That Was Easy: The Tragic Malignment of the Gospel

In my office, I have one of those buttons from Staples that says, “That was easy!”  It’s mostly a joke I have with our church staff since most weeks we are dealing with issues and logistics that are far from easy to solve.  I thought about this button the other day while reading a new book by Scot McKnight titled “The King Jesus Gospel.”  Although I don’t agree with all of McKnight’s findings or terminology, I think he makes a powerful and important point whereby the “That was easy” catchphrase applies.  In essence, McKnight denounces what he calls the “salvation” culture in evangelicalism today.  I would prefer he use the word “decision” culture.  Regardless of the nomenclature, he is addressing what all of us would call “easy believism” in the church.

Unfortunately, many Christians today base whether or not a person is “saved,” “right with God,” or “going to heaven” solely on whether or not they said the “sinner’s prayer.”  I have seen this at times when I have been asked to conduct a funeral for someone.  My first question to the family is if the deceased was a follower of Jesus.  I have been told something to the effect of, “Oh, Uncle Jim pretty much lived an idolatrous, debaucherous life, but when he was 14 he prayed at church camp to accept Jesus so I know he’s in heaven.”  Tragically, such a belief doesn’t seem to line up with the teaching of Jesus or the authors of the New Testament.  Nowhere in the Bible do we see someone praying what we would identify as the sinner’s prayer.  Nor, do we see such terminology as “Ask Jesus into your heart.”  Now, please don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with the sinner’s prayer.  A person’s salvation begins with an understanding of their sinfulness, the redemption of Christ through His substitutionary death on the cross, and the utter inability of any of us to save ourselves.  This is many times articulated through a prayer.

The problem is when we treat the sinner’s prayer as though it were some form of fire insurance keeping us out of hell.  Sadly, we have fostered a culture within the church that says if you go through certain motions- walk an aisle, say a prayer, sign a card, and get wet in the baptistery then you are safe from an eternity of damnation.  What you do after that is optional.  Thus, the sinner’s prayer and “decision” you have made punches your ticket to heaven.

Few things could be further from what Jesus taught.  I have profoundly learned this as I have preached through the Gospel of Mark this year.  Two great lessons have stood out to me from preaching through Mark.  One, Jesus showed incredible patience and love to his disciples who at times could be knotheads beyond description.  This challenges me when I want to get frustrated with people.  Two, Jesus powerfully condemned the religious establishment of his day in how it had adulterated a true understanding of what it means to be right with God.  What I have learned is that our “decision” culture is eerily similar to the religionists of Jesus’ day.

Take for example Jesus cleansing the Temple in Mark 11:15-19.  Jesus says they have turned the house of God into a “den of robbers.”  He is clearly quoting from Jer. 7:9-11- “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’- only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?”  Notice what God says here- He is condemning the practice of the people who live egregiously sinful lives then go through the empty, external rituals of animal sacrifice and burning incense in the Temple and think that God was pleased with them!  The people were living for their sinful appetites, but thinking they were in the clear with God because of some outward rituals.

This sounds like us today.  Too many people have said a prayer and signed a card and then never gave God a second thought.  Yet, they think they are going to heaven because they have performed the ritual of the prayer, card, and baptism.  Many in our day (as the Jews in Jesus’ day) are living double lives: the life we want to live in the world and the life we live the few times we show up at church.  We must realize that such a double life, and trying to live for two masters, will always result in frustration in this life and doom in the next.

Back to the McKnight book I’m reading.  His point is principally that what makes us right with God is not simply because we have said a prayer, but because our lives are surrendered to Jesus Christ as our King (hence McKnight likes the term “King” for Jesus rather than “Savior”).  Life in Christ can begin with a prayer of confession and surrender to Jesus as Lord, but that is only the beginning of a life that is radically transformed to live for King Jesus and not king self.  True followers of Jesus are willing subjects of the King whose lives are given in obedience and servanthood.  I’m not advocating works righteousness here.  We are not saved because we do a bunch of stuff for the King.  That’s really no different than what I have been arguing against in this post, not to mention an affront to the teaching of Scripture.  No, I am saved wholly by God’s gracious gift of salvation given to me on the basis of Christ’s merits in His life, the cross and resurrection.  My acknowledgment of this results in the joyful surrender of my life to His lordship.

“That was easy” is a phrase we should never connect with salvation or the gospel.  It wasn’t easy for Jesus to provide our redemption.  Neither is salvation as easy as saying a prayer and then doing whatever you want.  The cost is high to follow Jesus- refusing to be your own king and following the King of Kings who calls us to view life differently than the world.  Being His servant is not easy, but very much worth it!



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One Response to “That Was Easy: The Tragic Malignment of the Gospel”

  1. Todd, I like your post. I haven’t read “The King Jesus Gospel”, but I have read quite a few reviews / commentaries on it, so I think I know what he’s trying to say. You say it well, too. Not to toot my own horn here, but I have noticed that what often goes hand in hand with the “Get saved and be OK philosophy” is legalism. That is, if you “do the right things” you are okay. The primary “right thing” is to “Get saved!” Other “right things” include how you dress, how you pray, how you give.

    So legalism and your “decision culture” are often, found together. The question is, which causes the other? Is it easy to identify with “decisionism” and then move to legalism? Or does it happen the other way around – legalism leads to preaching decisionism, which new believers then adopt for themselves?

    Thanks for your post. Keep up the good work.