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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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The Missing Ingredient

In Christendom Today

ingredients

by Dennis Pollock

It has long been apparent to me that much of the evangelical church in America is making a serious error in their approach to ministering the word of God. This error has to do with the omission of Jesus Christ. In so many of our "Christian" sermons, teachings, and presentations Jesus Christ is conspicuously absent. We see this in seminars, in books, in Sunday School lessons, in the pastor's Sunday sermons, and in almost every evangelical endeavor. Many Christian books today are Christless books, many sermons are Christless sermons, and many seminars are Christless seminars. Bible passages they may contain, positive, uplifting principles they may present, and yet too often they are Christless and crossless which could be as acceptably given in a Muslim mosque or a Jewish synagogue as a Christian church.

It is a terribly unfortunate sign of the times that the men and women who function as leaders in the body of Christ often have very little revelation of Jesus Christ, other than as an entryway into God's kingdom. They believe the gospel of Jesus is a message for seekers, but they see Him as having little to do with the life of those already in the kingdom. Since their presentations are aimed primarily toward believers they see little use in focusing upon Jesus. Their teachings and writings are filled with principles for successful living, better marriages and families, and more prosperous careers. Their hearers or readers have presumably already received Christ as Savior, so no need to bring up old news.

In this regard it is most helpful to look at the epistles of the New Testament writers. Keep in mind that these were not written as evangelistic letters – they were all written to believers. So often the apostle Paul would begin his letters something like this: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus…" Notice Paul is not writing to the sinners of Ephesus; he is writing to the saints. If the great apostle had followed the practice of so many of our modern writers and teachers, he would hardly mention Jesus in the letter. He would give all kinds of principles for successful living, and leave Jesus out of it. These folks he was addressing were already Christians. But anyone who has read the Pauline epistles knows that just the opposite is the case. Paul's epistles are saturated with Jesus Christ! They contain reference after reference to who He is, what He has done, His love for us all, and that great day when He will return.

Philippians 1

One day as I was reading the first chapter of the little epistle to the Philippians I was struck by Paul's constant references to the Lord Jesus. I want to spend a little time and focus on this one chapter of just one of Paul's epistles, and note his constant focus upon Jesus. We don't have to wait long to hear about our Lord, as Paul begins, "Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Pps 1:1,2). In his opening sentence Paul makes three references to Jesus, and sets the tone for the entire letter. You get the feeling that you are going to be getting a great big dose of Jesus in this epistle, which is true in all Paul's epistles.

Paul's epistles contain teachings and instructions for Christians, and Christ is properly the central figure. It is not morality that sets Christianity apart from other world religions. Most religions insist upon moral living, condemn stealing, lying, murder, and adultery, and call people to love and respect one another. It is Jesus and the grace He offers through His death and resurrection that make Christianity radically different from every other religion on the face of the earth. Self-discipline, positive thinking, forgiveness, and high moral standards are not really radical. You can find references to them in nearly every culture in the world. It is the New Testament's unswerving insistence that it is only through the grace of Jesus that we can be accepted in the sight of our holy Creator which makes Christianity totally unique. Remove Christ from Christianity and you have "ianity" which is not much of a word and doesn't make for much of a religion.

The Day of Jesus Christ

As Paul continues in his letter to the Philippian church, he shares his great desire for the believers there: "that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…" Most of us would have put it this way: "I am confident that the Lord will carry on His good work in your life until the day you die and go and be with Him." But Paul isn't thinking about the day of their death; he has his eyes firmly fixed on the "Day of Jesus Christ." In his epistle to the Thessalonian church he writes: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Christianity minus Christ is worthlessPaul tells the Philippian believers: “For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ” (verse 8). Paul's affection for these folks was not just human affection; it was the affection of Jesus Christ. Any positive attributes in us belong to Jesus. It is Jesus expressing His goodness and righteousness in us. We love with the affection of Jesus, we endure with the patience of Jesus, we stand fast with the courage of Jesus, we give with the generosity of Jesus, we feel with the compassion of Jesus, we endure insults with the meekness of Jesus, we defer to others with the humility of Jesus, we overcome temptations with the purity of Jesus, we stand against demons with the authority of Jesus, and we are lifted up through the favor of Jesus.

Later in this chapter Paul speaks of being torn by two possibilities: "if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christwhich is far better.  Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you." Paul looks forward to the day when he can depart this world and be with Christ, and considers it "far better" than living in this present world. I think it would be safe to say that the majority of Christians do not have this attitude. And of the few that are looking forward to going to heaven, most of them are yearning for it because they have become too old to enjoy this world, or else they have a departed wife, husband, or child that they long to see. But for Paul the great reason he longed for heaven was that he might be with the One he loved so much – the Lord Jesus. Not grandpa or momma, but Jesus Christ the Lord.

