Paul planted a church community in the city of Corinth, about fifty miles west of Athens, Greece. He was a spiritual father to the believers there, the one who first brought them the gospel. That’s why he was so jealous for their spiritual well-being, bringing both correction and encouragement in his letters to them. In the first of those letters, he wrote, “Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have–Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:10-11, NLT).
Faith in Something Other Than Jesus
But what happens if a faulty foundation is laid? What if people build their faith on someone other than Jesus and something other than the gospel? What then? The results will be disastrous, and sooner or later a collapse will occur.
That’s why Jesus was not impressed with the large crowds that followed Him. He was looking for true, devoted, long-term disciples. That’s why, when He saw the throngs of the people that came to hear Him, He didn’t say, “I’m so glad you’re here! That really blesses Me! What can I do for you?” Instead, knowing that many were following Him for the wrong reasons, He often challenged them, saying things like, “You are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” And, then, this radical teaching: “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:26, 53). Hearing these words, many of His followers walked away. This was way too much for them to absorb. Their commitment went only skin deep.
Jesus, for His part, cared for each of those people in ways beyond our understanding. He was about to give His very life for them. But He wanted to separate the true from the false, the genuine from the counterfeit. He wanted true disciples, people who understood who He was and were willing to pay the price that would be required of them in the future. He had no interest in crowds or big numbers alone. Instead, He sifted them to see what was in their hearts. (For another example, see Luke 14:25-33.)
A Growing Problem in the Church
For many years, I have been deeply concerned about the type of “gospel” message people are hearing. Is it built on the Word? On truth? Does it convict people of sin (in other words, does it make them aware of their guilt before God and their need for forgiveness)? Does it offer them complete redemption through the cross? Does it tell them who Jesus really is? Does it proclaim Him as both Savior and Lord? Does it call them to repentance, telling them that following Jesus means leaving their old lives behind? Does it offer salvation as a free gift?
Throughout church history, many Christians have been hurt by a legalistic message, making their salvation a matter of works rather than of grace. This, too, is a fatal error. Legalism is laws without love, rules without relationship, standards without a Savior. Legalism tells people they have to work harder and become better before God will accept them, presenting a picture of the Lord as a short-tempered, petty-minded deity who is always looking to find fault and always quick to accuse. Legalism is externally imposed religion, trying to change someone from the outside in. It is extremely judgmental, normally adding other elements to the gospel and judging the salvation of others by what they do not do (as in, “Real Christians do not wear jewelry.”).
This gives people a false view of the Father, a false view of Jesus, a false view of the gospel, and a false view of themselves. They either think they are always unacceptable to the Lord, since they are far from perfect on their best days, or they become self-deceived, thinking they are righteous in themselves. Legalism has damaged, if not destroyed, the faith of millions of Christians over the centuries, and it remains a real danger to this day. It has driven many far away from the gospel.
But to be perfectly candid, legalism is not our biggest problem. Instead, we have gone to the opposite end of the extreme. We preach a “gospel” that calls for no repentance at all. In fact, “repentance,” which means turning away from sin and turning to God, all by His grace and power, is rejected as a “work.” As I’ve heard many contemporary “believers” say when confronted with the true gospel message, “You’re not going to put that bondage on me! That’s religion, dude, and I don’t want anything to do with that. Jesus died to set me free from your binding, dead traditions!”
On What Foundation is Your Faith Built?
On what kind of foundation is your faith built? What kind of message did you hear? Who were the examples that you followed? What does it mean to you be born from above, to be a follower of Jesus? And who is He to you? Your Lord and Savior? Or simply your best Buddy? Your holy Enabler? The Man upstairs who gives you success? Your personalized, supernatural concierge service? The One who makes all your dreams come true? (Rather than a Hollywood producer, you have a heavenly Producer!) Is He the Master Deconstructionist, helping you shed the myths of old-fashioned religion? Or the angry Inciter, always looking for a race-based battle to fight?
Who is Jesus to you? The answer to that question has eternal implications.