Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

Negative can be Positive

jumper cables

by Dennis Pollock

Years ago there was a popular song that went like this: "You've got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and don't mess with Mister In-Between." Surely many in the modern church have taken this philosophy very much to heart. Negativity has become so feared, despised, and shunned in many pulpits that you could attend these churches for years without learning there was such a place as hell or discovering that God ever became angry. This war on negativity has filtered from the pulpit down to the pews, and many Christians have come to assume that every church service is for the express purpose of stirring up their spiritual adrenalin – minus solid Bible teaching and definitely void of any and every reference to God's judgment, discipline, or even holiness. You sometimes hear these folks utter strange statements such as: "I don't ever listen to the news or read the newspaper, so that I don't imbibe their negativity." I must confess I have never remotely understood such thinking. If every believer lived by this rule, we would be the most ignorant class of people in all the world. We would have no business going into a voting booth, holding the smallest of public offices, or even engaging in a meaningful conversation about current events.

If hearing anything negative was in truth harmful for us, we would expect that the Bible would be 100 percent positive – with no talk of sin or judgment or hell or pain or suffering. But what kind of Bible would that be? Certainly it would be a book with no relevance whatsoever to the real world and void of an accurate portrait of the true and living God, the Holy One of Israel, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and from whose mouth goes forth a sharpened double-edged sword. There is a positive, tender, and very sweet side to our compassionate Creator, but it is not His only side. The God who is love is also called a jealous God and a consuming fire. People who only want to hear of God's compassion but have no use for His Holiness and hatred for sin are like children who want cotton candy for breakfast, chocolate cake for lunch, and a plate full of doughnuts for dinner. Such a diet would be very sweet and might satisfy for us for a time, but it would eventually kill us. Every policeman knows that a sweet doughnut goes best with a slightly bitter cup of hot coffee!

Anyone who reads the Bible is going to find all sorts of things in it that have a somewhat negative flavor. You will read about Satan, about hell, about David's sin with Bathsheba and God's judgment on him for his sin. You will learn about demons, you will read all sorts warnings about sin, you will discover that in our flesh there dwells no good thing, that apart from Christ we can do nothing, that all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags, that God is angry with the wicked every day, that the wages of sin is death, and well, we could go on and on. One of the beautiful things about the Scriptures is that they tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The Holy Spirit is not the least bit reticent to reveal God in all the colors that make up His perfection – including His holiness and His love, His compassion and His wrath, His comfort and His discipline. Since we know that God is love and that His desire for us is only good, we can only conclude that negative things (negative, at least, from our perspective) can have a positive effect – negative can be positive! In the 1960's many parents made Dr. Benjamin Spock's book on baby care their parenting Bible. In his book Spock advocated against spanking children, fearing that it would lead to low self-esteem among other things. Parents threw away their paddles and tried to positively reinforce their children into behaving responsibly. Most discovered that without the negative and esteem-lowering practice of spanking, their children's ids and egos were becoming spoiled, rebellious, and arrogant. What Spock failed to recognize is that negative can be positive! 

The Ministry of Jesus 

Jesus was in many respects a very positive Person. He spoke of a Heavenly Father who loves us and values us, and will provide for all our needs. He was compassionate toward the rejects of society and dined with tax collectors and sinners. He promised eternal life to those who trusted in Him, and told us that we could pray to the Father in His name and receive definite answers to our prayers. He taught us that all things are possible to those who believe and refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery. He gave hope to the suffering, mercy to the sinners, and friendship to the friendless. It would be possible to preach and write only about these positive aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus, and give the impression that He never became angry, never spoke of judgment, and never once mentioned the wrath of God. But that would be simply untrue. There is another side of Jesus we find in the gospels that is just as valid, and just as much truly Jesus as these positive aspects of our Savior. Those marvelous eyes of compassion that gave such hope and encouragement to the weak could also chill the souls of the proud and rebellious with their piercing gaze.

Jesus was not afraid to speak of hell and to encourage us in the most graphic of language to avoid it at all costs. He declared, "…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." He warned, "If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire." Jesus spoke more about hell than any other person in the Bible – more than Isaiah, more than Paul, more than Moses. Warnings sound so negative. They just don't feel as good as a compliment or a congratulation. Warnings tell us we are going the wrong direction, that disaster is ahead. But of course there is nothing the least unloving about a warning. Indeed it would be unloving not to warn if we had certain knowledge of calamity that lay ahead in someone's path.

