Sin and Sunday Morning

Joel Osteen was interviewed by Byron Pitts on 60 Minutes this past Sunday. I didn’t see the program but was able to watch it at CBS News Online. I recognize that the media can distort what someone actually says. But taken at face value, the interview was concerning. Here’s one portion from the transcript:

“You said ‘I like to see myself as a life coach, a motivator to help them experience the life of God that God has for them. People don’t like to be beat down and told ‘You’ve done wrong.’ What do you mean?” Pitts asks.

“Well, I think that most people already know what they’re doing wrong. And for me to get in here and just beat ‘em down and talk down to ‘em, I just don’t think that inspires anybody to rise higher. But I want to motivate. I wanna motivate every person to leave here to be a better father, a better husband, to break addictions to come up higher in their walk with the Lord,” Osteen says.

Later on in the interview, this exchange takes place:

“To become a better you, you must be positive towards yourself, develop better relationships, embrace the place where you are. Not one mention of God in that. Not one mention of Jesus Christ in that,” Pitts remarks.

“That’s just my message. There is scripture in there that backs it all up. But I feel like, Byron, I’m called to help people…how do we walk out the Christian life? How do we live it? And these are principles that can help you. I mean, there’s a lot better people qualified to say, ‘Here’s a book that’s going to explain the scriptures to you.’ I don’t think that’s my gifting,” Osteen says.

Every leader in the church of Christ is called to help people. But God has made it clear how we’re to do that. He hasn’t given us the liberty of devising our own message. God couldn’t be clearer about what our message is, as Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15:3-4:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

“Christ died for our sins.” We have no better news, no more powerful news, and no other news to give to the people we serve. All change that takes place in our lives is rooted in the atoning work of the Savior. A few other relevant Scriptures come to mind such as Col. 2:6, Col. 3:1-4, 1 Cor. 1:30, and Col. 1:27-28. There are many more. We cannot “live out the Christian life” apart from an ongoing, deepening, clear dependence on Jesus Christ. Specifically, our problem is sin, and Jesus came to set us free from its penalty and power.

Yes, “people already know they’re doing wrong,” but they’re unclear on the extent, the significance, and the object of that wrong. We cannot become better fathers, husbands, or better anything apart from recognizing our guilt before God and our complete inability to change ourselves. Change begins by understanding that we stand condemned before a holy God and need to be reconciled to him through the substitutionary death of Christ. Change continues by standing firm in the Gospel we’ve received (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

In his book, Cross Words , Paul Wells does a fine job addressing some of the modern misconceptions about the meaning of the cross of Christ. One of the problems he addresses is the attempt to offer people hope without addressing the problem of sin. He writes:

“Efforts to create a god who does not react to sin render God less than personal, and at the same time make a true understanding of his love for sinful man, in its breadth and depth, impossible. God’s love appears in its true light only in the context of man’s sin and misery, and his rebellion against God. God hates sin.”

As a worship leader, I can be tempted to use songs that make people “feel good” apart from acknowledging the sin that Jesus came to forgive and free them from. I can put together a better song list that will “lift people’s spirits” and give them a profound emotional experience without drawing any attention to how God hates their sin. But that ends up diminishing the glory of God’s love. He loves us freely and undeservedly. He loves us at the cost of his own Son. He loves us to change us. He loves us not because we’re so lovable, but because He is love.

I pray that Joel Osteen sees the importance of reminding people of the pervasive and deceptive sin that dwells in each one of us, and the powerful Gospel that sets us free. I pray that regardless of our gifting, every pastor and leader in the church would see that we are responsible to explain what the Scriptures mean. Most importantly, I pray that I never seek to offer people hope apart from the cross of Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14).

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13 Responses to Sin and Sunday Morning

  1. Kevin Doyle October 16, 2007 at 3:57 PM #

    Hey Bob,

    I am so grateful for the continued clarification that you give through your blog. Thank you. You articulated this well. Joel Osteen is a brother, but like many with him, he is being deceived by a “feel good” culture. It’s difficult to watch. I have many family members and friends who admire his teaching and do not see the need for a realization of the sin that is so pervasive. God bless you.

  2. Ryan October 16, 2007 at 4:32 PM #

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks again for a great post. I caught a glimpse of the interview as I was flipping to the Saints/Seahawks game and had to stop for a second to watch a bit. It’s hard to watch. I don’t want to use this as an opportunity to attack Joel, but an opportunity to realize, like you said, that without realizing our sin, we can’t realize grace. Without realizing and being taught and shown where we’ve done wrong, we can’t become better. Hopefully our encounters with God don’t lead us to “feel good” but are like Isaiah’s, saying, “Woe to me. I am ruined!” realizing our smallness, but then realizing God’s bigness and grace by seeing His mercy in still choosing to send us.

  3. Ryan F. October 16, 2007 at 6:15 PM #

    Bob,

    This brings up a serious question regarding musical worship at a “church” such as Osteen’s.

