Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Point is Jesus

I don't believe in this day and age the Church can stress enough that the "point" of Christianity is Jesus himself. The point of Scripture, the point of prayer, the point of faith -- all Jesus.

American evangelicalism has not done a great job at making Jesus the point of the enterprise of faith. We take the Gospel notion of "faith alone," a belief many Reformers died contending for, and make it about us. We turn perseverance into personal empowerment and sanctification into self-improvement. We've made religion a bad word by turning Law into legalism and grace into license. We made Jesus our buddy, our co-pilot, our sidekick. We don't have sin -- we have "issues." We say we have bad habits rather than admit we have sinful hearts. We look to Scripture in general as a toolbox of pick-me-up quotable quotes and to the Gospels specifically as a chronicle of warm-fuzzy behavioral aspirations. We forgo Christian repentance and gospel proclamation in favor of the culture war against gay marriage, evolution, atheism, liberalism, America forgetting her heritage, what-have-you.

But if the point of any of it is not Jesus, it will not, cannot, and does not work.

Let's look at a few highlights from the Gospels, how 'bout?

The main point of the story of the woman caught in adultery isn't "Don't commit adultery," and neither is it the hypocrisy of those who caught her. Those are valid applications and implications of what Jesus says, but they're not the main thing we should see. The main thing we should see is this: Jesus forgives adultery.
Indeed, Jesus dies for adulterers, sexual and spiritual.

Here is my guiding principle for reading the Gospels: The point is Jesus. Every saying, every story -- Jesus. If the main point you're getting out of the story doesn't center squarely on Jesus, I respectfully suggest your aim is off.

Some examples:
Lots of people look at the story of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple and think this is about how it's wrong to sell stuff at church (or some variation of such). But the point of that story is not "commerce and temple don't mix," because up until that point, commerce and temple had to mix for the temple system to work. (People from different areas needed to exchange money to buy animals needed to sacrifice.) No, the point of that story is that a) Jesus owns the temple, and b) Jesus replaces the temple system.

Similarly, people look at the Beatitudes and see a list of behaviors to aspire to. That's all well and good, but Jesus didn't come to show you how to be a better person. He came because you can't be. The point of the Beatitudes is that that list is what the kingdom of Jesus looks like. Those are the promises of Jesus to those who will enter his kingdom.

The point of the parable of the lost son is not some generic "God allows u-turns" sentimentalism; the point is that Jesus brings reconciliation to sinners.

The point should and must be Jesus. In all we say and do. Our churches can have the best quality presentations, the most dynamic speakers, the greatest lists of helpful tips for successful living (in convenient alliterative format), the most incredible music, the nicest greeters, the most enthusiastic congregations, and the best gourmet coffee in the fellowship hall -- but if the point is anything other than Jesus, we've all missed the point.

Jesus cannot be peripheral. He cannot be merely included. He has to be at the forefront of our message and ministry.

Jesus is the point.

Because the gospel is Jesus + nothing.


Jonathan Widdess said...

Yes! You are so right. Thankyou for reminding me at a time when I'm in even more danger of forgetting than usual.

Makarios said...

Fine, fine post. Thank you.

Lance said...

This is an excellent post, Jared, and thanks. May Jesus Christ Bless you and yours in everything you do, everywhere you go.

Jason P. said...

Thank you for this post, and really, for this wonderful blog which is seeking to orient everything around the center-the gospel. It's sad to see how easily I orient around peripheral and even ultimately irrelevant matters. Praise God for this helpful blog!

Scott Packett said...

YES! This is the message that the church most needs to hear. It is not about us, our feelings, our wants, our desires, unless of course, our desire is to make much of Jesus and nothing of self. Thanks for posting this.