Kindness. Tolerance. Forbearance. Longsuffering. These are the words we long to hear. Mercy is the sweet balm of Christianity. Love is the blanket we need as we shiver in the cold of loneliness, heartache, and despair. The world is full of suffering of one sort or another, and it is part of the essential human condition to need these soothing connections. They’re why we usually talk to unbelievers about the good things they will receive if they believe in Christ. Love, forgiveness, understanding. These are the magnets that often attract sinners to the sweet offer of the gospel.
Jesus understood this. He often reached people through kindness, by feeding them, healing them, and comforting them in their physical pain, promising to make all the broken pieces whole again. We see this more positive approach to the gospel in ministries that focus on feeding and clothing the poor, caring for the sick, and representing the abandoned in prisons. Recently, one of the most expensive marketing campaigns to spread the message of Jesus was released under the banner of “He Gets Us.” Through a series of commercials, the campaign introduces Jesus to a skeptical and doubting society in ways that are supposed to connect with unbelievers: He was born to a single mom. He was a refugee. He was sick of hypocrisy too. He faced racism. The creators chose this strategy because they have looked out across our post-Christian landscape, and they see fewer people attending church and more uninterested in Christianity. Many in our Western society see Jesus as hateful, judgmental, and intolerant, and an increasingly number of people don’t want to have anything to do with Him. The “He Gets Us” founders want to turn this negativity on its head and show the world that Jesus really is a nice guy. He’s kind, tolerant, patient, and understanding of everything we’re going through. He’s not a harsh judge—He’s our friend. He gets us.
Jesus Gets Us—But Not in the Way You Think
Sadly, such an approach to sharing the gospel is fraught with problems rooted in good intentions at best and evil deceptions born of false teaching at worst. While Jesus certainly healed the sick, told stories to the lost in a way that they would understand, and fed the hungry, He never changed His messaging. In fact, these miraculous acts of kindness always served a deeper purpose than mere marketing or inspiration. Jesus’ message remained constantly the same: He came to save the lost. And who is the lost? We all are if we don’t have faith in Him. Only through faith and repentance can sinners have everlasting life. If they don’t repent, if they don’t turn and believe in Christ, then they will perish. Their life here will be a fleeting one that ends in eternal, lonely misery. Only Jesus can save them from that terrible end. Divine miracles, from the virgin birth, to feeding the five thousand, to making the blind see, to rising from the dead after three days all pointed to His authority to forgive sins, to His identity as the Redeemer, the Messiah, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The ultimate purpose of miracles, the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ difficult life, wasn’t about relating to us, but redeeming us.
One of the founders of the “He Gets Us” campaign admitted the very narrow scope of this massive $100 million dollar scheme: “Ultimately, the goal is inspiration, not recruitment or conversion.” Yet, Jesus’ message was never about inspiration. It has always been and always will be about conversion. “For the Son of Man has come to save the lost.” “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.” “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” “If anyone’s name [is] not found written in the book of life, he [is] thrown into the lake of fire.” “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” God’s Word is clear. Jesus’ “brand” is one single thing: “Only through faith in Christ can you be saved from your sins and eternal punishment.”
There is something that is painfully true about the “He Gets Us” campaign, but it’s never mentioned: Jesus does get us. He sees us for exactly what we are: sinners separated from God with no hope of life, happiness, or joy without forgiveness, which can only come through repentance of our sins and faith in Him. Jesus sees us better than we see ourselves. He knows our thoughts better than we do. He understands our temptations better than we do, because He faced all of them and overcame. He discerns our hearts better than we can. He truly sees us because He alone has the eyes to see perfectly and completely.
It’s because “He gets us” that He gave up His life on the Cross for us. It’s on the Cross that He became most like us in our evil, twisted, sinful condition. He took on our sin and bore the punishment. In all of human history, there is no greater display of empathy than the Cross. And He did it for us because we are headed for eternal damnation without it. He didn’t suffer that bloody, excruciating death, which separated Him from His loving Father, to inspire us or to meet our physical needs or to make us feel comfortable. He died as a propitiation of our sins so that we could have everlasting life. The gospel is a brutal story about sin and the glorious grace of God through the death of His Son. That might not sound like an effective marketing scheme in today’s feel-good and self-focused society, but it’s the truth, it’s the only way, it’s the only Message that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of people, not just in this life but in the one to come.
