It wasn’t at all what I expected or hoped for. The twenty-something preacher with the stern look was not playing around on this particular Sunday. He was laying it all out there for me to wrestle with in the private recesses of my tortured soul.
The pastor spoke of sin, repentance1, counting the cost, and the lake of fire. I wanted to hear about streets paved with gold, eternal bliss, and a Savior who would do all of my heavy lifting in matters related to salvation. I wanted the idiomatic ‘pie-in-the-sky’ gospel message.
When the altar call came, I sat glued to the pew. I was convicted of my sins, but my feet refused to move me in the direction of the altar, or my heart to repentance.
So I left.
A Different Gospel
The phrase pie in the sky was the brainchild of labor activist Joe Hill. In 1911 Hill wrote a song titled “The Preacher and the Slave” which parodied the hymn “In the Sweet By and By” – a song often used by the Salvation Army. Hill claimed that the organization’s promise of future heavenly rewards did nothing to address the earthly needs of the poor.
The gospel of ‘pie-in-the-sky’ is a bit more nuanced. It subtly mixes the truth of heavenly rewards with questionable soulish doctrine.
Here are a few of its basic tenets:
- once saved, always saved
- the Law was done away with by Jesus
- the Scriptures are all about me
- if you name it you can claim it as yours
- reciting the sinner’s prayer gets you into heaven
- a believer’s life will be trouble-free
A person can spend years in church trying to make sense of this brand of soundbite theology; feel-good phrases that misalign what the Scriptures actually say when taken in context. I know, because it happened to me.
These doctrines lead to confusion and disillusionment. They misrepresent the Father’s plan of redemption through Yeshua, our Messiah, and High Priest. Many churches rarely bring up the subject of a believer’s covenant2 with Yah.
In his Notes on the Bible, theologian and Greek and Hebrew scholar Albert Barnes had this to say about erroneous doctrines:
They will not merely eat out the truth in the particular matter to which they refer, but they will also spread over and corrupt other truths. The doctrines of religion are closely connected and are dependent on each other – like the different parts of the human body. One cannot be corrupted without affecting those adjacent to it, and unless checked, the corruption will soon spread over the whole.
The apostle Paul constantly warned his protegee Timothy about the danger of accepting doctrine at face value alone without taking the time to search and study Yah’s word. The Berean believers in Messiah took this to heart.
Make every effort to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed workman who accurately handles the word of truth. But avoid irreverent, empty chatter, which will only lead to more ungodliness, and the talk of such men will spread like gangrene.2 Timothy 2:15,16
Easy Believism Theology
Many of us in the faith have fallen prey to certain individuals, groups, and institutions promoting a set of beliefs about what it means to be a disciple of Yeshua. The doctrine they teach tickles the ear and stirs up the flesh.
Wrapping themselves in the ‘seeker-friendly’ mantle they try to make the Gospel that Yeshua preached3 more appealing by making it all about the individual. This is referred to as narcigesis — a combining of narcissim with eisegesis. Through the lens of narcigesis, a person is taught to view the Scriptures as being primarily focused on his or her life at this particular point in time. So, the Bible becomes all about them. Worship is all about them.
The individual is taught that since “God loves me just the way I am” I am absolved of any responsibility in the sanctification process. There is no incentive to obey the commandments from a heart of repentence so I can be changed. The implication is that Yah is here to serve the believer.
Name It and Claim It
Another heresy of the gospel of ‘pie-in-the-sky’ is the “name it and claim it doctrine.” The so-called prosperity gospel falls under this umbrella of teaching whereby you can speak things into existence. People are encourged to proclaim such things as: “That new home is mine” or “I declare that I am wealthy.” They are told to sow financial seed in order to reap a harvest. If they name it they can claim it. This power belongs only to the Most High.
— God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;Romans 4:17 (b)
Let all the earth fear Yahuah; let all the people of the world revere Him. For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.Psalm 33:8,9
Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless Yahuah has ordained it? Do not both adversity and good come from the mouth of the Most High?Lamentations 3: 37,38
Just Invite Jesus Into Your Heart
The notion of “inviting Jesus into your heart” as a way to everlasting life is another scriptural distortion. Peter did not lead three thousand people to repentance and belief by telling them to ask Jesus into their hearts. (Acts 2:37-41).
