Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

Christless Christianity

By Dennis Pollock


I would not expect to hear much about Christ in a liberal church, but then I hardly ever attend such churches so that is not much of an issue for me. Sadly, even in evangelical churches I too often hear Christless sermons. I am not suggesting that they aren’t well-delivered sermons, or even Biblical sermons. But somehow Jesus has been left out.


These sermons may be filled with good points, Biblical concepts, and Scriptures given to back up each point. But there is no Jesus. The great Charles Spurgeon had much to say on this subject. I read his comments in my early years as a preacher, and I never forgot them. In his book, Lectures to My Students, Spurgeon wrote:


You remember the story of the old minister who heard a sermon by a young man, and when he was asked by the preacher what he thought of it he was rather slow to answer, but at last he said, "If I must tell you, I did not like it at all; there was no Christ in your sermon." "No," answered the young man, "because I did not see that Christ was in the text." "Oh!" said the old minister, "but do you not know that from every little town and village and tiny hamlet in England there is a road leading to London? Whenever I get hold of a text, I say to myself, 'There is a road from here to Jesus Christ, and I mean to keep on His track till I get to Him.'" "Well," said the young man, "but suppose you are preaching from a text that says nothing about Christ?" "Then I will go over hedge and ditch, but I will get to Him." So must we do, brethren; we must have Christ in all our discourses, whatever else is in or not in them. There ought to be enough of the gospel in every sermon to save a soul.


My Revelation


I read these words when I was around thirty years old, pastoring a small church in a small town in Missouri. I was immediately struck by Spurgeon's words and convicted of my own crime of not presenting Christ in all my sermons. I loved to teach the principles and lessons of the Scriptures, but I had not yet learned that every principle and every insight from God's word relates to Jesus Christ. The more I thought about this, the more I determined to change and become a preacher of Jesus. This does not mean that I preached every sermon about John 3:16. I still taught on all kinds of Biblical topics, but I began to make sure that in some way I related those topics to Jesus, and somewhere mentioned His cross and resurrection. I determined that in every sermon there would be enough gospel to save a soul.


At first I would write the name "JESUS" in large red letters at the top of my sermon notes to remind me to work Jesus into that sermon, somehow, some way. I cannot claim that I have always succeeded in that, but for the most part I have. But I believe that a focus on Jesus is not just for preachers. It is also for singers. Sadly there are some popular Christian songs that never even mention the name of Jesus. I will never forget one time I was talking with a teen about a contemporary Christian rock band. I wasn't especially impressed with their music, but he defended them and declared that they were providing a great witness of Jesus to unbelievers who liked their style of music. He had a sheet with the lyrics of every song from a particular album. I asked to see it. As I looked through it, I could not find the name of Jesus in even one of their songs. I showed the lyrics to him and told him: "There's not even one mention of the name of Jesus. How could this be much of a 'witness' if they never even mention Jesus?" He had no answer.


The Curse of the Law


Unknowingly pastors are often guilty of bringing their people back under the law. While they mock the preachers from previous generations who railed against lipstick and movies, they, themselves are every bit as legalistic, but in a different guise. They now preach a gospel of justification and success by principles alone. Any attempts at success in this life that leave out Jesus are a form of legalism – follow the rules, receive the blessing.


Paul writes: "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.'” What Paul is saying is that by striving to keep all the rules, in this case, the laws of Moses, you will bring yourself under a curse, because nobody can keep all the rules. You will surely break a few of them, and instead of being able to claim God's blessings, you will incur His judgment. We can translate this into our generation by saying that when we think we can somehow earn God's favor and achieve all his blessings by following all the right principles we will instead end up bringing ourselves into a place of failure. Above every rule, above every principle is Jesus Christ, and your blessings will ultimately be poured out on your life in accordance with your abiding in Him. He will indeed teach you principles to follow, but principles by themselves can never replace abiding in Jesus.


Sadly, we have come to a place where we often see something that is a total oxymoron: Christless Christianity. We have Christless sermons, Christless Christian songs, Christless Bible studies, Christless marriage seminars, Christless Sunday School classes, and Christless "Christian" books on all kinds of topics. In our church presentations we always make sure we have humor, slick PowerPoint presentations, animated graphics, and clever and fascinating talks, but no Jesus. As Mary sadly declared, "They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him." We have turned the Christian church into a principles-oriented, rules-based, psychology-deferring, nearly secular version of self-help therapy. Our leaders and teachers and preachers have too frequently devolved from ministers into life coaches. Heaven and hell, sin and righteousness, abiding in Jesus, and salvation through the cross and resurrection of Jesus have been de-emphasized, and success, self-esteem, and self-love are promoted with mind-numbing constancy.


