As the lead pastor of a megachurch in the Bible Belt, Matt Chandler has come across many people who grew up believing they should pursue a type of religious morality over Jesus and his Gospel because that is what they were taught in their churches. On Saturday, Chandler discussed his new book, The Explicit Gospel, during a live webcast from CrossPointe Church in Orlando, Fla., and explained why morality isn't enough.
At the beginning of his sermon, Chandler stated that there were three categories of people: non-Christians, those who believe in Christ and are continually growing in their faith, and those who say they are Christians but really don't know Christ.
Some people "are working really hard to be good under the banner of Jesus, but ultimately don't have a relationship with Jesus Christ, haven't been transformed by Jesus Christ," he said. "You probably have grown up in church, so you're trying to do what you understand church has asked you to do, but really the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, the act of regeneration, has not occurred in your heart."
As lead pastor of The Village Church, a multi-campus church of over 10,000 people in the Dallas area, the idea for The Explicit Gospel book and tour came to him after his church held baptisms one Sunday.
The first two people who were baptized had unusual testimonies for the Bible Belt – one was once a practicing witch and the other said he was an "atheistic Buddhist" – but the rest had similar stories of having grown up in the church but never heard the Gospel message.
The "idea that you can grow up in church and not get the Gospel or hear the Gospel kind of hit a nerve in my heart," said Chandler.
Following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he says, he met with a number of people to see if their testimonies were the same. Overwhelmingly those whom he spoke with said they had never heard the Gospel message in church, and they had instead been given a list of rules to follow. Don't get drunk, have sex, watch R-rated movies or listen to certain types of music were among the messages they had heard, but they hadn't really heard the good news of God's grace.
The result of simply following the rules, Chandler suggested, is not spiritual conversion, but rather "behavioral modification." Those who can't follow the rules get stuck in a cycle of confessing their sins and returning to them as soon as they are away from the church, and those who can follow the rules become "smug and self-righteous."
Even those who simply follow a moral code under the guise of Christianity will not live a satisfying life, he says, and becoming involved in more church activities will never result in joy.
For some people, Chandler says, "Church activity actually replaces a relationship with Jesus Christ that's filled with life and joy." He also challenged the idea that there is a "perfect church" out there, and says those who move from one church to another need to settle down in a faith community where they can mature and grow in their faith.
He also tried to make it clear that God finds delight in His people. When Christians become convinced that God is frustrated or upset with them, they often shut down their prayer lives and neglect to read their Bibles frequently.
But Chandler says Christians need to "get over" themselves and their sins and realize that God loves them, even in their weakness. God delights in His people and will maintain their salvation, he says, but Christians need to become more focused on Jesus and less on modifying their behavior.
"If all of your energy and vitality is on your sin and not your Savior," said Chandler, "then you're just not going to walk in victory."
So what is the Gospel, the good news? It is that Jesus' death on the cross accomplished something that no one else could on their own.
"The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that you cannot," said Chandler. "You simply can't. You are broken beyond repair. And where you could not fix you...Jesus absorbs all of God's wrath for your sins."