Craig Groeschel - I Want to Believe, But... Killjoy God
It's awesome to have all you with us today at all of our different Life.Churches. Big shout-out and a thank-you. I know many of you had to brave difficult weather to get to your locations. We've got tough weather all over the country. I also know that at several Life.Churches the weather never ever gets bad or cold, and I want you to know that we love you anyway, even though it's nice where you are right now. Also, thank you to Life.Church Wichita. Amy and I loved our time with you. We are coming to Life.Church South Tulsa. We're also coming to Life.Church Albany, New York and Hendersonville, Tennessee in this quarter. We can't wait to spend some time with you guys. If you're brand new with us, we're actually in part two of a four-part message series that's called I Want to Believe in God, But. I Want to Believe in God, But.
There are so many people, I believe, that really would love to be God followers and want to believe. It seems like there's got to be some kind of a God, but there's a ceiling or a barrier or some reason why they can't fully believe. What I argue is that these people are not rejecting the true God, who he really is in his purest essence, but there are so many people that are actually rejecting what I call a distorted view of God. They're rejecting their wrong view of who God is, and that's what I wanna talk about in this message series. In fact, if you were with us last week, we talked about on-demand God. I want to believe in God, but he doesn't do exactly what I want him to do. And we looked at the reality that on-demand God doesn't exist. Let me tell you where we're going, because this is important. Some of you may want to bring someone.
Next week is my favorite of all four weeks. It's this, I call it Goosebump God. I want to believe in God, but I don't feel him. And this is such a common thing. How do you believe in a God you can't feel, that you don't see, and, you know, I've never heard him speak. I want to believe in that God but I do not feel him. Then week four, I'm calling it Heartless God. And this is perhaps the biggest obstacle, or at least the most common one that I've come across. And that's people who say, I want to believe in God, but he just doesn't seem to care. How can you believe in a God that lets all these bad things happen? There are all these global tragedies. Besides, look at my life. Why would God allow these things to happen to me? I'm a good person. I want to believe in God, but I can't. Today what I wanna do is talk about what I call Killjoy God. I want to believe in God, but there are just too many rules. I want to believe in God, but I don't want to be boring. I don't want to be a dud. I wanna enjoy my life.
In fact, this honestly was a little bit of my view growing up. I wanted to believe in God, but there seemed to be so many dos and don'ts and thees and thous that I couldn't keep up with them. If I can be really, really honest, when I looked at so many Christians, I just didn't like them. Is that okay to say out loud in church? They seemed to be snotty, hypocritical, judgmental, holier-than-thou. They claimed one thing and then would do something else. How could I become that? And then if I can be really honest, many of them seemed just ridiculously boring. Boring! In fact, growing up in the '80s, when I was a kid in high school, my view of the Christian guys was this: they simply wore penny loafers, khaki pants, braided belt, and Star Wars shirts that said, May His Force Be With You. I just couldn't become that guy. I want to believe in God, but there are too many rules, too many regulations, and I just can't quite get there. Some people say, I want to believe in him, but with all those rules, there doesn't seem to be any benefit anyway. My life's going fine. Why should I follow a god who tells me to do this and tells me to do that, when it really gets in the way of what I wanna do as it is?
I wanna unpack this a little bit today and talk about the good news and the bad news about Jesus and religion. We're gonna start with the bad news, and what I hope that you'll understand is when I say religion, I'm not talking about Christianity. When I use the word "religion," what I'm referring to is man-made rules to try to please God. There's a difference between Christianity and just general religion. I want to talk first about the bad news about religion, then I want to talk about the good news about Jesus. If you're taking notes, here is the bad news about religion. Religion focuses on the external rather than the internal. It focuses on the external rather than the internal. If you've ever looked at somebody and said, well, you're claiming one thing but you're not living that, that's kind of hypocritical, that is exactly what Jesus was saying in Matthew's gospel in Matthew 23:25-26. He's saying it's all about the external, when I am more concerned about the internal. Jesus said this. He said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites"! He said, "You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence". In other words, you're putting on this religious show on the outside, but it doesn't match up with your heart. He goes on to say this in verse 26. He says, "Blind Pharisee! First, deal with the inside, clean the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside" will be clean as well.
