this were all so much make believe and that the real world is what’s on television tonight and at the office tomorrow.
From way back in the 19th century comes a tale of a British prisoner who was condemned to be hanged at sunrise. As the hour approached, the official party arrived and began to lead the condemned down the corridor. In front, the priest read scripture. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he lives.” “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavily laden, and I will give you rest.” And so forth.
The prisoner stopped. “Chaplain,” he called out. “What are you reading?”
The chaplain murmured something about the scriptures. The condemned man said, “Mister, you clearly do not believe what you are saying. But I’ll tell you one thing. If I were you and I believed the message you are reading, friend, I’d crawl on my hands and knees on broken glass if it would reach one sinner and keep him out of hell.”
Sometimes the world has a better understanding of our situation than we do.
Somewhere I heard of a preacher who was preparing his sermon on a Saturday afternoon and was stuck for an illustration to complete it. Finally, he told his wife he was going for a drive. “Maybe something will occur to me.”
A half hour later, miles from the city, he came upon a house that was burning. Neighbors surrounded the house, watching it burn, while firefighters ran to and fro trying to quench the flames. A weeping family stood off to one side.
The pastor was so touched by that scene, he knew he had the sermon illustration for the next day. On the way back into town he rehearsed what he had just seen so he could describe it just right.
The next day, when he got to a certain point in the sermon, the pastor told his people how he came upon this awful scene in the country. He described the weeping family, the desperate fire-fighters, and the onlooking neighbors.
An hour later, over lunch at the pastor’s home, he told his wife the story had not gone over the way he had expected. “I felt it was the perfect illustration,” he said, “but they just sat there and stared at me. Something just didn’t work.”
His wife said, “Honey, you forgot to tell them the house was on fire.”
The church today wants to evangelize our world. However, we will never get its attention and merit a hearing until we make them realize the house is on fire. This world has been condemned. Only those who are in Christ will survive. He alone is the Savior.
We were never promised that all mankind would appreciate our message and turn to Christ. But many will, if we tell them and show that we believe our own message by the way we live.