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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Man-centered vs God-centered Gospel

Superman

By Dennis Pollock

I have been troubled for a long time over a gradual shifting away from God in the evangelical church. I know this might sound preposterous – after all, we Christians are all about God. He is the reason we gather together; He is the One we sing about, and the One we address in our prayers. Take God away from the church, and what is left?

Still, I cannot help but feel that God and Christ are being taken away from the church, if not in name, at least in emphasis. Let me give you an example of how this works. The other day I happened to catch a small amount of a sermon from a popular television preacher. I didn’t listen for long, but the tiny part I did hear was a perfect example of how a man-centered emphasis has eroded what has been traditionally a God-centered gospel. I had heard this preacher before, and have not been impressed with him. He is one of many “feel-good” preachers who loves to tell us what a great destiny we have in God, and how we can all achieve greatness in our lives. In this tiny clip I heard he was addressing those who might be tempted to walk away from God. He declared with authority: “When you walk away from God, you walk away from your destiny.” That was all I cared to hear, and I went about my business, but the statement has troubled me ever since.

To paraphrase this humanistic minister, he seemed to be saying: “You are destined for greatness. You have an incredible future and destiny, and God will help you to achieve that destiny. But if you walk away from God you will lose your destiny and end up becoming ordinary, mediocre, and perfectly dull for the rest of your days. So if you ever want to become great, you’d better stick with God!” There was nothing about the wickedness and ingratitude of turning away from the One who loved us and gave His life for us. Peter took up this theme of backsliding and likened it to a pig, having been washed, going right back into the mud, or a dog who has just vomited and then goes and laps up his vomit. But no, this TV preacher tells us that we won’t be as great as we otherwise would be, we won’t achieve our fabulous destiny, we won’t ever rise above mediocrity if we forsake God.

OK to be Ordinary

This is a little microcosm of the man-centered gospel. It doesn’t dismiss God or deny Him, but it does make everything all about us. If we will embrace God and Christ, we’ll have more friends, we’ll be famous, we will make loads of money, our businesses will flourish, everyone will love us, our dogs will obey us, and good luck will follow us around everywhere we go. Of course this is a patent lie. There are, and have always been, plenty of “ordinary” Christians, not ordinary from God’s perspective, but ordinary in the normal sense. They make ordinary salaries, live in ordinary houses, work at ordinary jobs, and have ordinary lives. They are not famous, they are never asked for their autographs, never walk on a red carpet with photographers snapping their picture, they drive mini-vans, never Ferraris, they worry about paying the mortgage, they buy things at garage sales, they rarely eat lobster, their clothes are bought at discount stores, and they are never seen on TV or in the movies. They live out their ordinary lives, die ordinary deaths, and are soon forgotten afterwards by all except their immediate family.

Are they people of destiny? Well of course they are if at some point in their ordinary lives they found the extraordinary Christ. Doesn’t He make them extraordinary? He surely does. They are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they are guaranteed eternal life, and as they abide in Jesus they bear good fruit in the lives of others. So in this sense they are a people of destiny, but this is not what is implied by the preachers who speak of such things. They suggest that the point of the gospel is to make you great, not only in a spiritual sense, but even in a natural sense. You are destined to rise above common people, you will touch millions of lives, you will make fabulous money and gain the respect of all the world. And so the disciples of these destiny preachers, these promisers of greatness, spend their lives vainly trying to achieve things which God never had in mind for them, desperately attempting to become a celebrity and a millionaire when they simply don’t have it in them, not before Christ and not after Christ. They are like a pastor with meager gifts and a congregation of 35 people, fantasizing about being the next Billy Graham. Never mind the fact that he can barely put two sentences together without stumbling over his words. If he can believe hard enough, if he can just keep his dream alive, one day it will happen. Probably not!

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not about how much we can achieve, how great we can be, or what brilliant destiny we have here on this earth. It is about how much Christ has achieved for us, how great He is, and what a brilliant destiny He has provided us in that world which will never end. We may be a simple mailman or grocery store clerk or janitor in this life, but we know where we are going and we are convinced that “eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things God has prepared for those who love Him.”

