The Heart of a Christ-centered Message
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If we speak with the voice of Jesus, it is important that we speak the message of Jesus throughout the whole of scripture. The goal is to understand how all Scripture focuses on Christ. This is the unifying principle that binds all Scripture together.
The Heart of a Christ-centered Message
1. The essence of a Christ-centered message
a. Fallen condition focus
1. Until we have determined why a text was written, we do not know what it means even if we know many true things about it
2. We are not ready to say what a passage means until we have determined why the Holy Spirit included the text in Scripture
3. There is a redemptive purpose that each passage addresses
2. Deciphering the redemptive design of each passage
a. The difference between systematic theology and biblical theology
1. The progressive principle
2. The organic principle
3. The redemptive principle
a. The principle of incompleteness
b. The principle of incapacity (inability)
c. The principle of integration
3. Mark of distinction of the Christian message is the offense of the cross, not just moralism
a. Non-redemptive messages
1. Not Christ-centered
2. The deadly "B's"
Course: Introduction to Public Speaking
My concern this morning and over the next two mornings will be to follow through on some of what I mentioned yesterday: If we, by faith and the word of scripture, believe that when we speak God's word, we speak with the voice of Jesus, we recognize that the caveat (the condition) on that is that we would have the message of Jesus. My concern as we minister not only in many different places, but as we minister from many different places of God's word, is that we would keep that foremost -- that we would have in mind the message of Christ throughout the whole scripture.
You see the title of the handout that has been given to you today is, "The Heart of a Christ-Centered Message," and my goal is to simply understand the unifying principle that binds all scripture together.
My concern for that principle can perhaps be seen in something that happens in my town every weekday morning. Every weekday morning in St. Louis, the major radio station known as KMOX -- it's the CBS affiliate -- I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of watts it has, but it's known as the "Mighty MOX, The Voice of St. Louis." At five minutes of seven on every weekday morning there is a man who comes on and gives a meditation, what is known as "the thought for the day."
The thought for the day comes on and, believe it or not, he often quotes scripture, often has a message of concern for godly people. If you could in your mind's eye kind of imagine what's going on: You have hundreds of thousands of people driving from the suburbs down to the center city for work and they've got their radios on listening to the Might MOX, and this man is giving the thought for the day.
His name is Richard Evans and he will say things like, "Fathers, don't exasperate your children. You should raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and it should not be a burden to them. You should not be raising your children in a way that's for your benefit but for their benefit." Or he'll say things like, "Those of you who are going down to work today, remember today that you are to serve your employer as you would serve the Lord. Don't just work for yourself. It's the Lord that you serve. It's not just your own self-interests.
Now in my mind's eye I'm thinking of all those people driving down into St. Louis and among the hundreds of thousands of people there are perhaps ten thousands of Christians and every one of them probably at this point most of them are doing THIS as Richard Evans is talking: they are nodding their heads. They are saying, "That's right Richard. You tell 'em! Maybe they haven't listened before but maybe they'll listen to you today and they'll do what the Bible says."
Now, it all sounds so good but there are just a few problems with Richard Evans. One of them is: He's dead. He's been dead for years. This is all on tape. It was recorded, by the way, where they turned up the reverberation really high so it sounds like it's right from Mount Sinai. He says things like, "Fathers...do not...." It really sound impressive.
But that he's been long gone is not the only problem. The other problem with Richard Evans is that he is not, and never was, a Christian. In fact he was the leader of one of the major cults in our area, and they play him over and over and over again. Even from the grave he still speaks.
You think, "Now, how can this be? How can it sound so right and be so wrong?" It is very wrong.
Now, it's not usually wrong at all in terms of the specific things that he says. He will say, "Employees, work as unto the Lord, not as unto man." He'll say, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children." He'll even quote the scripture. There's hardly ever a problem with what he does say. What's the problem? What he does not say -- what he never gets around to. What I want to make clear is that what he never gets around to, is the absolute core and essence and necessity of a message that is truly Christian, and how we must begin to think of what our messages must be if we're going to be true to scripture, no matter where we are in the scriptures, that we are maintaining what is truly a Christian (a Christ-centered) message.
