I visit churches and listen for the gospel. I’ve begun to agree with Wolfhart Pannenberg who said that when he listens for the gospel in most churches he concludes it is what the preacher should have said but didn’t. The true, biblical, evangelical gospel is difficult to find in American churches or hear from their pulpits. What I hear most of the time, from most pulpits, is moralism: “Here’s what God expects of you, now go and do it” and “Become a better person than you are.” Very rarely do I hear that “You can’t do it without the Holy Spirit changing you.”and here:
From beginning to end, everything about being a Christian, in more than a merely nominal sense, is gift. All we have to do, all we can do, is receive the gifts—forgiveness, regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification. At no point in the process does anyone have the right to claim some good accomplished or achieved as his or her own.and further on:
The American gospel, however, is that you must use your will power to change and grow. It’s totally up to you—so just “do it.” The vast majority of sermons focus on that message of moralism. “God would be more pleased with you, you would be more pleasing to God, if you exercised your will to change and grow and become a better person than you are.” That’s not the gospel. The gospel is that you can’t do it. As songwriter Jeremy Camp said in a song popularized by Amy Grant: “Being good is just a fable; I just can’t ‘cause I’m not able. Gonna leave it to the Lord”—the “Lord” being the Holy Spirit.
There is no cheap grace in letting go of self and sin and letting God change you. And for most people it’s a lifelong process. But it’s not “deciding to grow.” It’s not moralism or even morality. It’s not “becoming a good or better person.” It’s not even “spiritual formation” as good as that can be. It’s transformation by God’s Spirit.Amen! Good preaching!
This is the gospel, folks. But, by and large, we have lost it. For it we have substituted false gospels of morality, prosperity, “success in life,” niceness, effort, churchmanship, citizenship, the “American way.”