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Guilt-Driven Preaching Must Die
“U.S. Christians like Starbucks more than Christ, lattes more than Lordship, doughnuts over discipleship, entertainment over evangelism.” This tweet popped up in my timeline the other day. It stood out because of its graceless negativity and also because I have heard its author engage in similar guilt-driven rhetoric before. (Actually, I heard him in a sermon say that every unbelieving neighbor that we have condemns us, which led to me saying “I am not condemned” out loud. Of course, I didn’t realize how loud I was saying it until my bride told me.) I don’t mean to pick on this one guy because there is a whole genre of preaching that emphasizes guilt over grace. Are there lukewarm Christians? Are there Christians who are lazy and failing to love their neighbor? Absolutely, but we should look at how the Bible awakens sleepy Christians who are half-hearted and lukewarm. Revelation’s early chapters contain letters from Jesus to seven churches. The best known of these is written to the church at Laodicea. Jesus indicts this church for their lukewarm love for him. Because they are neither hot nor cold, he will spew them out of his mouth. This imagery likely means that Jesus is sickened by their tepid approach to their love for him. They do not share in this assessment of their condition, for Jesus says that they think that they are rich, prosperous and in need of nothing. His response is that they are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” There is no doubt that Jesus’ pointed words to this congregation are difficult to hear since he does not mince words as he confronts them for their half-heartedness and sin. In this sense, the modern dispensers of guilt might claim that they are simply being biblical, but Jesus does not end with these confrontational words. He offers them an invitation. The invitation is not for them to jump up, try harder and get their act together. He tells them to come to him for gold, white garments and eye salve so that they will no longer be poor, blind and naked. Then they hear a call from Jesus to repent of their lukewarmness because he reproves those whom he loves. The messenger to the church at Laodicea writes some of the most famous words of Scripture after this call to repent. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Many times, we hear this applied in evangelism, but Jesus is saying this to a church. Those who hear Jesus knocking and open the door will dine with him. What we see in this passage is the Gospel call. Here is where you are, and here is the remedy. The remedy is none other than Jesus himself. Unfortunately, much of the guilt-driven preaching in our day stops at, “Here are the eight things that you are doing wrong. Now fix it by trying harder.” Jesus articulates the heart of the problem and offers himself. What the Bible shows is that the person who comes to Jesus and experiences his grace will be motivated to live a life that honors him. The Bible’s answer for halfheartedness is not law; it’s grace. So, how do we deal with Christians who are lazy and lukewarm about their faith? We point it out, and then we point them to the cross. Every failure, sin and twinge of guilt should send us to the cross of Jesus, who gave his life as a sacrifice for all of our sins. The remedy for tepid Christianity is not more guilt; it is a healthy heap of Gospel, which binds our hearts to Jesus. 
By Scott Slayton
Scott Slayton is the Lead Pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church in Chelsea, AL and is a graduate of the University of Mobile and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been married to Beth for ten years and they have three daughters