John MacArthur’s Hard To Believe, Thomas Nelson (November 23, 2010), has very serious error. Here is a section from page six of his book.
MacArthur’s book argues that ‘the core of the question of what Christianity is all about’ is about what is hard. That which is hard is what makes you a true Christian. According to the flesh, this is popular religion and is no different than taking up the monastic vow. Evangelical Christians have come full circle back to Roman Catholicism. The ideal spiritual life is ‘pretty simple,’ if we understand that when Jesus taught that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross it means we must have a hard way of salvation.
The serious error is in misunderstanding what Jesus meant when He said that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross.
Jesus’ teaching that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross is about our conversion, while MacArthur is making it a standard for discipleship. If it is a matter of fulfilling a requirement in order to be considered a true disciple then we will only fail. On the other hand, if it is a matter of renouncing trust in ourselves and in being crucified with Christ, as Paul taught, then upon our conversion we will be able to say that have most certainly denied ourselves and taken up our cross.
MacArthur’s interpretation of the Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching in Luke 9:23-26 reflects a common misunderstanding that has very serious implications. There is a disturbing spirit of arrogance about this way of interpreting our Lord’s teaching that leaves no blessing upon the heart of a believer. His argument would seem to be correct as he contrasts ‘what Christianity is all about’ against a view that could never be supported: ‘Christianity Lite’.
It is always easy to burn a straw man.
Unfortunately, just because the object of his disdain is false does not mean that his own understanding is correct.
The problem with MacArthur’s use of our Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching is that it burdens the people of God with something that they can never fulfill. To imbibe this teaching means that you can never give thanks to God for times in which you are not having a hard go of it. It is so easy for teachers like MacArthur to say these things that necessarily perpetuate the burden of the Pharisees. We must always be suffering otherwise we risk failing to fulfill what Jesus requires of us. Away with such teachers!
Certainly, the Christian life involves suffering and hardship, but as Evangelicals we must understand that our trials do not determine our salvation. Consequently, we can live the abundant life whether we endure suffering or enjoy prosperity. MacArthur’s view only allows for one type of Christian experience. A right understanding of Jesus’ teaching actually empowers Christians to suffer rightly and to live rightly, regardless of our circumstances.
Paul understood what it really meant to deny ourselves and to take up our cross. It is the only thing Paul boasts in.
Galatians 6:14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
MacArthur is saying that in order to be a Christian you must be able to find something in your life to fulfill Jesus’ command in which you deny yourself and you take up your cross daily. To adhere to this teaching necessarily means that you must be able to say that you have done it. You have denied yourself and you have taken up your cross. If you are not able to say this or have in any sense failed to do so, as MacArthur says, ‘It’s pretty simple….’, there is only one answer, you are not a Christian.
We are not saved by denying ourselves or taking up a cross that is according to the flesh that we could falsely boast in. We are saved by denying any trust in ourselves according to the flesh and in being crucified with Christ!
MacArthur’s view is full of error that only results in bondage. If one should answer that failures in the past can be forgotten and that what matters is what is present, then even in this there is a problem. Can you really say that you are presently denying yourself and taking up your cross, in order to meet this requirement? Do you not see how impossible it is to fulfill this way of understanding Jesus’ teaching and that it could only be considered “Fulfilled” by a method that is totally subjective and prone to every contrivance?
Again, if you are going to adhere to this sort of understanding then you need to lie in the bed that you have made for yourself.
To put this great error in its proper perspective we should consider just how great and awesome is our condemnation under the Law of God. It is complete folly to think for even the slightest moment, even as Christians, that we have fulfilled that complete holiness that is required by the Law of God. Paul severely rebukes the Galatians for listening to such teaching and says, ‘For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor’ [Galatians 2:18]. In other words, if we reject Jesus as our only righteousness and seek a salvation according to the flesh, which is to rebuild what we destroyed when we believed in Jesus, then all we will accomplish is a sentence of condemnation, as the Law will find us transgressors according to the flesh.
For more information about a right understanding of Jesus teaching and why such teaching is very serious error read my book, Take Up Your Cross: Our Only Power to Live and Walk by the Spirit.
Listen to these sermons:
December 20, 2020 – Luke 2:10,11
December 27, 2020 – Matthew 11:28-30
Other sermons may be found under the page titled Preaching.