The Centrality of Jesus Christ
By Pastor Coalt Robinson
I ran across a paper by Donny Cho who is the Senior Pastor at Metro Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and was very intrigued by what he had to say about the centrality of Jesus in the Gospel. Listen to how he frames his discussion (which lasts some 27 pages by the way): “Too many times the message from the Sunday pulpit that is passed off as gospel is either a “set of principles on living the Christian life” (spinning back to legalism / moralism / religiosity) or “warm inspirations to get through the week” (spinning you toward hedonism / relativism / license living). The Gospel we are to have must save us from hedonism and legalism. What kind of gospel does that?” Pastor Cho goes on to illustrate this by listing several Sunday School or Conference tract topics such as “5 Steps to Knowing the Will of God” or “7 Steps to more Fulfilling Prayer life” along with simply, “Who is Jesus.” Pastor Cho says that most of us will opt for the class on the 5 steps to knowing the will of God or the 7 Steps to a more fulfilling prayer life because we see those as more fulfilling — they are not basic like the, Who is Jesus class. The fact is, a class on Jesus is seen as basic — we already know Him. The same could be said of a Bible study — some may want to learn how to evangelize and others how to pray more effectively while another might suggest that we get back to the basics and study one of the gospels. When one suggests a book of the Bible we often hear another say that they have already done that, “I have already studied the book of Mark, I’d like to move on to a topic that will really benefit us.” I think the point that pastor Cho is making is that we, as Christians, have been conditioned from the pulpit toward hedonism on one side and legalism on the other, and for him, this isn’t the true gospel because the gospel must save us from these extremes.
If Cho is correct — that we have a tendency toward these two different extremes, then we ought to be able to recognize it. We must recognize teaching that is gospel centered compared to teaching that lends itself to legalism on one side or hedonism on the other. First of all, I am not convinced that one can tell if a sermon or Sunday school class is gospel centered based on the title of it. For instance, a class entitled, “Who is Jesus” may lend itself to legalism where “5 Steps to knowing the Will of God” may be very gospel centered in its approach to the subject. Having said that, it is important to realize when we achieve things by following a set of guidelines this often breeds legalism. Think about the title of this blog at twoofus.org entitled, “10 Things You Can do to Have a healthy Marriage”. The title seems to indicate that for one to have a healthy marriage they need to follow this list of “things”. Now there is nothing wrong with the article in and of itself, in fact, there are some very good things in it, just as there would be with all of the Studies that Cho lists in his paper. On the other hand if we look at this list and think that in order to have a good marriage we must tick all of these items off then we boarder on legalism. At this point someone might say that there is quite a difference between a blog and a sermon, and the answer to that would be yes and no. Consider the similarities between the blog we mentioned earlier and this sermon at sermoncentral.com entitled “Six Steps to a Good Marriage”. I am not arguing that there is nothing good in the sermon but just the opposite — the sermon has some great points such as, we ought to marry the right person and be willing to give in, but I have the same complaint. The title as well as the points in the sermon seem to indicate that if you follow the steps indicated, like being considerate and not going to bed mad that one will have a good marriage as if there is a list of six items that we are to tick off in order to make marriage work. Here is the problem with messages that lend themselves toward legalism — they keep Christ out of them. Christian living is more about checking off a list then it is about the gospel — it is more about list checking then it is about total dependance on Christ Jesus. I think this was some of Jesus’ problem with the religious leaders of his day — they were so concerned with the items in the Law that they missed Jesus. Is the Law bad? Certainly not but when it is treated as a list to be checked off to achieve holiness and a right status before God — it becomes a legalistic gospel which is no gospel at all.
The same could be said for, what Cho, calls “warm inspirations to get us through the week” — these are messages that do not push us toward Christ but instead lend themselves more toward hedonism or relativism. These are sermons, as Cho says, “take the work of Christ so that we can live life for ourselves, not wanting to do anything really with a life in Christ.” In other words a message that says, for instance, Christ purchased our freedom therefore we are to live free — live as the people God created us to be. Very often we hear messages like this, and while there is truth, the problem is that the thrust of the message points us away from Christ and not to Him. Based on what Christ has done you are free to be you — what does that mean? Free to drink several beers with your buddies? Free to be a Christian and a homosexual? We need to be clear what freedom in Christ means. Yes, Christ set us free but he also gave us a freedom in which we couldn’t do while in bondage to sin — namely to be obedient to Him.
The Gospel always pushes us to Christ. Whether it be some act of Christian living such as our prayer life or our marriage — the true gospel always pushes us to Christ and is not a checklist of dos and don’ts. The gospel is our our life in Christ not from Christ. Paul, in Romans 1 says that he is “set apart for the Gospel” (verse 1) and that this gospel concerns the Son (verse 3) — make no mistake that Jesus is central to the gospel. For Paul everything went back to Jesus — He is the center of the Christian’s life therefore all of our teaching and instruction ought to be gospel centered and Christ exalting.
Pastor Coalt Robinson