Almost as bad is easy believism’s assertion that once you give your life to Yeshua your problems will miraculously vanish. And while it is true that many have experienced quick deliverance from addictions to drugs, alcohol, or smoking — these are the exceptions.
Most will have the same problems and more to face. However, we get help from the Holy Spirit in dealing with our problems and setbacks. What once may have seemed impossible is now possible. But it requires perseverance if we expect to bear the fruit of righteousness. (Luke 8:15) (Luke 13:24) (Hebrews 12:1)
Living a life that shows genuine repentance and is dedicated to walking in obedience to Torah is proof of salvation. (2 Cor 5:17)
We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life.Romans 6:4
You can’t fake this. When you encounter Yeshua nothing about you will ever be the same. The ‘old you’ has to die to make way for the new you. Everything about your life will change.
The Sinner’s Prayer
Another component of easy believism is the use of the sinner’s prayer to bring someone to a salvation decision while they are in a highly emotional state. Unfortunately for those who sincerely want their sins forgiven, this method is a gross distortion of the way of salvation.
The sinner’s prayer is not in the Bible. It is a tradition of the modern church that was popularized in 1930 by Billy Sunday, an Iowa baseball player, and utilized by Billy Graham during his revival meetings.
Because of easy believism the church has failed to impress upon people the seriousness of being in covenant with the Most High. There is more to this life than just repeating the words of a prayer.
The fact of Yeshua’s resurrection is just the beginning. We all face a lifelong sanctification process of regeneration through faith and works, and we will not experience the fullness of sanctification until we are resurrected.
Our part involves a commitment to walk in his ways by obeying Torah – instructions on how to live. Yeshua’s part as our High Priest involves interceding4 with the Father on our behalf. This goes beyond an emotional choice made during an altar call. This process of intercession includes obeying the call to repentance and returning to the ancient paths.
This is what Yahuah says: “Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths: ‘Where is the good way?’ Then walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it!’Jeremiah 6:16
For when I brought your fathers out of the land of Egypt, I did not merely command them about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but this is what I commanded them: Obey Me, and I will be your God, and you will be My people. You must walk in all the ways I have commanded you, so that it may go well with you.Jeremiah 7:22,23
The Testing of Our Faith
The faith we profess to have in Messiah will be tested. Believers should expect their life to be filled with many hardships5 and trials. (Acts 14:21-22)
Paul and Barnabas were very clear in their message while visiting Lystra, Derbe, and Antioch. It was during this time that Paul was stoned and left for dead. The ‘happily ever after’ doesn’t begin until after we are resurrected. Right now it is time to train for the battle that is on the horizon. (1 Peter 1:3-7) (1 Peter 4: 12,13)
Our brother in the faith James (Ya’aqob) wrote:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you encounter trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.James 1:3,4
Counting the Cost
Salvation is offered to us as a free gift but it cost our Messiah everything. We are expected to die to self and conform to the likeness and behavior of Yeshua. This takes time and commitment.
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting for Yahuah, for whom and through whom all things exist, to make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. For both the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are of the same family. So Yeshua is not ashamed to call them brothers. Hebrews 2:10,11
The thought of being persecuted for our faith in Messiah is foreign to most brothers and sisters who live in America. We recoil at reports of Christians being martyred for their beliefs in other countries. But, quite frankly, most of us would rather click away from those stories or change the channel.
Watch the movie “Perpetua: Early Church Martyr”
While a believer’s life in his mortal flesh is a life of challenges, it is also a life filled with hope, love, joy, peace, and blessing. Yes, we are overcomers and more than conquerors, but the ability to move mountains can only be obtained through faith and obedience.
What is the Kingdom of Yah worth to you as a believer? Are you willing to die for your convictions? Knowing that ‘the way’ is paved with suffering, do you still desire salvation?
The Gospel of Truth
The only way to know if you are being served a slice of the ‘pie-in-the-sky’ gospel is to know what your Bible says. New Testament-only churches do a grave disservice by ignoring the first half of the book, or by only referring to cherry-picked scriptures from the Old Testament to prove a pet doctrine.
