This is a fitting and necessary article on the heels of 60 Minutes interview with Pastor Joel Osteen that aired last evening. You can watch the entire broadcast in its entirety at CBS.com. Joel comes off as a very endearing and likeable man. In this interview he considers himself more of a life-coach or motivational speaker than a pastor. But what is unique and at the same time disturbing, is that he is doing this under the title of pastor within the context of local church ministry. The Scriptures define the primary duty of any pastor is not motivation or being a life-coach, but to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).
To read Lakewood's simple statement of faith is to read a statement common to most evangelical churches, especially within the SBC. There is nothing unorthodox about the faith or the gospel as they outline them there. They call people to repent of their sins, to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives, they recognize the inerrancy and authority of God’s Word, affirm the Trinity, etc.
But once you move beyond that statement there are noticeable red flags. The emphasis in Joel's ministry, according to his own words, is more of a focus on the self in serving God as opposed to serving God alone. He makes faith more about us than about the worship of the One Triune God. IOW, the best life now is not simply knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and worshipping Him daily (Phil. 3:6-11), but rather having a better job, a bigger home, more money, etc.
Hope is a centerpiece, key word in Joel's ministry vocabulary. It is a great word and a biblical one too. I have written about this great hope we have in Christ before here. But he uses it primarily in the temporal and not in the eternal sense. Many of us greatly desire that he was expressing this hope in its biblical context and not through a capitalistic one. One passage that clearly defines and illustrates this so powerfully is 1 Peter 1:4-7 where the Apostle says,
1Pet. 1:3-9 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls."Notice that this hope has nothing to do with our environment, personal success or comfort, things that we possess, or our station in life; but it has everything to do with the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter calls it a living hope, obtained through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the surety of that hope in our inheritance is unshakable: it is imperishable, undefiled, will not fade away, reserved in heaven, and protected by the power of God. Now that’s hope beloved!
My prayer and exhortation to Joel would be to unfold your church's statement of faith into the daily the practice of your ministry, preaching, events, and writing. Make Christ glorious and the central focus of all things so much so that He eclipses any desire for the things of this world. To find your greatest worth and joy in proclaiming and living in His glory, His holiness; His gospel; His exaltation; and His worship.
So... is Joel preaching a false gospel? Not according to their church's statement of faith. But it is fair to say that the message he is offering believers in their walk with the Lord is not one that is entirely Christless; but one that is virtually cross-less and not in line with biblical Christianity. He is dangerously close to drifting away into "a faith" that doesn't require the gospel as being essential at all. As Michael Horton called it, "a candy-coated gospel." Pastor Joel is clearly representing a temporal hope and material promise of possessions, prominence, and promotion that is not rooted in the gospel or in God's Word. To follow Jesus in Paul's day meant the loss of all things not the increase of all things. Consider these sobering words:
"To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now." -1 Cor. 4:11-13God is not our celestial Monty Hall, beloved, giving us door number one, door number two or door number three. He is not a divine genie that we rub to get our deepest wishes and desires. He is not someone we approach to obtain things… It is not even about me realizing or even reaching my full potentiality. It is about “denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him.” It begins with our submission to the call of the gospel and to serve Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives. It is about spending time in His Word and living uprightly in obedience to that truth before Him and our neighbor.
May we all be able to say with Paul this day, "as having nothing yet possessing all things" (2 Cor. 6:10b) because Jesus Christ is our all in all - even if we have very little in the bank or by way of material possessions. Beloved, we need to find their deepest contentment in Him and not in the comfort of this world.
With this in mind, here is this timely article by J.C. Ryle on the theme "are you born again?" What is the evidence of truly knowing Jesus as your Lord and Savior? This is a must read and I heartily commend it to you.
May I encourage you to pray for Joel Osteen that his eyes would be opened to the contentment that is found in Christ alone.
In His Matchless Grace,
ARE YOU BORN AGAIN?
by J. C. Ryle
Are you born again? This is one of life's most important questions. Jesus Christ said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
It is not enough to reply, "I belong to the church; I suppose I'm a Christian." Thousands of nominal Christians show none of the signs of being born again which the Scriptures have given us—many listed in the First Epistle of John.
First of all, John wrote: "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin" (I John 3:9). "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not" (5:18).
