“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” – 1 Corinthians 15:19
In reading this verse tonight, I could not help but think about the Osteen’s of the American evangelical landscape and their version of the “gospel” which has been totally emptied of all Biblical content. As my dad said recently, and I agree, if you were to take out all of the Bible-words (church, Jesus, God, etc) of their message, you would basically be left with a corporate pep rally, where you have a motivational speaker who encourages unity, who at all times speaks in merely positive terms, uses entertainment for energizing the people, and gets employees fired up to go back into the workplace and do their best. No different is the message of these “preachers”. The only difference is the eternal Christ who became flesh and bore the full cup of the wrath of God on the tree is used as a means to an end, of showing people how they can have their “Best life now”. What about that is the Biblical Gospel by which we are saved, and by that alone?
Now, I realize this verse, in context, is speaking to a different issue Paul was dealing with in the Corinthian church. They were being told there will be no resurrection of the dead and thus many in the church body were being disrupted in their faith. Paul’s real point in this verse is to say that if in Christ, we have hope only in this life (if there is no resurrection), then we are of all people the most to be pitied.
With that said, the ultimate hope presented in the “Osteen’s” gospel is one of temporal opulence and ease in a society which possesses more than it could possibly know what to do with. So the Osteen message might as well be saying there is no resurrection of the dead, because your best life is now (or can be by his methodology, using God as your PEZ dispenser in the sky). The fact that so many people flock to such pastors under the guise of evangelical, orthodox Christianity for figuring out how to have their “Best life now” is very telling of where the movement (yes, evangelicalism) is headed quickly. If such preachers can even be allowed to be called evangelicals, the title has lost all meaning, and as David Wells says in his new book, The Courage to be Protestant, we need to think of a different title.
How does such a message square with the verse at the top? “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Now obviously the Osteen’s would say, “Well of course we have hope in the next life. You can just get it now because God wants you to have it.” Really? I thought Jesus said we would persecuted and hated by the world? So your best life now, in the form of materialism, mere mended relationships, mere moral uprightness in the world’s eyes, and no pain, all without true reconciliation to the One true God who is furiously, infinitely angry at man for his sin? My friends, Paul would have words with this, probably similar language used in the letter to the Galatian church.
When does Christ being our final, ultimate satisfaction forever, even now in this life, ever leave their lips when they “motivate”/preach? Is their message not merely about the here and now? What about this pesky problem called sin? Osteen himself, on Larry King, has admitted he never wants to speak on that because it is negative and would offend people. Then forget the next point … What about the deserved wrath for that sin the Scriptures (Jesus most of all!) speaks about so frequently? What about the (eternal) hope that Christ offers through faith in His blood, by taking that deserved wrath in Himself on the cross for His people? What about speaking on the coming white throne judgment of God at the end of time spoken of in Revelation where we will all have to stand before God and give an account?
All of these Gospel truths are void from the Osteen message of temporal hope, happiness, financial gain, luxury, and comfort. This is the American way. And it is anti-Gospel. Yet sadly, our churches are filled, it seems, with people who believe Osteen is preaching the historic faith once for all delivered to the saints. And it seems also many youth in evangelical churches believe Christianity is all about feeling good in the here and now “God’s way” and then once they hit college, the voices of liberal scholars who hate the doctrine of substitutionary atonement corrupts their minds and Satan snatches what little seeds had possibly been planted, and they whither and die, having never been converted in the first place. Doctrine matters. Why? Because the Gospel itself consists in doctrinal, historical propositions.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
Either these things happened or they did not. No wiggle room. And because they did happen, that means living in the here and now for Me is the antithetical effect of this very Gospel itself. Paul, Christ, all of Scripture, calls us to radical Christian sacrifice in glory to God and service to others in bringing those who are lost into eternity with us to bask in the beauty of His presence forever.
If the Osteen gospel is true, on the other hand, pandering to people’s narcissistic felt needs, that you can have your best life now in materialistic terms, then indeed Paul, “we are of all people most to be pitied.” May we return to the historic Gospel that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
According to Paul in verses one and two of the same chapter, not only is this Gospel how we came to faith in the first place, but it is also the very Gospel by which we are being sanctified and conformed to the image of Christ. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you … by which you are being saved.” Notice the present-tense use by Paul of the word “being”. The Gospel is not merely an initial stepping stone to heaven (or material/relational prosperity in the here and now), but it is indeed the entirety of our faith. As Keller puts it, the Gospel is not merely the A-B-C’s but is the A-Z of Christianity. It is how we are saved but also how we are changed.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) May we not be ashamed of it either, even in our churches, as hateful as people in our culture may be toward its doctrinal content concerning sin, wrath, hell, election, substitutionary atonement, faith, justification, sanctification, glorification, the whole thing. It is an offensive message and we must not shift on the Biblical statements concerning it.
This Gospel, that Christ appeased the wrath of God on our behalf by His blood, confirmed in His resurrection, was the message preached all the way through the Old Testament in pointing forward toward the final sacrifice of Christ for sinners, and the entirety of the New Testament is looking back upon the most magnificent work of art in the entire universe for all time, where we see the glory of God shining its brightest for all to see, where He saved sinners in great, infinite mercy, at great, infinite cost to Himself. May we meditate, ruminate, pray over, and massage into our hearts, this Gospel until the day we are finally conformed into the image of Christ and can finally behold His wonderful face. The Christian life consists in self-sacrificial love in joyful submission to the Lordship of Christ, not the obtaining of more possessions, wealth, ease, comfort, and mere moral uprightness in the world’s eyes.