Earlier this week, I wrote an essay explaining what the Gospel is. Today, I want to talk about the “gospel” of felt needs verses the biblical Gospel of repentance.
Weather it be social media, Christian websites/blogs, radio/video programs, or local church settings I have attended or visited in the past, I hear an inordinate amount of statements like these when appealing to people in an attempt at evangelism: “God wants to heal your heart”, “God wants to meet your needs”, “God has a plan for your life”, “God longs to comfort you/give you meaning/help you find fulfillment/make your life a vision of unicorns riding rainbows.” Okay, maybe not that last one. Although some of the prior statements may have some elements of truth, they are not the gospel, and that is not a biblical way to do evangelism.
This issue of improper focus on felt needs has been around in some form or another throughout the church age, but for our purposes today I’m going to start with the 1990’s and the manifestation of Oprah/self-help/positive thinking. Oprah isn’t the focus of this essay but she is a good example as she epitomizes Humanism. Oprah was in the beginning of her hey-day in the 90s and I remember watching her program in the late afternoons. Like all lost people, she is constantly seeking for meaning, fulfillment, and direction outside of Christ. As believers, we know this is futile. If you’ve ever watched the show, you know that quite a bit of what she says seems to make sense, or could be agreed upon. For instance “turn your wounds into wisdom”. Sure, we all agree that we should learn from our past. It seems harmless, possibly helpful, and in the very least its positive. And in a world of negativity, who doesn’t want something positive for a change, right? With the exception of the dynamic of “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” that characterizes Humanism (which would require its own essay), a lot of what she touts seems harmless on the surface. The problem is when professing Christians bring that philosophy into the church and mix/or replace it with biblical truth.
The unholy blending of Humanism and Christianity is so prevalent that you can spot it to some degree or another almost anywhere you look. And sadly, it has gone on so long, that most people do not even see where they have adopted these worldly positions. It is very subtle, deceptive, and deadly. And it shows up very vividly in how the church is evangelizing unbelievers. The result is the gospel of felt needs; another gospel (Galatians 1:8). A gospel that does not save.
When one points out error like this, one can expect push-back and protests. To be clear, I am not saying that we shouldn’t care for hurting people or acknowledge their pain. What I am saying is that we should not confuse that with evangelizing them. Let’s look at what scripture shows us about preaching the gospel.
Beginning in Luke 7:36, we have the account of Jesus pardoning the sinful woman. Jesus was invited to dine with a Pharisee, and while he was reclining at the table, a sinful woman came in and began to weep at his feet. She poured expensive ointment on them. The Pharisee was aghast that Jesus would allow such a sinner to touch Him. “Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”” (v.40-43) Jesus goes on to admonish the Pharisee about how this sinful woman had showed him honor, but His host had not. Jesus told the woman her sins were forgiven, and her faith had saved her. What I want to point out from this account in Jesus ministry is the attitude of the woman. She was weeping in Godly repentance, knowing her sins were great, and going to the only One who could remedy those sins. I see nothing here about Jesus comforting or reassuring her regarding her pain over such great sin. I don’t see her looking to Jesus to fulfill her needs, make her life great or give it meaning.
Let’s look at another example. In John 4, we have the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus had stopped at a well, and asked the woman there for a drink. She complied and He began to tell her about Living Water. Then, he says this: “Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”(John 4:16-18) Jesus, knowing this woman’s past and her sin, didn’t respond to her by asking how she felt. He didn’t inquire of her past, that might tell him why she had behaved the way she had. He confronted her with her sin. Point blank. Many people today would think that harsh. They would want to understand what motivated her to act the way she did. They would want to offer her comfort for her hurting heart. But that is not what Jesus did. He started by confronting her sin and telling her of her great need (Him).
The root of the felt needs gospel is man-centered and a worldly perspective. The true Gospel is Christ-focused and has an eternal perspective. The gospel of felt needs is all about satisfying the flesh; the Biblical Gospel is about repentance from sin and submission to Jesus Christ. They are complete opposites. One is life-giving and the other is deadly. We need to evangelize people correctly by appealing to their greatest need: the forgiveness of their sin. We do this by exhorting them to repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ, like Jesus did. Not by coddling them in their lost state and aiding them in their self-focus. People today have confused the biblical meaning of loving and nice with a worldly one. The world says it is unkind and unloving to point out people’s sin. But the bible could not be more clear that sharing the gospel is the ultimate act of caring compassion and love. Church, we need to make sure the bible is informing our definitions of love and kindness, not the world. And we need to make sure we are looking to scripture for instructions on how to evangelize, not borrow man-made philosophical strategies, which have no place in the Church. The only source of truth is God’s Word, the bible. Stay in it every day, so you do not get lulled into blending things of this world with supernatural absolute truth.
Soli Deo Gloria!