A Matter of Emphasis

When we read the epistles of Paul, Peter, and John we discover the proper and appropriate emphasis that should accompany our efforts to share the gospel of Christ with others. We find that these early apostles were captivated by the grace and love of Jesus. They never tried to prop people up by promising them greatness in this world. In fact Paul made it plain that the great, noble, and wealthy people were almost always on the outside of what God was doing. He wrote:

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty… (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).

The church of Jesus Christ has been, is now, and will always be comprised mostly (not exclusively) of ordinary men and women. Most born-again Christians are not rich, are not famous, and will have a modest crowd attend their funerals. They are, to be sure, a people of destiny, but that destiny is, to use the words of Scripture, “hidden with Christ in God.” Our day will come but it is not now.

But even if we are one of those few evangelicals who are wealthy, famous, and incredibly influential, we must still recognize that there is only One truly great One, and that ain’t us. To Jesus belongs greatness, and glory and honor and majesty. He is fabulously wealthy, with all of heaven’s resources at His disposal. Rather than waste our time and our lives trying to achieve some artificial standard of greatness, it is our job to simply present ourselves to Jesus and allow Him to make us what He would have us to be. He promises we’ll be fruitful, He promises we’ll be provided for, He promises that we are loved and special in the eyes of our Heavenly Father, whatever the world may think about us, or whether they even notice us at all. If we are nearly invisible to others, we are not invisible to God. And with this we will be content.

If You Want to Brag…

The prophet Jeremiah wrote these amazing words, expressing the heart of God for us all:

“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty [man] glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;

But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,” says the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:23)

Here God is telling us: focus on Me, let your greatest joy be the fact that you know Me. Is God being a narcissist here? No, He is simply giving us the right attitude we all should have. Putting a focus upon ourselves is not only a root of pride; it also produces insecurity and weakness. We were not meant to spend our lives focusing upon our puny selves, how great we want to be, how many dreams we want to see fulfilled, and how important we are to the world. To be a follower of Jesus means to be an abider in Jesus, and this requires a constant gaze at the Savior: “Looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

True greatness is never achieved by seeking greatness. An awesome earthly destiny is never gained through making the achieving of our destiny the primary focus of our lives. Greatness is always, without exception, attained through seeking Jesus Christ, abiding in Jesus, depending upon Jesus, and being content to allow Him to make us into whatever He desires: nothing more and nothing less. Our lives, our destinies, and any good we may be able to accomplish in this world are totally in His hands. It is not our job to pursue our destiny. It is our job to follow Christ. And as we follow, He will lead us as a good Shepherd into green pastures. We may still be a mailman or a grocery store clerk or a janitor. But we will be a fulfilled and fruitful mailman or grocery store clerk or janitor. We will go through our lives, knowing that the eyes of the Great One are constantly upon us, and His heart of love is radiating goodness and mercy in our direction.

To Know the Love of Christ

Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height– to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).

Here and throughout all of his epistles, Paul got it exactly right. He put the emphasis upon God and Christ, where it truly belonged. I cannot help but feel that if the great apostle heard some of our modern preaching, he would hardly consider it Christian. What? A Christian gospel where Christ is barely mentioned? A sermon that tries to use God as a helper to make us great and says nothing about the greatness of God? Sermons that emphasize achieving our dreams rather than following Jesus Christ? We are tempted to echo the words of Mary, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

What we fail to understand is that the great, pressing need of all people is faith – faith in Jesus Christ. Apart from faith in Christ, heaven’s gates are shut tight and locked. But faith never, never, never comes when we focus on ourselves: our needs, our destiny, our greatness, our achievements. Faith is produced from a continual focus upon the Savior. “Look to Me and be saved,” says the Scriptures. What the world needs is Jesus, and the reason for our spiritual dwarfism in this generation is a lack of Christ – Christ in our sermons, Christ in our music, Christ in our writing, Christ in our thoughts, Christ in our churches. Here is where the power lies; here is where divine life flows.

It turns out that life is not all about following our dreams, achieving our goals, or attaining to greatness in the eyes of the world or even in our own eyes. In the end, we are servants of Christ. We make ourselves available to Him for the accomplishment of His purposes and His will for our lives. Whether that leads us to the White House or a small, cozy white cottage, our lives are in His hands. We live to serve. We will never draw back, not because of a fear of losing our “destiny” but because it would be unthinkable to forsake the Fountain of Living Waters, the great love and passion of our lives, and the One who first loved us and gave Himself for us.

 

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