"Accepting God"


This vacuum of Christ in the church has even made its way into our appeals for the non-Christians to receive eternal life. Sometimes I hear preachers tell the sinners that they need to: "accept God in your heart." Not a word about Jesus! Just accept God and ask Him into your life. No reference to the cross of Jesus or His resurrection, and no declarations that we are sinners needing to be saved from our sins. In this new "evangelism" we are maladjusted people needing a life-coach and a mentor, and Jesus is just the ticket! I believe Jesus will truly become your life coach once you are born-again, but first He must be your Savior. Without a knowledge of Jesus' death and resurrection, and an understanding that our sins made this necessary, He will never consent to merely become your mentor.


The apostle Paul saw things differently. He wrote things like:


  1. For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
  2. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11)
  3. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)
  4. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:4)


Following Principles


In a desperate attempt to be relevant, many evangelical pastors are customizing their sermons to meet the “here and now” needs of their people. They search the Scriptures for principles that will make for success, strengthen relationships, and improve self-image. These Scriptures then form the basis of their preaching, which essentially declare, “If you do a, b, and c, you will receive x, y, and z.


There is usually truth in what they are saying but it is not the entire truth. God’s word is indeed filled with principles that can vastly improve our lives and situations, and there is certainly nothing wrong with instructing God’s people in these concepts. But the principles of God are made to work in conjunction with a steadfast gaze toward the Lord Jesus. Divorcing the principles of God from Jesus Christ leads to disaster.


The Bible and Marriage


We can see this clearly as we consider what the New Testament writers had to say about marriage. Marriage is a huge topic for writers and commentators these days. And we can understand why. Marriage is a major part of our lives (if we are married). It affects our happiness, our productivity, and colors every aspect of our time on this earth. It would only make sense that people would write about it, teach principles of marital success, and make every effort to help people navigate this difficult and yet incredibly rewarding relationship. Yet strangely God's word does not go into great detail about marriage. It does not ignore it, to be sure, but the instructions from the anointed apostles are pretty basic. Husbands are told to love their wives. Wives are told to submit to and respect their husbands. This is said in several different ways, using different expressions, but that is about it. Most books on marriage say far more about marriage than the Bible does, perhaps ten or twenty times as much as is in the Bible.


If marriage is such a big deal, (and it is), why does not God say more about it? And the answer, unquestionably, is that God considers a good and healthy marriage a sort of "side-benefit" of having a strong relationship with Him through Jesus. If we follow Christ passionately, study His word diligently, and allow the Holy Spirit to rule in our hearts and minds, we will exercise what the Bible refers to as the "fruit of the Spirit." Love, patience, kindness, humility, self-control, and other fruits will follow. And if these fruits abound in us, they will without doubt spill out into our marriage relationship. If we treat our husband or our wife with love and patience, and walk in humility and self-control throughout our years as we abide in Jesus and constantly look to Him as the source of life and grace to us, how could we help but be a good husband or wife? By His huge emphasis upon our relationship with God, and His relatively brief exhortations for husbands and wives to love and respect each other, we must conclude that the stronger and deeper our relationship with Jesus, the richer and better our relationship with our spouses will be. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis: "Seek God through Christ and receive eternal life with a great marriage thrown in as a bonus. Seek marital bliss alone and you'll get neither."


A Matter of Focus


To abide in Jesus means to continually look to Him and focus on Him as the ultimate source of your success – whether ministry success, marital success, financial success, spiritual success, or a life of holiness and peace – all of these are poured out in our lives through Jesus. But if we rarely think of Him, never talk to Him, never tell Him how much He means to us, and can go days and weeks without mentioning His name or recognizing His value to us, we are not abiders. And without abiding there can be no real or lasting fruit. We may be achieving much in a natural sense, but spiritually we are just spinning our wheels.


Jesus has declared Himself the Bread of life. As we feed continually on Him, we will then find God’s principles bringing about marvelous results in our lives. Or as Paul put it, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption that, as it is written, 'He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.' '' Jesus Christ is our wisdom, our success, our fruitfulness, our righteousness, and our hope of eternal life. May we never forget that, and may we never tire of meditating on Jesus, fellowshipping with Him, and proclaiming Him to others.





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