California megachurch pastor and author John MacArthur warned that far too many pastors today promote a "false gospel" and fail to foster sanctification in their congregations because they are too concerned with being "relevant."
MacArthur, president of The Master's College and Seminary and pastor of Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, California, delivered a message titled "Sanctification and the Pastor's Passion" at the annual Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky, last week.
Citing Galatians 1:9 (which reads, "As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God's curse!"), MacArthur said the Apostle Paul has a "controlled rage" over the things that threaten the purposes of God.
"One, a corrupted gospel, devilish, satanic, counterfeit gospel," he said. "You're believing a damning lie. You tamper with 'faith alone' even in one small ritual — that is a corrupted, damning gospel. I don't think in this particular day in evangelical Christianity people have that very clearly."
Paul presents another concern about the corrupting of the gospel — the issue of sanctification — in Galatians 4:19, MacArthur said. The verse reads, "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you."
Defining sanctification as "the work of the Holy Spirit separating sinners from sin," MacArthur said the apostle wrote to Christians who were in "danger" of thinking their sanctification was by means of "external ceremonies."
"I think this is pretty typical of evangelical Christians today," he said. "They were saved by believing the true gospel, but in order to be more friendly to religious people, they tolerate a false gospel."
"Bad theology bewitches true believers," he continued. "It can bewitch them about the very gospel they believed for salvation, and bad theology about sanctification bewitches many, if not most churches. There are so many bad theologies of sanctification that can't restrain the flesh."
Pastors, he said, have a mandate to see and shepherd sanctification in their congregations and should focus their ministries on the words "biblical, holiness, humility, purity, godliness, separation, self-denial, sacrifice, faithful, and sanctified."
Yet, many church leaders today are far more concerned with being "relevant, real, authentic, missional, exponential, cool, disruptive, innovative, multi-site, multi-ethnic, multi-anything, cultural, contemporary, millennial, no eschatology intended, post-church, post-truth, international, formational, social, inclusive, and heroic."
"The vocabulary is reflective of the priorities, and they're horrendously misplaced," he said. "Frankly, contemporary, pop Christianity doesn't have much interest in [sanctification]."
He asked: "Are you weary, of every other day, of some pastoral scandal? Where some guy obviously isn't going to be an instrument of sanctification of his people because he's not even living a sanctified life himself? Have you had enough of crashing and burning pastors?"
MacArthur emphasized that pastors are God's chosen instruments to "agonize to see Christ" formed in their congregations.
"God took care of the election and the justification, He'll take care of the glorification," the pastor contended. "He's given me this long, drawn out process of forming Christ fully in this people, making them like Christ. As much as I can contribute to that in my frailty."
"Feed the flock of God, and they will, when they become like Christ, dramatically affect their world," he advised. "Christ in us, and we are in Christ."
Concluding his message, MacArthur asked attendees: "What pains you in ministry? What disappoints you? What depresses you?"
"Is it the carnality, the lack of devotion to Christ, sin, weakness in your people? If it is, then you're a true shepherd. But if it's about you, somehow you've managed to get seriously off track," he said.
"You will not be judged on the size of your membership," he added. "You will not be judged on the size of your auditorium. You'll be judged, you'll give an account, Hebrews tells us, on the Christ-likeness of your people. Agonize over that."
The theme of this year's Together for the Gospel conference was "Distinct from the World."
"If we want to make a difference in the culture, we must be distinct. It's definitional for Christian discipleship. It's part of the church's mission. Renouncing the world for the sake of the world. Rejecting sin in order to save sinners," notes the T4G website.
"In other words, it's not nostalgia that our churches need, or strategies to reclaim the culture, or more political posturing. Nor should we separate ourselves and forsake our neighbors. Instead, we encounter the world with something otherworldly. We respond to cultural chaos with a new culture—a culture of faith, hope, and love; a culture steeped in grace and truth; a culture exulting in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."