Friday, December 9, 2011

Be Jesus-Full

I have been and always will be doggedly suspicious of pastors who rarely (or never) mention Jesus.

John Piper says, "What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ."

We ministers of the gospel -- and Christians at large -- can fumble this commission in three main ways:

1. We speak in vague spiritual generalities. Love. Hope. Peace. Joy. Harmony. Blessings. All disembodied from the specific atoning work of the incarnate Jesus and exalted Lord. It all sounds nice. It's all very inspirational. And it's rubbish. He himself is our peace. He himself is love. He himself is life. He does not make life better. He is life. Any pastor who talks about the virtues of faith, hope, and love, with Jesus as some implied tangential source, is not feeding his flock well.

2. We speak Christ as moral exemplar. We tell people to be nice because Jesus was nice. We tell them to be sweet because Jesus was sweet, good because Jesus was good, hard-working because Jesus was hard-working, loving because Jesus was loving. This is all well and good, but you could substitute "Mother Theresa" or even "Oprah" for "Jesus" and essentially have the same message.

3. We avoid the real problem -- sin -- and therefore either ignore the real solution -- the cross -- or confuse its meaning. In many churches, not only is sin never mentioned -- because it hurts people's feelings or what-have-you -- the cross is rarely mentioned. And when the cross is mentioned, because we don't want to talk about sin, it becomes instead the great affirmation of our special-ness, rather than the great punishment for our unholiness. The cross becomes not the intersection of God's justice and mercy but the symbol of God's positive feelings about our undeniable lovability.

In all of these instances, and others, people are inspired and enthused, but they are moved about God's recognition of their own awesomeness, not about the glories of Christ. The capacity is enlarged with our growing self-esteem.

Even angels long to gaze into the life-giving riches of the gospel of grace. We prefer to drink deeply from the well into which we're gazing -- our navels.

Pastors, inspiration sells. But only Jesus transforms.


Jeff said...

This is really good! Thanks for the thought you put into these posts.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Sin is the problem and the Word (Jesus) is the answer in every situation. These two cannot and should not ever be whitewashed or sugarcoated. Heaven and hell are real, as are the separate paths that lead to them, therefore the road signs must be clear, concise, and most importantly true.

Grace said...

Thank you! We definitely need more reminders like this.

JS Park said...

Well said. I've vowed never to preach a sermon without the atoning work of Jesus; the one time I sort of half-did it, people noticed. Also love doing it from the OT, which stretches us. But I don't think polarizing 1 and 2 is helpful -- we do bear those fruits and Jesus is still a moral example -- as long as it's grounded in the Good News. There are more nuances than simply avoiding those discussions.

Jared said...

JS, yes, I agree, which is why I didn't say we should avoid those. Under #1 notice I said we can't disembody those virtues from Jesus, and in #2 notice I said Jesus as moral exemplar is "well and good." I mean that. But if Jesus as example is the center or primary substance of our teaching, we are giving law not gospel.

I'm only saying we dethrone grace when the thrust of our teaching is good values, good deeds, or good people.

Rob said...

I totally agree with this post, and especially point 3. I find the tendency to emphasize how lovable we are in God's eyes is heightened by the fact that so many people's fundamental problem is seen as being low self-esteem or lack of self-love. Now, I'm not saying that's not a very real problem, but the answer is surely not to come to believe we're super special and awesome. God loves us not because we are inherently lovable but because He is Love. Thus we find our value in Him, not in us.

Brandon Smith said...

Love this.

Big difference between "Be good like Jesus" and "You are only good because Jesus was good."