Telling the Whole Truth
Christians too often turn to worldly thinking and schemes to try to attract people to Christ. While some random seeds might fall from such a mixed bag, the reality is that there is no power in half-truths and manipulations (which is what “marketing” like this is). There is only power in the truth—and the truth is that while Jesus was all the things described in the campaign, He is ultimately our Savior. We are not just people in need of worldly empathy from someone who has walked the same path. We can find that in fellow human beings—other immigrants, other poor people, other kids born to single moms. But Jesus offers something that can be found only in Him—a Savior. That means we need to look at what our real need is, and the responsibility of believers in sharing the gospel is to help unbelievers see what that is. That real need is they’re dead in their sins, their hearts are held captive to evil, their thinking is futile, and when they die they will go to hell if they are not covered by the blood of Christ.
The “He Gets Us” founders and supporters are dangerously short-sighted. They might inspire people with the compassion of Christ because they can now relate to Him, but what will happen when these same people discover that Christ is judging them, that His forgiveness, His specific kindness as it relates to salvation, is conditional, that He is not tolerant of their sin, and that He warns them to cut off their hands or dig out their eyes rather than sin because it’s better to maim the body than for the whole person—body and soul—to be thrown into eternal fire and everlasting torment?
Do you even hear such language from Christians these days? Hell, judgment, weeping and gnashing of teeth, eternal fire. It sounds archaic, doesn’t it? Yet, there it is in nearly every book of the Bible—the words of Jesus. Even if you agree to the facts laid out in Scripture, you might be wondering, “Isn’t it better to attract people with love and kindness rather than fear?” It’s certainly not an either-or when it comes to the language we use, and various situations call for different methods regarding presentation of the gospel, but the message of repentance and faith must remain. There is no point in “selling” something if you don’t ask the “customer” why they need it—or convince them that they do need it. If they don’t see the need, they won’t buy it. And, in this case, the Bible makes what we need abundantly and painfully clear. We shouldn’t be afraid to tell people the truth in love—the whole truth. We sell our omnipotent God short when we refuse to preach His whole Word, when we downplay hard truths, when we strain the Gospel of its conscience-biting power, and when we emasculate Christ by transforming Him into little more than a religious Tony Robbins or a Black Lives Matter activist.
God’s power is unleashed when the purity of the Gospel is proclaimed without caveat and without apology. Some of the greatest spiritual awakenings in American history happened when sermons such as “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” were being preached. Paul talks about the need to be convicted of sin in Romans 7 when he says he would have never understood the depth of his sin—and His need of Christ—if he had not heard about the holiness and purity of God’s law. It’s only when we hear, “Thou shalt not sin” that we come to see that indeed “We mostly certainly have sinned.” It’s only when we hear that we are under judgment that we reach for an advocate. It’s only when we discover that we are headed for eternal death that we beg for a Savior to give us eternal life.
Darkness Hates the Light
Trying to push back against the world’s hatred of Christ with messages of His kindness and relatable life can be an exercise in folly. Admittedly, it’s disheartening to look across the landscape of our culture and see so much hatred for Jesus and Christianity in general. Our gut instinct is to push back and say, “No, there’s nothing to hate here. Jesus is love. If only I can show you how nice and wonderful He is, you’ll love Him.” Sadly, this simply isn’t the case. The Bible is clear: The darkness hates the light. Jesus said they will hate you because they first hated me. There is no expectation in Scripture or in the Christian worldview that unbelievers will like Jesus, be attracted to Him, or want anything to do with Him even if he was poor and born to a single mom. Quite the opposite. They hate Him. They hate you. They hate God’s law. They hate God’s truth. They hate the church. They hate the Christian testimony. They hate righteousness. No amount of positive marketing about Jesus’ relatability will change that.
