A woman replied to another commenter’s reply to a blog post about the rich young ruler (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2013/10/07/letter-from-a-millennial-who-walked-away/?comments#comments), “It’s people like you that made me leave too. Jesus was cool [and] made people feel good about themselves. You sure don’t.” She was responding to a commenter who told the truth. Let me explain.
The original blog to which these commenters were responding was a sort of retelling of the story of the rich young ruler (cast as a Millennial). However, instead of telling the actual encounter between Jesus and him, it went on from there to deal with the ruler’s reaction – in the form of a letter explaining why he left (perhaps much like Millennials leaving churches today). In that letter, the “rich young ruler” stated “First of all, I get this feeling that I’m not good enough. That I’m lacking something. That I don’t measure up. This is altogether frustrating.”
The very first response to the blog article quoted that section of the article and replied “Yeah, well, get over it! None of us are ‘good enough’ (Jesus said, ‘No one is good except God alone’). We’re all ‘lacking something.’ We all ‘fall short of the glory of God,’ according to Romans 3:23. None of us will ever ‘measure up.’ THAT is one of the reasons why salvation is by grace alone. God saves those who don’t deserve it, haven’t earned it, aren’t entitled to it, etc. It’s exactly because we aren’t good enough, because we are lacking, because we don’t measure up, that God sent His only-born Son to die on the cross in our place.”
This seems to have brought about a visceral reaction in a woman who admitted that she left her church and (in a later post) said that she started hanging out with Pagans. Let me quote her entire response: “It’s people like you that made me leave too. Jesus was cool & (sic) made people feel good about themselves. You sure don’t. Pity Christians were not more like Christ. There is no love in the church, none whatsoever. Call yourself totally depraved if you want, I’m not. Nor did Jesus say I was. Your Pauline scriptures that were cannonised (sic) in the FOURTH century say so. Do your research and stop throwing nonsense at people who have enough crap to deal with in this life without worrying about your interpretation of what happens at death.” Yeah, well, never mind that the gospels were also canonized in the fourth century and that even the Apostle Peter referred to Paul’s letters as scripture (see 2 Peter 3:15-16).
So, let’s see: the woman objects to the biblical doctrine of total depravity. She objects to the biblical truth that none of us deserve salvation, none of us are “good enough,” we’re all “lacking something,” we all “fall short of the glory of God,” and that none of us will ever “measure up.” She thinks that Jesus went around making people feel good about themselves – and, by extension, that He never showed people the wickedness in their own hearts or criticized anything anyone had done, etc. (well, anyone except the religious leaders; but, it’s okay to criticize them).
Was the original commenter’s response to the “rich young ruler” maybe lacking gentleness? Perhaps – certainly where he wrote “Yeah, well, get over it!” However, the truth isn’t sweet and candy-coated. It often doesn’t make people “feel good about themselves.” What makes the gospel one of grace is exactly the ugly truth that there is nothing in us to feel good about! We are, in fact, totally depraved, entirely unable to do anything to merit God’s love, entirely unable to do anything to merit salvation, entirely unable to do anything to please God. Isaiah wrote that all our righteousnesses – the very best that humans are capable of without God – are as the ancient equivalent of a used tampon pad (see Isaiah 64:6). The Apostle Paul (who the woman I mentioned earlier clearly rejects) quoted various Old Testament passages when he wrote that there is none that does good, none that seeks after God, etc. (see Romans 3:10-18).
There are many people today who think that love means we don’t ever say anything negative. They think it means we always go around making people feel good about themselves (even when they’re doing wrong – that is, of course, unless it’s a wrong that is politically incorrect, then we don’t have to make those people feel good about themselves), that we “affirm” (at least politically correct) people in their present situation. I wonder, then, if Jesus really loved the rich young ruler. He didn’t make him feel good about himself, but instead showed him the idolatry in his heart. I wonder if He loved anyone when He said that there is no one good but God (see Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19) or when He said to His disciples that unless you repent you will all likewise perish (see Luke 13:3-5). How exactly did “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11) make the adulteress feel good about herself – especially after Jesus affirmed that the Law did indeed call for her to be stoned to death? Was He making the Pharisees feel good about themselves when He called them vipers and whitewashed tombs? Based on what people like the woman earlier seem to think, there’s a contradiction between what Jesus actually said to some people and the notion that “Jesus is cool [and] made people feel good about themselves.”
It isn’t our job as Christians to go around making unbelievers, outsiders, feel good about themselves. They are enemies of God – totally depraved and utterly without hope – just as we were before God mercifully saved us (I want to make sure we get that). It is this ugly truth that makes salvation an act of grace and mercy on God’s part. None of us deserve to be saved. None of us are good enough. None of us measure up. Christ died for the ungodly (see Romans 5:6), not for people who had something in them that made them worthy of saving. Jesus came to call sinners – not the righteous (no one is righteous) – to repentance (see Luke 5:32). Jesus affirmed that the adulteress deserved death. He showed the rich young ruler the idolatry in his heart. He told his disciples that if they didn’t repent that they would perish just like the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with his sacrifices and just like the 18 on whom the tower at Siloam fell. These aren’t the words of someone going around making people feel good about themselves.
However, as we’re telling the truth about man’s totally depraved state, let us also be sure to communicate the hope that is available only in Christ: that Christ came into the world to save sinners (see 1 Timothy 1:15). Let us be sure to communicate not that people should feel good about themselves, but that God is gracious and merciful – saving people who don’t deserve it.