Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hold Fast to the Gospel

With the Christmas season already upon us, many right-wing Christian organizations are already waging war against a secular industry that is attempting to remove Christ from Christmas. While I do find this type of extreme political correctness a bit annoying, what concerns me more is not what's going on in the secular realm but the Christless preaching that many hear from church on Sunday morning.

I vividly remember the "Christian" opposition I received when I expressed this particular concern I had with a popular preacher here in Houston. Over and over I heard "inspiring" messages of how to live a victorious kind of life. One thing was missing though...the gospel. Any mention of repentance, sin, Christ, and the cross was limited to the end-of service 2-minute invitation to say a prayer and ask Jesus into your life. This was after a 30 minute presentation on how to live your best life now. I shared my concern with friend from the congregation but they saw no need to place the gospel at the center of any of the pastor's sermons. In fact, they sarcastically asked how many times does he have to talk about the gospel. We're already Christians, right?
Unfortunately, this wasn't a unique experience. At every church I visited, I heard similar preaching. This was also prevalent at churches that didn't sugar-coat the sermons but steadily exhorted the congregation to do this and do that and live holy. I was told what I should be doing but I was never really explained why I should be doing these things or the fact that Christ has already fullfilled all that God requires on my behalf. I was told the what but never the Who or the why.

So what you have in many churches is a message of moralism. Preaching that focuses on what we do rather than on what Christ has done. Messages centered on our righteousness rather than on Christ's righteousness. The end result produces Christians who work hard merely out of duty or guilt and not out of a love for their Savior. What follows is an attitude that starts comparing other Christians to our standard of obedience or what we're doing. We fall into a mindset that other Christians are not doing enough.

What we don't understand is in light of all that Christ has done, we can never do enough.

The Gospel is not merely, as Michael Horton puts it, the spark that ignites the Christian life via salvation. It is also the fuel that drives faith and practice. Too often I hear well-intentioned Christians exhort new believers to get into a discipleship/accountability program and learn the deeper things of God. They view the gospel and salvation as an event that happened in the past. But what is deeper than the infinite love of Christ that was demonstrated on the cross (1 John 3:1)? And isn't it in the gospel that we now stand? Everything we do from getting up in the morning to laying down at night and everything in between should be motivated by the love that God has shown us through Christ.

The new and old believer's response to Christ's saving work on the cross is one of obedience flowing from a heart of love for their Savior (John 14:15, 23-24). You can't have one without the other. If you remove love, then you have legalism. Remove obedience and you have antinomianism. The true Christian who obeys God's law understands that Christ obeyed all that law perfectly on the his behalf. This is why no discipleship program or twelve-step class can do anything for anyone unless the Gospel is at the center of all things, especially in our Sunday morning services. What He has done for our sake should be our focus and not simply what we should be doing.

I want to write more but I do not want to make my initial post on this topic too long. I'd like to share something from 1 Corinthians 15 that is very important regarding Christ-centered preaching, evangelism, living, etc. and I will do so in my following posts.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4
1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.
3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...