You would think Christians, and even those behind the marketing campaign, would realize this, but there’s an understandable reason for their desire to make Christianity cool again. For all of American history until the last twenty years or so, our culture as been predominantly Christian. The church has enjoyed the ease of a Christianized Western civilization in which the biblical worldview informed everyone’s thinking. Christianity dominated with its moral authority, and it informed the plausibility structures of our society. Christians could freely hold to their beliefs and enjoy the benefits of being accepted as the right and the norm. That has all changed—to the delight of Satan and his minions. Our society is now anti-Christian. Moral relativism holds all the moral authority (at least in practice, if not in reality). Our plausibility structures that undergird everything from education and entertainment to healthcare and politics, are rooted in subjectivism, not God’s objective truth. The dominate worldview in America is not biblical, but secular.
The result of this revolutionary upheaval to strip Christianity of its moral authority within society is hatred for Christ and for Christians who hold to His teaching. Many Christians are struggling with this shift and finding it hard to let go of being accepted and liked by other members of society. They don’t like that they are now the marginalized, the hated out-group, the nerdy kids who are no longer welcome to sit at the cool kids’ table. They don’t like that they are mocked on Saturday Night Live. They don’t like that their beliefs are ejected from the classroom. They don’t like that they have to remain silent about their morality in the workplace or they might get fired. They don’t like that pop culture thinks Christians are a joke at best and a menace at worst.
So they want to push back with a marketing campaign to clean up the brand and Make Jesus Great Again. They foolishly believe that if they can just show that Christians really are nice and kind—according to the world’s definitions—then all these people who have rejected the Christian worldview will accept it again, even with all its distasteful morals that no one in the country wants anymore. They even believe the lie from the culture that the real reason our society has a growing disdain for Jesus is because Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites who make churches unwelcome and unfriendly. Christian marketers respond to this charge by accepting the premise and believing that the problem is that Christians aren’t being nice enough and should do better. The hate is all their fault. If the church would do better, then the world would love Jesus again.
This is folly. While there are certainly instances of abuse in the church that turn some people off to Christianity and while some Christians are hypocrites, this is not what has caused the major shift toward “Hate Jesus” in our culture. The church has always been filled with sinners. It’s always been imperfect. It’s a hospital full of the wounded, after all, and by no means a sanctuary graced with perfect people. No, the “Hate Jesus” ethos is much more than this, though the need for Christians to do and be better is always a goal, for judgment begins in the House of the Lord and the world will know the truth of our testimony by how we treat one another. But when it comes to the problem the “He Gets Us” folks are addressing, this isn’t the root of the matter. The real rot underneath the layers of dirt is a conscious and willful turning of our society away from God and toward man-centered truth and love of sin. It is a nation that loves the dark and hates the light. It calls bitter, sweet and sweet, bitter. It sees the good as evil and evil as the good. It does this, not as a reaction to bad Christians, but as an expression of its own bad heart.
Spreading Real Kindness
What do we do in response to such a culture? Is there any hope? Is our only option to stand on street corners (or social media) and preach hellfire and yell at people? Certainly not. The answer is still one of kindness, longsuffering, patience, and love. But we need to understand what that means. It doesn’t mean just being nice or dressing up Jesus in a marketing brand. It doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to sins prevalent in our society and clamping down on uncomfortable truths in Scripture. Think of what Paul wrote in Romans 2. He had just finished telling the Romans about the state of an unbelieving culture, that it is one that has exchanged God’s truth for a lie and has substituted worship of God for worship of self, even redefining the very nature of human identity and relationships. Sound familiar? In Romans 2, Paul anticipates how some Christians would react: that they would condemn such a society and write it off as hopeless. Paul shuts that down quickly. He writes:
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4)
The point Paul is making is that when it comes to sin and redemption, it is not our place to determine whether someone is worthy to be saved. In the context of this passage, Paul is talking to Jewish believers who thought they were better than the Gentiles because of their Abrahamic heritage. But Paul reminds them that we were ALL sinners like those described in Romans 1 before we were saved—maybe not all to the same extent but certainly all worthy of damnation and under God’s judgment. He was also speaking to Gentiles who might have had the same tendency to judge the Jews. Either way, we don’t judge the destiny of any man. Only God does. We are not to condemn anyone—the word “judge” here is better understood as condemn, which has a finality to it. This does not mean that we are never to judge actions or behaviors for the sake of discernment and to warn others of their sin so they will repent and put their faith in Christ. We are to make those judgments. We are to judge a tree by its fruits (Matthew 7:16). We are to make “right judgments” and not judge by mere appearances (John 7:24). Each of these judgments does not involve condemnation, but they’re judgments about character, words, and behavior for the purpose of building others up, not tearing them down.