What does religion do? It focuses on the external rather than the internal. And here's what many people will wrongly assume about God. Let's take the holiness of God and say, okay. Here's holy God, and here is unholy me. In other words, I haven't always done right. And so somehow I need to be right with God. What religion will say is unholy people will try to close the gap between a holy God with outward human effort. With religious acts. We try to close the gap between our sinfulness and God's holiness by trying harder, being better, doing religious things. I don't know what the religious rules you might have adopted, but it's, you know, I gotta go to church, I gotta get some money, I gotta be nice, not be mean, help little ladies cross the road. There's some things I can't do. Don't drink, don't smoke, don't chew, and don't run with girls who do! If I do these things and don't do the bad things, then maybe I will be right with God. It's trying to close the gap with human effort. And Jesus said don't be like the Pharisees, because that's what they're doing. And that's exactly what the Pharisees did. They put on this big religious show. They'd go out on the street corners and they'd pray these long prayers. Not really so God would hear 'em. So everyone else would think they're holy.
Oh dear God, blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah. Why? They're trying to look holy. They wore these big fancy robes with these tassels, looking all religious, and then you know what they'd do? They would go and take advantage of innocent widows. They would lie to people, and then they would heap all of these rules on everybody else. You gotta obey the Sabbath! You shouldn't be hanging out with that person! You shouldn't be like this! And it was all about the external. Let me give you a little history lesson that will help maybe bring some understanding as to why it was this way. Let's just learn a little bit. This might be new to some people. If you go back to the Old Testament, after Ezra and Nehemiah, here's what happened: the religious leaders looked and said, God's people were breaking the law, and because they broke the law they were in bondage. So what we're gonna do is we're gonna come up with some new rules to make sure nobody breaks the law. And by the law we're speaking of what's known as the Torah, and that means the first five books of the people. We're gonna come up with some man-made laws to make it extra safe.
So what these well-intentioned religious leaders did is they came up with over 600 brand-new laws that became known as the fence laws. These laws are going to protect the Torah. They were so intense that there were actually 65 different laws about the Sabbath. 65 different dos and don'ts about the Sabbath. When later on someone compiled all these laws into a book in the 3rd century known as the Mishna, the book was over 800 pages long of man-made laws added to the laws of God. And this is why Jesus got very passionate and said this in Matthew 23 3-4. He said, "Don't follow" the example of the Pharisees. "For they don't practice what they teach". What do they do? "They crush people with unbearable religious demands and they never lift a finger to ease the burden". If you've ever thought, I want to believe in God, but there are too many laws, too many rules, it's too oppressive, this is not a reflection of the heart of God. This is what people added to what God already established. It's additional works trying to close the gap, and it does not reflect the heart of God. Anytime you think, Killjoy God! I don't want that! Remember: Killjoy God does not exist. The laws God established are not to confine us, but to free us to have the life that he wants.
I want to share with you the good news about Jesus, and we're gonna plow through some information. If you'll stick with me, think with me, there is a payoff, I promise, and it is really, really good news. Can you do that? All of our churches, if you can do it, say, I can do it. Can you do it? That's not bad, let's dive in. Romans chapter three, we're gonna look at three verses. They may seem a little bit confusing at first. We're gonna break it down, we're gonna make it really easy to digest, and we're gonna put some syrup on it so it's really, really sweet. This is what scripture says. "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by works of the law. Rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe". What is the good news about Jesus? Let's break it down into three simple thoughts. The first one, if you're taking notes, is this: we have to embrace the truth, number one. You cannot earn God's acceptance by obeying the law. No matter how hard you try, no matter how religious you are, no matter how many good works you do or bad works you avoid, you cannot earn God's acceptance by obeying the law. Religion says your good works will please God.
