Jesus may have been the worst salesman ever.
And the good news he announced is definitely the worst sales pitch ever. It could be lampooned like this:
“Repent and surrender everything you have and everything you hope to be to me. Do this, and your life might be worse—maybe a lot worse. Eventually, I’ll give you something far better. But you can’t see it or have it until you die. Just trust me.”
This portrayal of the gospel doesn’t sound very appealing, but it is the way most ears hear the gospel: foolish, offensive, insulting, a turn off. Certainly, that’s how Jesus’ audience heard it.
Jesus might have improved his pitch and his conversion stats if He had just run a focus group or two with people in his target demographic. He might have uncovered a few power words or phrases that would really connect with his audience and generate a higher percentage of sign ups.
But Jesus was no pitch-man; He was no populist. He had no interest in finding out what made his audience tick and then tickling their ears with the most motivational message. In fact, His goal seems to have been to make it hard for people to believe in Him. Read John chapter 6, for example, in which you’ll see that Jesus had no time for Christ-consumers; He demanded Christ-followers.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote,
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” (from, The Cost of Discipleship)
❯ CHRISTIAN HYPE
But now enter the modern church where marketing may be more central than the message, and potential converts can be consumer-ized, and pitched a subtly pseudo-gospel.
Enter the world of Christian hype: exaggerations, distortions, or even deceptions promoted to increase popular appeal.
We may (or may not) mean well. We may want His message to be more appealing and easier to understand. We may want Him, whom we love, to be seen in His best light. Christian hype usually sounds innocent enough. It’s encouraging, positive; spiritual, even. And genuine converts can come from it (God is merciful).
But is it His message?
Here are a few current examples of Christian hype circulating today. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
❯ EXAMPLES OF CHRISTIAN HYPE
1. The “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” hype
Popularized by Campus Crusade for Christ, this statement is true only if you have a biblical understanding of God’s love and plan, which, of course, no unbeliever has. This hype leads unbelievers to think of God’s plan for this present life as this “wonderful” thing—only good, positive, fulfilling, and happy. But, any mature and honest follower of Christ will admit that in this life Christians suffer disappointment, disease, pain, and death just like everyone else.
“Life happens.” And life will eventually force those who trusted this misleading representation of the gospel to either qualify the statement, or to abandon the gospel altogether.
2. The “Surrender to God and He will do amazing things with your life” hype
“God’s will for you will blow you away.”
It’ll probably be mundane, run-of-the-mill, earthy, common, average. You’ll work. You may marry and parent. Hopefully you’ll love and be loved. You’ll grow old or sick. And die. Your encounters with the supernatural and amazing will undoubtably be restricted to the stories you read in Scripture, to worship, and to receiving the Sacraments. That’s pretty much it.
God’s will for those who belong to Him is usually pretty ordinary, in this life. So, if you came to Christ believing this hype and are still following Him, you probably modified this statement long ago.
But that doesn’t mean God’s will isn’t more to be desired than all the gold of the earth. He does promise an amazing reward, just, not yet.
3. The “You are the center of God’s universe” hype
Also known as the, “God created you because He wanted fellowship with you” hype. And also known as, “God is a needy, lonely whiner.”
God is not needy. Contrary to the lyrics of an old gospel song, God does not “miss his time with you.”
You were created for Him, and fellowship with God fulfills your need, not His; it is your privilege, not His. You add nothing to Him; He adds everything to you. He gives himself to you in Christ for your benefit, not His.
If you came to Christ with sentimental notions of God’s need for your love and worship, reading through the Bible should teach you that God is ultimately God-centered, and that only by His being so can you be ultimately satisfied in Him.
4. The “God will bless you if you…” hype
Fill in any spiritual technique or fad you like. God will bless you if you…
⟩ …pray hard and long enough.
⟩ …attend the revival service (bonus points if the preacher lays hands on you).
⟩ …travail at the altar.
⟩ …pray the Prayer of Jabez.
⟩ …have enough faith.
⟩ …claim your authority in Christ.
⟩ …take dominion over the world, the flesh and the devil.
⟩ …are in the center of God’s perfect will.
⟩ …curse the root of sin.
⟩ …keep the Sabbath on Saturday.
⟩ …speak deliverance or healing in Jesus’ name.
Some of these may have been meaningless to you. But take my word, there are Christians who say and believe every one of these pseudo-christian or magical techniques. I’ve heard them all.
But maturing Christians learn that the only “technique” which actually produces spiritual growth is resting on Jesus with all you have for all He promises to give.
This is done through the regular, slow and seemingly mundane activities of prayer and Scripture study, public worship, hearing the gospel preached and receiving the gospel signs: the water, the bread, the wine.
❯ DANGERS OF CHRISTIAN HYPE
I hope you already see the dangers you face from a lengthy embrace of these or any other form of Christian hype: You’ll focus on your happiness in this life rather than your happiness in the next. You’ll think you can twist God’s sovereignty to serve your desires. You’ll never discover what the glory of God is, and what it means to those who belong to Him. You’ll reduce spiritual life to techniques, magic, and laws. You’ll choke your spiritual growth.
In short, the false Christian hype you embrace will stifle the true Christian hope God promises. Forgiveness, eternal life, eternal reward, the fatherhood of God, the new heavens and earth will all seem less relevant, less important, less…
Let me encourage you to keep alert for the Christian hype around you: in your church, in your Bible study group, in that best-seller from the Christian bookstore you’re reading, in your own thoughts.
If you find hype there, don’t just let it wash over you, unthought about, unchallenged. Examine it. Force it to align with all of Scripture (more than just one verse), or be rejected. Here’s a few Bible reading tips for new readers to help you get started.
Remember, Jesus was no pitch-man, no marketeer. He didn’t come with small promises about having a great life now. He came with great promises, at great cost to himself, for those who would repent and surrender everything they have, and everything they hope to be. Do this, and your life might be worse—maybe a lot worse.
But you’ll have the immeasurable treasures of peace with God, an eternal purpose, and the comfort of His power and presence,
now and forever.
And eventually, so much more.
Just trust Him.
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