I’ve 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 present Christ mainly 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 Teresa” 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, but the cross is rarely mentioned. And when the cross is mentioned, because we don’t want to talk about sin, it becomes the great affirmation of our specialness 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.
The cross becomes the great affirmation of our specialness rather than the great punishment for our unholiness—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 by God’s recognition of their own awesomeness, not by the glories of Christ.
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.