I was in a youth choir at our church during my high school years and we liked a lot of Andraé Crouch’s music. One of his songs that we sang was “I’m Gonna Keep On Singin.'” Toward the end of the song the following was repeated with variations, “The whole world has got to know, Jesus saves!”
This was in the early seventies and, coming out of the sixties, there was a widespread rejection by the younger generation of the thinking and traditions of the older generation. “Our generation” was all about love. God’s wrath was out, God’s love was in. So we changed the words from “Jesus saves” (from God’s wrath) to “Jesus cares.” It seemed like the right way to reach out to our generation.
In retrospect, this is a first-hand example of how we have come to “market” the gospel. It often goes like this: “Do you want a better marriage, a better family, better health, a bigger bank account, more peace, less strife, more success, less failure, etc.? Then you want Jesus! Jesus is the answer to any question you might have.”
While it is important to communicate the gospel in way that is intelligible to the hearer, care must be taken not to change the content of the gospel. Paul had some pretty strong words for those who would distort the gospel. (See Galatians 1:6-9.) And we should not focus on secondary issues.
Does Jesus care? Yes. Jesus cared enough to feed a vast crowd of people who were following him (John 6:1-15). But after they were fed, they chased after him. Jesus accused them of following him for the wrong reason (to have their stomachs filled again, John 6:26-27; see John 6:22-71 for the full account). He told them, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. . . For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:27,38-40).
Because of what Jesus said, many of them stopped following him. If he had been market-driven, he would have had his disciples do a survey and find out what the felt needs of the people were and then modify his message so as to attract more followers. Instead, he turned to those who remained and said, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67). Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. (John 6:68-69).
The central issue is that we are to love God more than anyone or anything else; we have all failed and are under God’s wrath and condemnation as a result; Jesus atones for our sin, taking upon himself the wrath of God, and makes reconciliation to God possible. The reason to become a Christian is that you have come to see God as your treasure, your delight, and that you want to be saved from God’s wrath and to be reconciled to God and to receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. (See “What Does It Mean To Believe In Jesus” for more on this.)
(All scripture quotations from the English Standard Version.)