ANAHEIM, California — Esteemed evangelist Greg Laurie warned thousands of Christians and non-believers Friday night that one sin is all it takes to keep them out of Heaven and contended that religion is driving many people away from Jesus Christ.
Laurie, the senior pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship church in Riverside, California, gave a 35-minute message to over 32,000 people gathered at Angel Stadium in Anaheim for SoCal Harvest 2016 and thousands more watching on webcast.
While the point of the 27th annual three-night worship event organized by Harvest Crusades is to encourage non-Christians and disenfranchised Christians to proclaim or re-proclaim their love for Christ, Laurie stressed that the Bible says the only way to Heaven and the Father is through Christ.
Although many non-Christians might think to themselves that they are in the clear because they are not murderers, adulterers or hardened criminals, Laurie explained that everyone has broken the Ten Commandments in some form or fashion and that every sinner is just as guilty as a murderer.
"You might say, 'Greg, I am not a murderer, I think I am OK.' Yea, but Jesus said, … If you are angry with your brother, it is the same thing. Have you ever been angry with your brother? Let me restate the question. Have you ever driven on the freeways in Southern California?" Laurie joked. "Maybe you haven't committed murder. Maybe you haven't committed adultery. But, you have committed sins and one sin is enough to keep you out of Heaven."
"The Bible says that if you have broken one point of the law, you are guilty of all of them. We have all crossed the line. We have all broken commandments," he added. "You say, 'What commandments?' Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not lie. Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain. Come on, you have done that. I have done that. We have all done that. That is where Jesus comes in. Because he died on the cross for all your sins."
Even murderers can receive Christ's forgiveness and salvation, Laurie said, adding that Jesus loves murders, immoral people and even atheists who outright deny His existance and try to remove any mention of Him from the public square.
"Jesus loves atheists, even if they don't believe they exist," Laurie said. "Honestly, I have to say that I think it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a Christian. I really do. You have to ignore all the evidence of God's creation all around you."
Laurie cited the parable of the Prodigal Son and Jesus' encounter with the adulterous woman in John 8 to explain that although Christ loves sinners, that does not mean that He does not want them to change.
"When I say God loves you, that doesn't mean that he doesn't want you to change," he said. "When I say God loves you just as you are, that doesn't mean that He wants to leave you that way."
While continuing to cite Jesus' encounter with the adulterous woman from John, who was brought before Him by Jewish leaders who asked if she should be stoned, Laurie argued that even some Christians allow their religion to stand in the way of them and a real relationship with Christ.
"Their religion kept them from Jesus. Their religion caused them to have hate and anger and condemnation for this woman. That is the problem with religion. It can harden your heart to God," Laurie stated. "Here is this girl. She is caught by a bunch of religious dudes called the scribes and pharisees. They catch her in the act. Maybe they even set her up."
Despite their eagerness to stone the woman to death, the religious leaders could not hide their own sins when Jesus told them that "whoever is without sin, casts the first stone."
"Do you think you can hide things from Jesus? God knows everything. The Bible says he knows the secrets of the heart. … Jesus knew everything about these guys and they left. You see these guys felt guilt, but it drove them away from Jesus," Laurie asserted. "This is the problem with religion. You say, 'Oh, I am a religious person. I don't need Jesus.' You say, 'Oh, I was baptised, I was confirmed, I gave my confessions,' or whatever it is that you did. Going to a church doesn't make you a Christian any more than an In-n-Out Burger makes you a 'Double-Double.'"
"You say, 'Greg, I got my religion.' Your religion won't save you. The problem for a lot of us is that we are too proud to admit that we need God's help," Laurie added. "Being religious doesn't get you closer to God. Sometimes religion drives you away from God. You say, 'Hey, I have done all this stuff and I am covered.' No, you aren't. You are a sinner, just like I am."
Despite the issues, sins, problems and failures that people might have in their lives, Laurie explained that "God sees potential."
"You see the past. He sees the future. You see a mess. He sees a message. I don't know what state your life is in but I am telling you this on the authority of the Bible: God can change your life tonight," Laurie said, as he invited believers in the stands to come down to the field to publicly proclaim their life for Christ. "He can change your history and He can certainly change your future, if you come to Jesus. The Bible says that any man in Christ is an altogether different kind of person. The old things have passed away and everything becomes fresh and knew."
According to Harvest Crusades, 3,319 people made the decision to go on the field, say the Sinner's Prayer and hand over their lives to Christ on Friday night. During the three nights of SoCal Harvest in 2015, over 10,000 people made that same decision.
Musical performances on Friday night included popular Christian worship artist Chris Tomlin and the pop duo for King & Country.