It is in this first chapter of Philippians that we read that famous line: "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." What a strange way of putting it: "to live is Christ." For Paul, Jesus was more than a message and Christianity more than a religion. Jesus was Paul's life. He was truly His wisdom His righteousness, his sanctification, and his redemption, as he writes in 1st Corinthians 1.  He lived to please the Lord Jesus, he drew His strength from Him, he found wisdom in Him, and he constantly looked to the day he would see Him face to face. For Paul to say that Christ was his life was not merely religious language; this was the passion of his heart. As we read through Paul's epistles we see his enflamed heart of love for his Lord. He was like a lover who never tired of talking about the object of his affections. He writes: "in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death." What a far cry is the passionate apostle from many Christian leaders today who can hold two-day seminars and teach on various principles while never mentioning Jesus.

Christless, Crossless Christianity

It has been a great source of grief to me to see how so many ministers today neglect our Savior. I have heard presentations by Bible teachers on how to overcome sin, where Christ was not mentioned. Bible principles were given, verses were quoted, but somehow Jesus was nowhere to be found. How can we live in victory over sin without a steadfast gaze at Jesus, our great Deliverer? I read a book on parenting by a prominent Christian leader who primarily gave verses and principles from Proverbs on discipline and parenting but said virtually nothing about Jesus. Who among us is qualified to raise godly children apart from the grace and presence of the Lord Jesus? If following Bible principles is all it takes to be a success in life and acceptable to God, then what was the purpose of the cross? One adult Sunday school class I attended was a film series of teachings by a popular Christian speaker about marriage. He gave all kinds of humorous anecdotes, he held everyone's interest, he made some good points, but he hardly referred to the Scriptures and had nothing to say about Jesus. Surely Jesus might have something to do with Christian marriages! When we base all our hopes for success in life on following various principles, whether from the Bible or from a psychologist's handbook, we bring ourselves under the law. Why look for the grace of Jesus to give the victory? All we need do is follow principles a, b, c, and d. Principles can be helpful, but the ultimate principle is this: apart from Jesus Christ we can do nothing!

Christ is preached

As Paul goes through his early remarks in this first chapter of Philippians he refers to men who were preaching from bad motives. Surprisingly he seems happy with their preaching, saying, " Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains;
but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice." Paul is surely not defending preaching from wrong motivation, but he is thrilled that Jesus Christ is being proclaimed. He knows that when Christ is preached things will happen, when Christ is preached lives will be transformed, when Christ is preached the Holy Spirit will move, when Christ is preached churches will flourish. How he would frown to sit in many churches today and hear sermons filled with interesting illustrations, great humor, dynamic rhetorical flourishes, impeccable oratory, accompanied by fascinating, colorful multimedia displays, but no Christ!

Considered by many to be the "prince of preachers," Charles Spurgeon wrote,

Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach… Christless sermons make merriment for hell. Christless preachers, Christless Sunday school teachers, Christless class leaders, Christless tract distributors—what are all these doing? … If you leave Jesus Christ out, you are simply beating the air, or going to war without any weapon with which you can smite the foe.

Throughout this short first chapter of Philippians Paul makes 18 references to Jesus by name and 6 references to the gospel. The Scriptures tell us that it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks - surely Paul had an abundance of love for Jesus in his heart. And this epistle was not written to sinners! This was no evangelistic letter; this epistle was a teaching for believers! For sure, Jesus is the door to heaven, but He is more than that. He is also the daily bread of the believer, He is our strength, the Keeper of our souls, our Deliverance and our Deliverer, our Liberator and our Freedom, our Shield and our exceedingly great Reward, our Wisdom and our Victory. He is our life!

Our modern evangelical lack of emphasis upon Jesus is a heart problem. So many of today's sermons, articles, seminars, and classes have so little of Christ in them because they spring from hearts that are not overflowing with Christ. Out of the scarcity of the heart the mouth speaks little. Let us draw near to our compassionate Savior and learn of Him. Let us soak our minds and hearts in the epistles that speak so glowingly of Him and the gospels which reveal Him in all His glory. As we feed on Him daily and abide in Him continually, He shall become the great passion of our lives, as He was with Paul. And when we teach or write or share, we will not need to be reminded to mention Jesus. Out of the abundance of our hearts our mouths will speak.

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