The Bible is saturated with warnings. Indeed God had a special calling for certain people who were to become professional warners. These folks were called prophets, and it was their calling and their job to warn God's people that if they continued on their present course, judgment and disaster lay ahead. Leonard Ravenhill wrote about such men: 

ElijahGod has always had His specialists whose chief concern has been the moral breakdown, the decline in the spiritual health of the nation or the Church. Such men were Elijah, Jeremiah, Malachi, and others of their kind who appeared at critical moments in history to reprove, rebuke, and exhort in the name of God and righteousness. A thousand or ten thousand ordinary priests or pastors or teachers could labor quietly on, almost unnoticed, while the spiritual life of Israel or the Church was normal. But let the people of God go astray from the paths of truth, and immediately the specialist appeared almost out of nowhere…

Such a man was likely to be drastic, radical, possibly at times violent, and the curious crowd that gathered to watch him work soon branded him as extreme, fanatical, negative. And in a sense they were right. He was single-minded, severe, fearless, as these were the qualities the circumstances demanded. He shocked some, frightened others, and alienated not a few, but he knew Who had called him and what he was sent to do. 

Speaking Out 

Those who refuse to hear anything negative often chide preachers or teachers who speak out against the sins of society and the ungodly attitudes so prevalent in our nation and throughout the media. They would tell us to stick to preaching about God's love and Jesus' offer of eternal life to all who believe. No need to get people upset by railing against sin or talking much about moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality, promiscuity, or drug use. My question to such folks is, "What Bible have you been reading?" I don't know about yours, but my Bible is filled with rebukes to the rebellious for their immorality, both in the Old and New Testaments. Jesus told His disciples, "The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil." Isaiah thunders, "Alas, sinful nation, A people laden with iniquity, A brood of evildoers… They have forsaken the LORD, They have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel…" Paul describes the general state of mankind by quoting from the Psalms: "Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways..." And James goes after the rich landowners who refuse to pay the wages of their laborers, saying: "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire." 

Why the Silence? 

Since the Bible is obviously utterly fearless in accentuating both the positive and the negative, why is it that these things are virtually ignored in so many churches today? I believe there are several reasons. First, many pastors and teachers think they are doing God a favor by hiding His negative aspects and focusing upon His positive ones. "If I preach only about His love and kindness I will attract more people to Him. Then after they get saved, they can find out about the other things." This may sound reasonable but giving people a partial picture of God is never healthy. Paul wrote, "I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God." Years ago my son-in-law was helping me by putting together some publicity pictures for the ministry. He has always had a creative bent to him, and in his desire to be artistic he put together some pictures of me and others in the ministry that showed half of our faces. I took one look at the pictures and vetoed the idea. Artsy or not, I wasn't about to put out pictures of half of me – it was all or nothing. Sometimes I think that's exactly what many ministers are doing today. When they speak of the love and goodness of God, they are exactly right! But they are not telling the whole story. They are showing a picture of about half of God's face. The Bible says, "Consider the goodness and severity of God." A second (and sadder) reason that the entirety of God's nature is not being proclaimed is that many church leaders simply don't read the Bible enough to even realize that their emphasis is not Biblically balanced.  

There is a very good reason why it is necessary for Christians to spend significant time in the word of God. In Isaiah God says, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways." We must be transformed "by the renewing of our minds." This will only occur when we soak our minds and spirits in the word of God continually. Only then will we begin to appreciate both the love and the holiness of God. The cross of Jesus is a wonderful reminder of God's great love for us all. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. But it is also an awesome testimony to the holiness and perfection of our God. Sin is too terrible and God is too holy to merely sweep aside all our lies, blasphemies, and fornications. A price must be paid; the justice of God must be satisfied. Hence the cross, the bloody nails, and the terrible scourging that shredded the back of our Savior.

 Yes, we must preach justification through faith in Christ, but we must also preach repentance from sin. Coming to Jesus "Just as I am" does not mean coming to Jesus fully determined to go on with our wicked, lawless lifestyle. The cure means nothing unless the disease is fully recognized. Let our Triune God be declared in all his fullness – tender-hearted and compassionate toward His stumbling, erring creation, yet resplendent in His dazzling perfection and holiness. Let pastors do away with their jelly-doughnut sermons and begin to feed their congregations with the full knowledge of God, and men and women will be drawn unto Him.

For a full listing of all devos (written and audio) go to our Devos Catalog Page. 


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