The gospel is unaccommodating. That is not to say that the gospel isn't powerful, but it isn't putty to be formed in our subjective hands. God didn't send Messiah to come and barter a deal with partisan politics—you know, the "reach across the aisle" sort of thing. Jesus wasn't crucified so that his potential and actual followers could make up their own version of why that particular substitutionary atonement was important (or not). As a pastor I find this to be one of the most difficult things about my ministry. Not only does my own heart battle, I'm called to shepherd others whose hearts are battling. Living in Christian community is challenging because so many things are vying for our attention. In the middle of it all is this temptation to want to bend on the demands of the gospel.
Jesus's yoke is easy, his burden light. But that's not the same as saying that there is no burden—the call is hard. The gospel will have all of you, or none of you. Christ's Kingdom doesn't settle for partial dominion. There are no spots in your life—in my life, too—where Christ will say, “That's for someone else.” Yes, the battle in the heart is hard, for we are quick to fashion idols. But the demands of the gospel are comprehensive because the world is in comprehensive sin. Wherever sin goes, the gospel goes deeper.
The Gospel Doesn’t Accommodate
It doesn't work the same way as booking a vacation. You don't get to choose your amenities and ask about the fridge in the room. You either come, or you don't. The terms and conditions are set, and negotiations are completely off the table.
And yet what do we see happen in evangelicalism? We see compromise on the demands of the gospel. We see alterations on the fabric of the gospel. We see disputes over the content of the gospel. We see attempts at making the gospel more palatable, more accommodating. Is this our gospel? More to the point, is this Christ's gospel?
Jesus said in Matthew 10:24, "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master." Which means that, for example, you don't get to rule yourself. The gospel doesn't let you govern your heart, for clearly sinners are incapable of doing so. And yet how many want their Christ and their idols?
"Ah, but we have room in our hearts for both!" No, you don't. You can't serve two masters, and serving no one isn't an option. As Bob Dylan has taught us, "You've gotta serve somebody." Either we will be slaves to sin, or we will be slaves of Christ (Rom. 6:6ff).
The Weight of the Gospel’s Demands
Part of the problem stems from a failure to see the weight of the demands of the gospel. Whether it's intentional or not, we gladly look the other direction. Jesus says, "Take up your cross," and we say, "That was only a metaphor." Jesus says, "Follow me," and we say, "Well he’s in heaven. That doesn’t mean anything for me now." Jesus says, "You must hate mother and father!" And what do we say? "Jesus couldn't have meant that."
Why are we so willing to set aside the hard sayings of Jesus and opt instead for a Jesus of our own creation? Perhaps C.S. Lewis was right after all, we're half-hearted creatures.
A part of me wonders if we're just plain insecure. We're insecure about admitting our failures, doubts, questions, and concerns. We're insecure about looking foolish for having failed Jesus (somehow). We're insecure about the light shining in the darkness, after all, the cockroaches scurry about when the light finds them.
At a root level, we all want to be liked, treasured, and adored. (All the things the gospel provides, mind you.) We want some tangible sense of being appreciated, loved, and accepted. We long for someone to come alongside us and affirm that we're not that stupid. Like a man stuck in the desert, we thirst for acceptance.
The Religious Idolatry
We want to be liked in all the wrong ways and all the wrong places. Idolatry is a fight for reconciliation. We want something other than the triune God to help us get closer to God. I mean, come on, even Aaron dedicated the idol to Yahweh (Exod. 32:4-5)!
At the risk of coming across rather incredulous, the most dangerous idols aren't the ones that stand in stark contrast to God, they are the ones that stand most closely to God. The religious people who read their devotional several times a day. The religious people who proudly flaunt how much they tithe. The religious people who are proud about their humility. You know what I'm talking about.
I said above that idolatry is a fight for reconciliation. Here's what I mean: If we will be people reconciled to Christ, we must be unreconciled to idols. You can't serve two masters. You cannot hang on to all the gods, no matter how beautiful the pantheon paint looks.
The person who wants the gospel to be more accommodating to their terms and conditions is the person whose world is unreconciled (or at least unrecognizably reconciled). After all,
"For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." – Colossians 1:19-20 (emphasis mine).
The heart becomes divided. Idols appeal to our flesh. We question the gospel's demands. All of this is an issue of reconciliation. Will we give ourselves to Christ on his terms? Or will we sabotage our reconciliation in him by trying to reconcile ourselves to our idols? A duplicitous heart is a heart without rest.
There’s No Manipulating the Gospel
The gospel doesn't allow for manipulation. The good news of Christ crucified doesn't have a footnote. The empty tomb doesn't have an alternative ending. The gospel demands all of you, and leaves no room for silly trinkets in the heart.
Dear reader, the call is simple: Resist the urge to craft an idol to suit your comfort. Resist the urge to make God into your image. Resist the urge to want to placate your pleasure seeking with false piety. Resist.
Know that the gospel won't accommodate your cute decorative idols. It won't accommodate your crafty sensualities. The gospel is unaccommodating to your imaginative attempts at making its message more palatable. And for that, I'm grateful.
Rev. Jason M. Garwood (M.Div., Th.D.) serves as Lead Pastor of Colwood Church in Caro, MI and author of Be Holy and The Fight for Joy. Jason and his wife Mary have three children, Elijah, Avery and Nathan. He blogs at www.jasongarwood.com. Connect with him on Twitter: @jasongarwood.
You can read all of Jason’s articles here.