We’ve heard quite a bit in the last decade about the church’s waning influence in our culture. Many writers want to talk about generational differences, sociological trends, or cultural changes to explain why fewer and fewer Americans attend or care about church.

But I want to propose something more basic. I thought about this as I reflected on the sermon I preached last Sunday.  It was about spiritual warfare and the reality of Satan’s work in our world. Early in the sermon I quoted John MacArthur’s words in a sentence that seemed to resonate with many who heard it:

“Satan continues his efforts to make sin less offensive, heaven less appealing, hell less horrific, and the gospel less urgent.”

 As Satan has succeeded, the church has lost its power. Think with me about each point.

1. Sin Less Offensive

 There’s no doubt our culture is less offended by sin today than a generation ago. For example, when Starbucks decided to ban access to pornographic sites on its in-store Wi-Fi networks, one prominent porn purveyor decided to ban Starbucks from its corporate office! Among many commenting online about these moves, no one seemed to address the problem of porn in general but only to debate whether it should be viewed in public. And I haven’t seen prominent Christian leaders congratulating Starbucks for the move.

Another example: the erosion of truth and trust in our culture. I remember growing up when your word was your bond. My dad made major deals with a handshake. But now you can’t complete any transaction without adding your signature to the bottom of one sheet (or several) full of fine print and lawyer’s language designed to protect both parties from fraud. Before he retired, my dad said, “I don’t consider any job finished till the check has cleared the bank.”

How many Christians or Christian leaders write bad checks? How many Christians or Christian leaders nurture and hide their use of pornography? And how is the church helping people value and live by higher standards, biblical standards, godly standards?

We seem to have given up calling sin what it is: sin! And I believe this has caused the church to lose its power.


 2. Heaven Less Appealing

“If all I’m gonna do in Heaven is sing songs I didn’t like that much on earth, I don’t really wanna go.” The guy who told me that typifies how we’ve allowed Heaven to seem less appealing.

We’ve caved in to the prominent perception of Heaven as all fluffy clouds and fat babies playing harps. But we forget the long list of plagues and problems that will be forgotten there. Indeed, every heartache known to humankind will be absent in Heaven.

“How many of you would like a place where there’s no more cancer?” I asked the congregation Sunday. Every hand went up. The same happened after each of several more questions: “How many of you would like a place with no more broken homes? No more abuse? No more sorrow? No more shame or regret?”

That place is Heaven! It’s the place we’ll know the perfection missing from every experience and relationship on earth. The Bible’s descriptions of Heaven can only begin to picture how wonderful it will be.

And, important to remember, the Bible’s descriptions of Hell can only begin to picture how horrible it will be.

3. Hell Less Horrific

No one who truly understands Hell would want to end up there. The Bible describes Hell as “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41), a place with “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12), “everlasting destruction” where those punished will be “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), a “lake of burning sulfur,” a place of torment “day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10, 15).

Today the church has distracted itself with debates about issues that may be important but are not crucial. The horror of Hell is the message we can’t ignore. Preaching it will help the church regain its power.


4. The Urgency of the Gospel

MacArthur was right to list this item last. It sums up the problem with yielding to Satan’s influence with each of the other three. If we believe that sin ruins and wrecks individual lives and every enterprise we create, we’ll want to offer a cure. If we believe Heaven will be a place where we’ll experience peace and love beyond anything we know on earth, we’ll want to tell others about it. If we believe Hell promises agony greater than any pain or sorrow earth can inflict, we’ll want to encourage everyone we know to avoid it.

But if we allow Satan to distract us from these central issues and basic facts, we will be ho-hum about sharing the gospel. And when that happens, the church loses its power.

What would you add to this list? Which one do you struggle with the most?