Scripture teaches you cannot be good enough to please God. And the rules may be, go to church, don't do bad, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, but here's what scripture says. "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law". No one. Doesn't matter what kind of church you go to, how holy you act, how good a show you put on. No matter how hard you try, you cannot be good enough to please God by your works. You cannot please God by just doing the works of the law. It's impossible. So that raises the question: well, why in the world did God give us the law, right? If we can't live up to it, then why did God put this in the first place? And that leads us to the second thought. Stick with me, there's a payoff. Number two, the purpose of the law is to show you your need of a savior. Why is there the law? The purpose of the law is to show you your need of a savior. Let's look at verse 20. All the way through, this is what Paul said. He said, "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by works of the law".
So why is there the law? "Rather, through the law we become conscious of our own sin". Through the law we become conscious of our own sin. And this is what's so, so, so important, and we need to spend a few moments here, because it's more of a common belief today that people would say, I'm not a bad person. In fact, as a pastor, if I want to make a lot of people really mad, I can say, you're a sinner. They're like, don't judge me. Who are you to judge me? I'm not a sinner. And this is why the law is so important, because it actually shows us that every single one of us are sinners. Well, Craig, I'm not a bad person. Maybe compared to somebody else you're not a bad person, but compared to the standards of God, we all fall incredibly short. In fact, there is a guy named Ray Comfort who asks a series of questions and he kind of does this interview thing, and what I wanna do is adapt what he does and ask you my own version of these questions. This is something that I've done a couple times before, and I will do it again, because it really helps illustrate the fact that the law shows us that we need a savior.
For example, all of our Life.Churches, I need everybody, I need you in Fort Worth, I need you guys in Rio Rancho, I need all of you to work with me and raise your hand if this is true of you. Are you ready? Okay, let me ask you a question. How many of you have ever told a lie? Raise your hand up, raise 'em up high. Leave 'em up if you will. Leave 'em up, leave 'em up, leave 'em up. I want you to look at all the people that are not raising their hand right now. Just point at 'em and call 'em a liar. Liar liar, pants on fire. 'Cause we've all told a lie, right? This may be a little more embarrassing, but how many of you ever stolen something? I have. Raise 'em up, raise 'em up. Leave 'em up for a minute. There's more of you, 'cause you've all taken a Life.Church pen. There's some of you, have you three of them! You write your tithe check with a stolen pen. Right? Yeah, most of us have stolen. This one, I'm just gonna ask you to do this. 'Cause I don't wanna embarrass you, but just get ready. Just do it quickly. Like so fast your wife doesn't see.
How many of you ever lusted? I got a couple guys waving at me like this, like, I'm lusting right now. God bless you, I see that hand. You can be saved. I don't want to get into this and get anybody in trouble, but you glance too long or whatever and you lust, well, Jesus actually said that anyone who's ever looked lustfully at someone, they've actually committed adultery in their heart. The standard of God is so much above our standard. He says if you even look lustfully, it's that serious of an offense to God that you've committed adultery. So based on just a general show of hands, of these really good church people that we have here, what you just told me is that most of you are lying, thieving, adulterers. That sounds like a pretty big sinner to me! In fact, I would say you're wretched! You're pathetic, you're unrighteous, you're unholy. Welcome to Life.Church, where we make you feel really good about yourself. Glad you came. And I don't want to be harsh or critical or make you feel bad, but let me tell you why it's so important. Because when you go through life saying, I'm not a bad person, then you don't recognize that you need the forgiveness and the goodness of God.
I say it this way: until you see yourself as a sinner, you won't see your need for a savior. And this is why we have to start here. Until you see yourself as a sinner, you won't see your need for a savior. And this is what is the good news about the gospel and we're getting to it: that you cannot be good enough for God. There is no person that can perform their way to God, because all of us have sinned and we fall well beneath his standards, and the law shows us that. What is the purpose of the law? Oh my gosh, I am not good enough. I need grace, I need mercy, I need help. Thought number one. Very simple, you cannot earn God's acceptance by obeying the law. Thought number two, the purpose of the law is to show your need of a savior. Thought number three, really, really good news. That being right with God comes by faith in Christ alone. The way that we're made right with God is not by religious works, not by trying harder, but it's by trusting in the perfect work of Jesus, and that alone.