As you begin to think about what is that main thing, the essence, that we have to get to all the time, I want to introduce a concept to you. It's in your fill-in-the-blanks there in your materials introducing what I will call the "Fallen Condition Focus (FCF), the main thing that every scripture addresses introducing the fallen condition focus.
We don't really have to guess what the focus of the scriptures are. If you were to take what is almost a [motto voice? (perhaps motto verse) at 00:05:40], the verse for evangelicals, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All scripture is inspired by God, is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness: That the man of God might be..." I'm doing King James here so what's the hard word coming up? "...that the man of God might be...perfect! throughly furnished unto all good works."
Now that word "perfect" is the Greek ἄρτιος [artios], and it's the notion of being complete, "thoroughly furnished" we have in some of our translations, but the idea of being fully compete.
Now there's a necessary implication: If ALL scripture is given to complete us, what does that necessarily say about us? That we are incomplete, there's something wrong with us, we need finishing, we need completion. There is something that God must do in our behalf, and we are told that, not just some scripture, ALL scripture is given with this purpose of completing us -- that we are fallen, we exist in a fallen world, we have a fallen condition -- and the focus of the scriptures is to deal with that falleness.
You see it other places, Romans 15:4, "Whatsoever things were written afore time were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." Whatever was written before time, was written to give us hope. We're in a fallen world, we're in a fallen condition, we need help, we need a way out. And whatever was written before time, we are told, was written to give us this hope.
Therefore you see the conclusion: All scripture has a Fallen Condition Focus, since everything written in scripture has the purpose of giving us hope in our fallen condition.
Now there are some implications of this. If all scripture has this fallen condition focus, then we have to say, "Alright, as I begin to look at a text, I recognize it's give to give hope. That's why it's there. Well, if every scripture is written for that purpose, to compete us, and to give us hope, then it gives me a perspective of the persons to whom I am speaking. I sometimes encourage students, and now you, to think of it this way: When we look at people, we ought to see Swiss cheese. They have holes in them.
The question for us as Christian messengers -- the voice of Jesus -- is to say, What are we going to tell people will fill the holes? What's going to make them compete?
"Well, you'll really be a good father if you don't exasperate your children. Then everything will be alright."
"As long as you serve your employer correctly, that will fix it."
Are we really presenting the message to people -- and we do it inadvertently at times -- very naively, because I think, " Well I'm just saying what the scripture says, what could be wrong with that?" But what we're doing is, we're looking at people full of holes and what we begin to say to them if we're not careful is, "What's going to fill up that hole is, your doing better, you just be more good and that will fill up the hole."
I'll say it clearly here -- more clearly later: That is not just a sub-Christian message, that is an anti-Christian message: "You just do what you can and that will fix it. That will fill up the holes."
You say, "Well, you just haven't gotten to the gospel yet." No, wait a second. If what people think is what they do fixes it, that is not just a sub-Christian message, that is an anti-Christian message.
For that reason we must determine these things:
Number 1, until we have determined why a text was written, we do not know what it means, even if we can say many true things about it. I can tell you what exasperate means. I can tell you that in the Septuagint that that was the term that God used to express his righteous anger toward Israel.
Well that's all true. I can tell you true things about it, but if I can't tell you why the scripture was telling fathers to be concerned for their children, even though I can tell you many true things about the text, if you don't know why it was written, you still don't really know what it means.
Number 2, we are not ready to say what a passage means until we have determined why the Holy Spirit included the text in scripture. I know you're having to read the mind of God here but, after all, determining the mind of God is part of our purpose. Why is this here? Why did the Holy Spirit put it here? What was the human condition -- the aspect of our falleness -- that required it's presence?
Therefore we might just summarize the whole by saying this, "The fallen condition focus, if we think of its definition as this, the FCF is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or for whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage. I'm to look at that passage and the people to whom it was addressed or by whom it was written and I'm to say, "How am I like them?" There was some difficulty, some problem, some aspect of falleness that required the writing of that, the confirmation of it, the correction of it. Whatever it is, there was something that required that to be written for those people. How am I like them? When I begin to determine that, if I am really thinking of true falleness, I begin to search the passage and say,"What is the grace that God is applying to that situation?" If I am like them I will require that grace as well. What we're ultimately saying, on page two of your notes, is that there is a redemptive purpose that every passage addresses.
