Christ centered preaching, or Christocentric preaching for you fancy types, goes beyond Morals to the Man, Jesus of Nazareth. Christ centered preaching looks for how a passage of Scripture exaults Jesus, either through comparison or contrast, and seeks to soften the heart of the hearer by revealing the heart of the Gospel – what Jesus has done, is doing and will do on our behalf. Christ centered preaching allows us to find rest in the finished work of the Cross.
A key element of Christ centered preaching is the understanding that we are not only justified by grace through faith in Christ, we are also sanctified by grace through faith in Christ. Very often we evangelize correctly and disciple incorrectly. We tell sinners that they can only be made right with God by surrendering their lives to Jesus and accepting by faith that Jesus took the punishment that was rightfully theirs and bore it in their place. We exhort them to believe that Jesus died their death so that they can live his life. But then, once someone becomes a Believer, we tell them that now they must work really really hard to become like Jesus or else they aren’t going to make the cut. (Once saved, always saved is a bogus doctrine in my book.) It isn’t that discipleship doesn’t require strenuous effort, it does! But that effort must be motivated by love, not fear or a legalistic sense of obligation.
Christ centered preaching maintains that following Jesus and becoming more and more like him happens by faith from start to finish. Moralistic preaching may serve to restrain sinful impulses for a short time, but Christ centered preaching transforms the heart through the expulsive power of Love. When we see Jesus for who he truly is, when we behold his glory and his beauty, our hearts are softened and set afire with love for him. That Love transforms us from the inside out as all our former loves fade away. As out hearts are captured by the only thing that can every truly satisfy, our sinful behavior begins to wither and die. There is a reason why “I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me” is the first of the Ten Commandments – all the others spring from it. You simply cannot break the Seventh, Eighth or Ninth Commandment, or any of the rest, without first breaking the First.
If we try to approach discipleship/sanctification from a works based “try harder” model we will fail to produce long term life transformation and an abundant harvest of good fruit. We may get a congregation that looks nice on the outside, but it will be ruled by fear, legalism and a soul-crushing sense of obligation. The people will always worry if they are doing enough or trying hard enough to please God, or the Senior Pastor. They will never be able to rest in His Pleasure.
I realize this is all rather conceptual and that some examples or case studies would help immensely. My next post will cover the stories of Adam, Cain and Abel and discuss them from a Christ centered paradigm. As always, thanks for reading.