And this is what Paul said in verse 22. He said, "This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ," to whom? "To all who believe". Doesn't matter how bad your past has been. Doesn't matter how bad your present is right now. When you put your faith in Christ, your sins are forgiven and you are made completely new. And that's what I'm gonna tell you all day long. You do not need religion! You do not need religion! You do not need religion! You need Christ and Christ alone. Not Christ plus good works. Not Christ plus religious effort, but Christ and Christ alone. And this is why I love the power of the story of Jesus on the cross. If you're not a church person, you may not know it, but Jesus was hanging between two criminals. One of them hurled insults at him. "You saved others, why don't you save yourself and save us"? And this other criminal looked on Jesus with a very broken heart and said, "Jesus. "Would you remember me when you come into your kingdom"? And Jesus, hanging on a cross, looked at this other vile criminal and said to him, "Today you will be with me in paradise".
Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, wait. To be right with God I gotta do, right? Could this guy do good? Not a bit. His hands were bound to the cross. He's gonna have to turn over a new leaf, right? No, the guy couldn't get down. Well, certainly he's gotta go to the synagogue or go the church and be baptized, right? Or there's no way. No, faith in Christ alone. Jesus said, "Today you will be with me in paradise". How does that work? Because we've sinned. I'll illustrate it to you this way. Before starting Life.Church, Amy and I had the massive pleasure of serving five years at Downtown United Methodist Church. And we loved and respected this church, but it was a little bit different than this church, okay? We did hymns, stand up, sit down, and verses one, two, and four, never verse three. I don't know what's wrong with verse three, why I skipped verse three and did all these other things. The pastors, we wore these really cool robes. The problem is, my robe wasn't cool. The reason is I hadn't graduated seminary yet, and I was unordained. I didn't glow in the dark like I do now. Just joking, I don't really glow in the dark. I was not ordained.
And so what we did is the important pastors sent... I don't know what to call it, I'll call them what it is. They looked like thrones. They're like these big throne looking chairs in the front of the church, and we would sit up there, look at all the other people, and all the pastors had striped, ornate ordination robes. I had a musty, used, stripeless choir robe because I was unordained. I also didn't get a full size throne and I got a junior throne. And I was sit there on the corner in my junior throne with my stripeless robe feeling incredibly insecure. Well, one week my pastor Nick was teaching, and in five years of working for him, he never did this before and never did it again. He waited until I was sitting there with my leg crossed like this, listening to him for the third time. And just thought, hey, my leg's falling asleep. This is kinda cool. I'm like 23, I don't know better. My leg's falling asleep, and I thought, I'll see how far I can take this. So I just kinda pressed it a little more. I waited until I got tinglies in my butt. It was all the way up to my butt, it's tingly. And I'm sitting there, going, this is really cool. I mean, it's like it's dead. And Nick said, "Would you stand up, Craig"?
So with one whole side of my body numb, I'm standing up trying to act like I'm okay. True story. And he came up to me and he said, "What do you think about your robe"? I didn't wanna lie. I don't know what he's asking for, and he kinda looked at me, like, tell the truth, you know? I'm like, "It's okay". He goes, "It's not okay, it's horrible! There's stains on it". And then he went up and he goes, "It stinks"! I'm like, "Yes! Wash the robe"! You know, it stinks. And he said, "What do you think about my robe"? I'm like, "It's amazing! It's got stripes, it's perfect. It's incredible"! And he said, "I want you to take off your robe". I unzipped my robe in front of everybody, still trying to thaw out my butt, and I took the robe off, and he put his robe on me. He said, "How do you look now"? I'm standing up there in front of everybody, and it was really emotional because I love this robe. He says, "What's really amazing is you look like a man of God. You look like you're fully ordained". He said, "This is what Christ did for us. We are filthy sinners," and this is actually in the Bible. Said, "We are clothed with Christ, or we have a robe of righteousness, and what Jesus does is he takes his perfection, he covers us with it, and when God looks at us, God doesn't see our sinfulness, but he sees the righteousness of Christ. He sees the goodness and the perfection of Jesus".