I recognize, and you should, that thus far I've only talked about the negative: What's wrong that the scriptures are addressing? However, if all scripture focuses on some aspect of our fallen condition, why does it do so? I think the answer is clear, to supply the warrant and the need for the redemptive elements that that text contains, to be applied.
Thus, just as every scripture echoes our incompleteness, it is in some manner signaling the Saviour's work that make us whole. Our goal as readers and teachers of scripture is to decipher those signals. What are the signals coming from the text that tell us how we shall be make whole by God's work? For until we do so, we do not truly understand the text.
You see, it is possible to say all the right words, and still send all the wrong signals. "Well I just said, 'Be a good employee,' what could be wrong with that? Well, I may be sending the signal that if you do that that will be the basis of your merit, or standing, or affection by God. I can say the right words, and still send the wrong signals.
So we have to make sure that we are properly deciphering the text, not only for ourselves, but for those to whom we are speaking. So I want to talk about deciphering the redemptive design of every passage. How do we do it? How do we keep the ideas in proper context and balance?
To do this, I am going to speak stereotypically for the moment with some, what I'm going to confess as, caricature. I want to think about the difference between systematic theology and something that's called biblical theology. Maybe you can think about this difference by thinking of two ways of looking at a text as through two different lenses.
From the time I was in Sunday School -- and most of you were taught to do this in seminary and elsewhere and it's a good thing. We tend to look at texts with a magnifying glass. Get down really close. What is the tense of that verb? Who is that person? What's the definition of that term? Where else is that word used? We get down very close and look at detail. Systematic theology: We look and we pare it down to its pieces; we systematize the parts. That is a good and necessary process, to look very closely.
But there is another way of looking at the text. If you could, in your mind's eye, not think of looking at every passage or verse with that magnifying glass, but now take some of your photography experience and instead come to it and put down on that text a fisheye lens.
When you look at something through a fisheye lens, what to you see? You see the periphery, you see out to the horizons, Another way of looking at text is not just narrowing to that text and looking at its particulars but looking at it in such a way that you always are looking out to the horizons -- where does this fit in the larger scheme? What is its context?
Now, we were all taught to do that. The reason that every heretic has his verse is that he does what? He takes his verse out of context. And biblical theology, unlike systematic theology -- though the best systematics does it too -- is most concerned about saying, "Where does this fit in context, particularly in redemptive context -- in the message of grace that God is unfolding through history -- where does this particular passage fit, whether I'm talking about fathers not exasperating your children, or employees working as unto the Lord, why am I telling you that -- where does it fit in the context of redemption? Until I have fit it into the context, I don't really know what it mean nor have I really said what it means if I've taken it out of that context.
To complete your notes here, under "magnifying glass vs. fisheye lens" those first blanks are: Biblical Theology. Biblical theology is that discipline of Bible interpretation that emphasizes the overarching themes that unite all of scriptures' particulars. The particulars are important, but there is that discipline of trying to say, "What are the themes and how do they fit together?" Biblical theology is not simply asking, "What truth does this particular passage reveal, but how is it related to the whole message of scripture?"
The key writer on this in this century has been Geerhardus Vos and some of you have read his Biblical Theology. Let me remind you of some key principles. Geerhardus Vos, in trying to say, "How do we keep context in view no matter where we are -- how do we keep the redemptive themes in mind," the first principle that he talked about was the 'Progressive Principle.' We have to read scripture keeping in mind the progressive principle.
He said this: Biblical theology is that branch of exegetical theology -- notice that he's still saying it's still doing exegesis, it's still determining what the scriptures meant exegetically -- but it's that branch of exegetical theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible. He said revelation is a noun of action relating to divine activity -- God's revealing himself more and more -- revelation is an historically progressive process, a long series of successive acts.
