Keeping our eyes on Christ for His sake, not our own.
Every now and then I’ll listen to sermons online from churches that I don’t go to, just to see what other churches are talking about. What I’ve recently noticed in many sermons from what some might call “affluent churches”, is there is almost a different brand of preaching. The pastor who comes onto the stage is often very charismatic and a great orator. He has a knack for telling stories about his own life and relating them to the Gospel (albeit loosely). What may seem appealing about this is that it creates a relationship to the audience that makes the audience feel as though the center of their lives are all that matters to God.
Is that a bad thing? I don’t think the core idea is. God does want to be involved in our daily lives. He does want to be a part of everything you do. Jesus said that the thief comes to steal and destroy but He came that we may have abundant life -eternal life. I already have a lot of ideas that vary from many evangelicals, but my only real objection to this type of preaching is that when you frame the Gospel as a personal narrative from the preacher’s perspective, you create an idea that God’s interpersonal nature stops at His ability to relate to our circumstances. It creates a self-centered gospel message for the individual.
But when Jesus came to earth, He didn’t just come to relate to us. He came to redeem us and conform us to His image. So the result of this can be people creating an image of Jesus Christ as this “buddy Christ” figure, whose presence is just meant to relate to your daily woe. I call this “the me gospel”, because it’s not exactly the prosperity gospel, but it’s a message of the gospel that does entail focusing on how our personal happiness is somehow the ultimate end of the Cross. It often ignores seeking a holy God who will ask you to suffer for Him, die for Him, walk in holiness for Him, serve for Him, and ultimately let your entire life be consumed by Him for the sake of your own comfort.
Let me put it another way…Jesus isn’t made to be a genie in a bottle in this “gospel”, but He’s not too far off. He becomes like a good friend you call up every once in awhile to ask for advice, like what car you should buy or for help passing a test and get a “pick me up”. I’m going to be completely honest and say that God is not as much concerned about your material interest and minor anxiety. He rather would get into your heart and do surgery. He’d rather see you stop thinking less about whether you should get a Mazda Miata or a Chevy Impala, and more about repenting. He’d rather you do His commandments, because as Jesus says in John 14:14, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
The me gospel says that God came down as a man to make my life “less of a drag” rather than saying He came down to reconcile all of creation (including you) to Himself. Paul writes about this in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19:
Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (RSV)
The idea of reconciliation is to restore creation back to communion with the Creator. It’s to bless that which has stewarded us and give it back into His order. Every good thing God has given us is to be abundantly appreciated, whether it’s our health, our material goods or even our family. However, all of these good things He gives us through His divine power are to be blessed for Him and in turn used to reconcile us back to Him. In 1 Peter 1:3-4 it says:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (RSV)
So, the core point I’m driving at rests here. When we reduce Jesus Christ to a template for wellness and goodness, we then disconnect ourselves from the part which causes virtue to spring forth in our lives. Cultivating virtue becomes tertiary to our sanctification rather than becoming the forefront of it. We are to become “partakers of the divine” nature and to “escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion”. To quote C.S. Lewis, we become “like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
I’d personally rather seek and invite others to a holiday with God than embrace the comfort of this mudbath.