    During the interview, there was a snippet of video in which the song “Here I Am to Worship” was being sung. I have heard few negative critiques of this song (namely, it’s focus on self in the chorus), but for the most part it is a simple song filled with God-action that tells the story of Christ’s incarnation and redemption, climaxing in the truth proclaimed in the bridge: “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross.”

    My question is: What is the higher meaning or purpose of singing songs such as this in a context like Lakeview Church, where the eternally separating disease of sin is not addressed? Do people have any idea what they are singing? My guess is they skip the bridge. Nonetheless, it seems to me a grievous insult to misuse worship music in this way. God says he exalts above all things His Name and His Word (Ps. 138). Shouldn’t it be our goal as worship leaders to use our music to exalt His Name and His Word? (Somewhat rhetorical.)

  4. Joseph October 16, 2007 at 6:34 PM #

    Thanks Bob, for your firm stance upon the necessity and power of the cross of Christ. Apart from the cross and all that it proclaims to us about our sin and our Lord there can be no salvation. I have been greatly distressed by the many people that run after “every wind of doctrine”, especially Joel Osteen and his motivational messages. What Paul said in 1 Corinthians and what Peter declared in 1 Peter stand true to this day – the gospel is foolishness, offensive, and a stumbling block to the world. It is much easier to pursue a message that makes us feel good about ourselves. Your post was very sobering – I pray that we never teach, lead, or preach anything that hides or neglects the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  5. Paul Martin October 16, 2007 at 8:46 PM #

    Bob,
    Thanks for taking an obvious problem and turning it around to show us how easily we can dress the same error in different clothes.
    May God in His grace keep us centered on that cross!!

  6. Tommy October 16, 2007 at 8:55 PM #

    For those interested, Michael Horton, with whom Byron Pitts conducted the counter-point interview for the Joel Osteen feature, has posted some excellent articles at http://www.wscal.edu

  7. Josh October 16, 2007 at 10:17 PM #

    Bob,

    Thanks for posting this. I watched this interview Sunday and was surprised that so many Christians tune in to him each week even though his message leaves out the glory and wonder of Christ. For me, that is what I come to church each week to see and hear. I NEED to hear the good news that Christ is my substitute and peace. I love those verses you mentioned in Colossians 3:3-4. If Christ is our new life and we will one day appear with him in glory, why should we not celebrate and rejoice in that each and every time we gather? It almost seems like we deny Him if we intentionally withold this truth from others and give them a cheap substitute.

  8. Ken October 17, 2007 at 12:02 PM #

    Yesterday I read some of the introduction to Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel by Richard Owen Roberts. He had an appropriate word about positive thinking:

    “…repentance has been neglected because of a grievously distorted focus upon the positive. There is a widespread notion that Christianity must always be stated in positive terms. Some have gone so far as to say, ‘If you can’t say something positive, don’t say anything at all.’ Faith is perceived as positive, whereas repentance, by such reckoning, obviously falls into the category of negative. But how would you like to take your automobile to a mechanic who always had a positive outlook and could never bring himself to find anything wrong with your vehicle? Or could you imagine retaining as your medical doctor a man who never finds anything wrong with you but always treats you as if you are completely healthy?” (pp17-18).

  9. west October 17, 2007 at 1:51 PM #

    Along with Ryan, I’ve often wondered about the role of worship music at Lakewood too. One thing I did recently is to register at their website (www.lakewood.cc) so I could listen to the music portions of their service. Once you get past the intro about how I can be a better me, they go right into the music set. I don’t have any answers to the theological/philosophical questions, but I do think that Israel Houghton and Cindy Cruse-Ratcliff are gifted musicians and arrangers that we can learn a lot from.

    Peace.

  10. Roy November 2, 2007 at 12:20 PM #

    Good post. I objected to Osteen before the 60 Minutes interview but once he took the interview, I knew others would get to see the problems with Osteen’s ministry. While I am sure that many godly people are involved with Lakewood and Osteen, I agree with you that many are deceived. How dangerous is the love of money.

  11. Cindy Mendoa April 9, 2008 at 6:50 PM #

    I honstly think that we need not to worry about Joel Osteen…if he is doing wrong in anyway the Lord our God will deal with it at his timing. It is not our job to be judging others. Whether one likes it or not Osteen is part of the body of Christ and we need to edify each other and not bring down the body of Christ.Not only that, God is using Osteen to reach millions of people who do not know about Christ and God is prospering him even if one thinks his messages are “watered-down, no-fear of the Lord.” God is the one who give promotion…So i am sure all christians agree God is control…right or wrong. If anything i praise the Lord for those messages because maybe someone who feels sooooo unworthy of receiving forgiveness from the Lord might hear on of the uplifting messages and that message may minister that persons heart and may decide to accept the Lord. Come on…we need to be spiritually mature. Let go and let God. God is in control

  12. Mary J. January 10, 2009 at 3:54 AM #

    Not for nothing, reading this post has made me question my own “feel-good” needs for Sunday mornings and I hope that I keep myself more aware of my growth. Am I truly set free of my sins through Jesus’ precious blood or do I need that feel-good, self-righteous feeling that comes on Sunday mornings? I think just asking myself this question is the first step in the right direction.

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