Now, I know the wording is complicated but he's just saying this: When it comes to God's plan of redemption, Paul knew more than Sampson. What Sampson knew was not wrong, but Paul knew more. There had been a successive and progressive revelation; God revealing more and more of his plan and purpose. That's the progressive principle.
Number two, the Organic Principle. He said the progressive process is organic. Revelation may be in seed form, which yields later full growth accounting for diversity but not true difference, because the earlier aspects of truth are indispensable for understanding the true meaning of the later forms and visa versa.
Now again the words are complicated and they go by quick but here's the meaning: It's all tied together. You understand the later by understanding the earlier and you understand the earlier by understanding the later.
Think of it this way: Jesus said, "Even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up." How do you know what Jesus meant? Remember what happened? The people began to mutter, they began to grumble, and God sent the venomous snakes. They were bitten and they began to cry out to God and to Moses for help.
"Moses," God said, "Lift up a serpent -- bronze -- in the wilderness." He did, and then God said through Moses to the people, "Look at it and you will live.
Look and you will live. Don't trust in yourself, trust in what I provide. Look to what I provide and you will live.
Now Jesus said, "Even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up." What was he saying? "Look at me and you will live. Don't trust in what you are, you trust in what God provides." Now how do you know Jesus meant that? Because it's connected to what came before. So you understand more of what Jesus meant by understanding what preceded.
spell check to here ---
But by the way, you also understand more about the brazen serpent, because of what Jesus did with it, don't you? You understand more and more the message of faith that it was to be, by the way in which Jesus would use it later. It's organically related. We understand the earlier by it's relation to the later, but we understand the later by its relationship to the earlier. It's all tied together and it needs to be perceived that way.
The last principle that Vos was relating to -- he says, "What is progressive and organic is also redemptive," and the third principle he called the Redemptive Principle. God's got a purpose in this progression and in these organic relationships. He said, "Revelation is inseparably linked to the activity of redemption. Revelation is the interpretation of redemption."
To see revelation properly, we must see it in its redemptive context. When you put the fisheye lens on it you should see the redemptive context. The context and the content of some revelation may be in seed form as it relates to redemption, but it is intricately related to the mature message and is not properly understood or communicated until this relationship is made clear, until the seed forms are related to the full forms, you don't really know what they are about.
Now think of it this way, if you can see it in your mind's eye: I've got in my hand here an acorn. Let me tell you about this acorn. It's brown. It's kind of tan on one end, darker brown on the other end. The darker brown end is kind of corrugated and it has a little stem on it. The other end is smooth and pointy. You find this on the ground in the fall and squirrels gather it in the fall and eat it in the winter.
I've just told you many true things about the acorn. Do you understand what an acorn is? What have I neglected to tell you? I've neglected to tell you about the oak tree, right? I've told you many true things about it, but I've not related it to its full form and therefor, though I've told you many true things, you still do not understand what it's about.
Here's another acorn. This is a commandment. This commandment is, you shall not steal. Let me tell you what this is about. This means you should not take anything that is not your own. You should not take anybody's possessions, You should not take anybody's reputation This commandment appears in the Old Testament in the Decalogue, it appears in the New Testament as well.
I've just told you many true things about "Thou shalt not steal," and my conclusion is: Don't do it. It's a bad thing. Do you understand what the commandment is about now? What have I neglected to tell you about it? I have neglected to tell you about Christ. More than that, what did Paul say? The law was our school master, our pedagogue, to lead us to Christ.
Now, it didn't mention Christ at all. It's not even in the verse at all. How can that be in there? Wait a second. What is it's purpose? Why was it given? Why is it there? Just so that we would understand that steeling is a bad thing and not to do it? If the commandment given by God is, "You shall not steel," What do I understand about God? What is his nature? What does he value? Who is he? What's he like? Tell me, the God who said, "Don't take anything that's not yours," what's that kind of God? What's he like? What is his character? Who would give such a law? One who values honesty. One who deals with integrity. One who is concerned for hurt against others. One who is holy.
