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One of the most prominent Christian radio stations has a motto that goes like this: "positive and encouraging."  In recent years, I have grown more and more abhorrent of this motto.  The reason is because it is bad theology.  And I hate bad theology.

Looking back over my life, I cringe when I think of some of things I have taught, said, wrote, or believed.  In my quest for a right understanding of God, the Holy Spirit convicts and corrects me as well.  He does so with love and truth.  I say this to show that I am not trying to be arrogant or boastful in my tone; I desire to do the humble work of a servant, serving the Lord Jesus Christ by proclaiming His truth with an attitude of love.

The reason why the positivity movement in Christendom bothers me so much is because it's not a realistic view of the facts of life.  Additionally frustrating is that when one faces challenges in life, the answer given by the gurus of positive-thought is to look inside oneself and develop that inner, human potential for greatness.  All in all, the reason for the Christian's hope rests on something far deeper and more solid than a few catch phrases and good experiences: it rests on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, a Christian has great reason for having a positive-outlook on life: Jesus Christ removed the curse of death from us and will make all things right when He returns!  What joy!  Praise be to God!  This type of positive-outlook and joy differs immensely from the glib, superficial, positive-thought behavior of those basing their happiness on their own personal experiences and circumstances.

This is, of course, what the positivists base their happiness on: their own experiences and circumstances.  It's not that they have the wrong desires - to be happy and fulfilled - but that they have the wrong object of their desires, for what happens when my experiences and circumstances take a turn for the worse - and never recover?  My experiences and circumstances and even my own outlook on life is not the object that gives me joy and happiness; it is the finished work of Christ that gives me happiness!

Indeed, as Paul says, "If we as Christians have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:19).  To put it another way, "Christians don't have hope in their experiences and circumstances in this life only, for these are ever-changing.  If we did have hope only when our experiences were good, or had hope only in our experiences changing for the better in this life, we would be a sorry bunch of blind beggars only groping around in the darkness for satisfaction until death finally ended our misery."

On the contrary, the apostle Paul rested firmly in the reality of Christ's resurrection that proved that He lifted the curse upon man and would one day make all things right!  If Paul were to base his hope on his experiences in this life, he would have had no faith at all.  His life was one literal shipwreck after another!  This is one of the major problems with the positivity-movement (as I like to call it): it boasts of my experiences and my circumstances.  You won't find many positivists among the poor, sick, or abused.  But you will find faith, hope, and love among persecuted Christians in communist prisons!

It is important, then, for us to remember that our human potential for greatness is not the means of our hope or happiness.  In fact, all of us are sinners, an important fact that positive-activists seem to ignore; or, at least, belittle.

Romans 3:10 is clear, however, "There is no one righteous, no not one."  Paul goes on to explain that there is no one who naturally chooses God, worships God, or looks for God.  And if God is the source of all goodness and righteousness, this leaves man in a bad state: not good and not looking to become good.  In other words, man has no innate human potential for greatness in the eyes of God.

Furthermore, we all have bad hearts.

Jeremiah 17:9 says that "the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (desperately sick); who can understand it?"  We are sick and we don't know it.  We are sinners with bad hearts and we ignore it; we cannot understand it.

This leaves man in a really bad, hopeless place to be of any good in the world.  It leaves us with a pretty negative, albeit realistic view of man.  A correct view of man is a humble view of man, not an arrogant, self-righteous view.

If, therefore, we are sinners who have nothing good in us, then why do we think we have the answers?

The positivists would have us believe that we have in it ourselves to find the answers, that all we need to do is will ourselves to victory, as it were.  This works well in some areas of life, such as finishing a race when we would rather fall over on the grass.  But when it comes to issues of morality, goodness, and overcoming pain and suffering in our lives, we possess nothing in ourselves to help us.  Putting on our "positive energy hats" simply puts a superficial look on some pretty messed up folks.

We don't need more whitewashed tombs.  (In other words, we don't need more positive-thinking sinners.)  We need Jesus.

The truth of the matter is that we don't have inner, human potential for greatness.  Sure, if I apply myself I can get a lot of money and amass a lot of earthly success... until I get sick or my kids resent me or the stock market crashes or any other event that reminds me that I am a sinner in a fallen world happens to me.  What then?  Can my positive-thinking make the cancer go away?  Will the stock market recover if I wake up every morning and say, "Today is going to be a great day!"?  Even if these things do happen, I can assure the cause wasn't you or your positive thoughts.

The truth is that positive-thinking has one goal in mind: you.  But the Gospel has the opposite message: "lose your life for Christ's sake and then you will surely live."

All of us will face the one true God of the universe someday.  Standing before His judgement seat, what will He see when He looks over our life's work?  For certainly He will judge every man according to his deeds (Romans 2:6).  On that day, not one of your most positive works done with a sin-stained heart will count for anything but judgement.  It is only the one who stands clothed in the righteousness of Christ whose works will count - not for you, but for the praise of Christ's glory!

God is too holy and wonderful for you to sacrifice your worship on your own altar of fame, glory, wealth, health, and happiness.  God hates idolatry.  Do not idolize yourself, your success, or your reputation.  "The one who keeps his life will lose it and the one who loses his life for Christ's sake will surely find it" (Matthew 10:39).  Beware of making positive and encouraging things an idol in your life.

In the end, we ought to be careful not to seek to feel better about ourselves through superficially-positive, self-gratifying thoughts; it is dangerous to have our consciences caressed and falsely appeased simply because we feel good about ourselves.  We need an advocate, a Savior, to stand in our place before a holy God.  This is something a glib positivity can't provide, but something that Jesus suffered and died to earn for His people.

"Money can allow us to afford a self-centered way of living that acts as if nothing is greater than us and more important than our individual wants, needs, and feelings" (Paul David Tripp).