Written by Jonah Albrecht / November 2017
Series Introduction: The 4 -isms of American Christianity is a series based on the book Has American Christianity Failed? by Bryan Wolfmueller. In this book, Wolfmueller shows how many Christian churches in America places the focus on the internal testimony of man vs the external testimony of the Scriptures. The more you look at American Christianity, you see how so often it falls into the pendulum of pride and despair.
Am I a bad person? This is a difficult question for us to answer ourselves. We like to think we are better than most, but how do we really know? Paul, in Ephesians 2 says,“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Paul puts the nail in the coffin. We were all children of wrath like every other human on this earth. According to God, we weren’t better than most, but we were dead.
I want to take you back to history class for a moment. Chances are at some point in your history lessons you have learned about Charles Finney and the Second Great Awakening. It was a time when pastors like Finney appealed to the emotional will of people. He wanted them to come forth and make that personal decision for Christ and live a better life for God. His teaching is still around even after almost 200 years any time you pick up a Mennonite Bible, or see a service by Joel Olsten and other megachurches. Come forward and accept Christ. This is a staple in American Christianity today. People love the feeling that they somehow contribute to their salvation.
Ray Comfort runs a program with Living Waters where he goes out in public and asks people about different questions like: Where do you go when you die? Was Jesus really real? Is homosexuality wrong? Each time he paints a picture for them: Suppose you’re in court for murder. And you say, “Judge, yeah, I murdered that person, but I’m sorry and I’ve done good things to make up for it.” The judge is not going to let you off just because you say you’re a good person, or that you’ve done good things in your life. God is your Judge on the Last Day. When you come before His throne and say, “God, I know I’ve sinned a lot in my life, but I’m a good person, I did good things to make up for it,” God is not going to accept that as payment the same way a judge won’t let you go free for murder just because you are a good person. “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” says Genesis 8.
This punches a hole through the teaching of revivalism. There is no good in us, we are dead. Where they say man’s will has enough good in it to accept Christ; God says no, but whoever continues in sin is of the devil (1 John 3:8). Revivalism rides on the pendulum of pride and despair. If you think you are good enough to accept Christ, you have the sin of pride. If you don’t think you are good enough, you are left in the sin of despair. Revivalism lacks the blessed assurance of the Gospel.
What Revivalism and American Christianity lacks is what we treasure the most: The blessed assurance of Grace through Jesus Christ. If you continue in 1 John 3, verse 8 says, “For this purpose the Son of God was made known, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Or in Ephesians 2, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” Let’s go back to the courtroom. Instead of saying to the Judge, “I’m a good person,” our attorney, Jesus, steps in and says, “Judge, yes, they have sinned, but look at the holes in my hands, feet, and side. I paid the price. I lived a perfect life, I fulfilled your Law, now they can go free.” The gavel comes down and you are declared not guilty! Jesus’ payment for your sins has been accepted in full. No parole, but a straight ticket to heaven.
“And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” This is your faith, this is your hope. Sins forgiven; paid in full!