It is very easy for Christians to remove Christ from their Christianity. It is very easy for us to get caught up in what we as a church, or a community, or a family, are doing for God, rather than being founded on what Jesus has done for us. But the simple fact is that when we take Jesus out of the center of all that we do, we have established a Christ-less Christianity, not a Christ-centered one.
Paul, when he wrote his letter to the believers in Corinth, told them that that he “decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2). What this means is that Paul resolved to center his teaching, preaching, discipling, mentoring, and living around what Jesus had accomplished in his death and resurrection. His message and life was distinctly gospel-centered, and he preached the gospel to both unbelievers and believers.
When Paul wrote the believers in Rome, he told them that he was “eager to preach the gospel” to them (Rom 1:15). Why? Because it was the “power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16), and because it was “able to strengthen” believers (Rom 16:25). Paul even went so far to say that all of God’s promises are fulfilled, finished in Christ (2 Cor 1:20, Rom 10:4).
For that, our teaching and practice as believers should always be centered on what Jesus has done for undeserving sinners.
Jesus Christ is the righteous One who obeys God’s perfect standards (Mt 5:17). Jesus Christ is the beloved Son on whom all of God’s favor rests (Mt 3:17). Jesus Christ is the conquerer of all evil and sin and death (1 Cor 15:54-57). He is the one who defeats the devil and his schemes (Mt 4:1-11). He is the one who establishes God’s kingdom on earth (Lk 17:21). Jesus is all of God’s promises encapsulated. More than that, he is God himself incarnated (John 1)!
And why does Jesus do all this? Why does he go to the cross? Why does he rise from the dead? He does it to accomplish for sinful men and women what we could not accomplish for ourselves. Jesus does everything to “fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15) for sinners who are by nature not righteous.
We are all sinners. We cannot commit our lives to God. We cannot obey God’s standards. We cannot overcome the evils of this world. We cannot thwart the devil’s schemes. We cannot establish God’s rule on earth. In fact, we love our sin too much!
This is why Jesus does all these things for us! He does it that we might be accounted as righteous, even though we are not (Rom 3:25). And, he comes to live inside us and empower us to live according to God’s desires, even though within our own power, we have no desire to live for him (Gal 5, 2 Cor 3:17-18).
Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
So, if our lives do not revolve around Jesus as the center, the one who enables sinners to be justified, sanctified, and glorified (1 Cor 1:30), we have missed it. We have missed the point and purpose of Christianity.
Because, it’s easy to aspire to do a lot of good things: to commit their lives to God. To live obedient lives. To love our neighbors. To love Jesus. To read the Bible. To go to / commit to church. To pray. To love our husband / wife better. To raise our kids better.
But unless Jesus is at the foundation of those things, fulfilling, enabling, empowering us to do them, we will fail. We will ultimately burn out, quit, and move on to something else we think we can do. Because apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection power, we have no ability or desire to actually do anything good or righteous.
What we must understand is that Jesus fulfilled all that we could not do, in order to justify and empower us to do those very things. Jesus’ work for sinners has to be at the center. Otherwise we will be at the center.
Michael Horton says that if we do not have Jesus’ work at the center, we will ultimately believe that “we are not really helpless sinners who need to be rescued but decent folks who need good examples, exhortations, and instructions… [This mindset is] not a modern innovation, but the default setting of the fallen heart ever since the fall. No one is ever taught [it]; rather, we have to be taught out of it”. The fact is, we are helpless sinners, always and hopelessly in need of Jesus’ righteousness. We cannot nor will we ever earn God’s approval, which is why we are always in such need of the One who can and already has.
As Paul says, “Christ Jesus…became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30).