That's why if we are in Christ, we're a new creation. Our sins are forgiven by God and God doesn't see us as the filthy sinners we are, but he sees the righteousness of Christ. This is the difference between religion and Christianity. Religion is all about performance, performance, performance. Christianity is about the perfect work of Jesus. Religion is all about what I do, I do, I do. Christianity is what Jesus did, his perfect work. Religion says, if I try really hard, and if I obey, then maybe God will love me. But Christianity says, because God loves me, and I'm accepted in Christ, I choose to obey, and I want to follow his ways. Anytime someone says, I don't want to follow that God. He's a killjoy God! There's too many rules, there's too many regulations! We didn't understand this: that religion has complicated what God made simple. It's always been simple to God. Religion adds to the simplicity of the gospel. You go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and what did you have? God created Adam, this is good. God created Eve, this is even better 'cause Adam wasn't very good on his own, but together they're really good. And they're naked in this beautiful paradise. Which that's really exciting to me, just to be honest with you.
God says, "Be fruitful. Multiply. Have fun. Subdue the land. Name the animals. Plant crops. Enjoy my gift of paradise. Be blessed. One thing that I don't want you to do. Eat from any tree in the Garden, eat and enjoy. There's one thing. That tree over there is the knowledge of good and evil, and if you eat of it, it's not gonna be good for you. Don't do that. If you eat of it, you'll surely die. Be fruitful. Have fun. Multiply. Enjoy paradise. Name it giraffe, turtle, pig, monkey. You got a lot of work to do. There's one thing not to do". Why did God tell them not to eat of the fruit of that one tree? Why? To keep them from the fun stuff? To keep them away from what was really good? No. To keep them from that which would steal life. To give them the freedom of blessings. What has religion done? Religion has complicated what God made simple. In Psalms 16, David, it's known as the Golden Psalm, David said this. David said, "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places". I love that. "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places". I've got freedom on this side of the boundary lines. On the other side is danger.
I thank God for the boundary lines because they are there because he loves me. I don't have to obey the boundaries or the laws to please God, but because of his grace I choose to. It's like Amy. When we got married 26 years ago, guess what. I promised to lay down the law. I promised to be faithful to her as long as we both shall live. That's the rule, that's the law. What's that for? That's kinda limiting. You know, you can't be with anybody else for the rest of your life. Well, that's no fun! No. What does that do? That keeps me in the blessings of a faithful marriage that is far richer than any forbidden fruit on the other side. That's not a boundary that I want to cross for a forbidden fruit, because the blessings of staying within the boundaries are so much better. Why would I do that? Because of love, because of love. Because of love, because of love, because of love. Religion complicates with laws. Jesus simplifies with love. Let me say it again. Religion complicates with laws. Jesus simplifies with love.
One time a religious person said, "Jesus. What is the greatest commandment? What's the most important one? There's a lot of 'em. What's the most important one"? And Jesus said, "Above all else, the most important thing is to love the Lord your God with everything in you, your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor just as you love yourself". Wait a minute. What about all those 600? That's a lot! Got, got, got, gotta obey! I gotta obey! What's the most important? Love, love! Religion complicates with laws. Jesus simplifies with love. Religion has always complicated what God made simple. Love God with everything in you. Well, I better obey or God's not gonna like it. No, because you are clothed in Christ and already accepted. And because the boundary lines fall in pleasant places. I don't have to obey, I choose to obey. Out of an act of worship for who God is. I want to obey. I want to be faithful. I want to honor my God. Religion complicates with laws what Jesus simplified with love.
One time there was a woman who got caught in the act of adultery, and all the religious men came around and said, "The law says we should stone her! Stone her, stone her, stone her! What do you say, Jesus"? And Jesus knelt down and started writing in the sand. What did Jesus write? We don't know for sure. Some scholars guess, an educated guess. Perhaps he was writing down the sins of the men who were there, because the text says the older walked away first, and then the younger. Jesus said to them, "Hey, you wanna stone her? Whoever who has not sinned, you throw the first rock". One by one they walked away, until there was nobody there but the son of God and a broken, sinful woman. Jesus looked at her, and he loved her. And he said, "Where are your condemners"? And she said, "There are none". So Jesus said, "Then neither do I condemn you. Go your way and don't sin any more".
