Christ calls all unto repentance. His message stands out as an unflinching condemnation of our fallenness: the great and the small, the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor. “ ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one’ ” (Rom. 3:10b–12).
It is not likely that such a sobering Gospel is going to induce a great deal of popular enthusiasm. In fact, it was never intended to be popular; it was intended to be true. That is amply demonstrated throughout the history of revival. While revival always provokes what Jonathan Edwards called “religious affections,” those passions are very rarely enthusiastic. They are more likely to be abstemious, sobering, and grave—the very antithesis of the effects of contemporary revivalism. We all desperately need Good News, not nice news. And that is simply not a popular notion. Thus, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).
Modern experts in revivalism tell us that such controversial or confrontational preaching will do more to drive people away than to draw them in. They tell us that sermons ought to appeal to the lowest common denominator, that services ought to be simple and accessible, and that programs ought to be consumer-oriented and user-friendly—otherwise we may offend rather than attract. They tell us that substantive theology will, at best, confuse the average man and, at worst, alienate him. And so they focus on intensely practical methods designed to entertain, to stimulate, and to enthuse. Anything else is likely to produce far less sensational results.
They’re probably right—as the ministry of Jesus so amply demonstrates. His insistence that the demands of God’s holiness and justice ultimately had to be satisfied was an affront to virtually everyone who heard Him. It still is.
The unvarnished truth is just as offensive to us as it was to Christ’s contemporaries. We don’t want to hear that our hearts are “ ‘deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’ ” (Jer. 17:9). We don’t want to hear that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) or that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). We don’t want to hear that our corrupt lives have resulted in a corrupt culture where the innocent are exploited, the helpless are despoiled, and the downtrodden are utterly forgotten. We don’t want to hear that there are tangible consequences to our sin that ultimately must be dealt with. We would much rather find a series of steps that will “enable” us, “empower” us, or help us to “recover” than hear the clear message of grace: “ ‘Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord’ ” (Acts 3:19).