I understand that about one who would give such a low. But, if I understand the law, and I only understand that about God, I understand something about myself. What this acorn -- what this command, "you shall not steel" truly means is, you shall not take anything that is not your own; you shall not take anybody's possessions; you shall not take from anybody their reputation -- their good name -- you shall not take anything, ever, that is not your own. What do I understand about me when I learn the law this way? I am a thief is what I understand about me. I understand God is holy, and I'm not. The one who gave the law is holy and the one who it was given to is not holy.
Oh, I hope something happens about this. I hope somebody takes care of this problem in some way. But I only understand THAT when I see it in context. The very reason Paul would say the law was our school master to lead us to Christ is that we would understand there is the necessity of grace always and if all I have given to people is just more behaviors, I may have told them very true things -- don't steel, it's a bad thing, that's all true -- but I have yet to relate the full purpose of the command that even the Bible gives to it. I am not limited to seeing the Decalogue only in the context of the Decalogue. Redemption that God promises in his revelation is progressive and organic and I am to see it in its context. I can't take a verse out of context and be true to the scripture. Context is: God is revealing his redemption in Christ and I see all the pieces in relationship to that whole.
Back to your notes. Therefore in the same sense as trying to explain an acorn without mentioning the oak tree, we cannot properly explain any aspect of revelation, even if we say many true things about it, until we have in some way related it to redemption.
We begin to question, though, "How can that be? I look at this text and it doesn't mention Jesus anywhere. The nation of Israel is just wandering around in the wilderness. I don't see Jesus there. Where is he? Is he in that camel track or behind that bush? Where? I don't see him." How do we find the redemptive truths of God where there is not explicit mention?
If you can just think creatively for the moment, let me tell you about my mother. When my mother was raising a family of six children, there were certain things that she did for convenience, and there were certain things that weren't good enough for her children. One of those things that wasn't good enough was instant pudding, when it first came out on the market. There just wasn't enough energy and effort to make that worthy to put before her family -- just put a little milk in and mix it up. She had to go through that process of: you cook it, and you get to the right consistency, and you put it in the refrigerator, and it sets up all day and so forth.
And my mother had done that one day for our family. She had gone through that process of getting the special pudding ready for her family and at dinner time she pulled out this big bowl of pudding from the refrigerator and she put it on the table and it became evident right at that moment that, sometime in the course of the afternoon, one of those six children had created a thumb lollipop. Now, my mother said to all six children, "Who did that?"
And like a wonderful church choir in unison we all said, "Not me."
Now, my mother is a sharp lady and so she said, "Line up! And stick out your thumbs." And she took each of us and she began to measure...it was my brother, Gordon. Because the hole revealed the dimensions of what would fill it.
If all scripture is revealing fallenness; every passage saying there's something wrong here, that this had to be given. -- when that hole is revealed, God is not simply indicating fallenness, he is revealing something about himself -- the dimensions of himself -- that are necessary to fill it. Therefore, God's imprinting of our incompleteness in scripture does not merely show our fallenness, it reveals his nature and attributes which are necessary to fill us up and make us whole. The holes in scripture -- by that I mean the fallenness being revealed, is showing what God must do -- what he had to do -- if we really do steel, if we are thieves. God must do something to make that right, because I cannot. I am by nature a thief. God must do something about that.
Some of the key principles that we begin to understand -- we see scriptures are working in this way, revealing his nature as well as ours, are number one, the principle of incompleteness. Because we are fallen, scripture is not telling us what we must do to complete ourselves, or make ourselves acceptable to God, for then we would not be truly fallen, if we could make ourselves acceptable to God.
Number two is the principle of incapacity, or if you really want to be reformed you could say inability. No text in scripture is saying what we can do or even what we should do, to make ourselves better or more acceptable to God as though we could lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps. The Bible, though there are lots of self-help books on the market, is not a self-help book. If all we've said to people is, "Here are things you do to fix it between you and God," it's not just a sub-Christian message, that is an anti-Christian message.
Therefore we must have the principle of integration. All the scriptures are about one consistent, organic message. They tell us how we must seek Christ who alone is our savior and source of strength to do the things that God says must be done. To proclaim these "musts" -- here's what you must do, be a good father, be a good employee -- apart from the source that enables their accomplishment, is to warp the biblical message. Christ is integral to every passage properly understood in context.
