Both Jesus and the apostles stressed the central need for unity within the Christian community. Satan, on the other hand – having lost the war already and still losing individual battles every time someone joins God’s kingdom – is focused on just the opposite: disrupting the unity of our message through planting seeds of envy, strife, and disharmony.
It is imperative that we get a handle on what Satan is up to in this world. We often relegate Satan to the make believe world of fairies and elves and in so doing have dropped our defenses against him. Peter warns, “Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Pet 5:8). And Paul writes, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:11-12). The New Testament makes clear; Satan is our number one sworn enemy.
Let me say it again, because in many ways we act like he doesn’t even exist. Satan is our number one sworn enemy. And one of his world wide operations is to disrupt the gospel message through disunity in the church. If you ask the man-on-the-street, “What is the gospel or Christian message?”, I think he would be hard pressed to answer even if he has been exposed to it. The various “Christian” labels we attach to all kinds of messages we send has left an incredible confusion and biblical illiteracy on believers and unbelievers alike. And it starts with our preaching. We are not letting the Bible speak for itself.
What do I mean by the Bible speaking for itself? We have a brand of preaching today that looks more like motivational speaking. It downplays aspects of the gospel message that some consider offensive or confusing to modern ears. Doctrines like sin, atonement, moral depravity, and judgment are softened, and our preaching focuses on felt needs such as how Jesus helps us with life’s challenges, or helps us succeed in our jobs, finances, and relationships. This presentation style appears to be a topic looking for a Bible verse rather than context-driven Bible exposition. If we, in any way, “water down” the gospel message to make it, in our minds, more acceptable to a modern audience, we are not letting the Bible speak for itself.
In response to the perception that our preaching has “gone soft”, it is easy to go to an equally unbiblical approach in the other direction. Beneath the veneer of expository preaching is often a rigid theological construction that fails to recognize all that changed with the coming of the New Testament; the coming of the New Covenant. In my experience, there is a plethora of Bible teaching today that takes Old Testament concepts – the consequence model of sin, the wicked and deceitful heart, the lack of power to keep the law – and overlays them onto the New Testament. This teaching is in opposition to what Paul instructed us to do in Romans 7:6. “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” Too much that passes as expository preaching today is in the “oldness of the letter”.
How both of these preaching styles play right into Satan’s hand will be the topic of our next post.