We are not to condemn because God has saved us from the same sin that we see in others. He did that, not out of anger or bitterness or rage, but out of kindness. You see what Paul does here? He places God’s love, grace, and longsuffering in the midst of our sin without denying the very nature of our sin. We are all people under condemnation. What greater kindness is there than for someone to save us from that condemnation? Imagine that you’re standing in a vast meadow, and you know that at the end of grassy field, unseen but off in the distance, is a cliff that drops to deadly depths. No one who falls over it can be saved. They’re gone in an instant. Yet, you look around and see people not only walking toward it, but running at break-neck speeds, oblivious of the danger or welcoming it with carefree, foolish abandon. What would you do? Only a hateful person would urge them on, cheering them toward the cliff. Only a cruel person would look the other way, not caring that so many are about to plunge into the depths, never to enjoy the beauty of life again, the touch of a hand, or the comfort of a kind word. Love demands that warnings be given. Mercy calls for us to run after them and pull them back from the edge. Kindness compels us to call them to repent, to turn from their path, to change their minds.
This is what God has done for us. His kindness doesn’t allow us to throw ourselves over the cliff. His kindness doesn’t tolerate our sin. His kindness doesn’t lead us to a comfortable life where we feel accepted no matter what we do. His kindness demands that we turn from our sin. His kindness exposes it, convicts us of it, and causes us to agonize over it as we plead for forgiveness in our shame. He offers us a way to be free of it. He awakens our consciences and informs our darkened minds. He renews our dead hearts. It was His kindness, not His wrath, that put His precious Son on a Cross to be beaten, stabbed, mocked, and killed so that we could be free of our sin. His kindness is all that stands between us and the deadly drop into an eternity of misery.
Why would we, as God’s people, rob those we say we care about of this kindness? Why would we deceive them, lie to them, hide the real truths, and lull them into thinking that their sin isn’t that big of a deal? The only reason we would do that is because we’re afraid. We’re more afraid of man than God. We’re more concerned about what others think of us than what God thinks of us. We’re more concerned about being accepted by the world than accepting that the world doesn’t think Jesus is great and that we’re never meant to be comfortable in this life. The goal to Make Jesus Great Again isn’t about what Jesus wants. It’s about what we want. We, as a passing “Christian culture,” want to feel great again, but we’re not meant to be “great” in this world. We’re not meant to be loved. We’re meant to be despised.
Facing the Hate
This is the root of the matter for Christians in our current age. We must be willing to fight the good fight, to face persecution, to be hated for righteousness’ sake, to stand before Goliath, to endure the stoning, to enter the lion’s den, to burn in the furnace, and to hang from the Cross. This is the life of the Christian in a world that hates Jesus Christ. We in the West, and particularly in America, have enjoyed a respite unknown to the early church and to many Christians throughout the ages and in other parts of the world. That respite is over. Now is a time of darkness, of rejection, and of persecution. You are hated. You are mocked. You are scorned. You are threatened. Accept it as an honor because you are like Jesus, who said,
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they keep my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:19-20)
This is easier said than done. To be hated is a terrifying thing. Yet, God has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He has given us a Comforter to help us face the perils of this world. And He has promised us a great reward. Never forget Jesus’ words:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
Be assured, this painful life is fleeting. Our persecutions are momentary. All that we lose and all that is taken from us because of our faith and commitment to Christ and all of His teaching, no matter how hated by the world, is nothing compared to the riches we will enjoy in heaven. Keep your eyes focused on that promise, on that hope, and don’t be cast down by the hatred of the world. Always remain faithful, and trust in our loving Father. He is sovereign over everything—nations, tribes, factions, wayward churches, godless movements, political parties, families cast as new normals, and, most significantly, the human heart. Our God is a powerful, loving God, and He will show kindness to those He wills by leading them to repentance. On His strong arms, He will carry them home where the glorious host of heaven will rejoice, and you will too.
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