Some key texts that say this, so that it's not just my theory, would be ones like 1 Corinthians 2:2, probably the key to most biblical theologians. Paul said, "I resolve to make nothing known among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified." NIV will even say, "...resolved to KNOW nothing," not just "make nothing," but, "I resolve to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified." Notice it does not say, "...resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ and what a good guy he is and how good you should be if you try to be like him -- know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified." He had to do something in your behalf, and my whole message, everything that I want to make know, everything that want to know, is this message of his atoning work.
It is the key. If you go back to the preceding chapter, the first chapter and the twenty-third verse of 1 Corinthians, he says, "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles," because it was the atonement that was the problem.
Would a Jew object to Paul saying, "Don't steel"? Any offense in that? No problem there. "Be faithful to your spouse." Any problem there? No problem there. But to say, "You are a thief and require the atoning work of God; you are an adulterer and you require the atoning work of God," that's the offense and it's the necessary message of the Christian. Apart from God, I am nothing. Apart from God, I am a law breaker. Apart from God, I am hopeless. There is no good in me. God alone is the one who makes me right with God.
Luke 24:27 -- this is Jesus on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection, "Beginning with Moses, and all the prophets, he explained what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself." Now for a biblical theologian, those "alls" are all important. It's all about him -- not just here and there, not just the New Testament, not just the prophetic passages -- it is all in some way revelatory of the redemptive work of God whose fulfillment is in Jesus Christ.
The visual representation of this of course is Matthew 17, the transfiguration. There we have Christ on the mount and appearing with him Moses and Elijah; Moses representing the law, Elijah representing the prophets. The law and the prophets all come to give honor to him. Their fulfillment is in him. They are about him. They lead to him. In context he is always in view.
That gives us some things to think about as we think of presenting that message of all the scriptures. What becomes in essence the mark of distinction of the Christian message, if we were to proclaim it from any scripture. The mark of distinction -- this is "D" on page four at the top. Our message must be this: The offense of the cross -- the message of the atonement -- vs. the acceptance of moralism: don't steel, be faithful, things that are bad, don't do them. The acceptance of moralism, which could be in a synagogue or a mosque.
Some of you know what is somewhat of a famous quote from Jay Adams in his book, "Preaching with Purpose." He says, "If you preach a message that would be acceptable in a synagogue or a mosque, there is something radically wrong with it." If all I've said to people is, "Stealing is bad, don't do it; being a good father is good, be good," who's going to object to that, if I'm saying nothing but moralism. I'm not saying that moralism is bad in itself, but if that's all I've said, and you know in a synagogue they're applauding, "That's right, be really good." If that's all I've said, there's something radically wrong with that message.
The pervading presence of Christ in all we communicate makes ours Christ-centered messages vs man-centered messages: just what you do. If we're going to have this mark of distinction perhaps we can begin by identifying some non-redemptive biblical messages. How do we find messages, sometimes in our own words that are not redemptive? By identifying their nature.
First, the nature of non-redemptive messages is that they are sermons or messages that are not Christ-centered, that are not redemptively-focused, that are inevitably man-focused. Here's what we do if we're not careful: We have in our mind's eye somewhere a spectrum of messages. On one side we have liberalism, and on the other side we have legalism. And we think somewhere in the middle here is properly balanced and true Christianity.
What I wish you could see is that these things are really the same thing. A legalist says, "What will make you right with God? Being a good person, doing good works." The kind of good works that a legalist usually has in mind are things like: Don't go to certain movies, don't drink this stuff, don't smoke that stuff. These things will not make you right with God, don't do them.
Now over here you may have someone very liberal in theology. Someone who is very liberal in theology, what do they say will make you right with God? Doing good. Now it's a different kind of doing good: it's being loving to your neighbor, giving to the poor. But you should recognize that these things pretty much come around to be the same thing, which is: Be good and you'll be okay with God.
