October 20, 2020

Works-Righteousness by any Other Name Still Stinks

By Chaplain Mike

Regret. This is the great demon conjured up by International House of Prayer founder and director Mike Bickle to scare Christians straight. The Christian Post reports that he gave a message on the subject to 27,000 young people at a four-day conference last week in Kansas City, MO.

Bickle’s message was first preached on Jan. 28, 2006, as part of a series on the millennium. (You can access the original by clicking the link.) In dramatic fashion, Bickle testifies about a life-changing “vision” he received from Jesus.

I had a very powerful visitation of the Lord when I was twenty-three years old—a long time ago. I am fifty now, and it was Oct. 1978. I lived in St. Louis, and it was a life-changing radical arresting experience—a trance. I was caught up, and I experienced it in the spirit; yet I was still on the earth, I was kneeling before the Lord. and I did not know what was going on. I did not know where I was, or what was going on, but I was kneeling before the Lord. I went to bed one night and I woke up in this experience. I am kneeling before the Lord, and I am looking into His eyes . . .

The Lord is looking at me eye to eye and says, “Saved, but your life was wasted.”

This shocked Bickle, for he was sure that he was a committed believer, full of zeal for the Lord. The pain he felt on that occasion was the greatest he ever felt in his life—the pain of regret. The vision was so powerful, according to Bickle, that it has molded his thinking ever since. More than anything else, he testified that he does not want to reach the last day and experience that feeling of regret.

That was the feeling and when I looked in His eyes, I was ashamed, and I realized there was no condemnation in the sense of we are forgiven; we will stand in His kingdom forgiven. We will be secure in His kingdom, but I was ashamed of how I lived. I felt the feeling and the emotion of it. It is biblical to have regret in the presence of God.

It is not, however, biblical to manipulate people by destroying their assurance through religious double-talk and by teaching them to trust in their own dedication rather than the Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

Works-righteousness by any other name still stinks.

In his message, Mike Bickle drives home the eternal issues that are at stake and tells us he doesn’t want to “let us off the hook” like so many other American churches and preachers would.

There will be many people on the last day that will lose. They will have loss; they will stand before the Lord, and decades of their life will be lost. They will have nothing to show: no fruit. Nothing that lasts from a decade—a couple of decades—a month, or a year. I do not know! Beloved, there is real loss, but that is not the end of it. It is suffering loss. What I mean by suffering loss is there will be a real sting of regret. A real pain of regret; it will not be suffering like the unbelievers in the lake of fire—not that kind of suffering. But the pain of loss, and regret will be real. I remember that experience so well [from his vision]; I was in anguish in my spirit because I was face to face with the man who loved me more than I could imagine, and my answer to Him was, “I did not regard or esteem my commitment to Him as worthy of living differently.”

In advance of that day of fearsome judgment, Bickle encourages us to ask the Lord to “shock us now” so that we won’t be shocked when we stand before him. Go to the Lord now, he exhorts us, and ask him: “What are you thinking about my life? I want to know what you are thinking now. How am I measuring up to what you want?”

I can give you the short answer to those questions.

My life is hopeless. Always has been and always will be, especially in comparison with God’s perfections and demands. He knows it, and I know it, and most everyone else in my life knows it. How am I measuring up? Are you serious? How does the anthill measure up to Mt. Everest? And if the purpose in asking these questions is for me to learn that I need to clean up my act and “follow through” (Bickle’s definition of faithfulness) so that I will “measure up” to what God wants for me, what hope do I have of doing that? When it comes to faithfulness, I fizzle. Frequently. Faithfully, you might say.

Bickle tries time and time again in this sermon to assure me he is not talking about my “salvation” here. But in his view that initial transaction involving forgiveness of sins just gets me in the door. What really matters (and what will really count on the Day of Judgment) is what I do with my forgiven status. That’s what earns the big prize. That is what will get me the rewards and relieve me of regret. And what is my hope of winning Jesus’ smile? What will enable me to avoid those dreadful words: “Saved, but you wasted your life”? Bottom-line, according to Mike Bickle: it’s all up to me—my commitment, my zeal, my dedication, my faithful follow-through, my obedience.

Folks, that’s flat out a recipe for disaster.

When some Christian preachers aren’t trying to scare sinners into heaven by painting fearsome, heart-breaking pictures of hell, they aim their guns on the saints and blast away their assurance and joy by inducing fear that they will end up just “barely” saved, filled with regret. Let’s call this what it is: pure manipulation—stirring up guilty feelings and then using them to persuade someone to make a decision to change their ways. It is behavior modification. It is giving people Christ and forgiveness with one hand, and then slapping them in the face with the other hand while shouting, “Yes, of course God loves you, but if you are not totally devoted to Jesus with every ounce of your being, his searing gaze will burn regret and shame into your souls on the Day of Judgment!”

This is so foreign to the spirit and text of the New Testament that one would think the church would have left this behind centuries ago. However, it is so easy for gullible human hearts to imagine that such a project of self-improvement remains possible. And it is so tempting for people in positions of power to manipulate their listeners with guilt and fear. Therefore, every generation has to keep weeding the garden and pulling out the poisonous plants of works-righteousness and self-trust. Bickle wants us to think that the Biblical pronouncement “no condemnation” means something less than “NO condemnation”—it doesn’t cover everything in my life. The only way we can earn the real thing, the whole prize, a complete smile from the Savior, a “no regrets—no condemnation,” is by living a life of wholehearted obedience.

Nonsense. My only hope on the Day of Judgment for any positive outcome is the finished work of Jesus Christ. If God has welcomed me into his family by grace, if he is “happy” with me, it will be because of Jesus and what he did for me plus nothing else. On that basis and on that basis alone, there will be no condemnation on that day. Nor will there be any regret. Jesus will not frown at me and chasten me for wasting my life. At that moment, it will all be about him sacrificing his life for me and taking it up again. Period. It will be about his dedication to his Father’s will, not mine. It will be about his zeal to complete the work his Father gave him, not mine. It will be about the faithfulness by which he followed through all the way to the cross for me, the ever-faithless one. His love will be celebrated, not mine. His obedience, not mine. The Good News of what he did for me, not any story about anything I have done for him.

Get that straight, and there will be no need to rev up the troops with guilt-inducing appeals warning us about wasting our lives and having to face a disappointed Savior.

If you ask me, Mike Bickle may have had some bad pizza back in October, 1978, which prompted a nightmare, not a vision from Jesus. Any dream in which Christ frowns on his people on Judgment Day might be better chalked up to bad pepperoni rather than a divine visitation.

Or maybe he drank too much of the same snake oil he’s now trying to sell to a bunch of young people in Kansas City.


  1. Susan Marie says

    Wow, wow wow. I guess this is why we have tons of different denominations!! Every one is right in their own eyes, and quoting scripture to prove it!!! I have no idea what IHOP is, but where I come from it’s a pancake house, and you all sounds nuts!!!