A distorted view of love is causing followers of Jesus to renounce—or redefine—their faith.
“I love you guys, and I love all the support and friendships I’ve built here [Instagram]…I think it’s important to say that I’m just not a Christian anymore, and it feels really good. I’m really happy…I’m really happy.”
That's former Desiring God writer Paul Maxwell. He continues, “I love my life for the first time…and I love myself for the first time.”
Paul Maxwell comes across as an authentically kind and caring person in the article. His desire for connectivity and relationships is clear, In fact, it would do all of us well to grow in tenderness and passion for people. The problem comes when we elevate people, including self, to an inappropriate and unworthy level. Pastors, it would do you well to know that a focus on people isn't primary.
Paul Maxwell mentioned love and happiness repeatedly, revealing a problem that's both driving people away from the church and infecting the church at the same time. I'll state it clearly: love has been distorted and happiness is not God's primary goal for our lives. The Gospel message has become skewed and confused. We must remember that mankind, you and I included, is fully deserving of Hell.
People have been worshiping people for a long time. Rock and movie stars are both stalked and adored. Everyone from paparazzi to those who buy the photos along with tickets and merch are famous for elevating their admiration to an unhealthy level. People worship.
However, idolizing celebrities is no longer the prime concern. People worship has gone mainstream.
The Gospel message has morphed into a focus on people ahead of God in too many instances. Much of today's worship music has become entertainment driven as it focuses on who we are instead of who God is. Messages and entire movements are zeroing in on our great worth instead of our depravity. Churches are systematically wired to ensure visitors are valued, connected and comfortable in a sanitized, tepid, familiar living room environment.
Pastors are refusing to preach on holiness, hell, sin and repentance while favoring teachings on how much God loves us. They bend over backwards attempting to communicate human value while forsaking the revival-style messages that drove men and women to their knees.
The false-grace and false-love movements are infecting churches all over the world. Focus on the topics of identity and love is extremely valuable when handled rightly, and in the correct measure. However, an obsession with love and grace to the exclusion of judgment and fear of the Lord has resulted in many dabbling with the heresy of Universalism.
People I know are teetering on the edge of Universalism as they are becoming convinced that love demands we affirm others regardless of belief or behavior. People worship elevates mankind while intentionally dismissing their sin as mere weakness. If the sin isn't dismissed, it's often celebrated as a unifying trait that brings mankind together as a loving band of misfits. What is forgotten, or ignored, or rejected is that sin literally kills.
When we fully, radically and wholeheartedly surrender our lives to Jesus, his grace and mercy are overwhelming. The resulting peace, joy and abundant life are indescribable. However, today's people worship movement that is mirrored both in secular culture and the church attempts to relieve people of the struggle with sin by deeming it either benign or mildly concerning.
OUR HAPPINESS IS NOT GOD'S GOAL—AND IT SHOULDN'T BE OURS
Paul Maxwell's desire for authentic relationships is normal. However, this cannot be our goal.
Unredeemed humankind lives every moment seeking out the next pleasure, the next high, the next relationship. Those who don't know God are driven by a fervent passion to satisfy their desires. In fact, Christians who have merely made an intellectual or emotional decision to follow Christ are at similar disadvantage. This is why I unapologetically preach on authentic encounter with Jesus. Experiencing God supernaturally is the game changer.
While I appreciate the effort, I tend to cringe when I see goodhearted preachers addressing secular audiences from an intellectual perspective. Facts, figures, history, logic and arguments that originate in the human mind have a place. We simply need to know that an intellectual approach is woefully limited. A Damascus Road encounter, however, changes everything. When we are visited by an otherworldly entity that floods our beings with divine love, power and freedom, attempts at a logical interpretation becomes laughable.
When encounter comes, the Holy Spirit has phenomenal access to our lives. The Word of God then erupts in our spirits as we yearn for the truth it contains. It's at this point where human desires are dramatically calibrated to match God's. It's here where we understand that God's prime goal isn't to make us happy but rather to save our souls and to draw us into intimacy with him.
Deep friendships, sexual satisfaction, wealth, inner healing and other human desires become sanctified and reordered in importance. A life devoid of human friends stings less when our driving passion is to be a friend of God. A life of celibacy, should that be our portion, is a powerful sacrifice as we devote ourselves to knowing God more deeply. Again, our happiness isn't God's prime concern. Intimacy with him is.
THE GREAT LOVE DECEPTION
Consider this portion from one of the most important articles I've ever written, The Great Love Deception:
Keep in mind that false or tainted love doesn’t flow mostly from an evil, debased heart. It also doesn’t mean that there is nothing about the argument or viewpoint that is true. A person who craves pure love can, in their zeal or in their weakness, allow impurities into their expression of love that twists and compromises it. The reason I needed to say this is to encourage you if you’ve been hit by the false-love spirit. Your desire for manifested love is very probably true, yet the enemy can come in and confuse the process.
In fact, love most certainly doesn't always feel good. When we encounter love, we will be presented with a view of God that is quite different than what we previously understood to be true. God’s love can be expressed in a very direct, uncomfortable way that breaks you and you may even wonder how a loving God could act that way. God’s expression of love will often put you at risk, threaten you and trouble you. Jesus’ expression of love on the cross put Peter at risk of the same grisly death! How could Jesus do this? Peter was confused as he was presented with a side of Jesus he never saw—and he denied that expression of Jesus and his love for the world! I guarantee that Peter did not feel good as Jesus loved him by rescuing him from Hell by dying on the cross. Today, sharp, provoking preaching is rejected because it doesn’t feel good. They might say in their disturbed state, “That’s not the Jesus I know.” The risk is, like Peter, rejection of God when the feelings aren’t warm and intimate. This is one reason why being people of the Word is non-negotiable. We can’t afford to call good evil and evil good. We must learn about Jesus and how he functions so that our emotions don’t lead us astray.
People are not to be worshiped. We are all deserving of eternal torment.
God isn't here to satisfy our happiness. Friend, we are in a spiritual war. It's time to lay down our lives, to embrace the cross, to prepare for martyrdom, to develop deep intimacy with Jesus and to live our lives storming the gates of Hell and battling wickedness on the earth.
From that place, yes, there most certainly is opportunity for developing deep, holy friendships, in developing a healthy, godly identity and in enjoying the life God gives us. But we cannot abandon the faith when it doesn't satisfy. We can't reject God when he doesn't meet our demands. We can't quit when our intellect doesn't grasp God's methods. We must not redefine our faith to elevate the value of people to worship status. We aren't in it for our fulfillment, or happiness, our joy or our mental and emotional health. We follow Jesus because he is God, he paid the ultimate price for us and he is literally our only hope.
Photo credit: “Athiest bus advert” by thegreatgonzo is licensed under CC BY 2.0