What I want you to see is the Christian message can't be found on that scale. It's not to be located there. The Christian message says, " What God does. makes us right with God. Nothing we do makes us right with God." And so if all my message has been about is do these good things -- and we think how can that be wrong? It says right there in that passage, "Fathers do not exasperate your children," and I've told fathers in this message five ways not to exasperate their children, what could be wrong with that? Because if all I've said to people is, "You'll be okay with God," that is not just a sub-Christian message, that is an anti-Christian message.
We're the ones who say, "God must do something in your behalf. You could never do anything in your goodness that would ever make you right with God." You know it better than I do. It is the message of your lives that you confront consistently those religions, those people and philosophies who are saying that there is some way that man can make himself right with God and we must make sure that we are not saying that message. God makes us right with God, nothing in ourselves.
We begin to recognize the marks of non-redemptive messages by what I call the deadly "BEs" [Bs?]. You've heard of the killer bees, these are the deadly be's. Sadly, I preach these messages sometimes. I know better yet it comes so naturally to me to do this.
The first of the deadly be's is what I call "Be Like" messages. Looking at some example in the Bible whether it's Daniel, or Moses, or David, and we say to people, "Just, be like.... Just be like David. Write words of praise to God. Give people a good, young, and fatherly example to follow. Commit adultery and kill your best friend and, you know, just be like David." Would David say, "Be like David"? If David would not, should we?
Now, yes, there are aspects of David's character that we should recognize God has given for our instruction. We should recognize moral character in the Bible functions like the law. It is necessary for us to know these good aspects of moral behavior, but it is deadly for us to base godly favor upon them. To think because I have become this or done this, I am now okay with God; I am back on the scale over here. I've done this. I've been this good character. Now I am okay with God.
Do you really want to frustrate and discourage people? Then say this, "Just be like Jesus. He was really good and he showed us how we should live. Just be like Jesus." Who can? Who could? Is that why he is there? Is that why he went to the cross?
It's not in your notes, but I wish you could almost put it in neon lights right here in your notes, this one phrase: God is the hero of every text. David is not the hero. Joshua is not the hero. Gideon is not the hero. Almost everyone we would point to in scripture, I think with godly design, has something awful wrong with them. It's God who uses a boy to defeat a giant. It's God who would use a weakling to defeat an army. We mistake the purposes of God when we say to people, "Just be like Joshua. Just be strong and courageous and you can defeat the Lord's enemies, too."
Well, what happened to Joshua later on? What did he do? He failed God. And God would use this one, that he knew would fall and stumble and be wrong to do a wonderful work. God is the hero. Yes he used a human instrument, and we should marvel at that, that he could use us, too, but we look to God and we praise God for those actions and pray that he could use us as such.
I think care is taken in scripture to tar almost everybody so that we won't say, "Just be like Abraham, you know, lie and connive and let somebody else take your wife -- just be like Abraham." Now, I recognize that there are a couple of people we don't have much dirt on. Enoch walked with God and he was not. You don't have much in there to get. But virtually everyone fails in some tremendous way before God so that we will say, "Look what God did." We point to him, not to the human instrument lest we get off in paths that God does not intend.
The second major deadly "Be" is "Be Good" messages. These messages simply say in essence, "Save yourself." Don't drink or smoke or chew or go with the girls that do. Hunker down and try harder. Just be better! Just be good. You weren't good last week, try real hard this week. Boy Scouts are good and Girl Scouts are good and Christians are good. It's good to be good; it's bad to be bad. So be good. The whole message is just be good. Better and better and better, and feel worse and worse and worse about last week, but try harder and harder and harder this week. Just be really good and God will smile. God will be happy.
"Be disciplined" -- maybe most typical of most of us. Just be disciplined. Sanctify yourself: pray more, read your Bible more, go to church more, especially go to my church more and that will fix it. Just do more. Be more disciplined. Do better, work harder.
What's wrong with these messages? "Be..." messages imply that we are able to change our fallen condition. "Our path to grace is made by us," is the implicit message. Listeners are left to assume our acceptance by God is determined by our actions. Such messages stated or implied -- and let's say it: most often it's implied; we don't believe this theologically. It's just all that we've said is be good, be more disciplined. The whole message was about read your Bible more. Such messages stated or implied make us no different than Unitarians, or Buddhists, or Hindus, or Romper Room. Romper Room taught us the difference between the "Do be's" and the "Don't be's."