A person who has been born again, or regenerated, does not habitually commit sin. He no longer sins with his heart and will and whole inclination. There was probably a time when he did not think about whether his actions were sinful or not, and he did not always feel grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin; they were friends. But the true Christian hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, considers it his greatest plague, resents the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and longs to be completely delivered from it. Sin no longer pleases him, nor is it even a matter of indifference to him; it has become a horrible thing which he hates. However, he cannot eliminate its presence within him.
If he said that he had no sin, he would be lying (I John 1:8). But he can say that he hates sin and that the great desire of his soul is not to commit sin at all. He cannot prevent bad thoughts from entering his mind, or shortcomings, omissions, and defects from appealing in both his words and his actions. He knows that "in many things we offend all" (James 3:2). But he can truly say, in the sight of God, that these things cause him grief and sorrow and that his whole nature does not consent to them. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
Second, John wrote: "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (I John 5:1).
A man who is born again, or regenerated, believes that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour who can pardon his soul, that He is the divine person appointed by God the Father for this very purpose, and beside Him there is no Saviour at all. In himself he sees nothing but unworthiness. But he has full confidence in Christ, and trusting in Him, he believes that his sins are all forgiven. He believes that, because he has accepted Christ's finished work and death on the cross, he is considered righteous in God's sight, and he may look forward to death and judgment without alarm.
He may have fears and doubts. He may sometimes tell you that he feels as if he had no faith at all. But ask him if he is willing to trust in anything instead of Christ, and see what he will say. Ask him if he will rest his hope of eternal life on his own goodness, his own works, his prayers, his minister, or his church, and listen to his reply. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
Third, John wrote: "Every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him" (I John 2:29).
The man who is born again, or regenerated, is a holy man. He endeavors to live according to God's will, to do the things that please God and to avoid the things that God hates. He wishes to continually look to Christ as his example as well as his Saviour and to prove himself to be Christ's friend by doing whatever He commands. He knows he is not perfect. He is painfully aware of his indwelling corruption. He finds an evil principle within himself that is constantly warring against grace and trying to draw him away from God. But he does not consent to it, though he cannot prevent its presence.
Though he may sometimes feel so low that he questions whether or not he is a Christian at all, he will be able to say with John Newton, "I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am." What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
Fourth, John wrote: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (I John 3:14).
A man who is born again has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love, but he has a special love for those who share his faith in Christ. Like his Lord and Saviour, he loves the worst of sinners and could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. He is never so much at home as when he is in their company.
He feels they are all members of the same family. They are his fellow soldiers, fighting against the same enemy. They are his fellow travelers, journeying along the same road. He understands them, and they understand him. They may be very different from himself in many ways—in rank, in station and in wealth. But that does not matter. They are his Father's sons and daughters and he cannot help loving them. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
Fifth, John wrote: "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world" (I John 5:4).
A man who is born again does not use the world's opinion as his standard of right and wrong. He does not mind going against the world's ways, ideas and customs. What men think or say no longer concerns him. He overcomes the love of the world. He finds no pleasure in things which seem to bring happiness to most people. To him they seem foolish and unworthy of an immortal being.
He loves God's praise more than man's praise. He fears offending God more than offending man. It is unimportant to him whether he is blamed or praised; his first aim is to please God. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
Sixth, John wrote: "He that is begotten of God keepeth himself' (I John 5:18).
A man who is born again is careful of his own soul. He tries not only to avoid sin but also to avoid everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He knows that evil communications corrupt the heart and that evil is more catching than good, just as disease is more infectious than health. He is careful about the use of his time; his chief desire is to spend it profitable.
He desires to live like a soldier in an enemy country—to wear his armor continually and to be prepared for temptation. He is diligent to be watchful, humble, prayerful man. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
There is a vast difference in the depth and distinctness of these marks in different people. In some they are faint and hardly noticeable. In others they are bold, plain and unmistakable, so anyone may read them. Some of these marks are more visible than others in each individual. Seldom are all equally evident in any one person.
But still, after every allowance, here we find boldly painted six marks of being born of God.
How should we react to these things? We can logically come to only one conclusion—only those who are born again have these six characteristics, and those who do not have these marks are not born again. This seems to be the conclusion to which the apostle intended us to come. Do you have these characteristics? Are you born again?