Who in their right mind would not read a novel from cover to cover? If we believe that the scriptures are here to instruct us in righteousness, we need to consume every page of every chapter.
We have been told that in the last days, many will not tolerate sound doctrine. They will seek out teachers who suit their soulish desires and turn away from the truth. (2 Timothy 4:3,4) These teachers who promote a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ gospel are unwittingly producing churches full of narcissistic believers. They suck you in through love-bombing then push forward doctrine and practices that keep people confused, enslaved, and carnal.
Through tenets of easy believism, modern-day Scribes and Pharisees convince biblically ignorant followers that all they have to do is practice love to get to heaven. They suppress the weightier matters of the Torah by elevating their traditions. (Matthew 23:1-34)
We must pray for both well-intentioned teachers and well-meaning people who sincerely desire to become disciples of Messiah. (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)
Yeshua modeled a righteous life in obedience to his Father. We are expected to do the same. What does this look like?
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-10) speak of the characteristics of those who will inherit the Kingdom of God. In the rest of the chapter, Yeshua instructs us on how we are to behave in this life. (Matthew 5:11-48) The last verse of Matthew 5 sums up what Yah expects of his children —
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
The Greek word for perfect is teleios (G5046). It means “brought to completion; fully accomplished, fully developed, or fully realized; brought to its end, wanting nothing necessary for completeness.”
If we hope to be resurrected to eternal life, our High Priest is telling us how we should be living now. While we understand that we will sin, we have been given a mechanism to deal with our sinfulness.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9
The perfection that Yeshua desires to see in us is an uncompromising dedication to righteous living. Our main goal in this life should be focused on emulating Yeshua. It is the highest calling for those of us who pray to be found worthy to inherit the coming Kingdom.
The Rest of My Story
After I left the church that Sunday, I wrestled all afternoon with the Holy Spirit. Years and years of living a sinful life had caught up to me. I finally realized I needed a Savior, and only Yeshua was qualified to offer the forgiveness I so desperately needed.
By the end of the day, I repented and surrendered. I picked up the phone and called my mother to tell her that I was ready to become a Christian and turn my life over to Christ. I could hear the joy – and relief – in her voice.
Fast forward many years and I am more committed than ever to seeing this narrow walk through to the end. This road has not been easy. I have struggled (and still struggle) to understand the Bible (cover-to-cover). With the help of the Ruach, I have managed to cast away the residue of the ‘pie-in-the-sky’ doctrine that clouded my understanding for many years.
I have lost friends and alienated family members along the way. But this journey has been more than worth it.
My prayer is that someday Yeshua, as my High Priest, will vouch for my authenticity as a true believer before the Father. My heartfelt desire is to be deemed worthy to be called a citizen of Yahuah’s glorious Kingdom.
Until that day, I press on toward that goal and take to heart these words of Paul the apostle:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should embrace this point of view. And if you think differently about some issue, God will reveal this to you as well. Nevertheless, we must live up to what we have already attained.
Join one another in following my example, brothers, and carefully observe those who walk according to the pattern we set for you. For as I have often told you before, and now say again even with tears: Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself, will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. Philippians 3: 12-21
1 The Hebrew word for repent is teshuvah (#H7725) which means to turn back.
2 Simply put, a covenant is an agreement that secures a relationship of commitment between Yahuah and his people. The reality of our covenantal relationship with Yah has sometimes been called “Christianity’s best-kept secret.”
4 In Romans 8:34 the Greek word for interceding is entugchano (#G1793) and can mean to ‘entreat’ (in favor or against).
5 The word used here for ‘hardships’ is thlipseon. It is in a category of tribulation that implies persecution, affliction, distress, and tribulation. These are stresses that we experience in our inner being. Put another way, it is a type of internal pressure whereby a person feels they have no options or no way out.
Brenda Ross is a co-author of the book, “The Gospel Worth Dying For.” She is a former major market radio and television broadcaster who has served as Single’s Ministry Director at one of Houston’s Memorial Drive-area churches, a Jews for Jesus staff volunteer, and participated in mission outreach activities in Costa Rica, Mexico, and China. Urban mission experience includes volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity and catering to the homeless in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.