The Bible has more to teach for these reasons: Remember, there is no merit in keeping God's commands. You have to remember that. Now i... [content missing from recording at 45:45] ...in following God. If we had to earn grace, prior to or after our salvation, it would not be grace. You can say these verses. Isaiah 64:6, Our best works are only what, to God? Filthy rags. Luke 17:10, When we're done all that we should do, we've only done our...? Duty. And we are unprofitable, unworthy servants. Our obedience does not gain us merit, Our best works are still filthy rags.
The Westminster Confession says because the great disproportion between our goodness and God's true holiness, even our best works are not only unworthy of gaining God's favor, they are actually due his reproof. Think about that! What the world wants to do, and often we do, is we want to put it on the scales and we want to say, "Well, I haven't been perfect but the good outweighs the bad. Well, all THAT we want to put on the good side, where does God say it actually goes? Even the good goes on the other side of the scales. Our best works provide us no merit. Therefore we had better not just say to people, "Just be better and God will be happy."
Remember also, "Be..." messages ARE in scripture but identify their context. Let me say it in case you have thought it: Does Paul the apostle ever say, "Follow my example, be like me." Does Paul ever say that? Well at least five times. But now finish the verse. "Follow my example, as I follow Christ." Context. Context. Context. It's not what I do, it's what Christ has done that is the power, the motivation, the basis of what I do. What I do is not what makes me right before God.
Recognize: "Be..." messages are not wrong in themselves. It's not wrong to tell people, "Don't steel." We certainly don't want to say the converse, "Do steel." These are not wrong messages in themselves, they are wrong messages BY themselves. If that's all I've said, "Don't steel, it's bad, don't do it," that's when these messages become wrong.
A challenge to holiness must be accompanied by a Christ-focus, or it is only man-centered religion. What we communicate with the best of motives to help change damaging behaviors and attitudes, actually hurts people if Christ is absent. If all I am telling people is, "Don't steel, be a good father," do you believe -- do you know -- THAT actually hurts people? People cannot do what they are told to do apart from him, causing them to do one of two things, either to despair of hope, or to pretend to be holy. There are only two options. If I say to you, "Don't steel or that will wreck your relationship with God forever," you've got two choices. You can despair and believe as the scripture teaches you: You are by nature a thief. Or else you can believe, "I've risen above that. I'm not a thief anymore. Whether you have despaired or whether you have pretended to have achieved, either is spiritually deadly. So if all I've said to people is the rule, "Don't Steel," I have wounded inevitably, spiritually, because now people are either spiritually hurt because they despair or believe in their own self-righteousness.
Thus if you wound, even unintentionally, you are obligated as a believer to heal. Therefore, lead all instruction to him who alone can provide holiness. Think about how Paul does it. There he is in Ephesians 6 where he is at his most strident. Put on the full armor of God! Fight the firey darts of the devil! Let's charge! Let's fight! Let's be strong! Now, how does he word it? Be Strong in the power of his might. Where do we look? Where's the hope, where's the healing? I must turn to him, not to me. If only the message has been, "Just be strong and courageous," if I have not turned you to your source of strength, you are hurt and wounded.
Let me just put it in more graphic terms. We'll talk about how we do this over the next couple of days, but just think of it this way: Whether you are in a counseling situation, whether you're a teacher, you're translator, whether you're a pastor, you are dealing with people and whatever situation you're in, you are going to instruct them, and in a few moments they're going to walk out the door of your office or your church. They are going to leave, and you have just told them to do what the scriptures say they must do. With whom do they go? Just visualize as they're walking out the door, with whom do they go? They are going to do what you said must be done. In their hand now to go out and do the will of God, do they hold "me, myself, and I," or did you send them out the door with the savior? Because if they do not go out the door with the savior to do what God says must be done, they go to despair. We must send them out with the savior. We have to understand the context -- we'll talk more about how -- but I hope you see the necessity: Instruction alone is not enough. The savior must go with them if they go to hope and healing because the savior takes them there.