We don't know for sure what happened in that woman's life, but I can almost promise you that she never ever broke that law again. Why? 'Cause she was afraid of getting caught, getting in trouble? No. Because she was forgiven and she was loved. Because she was forgiven and she was loved. Feel that. Because she was forgiven and she was loved. Oh, but I don't wanna follow God. There's too many rules. Be a stick in the mud. Be boring. No, no, no. Man added so much that God didn't put there. Jesus, by grace and faith in him alone, we are declared righteous, robed with the righteousness of Christ. Therefore I don't have to try to obey God with religious works to close the gap. I cannot even do it. I simply recognize I will never ever be good enough. I am a sinner who needs a savior, and when I call out on the one who paid for it all, God hears my prayers, I am forgiven, and I am clothed with the righteousness of Christ. And because I have been loved, I choose to follow him. My only reasonable response is to give everything to the one who gave everything to me.
Religion complicates what God made simple. Religion complicates with laws but Jesus simplifies it with love. So Father, today I pray that your holy spirit would help simplify this, that as we worship you and as we spend time in your presence, God, that we would be moved by your love, that God, you so loved the world that you sent your one and only son Jesus, who gave his life that we could live. At all of our churches there are some of you, you maybe grew up in kind of a legalistic home. Oh, I gotta try harder, always ashamed and feeling guilt. Others of you maybe didn't grow up that way, but yet you felt the bondage and didn't feel the freedom. And today you say:
God, help me to simplify it with your love. Help me to get this one thing right, to love you with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. And as you love me, God, help me to love myself and show your love to everyone else. God, help me to embrace the simplicity, the power, and the majesty of your love. All of our churches, I ask you today, lift up your hands right now. I hope every hand goes up and says, yes, Jesus, Father, I pray that we would just experience your unparalleled, uncompromising, unconditional love that changes us by the grace of your son Jesus. God, may we not overwhelm ourselves with additional burdens, but find ourselves resting in Christ. And by the power of your holy spirit, God, help us to obey, not out of an effort to win your approval, but because you approve of the work of Christ and he covers us, we choose, God, to follow you and to live according to your ways.
As you keep praying today at all of our different churches, there are some of you, maybe you grew up like I did. You had this kind of distorted view of who God was. Maybe you recognize, perhaps even for the first time today, oh my gosh, yes, I've lied, yes I've stolen, yes, I've lusted, yes, I've done a lot of different things. And if you're really, really honest, and if we were ever just maybe chatting with each other somewhere in a restaurant, having time, and I just asked you, have you sinned. First you might wanna say, I'm not a bad person, but then you think, oh, well, I do. I feel guilty about this, and I feel horrible about that, and I recognize that I have fallen short. And if I ask you, where do you stand with God, you might try to say, well, I'm doing my best. I'm not as bad as some. Listen, you cannot work your way to God. What does the law do? It shows you you need a savior.
And this is the good news, this is the amazing good news. This is the love of God, that he became one of us in the person of Jesus and did something for us that we could never ever earn and we do not deserve. And that's why many of you are here today at all of our churches and watching online, because you need that grace, you need that forgiveness. What do we do? We say, God, because of what your son did, I want to give you my life. I trust you, I surrender to you. Today I simply give my life to you. All of our churches, that's your prayer. I need his forgiveness. I need his grace. Today by faith I surrender to him. Lift your hands high right now and say, yes. That's me, right up here. Praise God for you. Others of you say, yes, I need his grace. Right back over here, fantastic. Others? Jesus, I trust you. I surrender to you. Church Online, you click right below me. All of our churches, we're gonna pray together.
Heavenly Father, I trust you to be enough. Jesus, save me. Forgive me. Make me brand-new. Fill me with your spirit. So I could know you and serve you and follow you the rest of my life. My life is not my own. Today I give it to you. Thank you for new life. Now you have mine. In Jesus' name I pray.