Pastor Craig Groeschel of Life.Church said that while many people like the idea of Jesus loving sinners, they are often turned off by His “exclusive claims.”
Groeschel made his comments in a May 15 sermon that was part of a series titled “Doubting God.” The pastor told his Edmond, Oklahoma-based megachurch that people are often willing to participate in conversations about God unless they include the “exclusive” teachings of Jesus.
Groeschel said that "nobody freaks out" when a celebrity says they have been "praying to God" or a professional sports athlete thanks God after winning a game.
“You can talk about God, or you can talk about spirituality, and there's not a lot of controversy, but when you bring up the name of Jesus, things often get tense quickly,” said Groeschel.
The Winning the War in Your Mind author alluded to the notion that when people only focus on the love and miracles that occurred through the life of Jesus, they can miss out on the full ministry of Jesus.
The leader of Life.Church noted that while it is not wrong to also focus on the many “interesting” and “ridiculously humble” miracles that Jesus did, it is also vital that people reflect on the “exclusive” sayings of Jesus.
“You don't have to be a Christian to like the guy that loves sinners. I mean, He was amazing and gracious to people. He spent time with the poor. He humbled oppressive leaders who took advantage of widows," explained Groschel.
“He multiplied a boy's lunch and had an all-you-can-eat picnic on the side of a mountain. People like how Jesus lived. They like how He loved. They just don't like the exclusive claims."
One example that Groeschel pointed to of "exclusive" and "bold" claims by Jesus came from John 11, in which Jesus met with Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus died.
“Jesus didn't say, ‘Oh well. That's life.’ He said, ‘No, I am the resurrection and the life.’ That’s a bold claim,” Groeschel preached.
“Whenever the Pharisees got mad because He did miracles on the Sabbath. They said, 'You can't heal on the Sabbath.’ He said, ‘No, no, you don’t understand. I am the Lord of the Sabbath.’ That's a bold claim. He was audacious enough to say, ‘If you love your mom or your dad more than you love Me, you're not worthy of Me.’”
Groeschel gave another example from the Gospel of John, where Jesus said that He and God the Father were the same. Jesus also said He is the only way to salvation.
“He actually claimed that He and the Father are One, that He is the only way to God. In fact, if you look in John 14, there is a very, very powerful declaration that Jesus made when He was comforting his disciples. … He said: ‘I'm going to go away, and I'm going to prepare a place for you,’” Groeschel recited.
When Jesus was asked where He was going and what way, according to the Gospel, He responded, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Groeschel took issue with the popular claim that "there are many ways to God,” saying that while "there is some truth and beauty in most world religions," the various world religions "are not all the same."
He went on to contrast Christianity as centered around a “personal God” who “loves His people unconditionally” and who “became one of them in the person of Jesus" and “sacrificed His life for the forgiveness of sins.”
“When you look at it, every other religious founder was a normal human being. But, Jesus was God in the flesh, who came to this world and that fact distinguishes Christianity from any other world religion,” Groeschel said.
“In fact, He came in the flesh into this world. Every other world religion will try to separate you from this world. Many Eastern religions will say, ‘Will you overcome the world through stages of consciousness?’ In the West, there are many that would teach you through ‘good moral behavior’ and through ‘good works’ and through ‘charity,’ and through ‘doing the right thing’ and through ‘prayer,’ you ‘escape’ this world and then you go to Heaven. But, Christianity tells us God so loved the world, that He came to us to do for us what we couldn't do for ourselves.”
Groeschel further pointed to the Christian belief that salvation which comes from accepting Christ “isn't just to escape this world, but God will actually redeem this world.”
“He will redeem death, disease, poverty and injustice. And that's why one day, the God of the Bible will ‘wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there'll be no more death or mourning, or crying or pain for the old order of things have passed away.' God doesn't just deliver us from the world; He redeems the world, as He redeems His people to reign with Him for all eternity.”