Do you believe the entire Bible is about Jesus? Are the stories of Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah a glimpse of the One to come in the person of Jesus? Either you see the Scriptures focus on God or man. How one answers that question impacts his/her view of every passage.
Dr. Tim Keller said last year in a teaching to the Gospel Coalition that the difference between Gospel-centered preaching and lifeless pulpit talk is a focus on Jesus. He said that his wife told him that his best sermons are those that focus on the transforming power and example of Christ. He basically hit on an issue that I have been concerned about for a while. In the effort to be relevant, it has become all too common for preachers to deliver good messages on moral teachings instead of Jesus-focused calls to divine transformation and human repentance.
Preaching positive thinking, self fulfillment and propserity sells media and fills seats. Letting people feel the weight of their sin so that they can understand the depth of God’s love is something that is way too uncomfortable for Western church goers. Even if the preacher accurately presents grace in the end, most people don’t have the ability to stomach the journey associated with realizing the depth of our depravity and the destruction caused by our sinful choices. That is a door we just don’t want to open. It is much easier to blame others and focus on doing positive things to combat the sinful condition of humanity.
The problem is that good works is never enough to satisfy the demands of a holy God. Good works and social justice is just humanism with a friendly face. If man had been able to save himself, there would have been no need for Jesus. The true Gospel brings each person to the point that they understand what Paul stated when he wrote, “In me, in my natural, fallen condition is no good thing.”
Paris Reidhead talked about the futility in humanism and its grip on the modern church in his famous sermon “10 Shekels and a Shirt.” Humanism distorts the focus of the church from Christ to something else. This focus normally appears as a good thing. That is the trap because we don’t understand how dangerous this substitution is until it is too late.
Christians must come to understand that the Gospel will cut and hurt us in order that we can be healed. There is no deep work without a cutting Word. At the same time, the Word is never meant to permanently wound without causing transformation, divine redemption and individual transformation. Too many people take sides in the battle between theology and action. Either they try to be relevant and involved in the culture or they isolate themselves and focus on correct theology and a deep understanding of the truths behind the Christian faith.
Dr. Keller said that the true Gospel will both offend people and attract them. If you find that everyone shouts your praises, you are probably not being true to Christ’s message. If no one can find anything good to say either, you are probably too harsh and not acting in a way that reflects the grace, mercy and love of Jesus’ core message. Just as Jesus has those who praised him and condemned Him, so should a faithful ministry of the Gospel.
The key focus must be Christ. But that is hard to find in churches today. Some leaders focus on the latest marketing techniques or trends. Others push social or political issues. Others take sides in cultural debates and join agendas that directly go against Scripture. Some push self help while others encourage self loathing. But neither of these worldviews is what Jesus called His followers to embrace. Apart from theology, some leaders simply try to give the people what they want or do whatever will pack the sanctuary. There are many who preach the right things, yet the actual life of the church looks nothing like the message presented on Sunday morning.
All of the above points to a loss of focus. When Jesus is the center, He will be glorified and those in community with Him will be transformed.
For more insights into this discussion, consider visiting the Gospel Coalition at http://thegospelcoalition.org/