I’ve been a Christian for a long time. I came to faith in Christ my freshman year in college, 1982 and was pretty pumped up initially. I read the Bible like crazy, rarely missed church, bible study and other Christian gatherings within my circles.
But after some time, something interesting began to emerge. My zeal for the Lord began to hit some lethargic patches. The trials of life, temptation of sin and general distraction slowly ate away at my walk and after a few years, dropped me into a 13 year rebellious period.
But after I came back, I noticed something all too familiar, a strange blend of zeal mixed with a dull sense of just can’t quite get it together. It wasn’t that I didn’t love the Lord. I loved him deeply and truly. I have no other choice really. A passage of Scripture that profoundly impacted me then in 1999, and still impacts me to this day, is found in John 6:66-69. After Jesus touched people with miracles that gained a growing following, he then began to lay down the truth about himself;
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
The older I get in the Lord, the more Paul’s words resonate with me of being a bond-servant of Christ. There are times when I’ve wanted to run and hide, but to where? There is no other place to go than to the sweet arms of Christ…even when I feel my love for him weakens and fails.
But I was pretty zealous for the Lord. Even then, the rough patches hit. When those times of diminished zeal settled in, I figured I just needed to love Jesus more, pump myself up so that I can achieve the pinnacle of what it feels like to love Jesus like I should. Any lapse or missing the mark put me in a spin of self-flagellation. It helped that I was in Christian circles that put much emphasis on how much we do for God. Truth be told, it can get weary, especially when I think I’m not doing enough.
And then I go back to John 6:66-69. And to Romans 8:29-30;
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Over time, it’s hit me that my love for Jesus will never be enough because it will always fail in some way or another. Sure, I might be riding a high wave for awhile but one of two things happens: 1) I put my trust in how pumped up I am for Jesus or 2) I fall into despair over my failure to keep it up. Either way, as long as I put the focus on my love for Jesus to carry me through my Christian walk, it will never be enough to sustain.
Because here’s the thing: it is not my love for him, but his love for me that sustains, empowers and energizes. It was his love that drew me to him in the first place through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and when I wandered off for 13 years, mired in my foolishness, it was his love that pulled me back. For his love is entrenched in his call, that sends the third person of trinity who compels me to say Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3). It is his love that picks me up when I can’t seem to do enough or to love enough.
So when I find my love waning and slip into periods of lethargy, I don’t need to pump myself up and make myself love Jesus more. I need to ever have Christ before me, learning of him, acknowledging him, looking to him, leaning on him, and gathering with his people. I need to be reminded over and over and over again, of what the Father proclaimed, and the Son accomplished and the Spirit enables.
“We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19)
This is why when Paul compels the saints to love Christ, he doesn’t begin with telling them how to pump themselves up. Rather, he lays God’s grand plan before them and proclaims his majesty and work of creation. He lets them know that their love for God can never outmatch his love for us.
I was reminded of this today in a sermon on Romans 12:1-2, that it is not compulsion that compels us to love God with our lives, but because of his great mercies explained in the first 11 chapters. If our motivation is to love God enough so that he loves us, we will push ourselves to do what is needed to be done to be enough. Sooner or later we’ll discover, this will wear us out. Rather, it is because he first loved us that we respond in gratitude and lay our lives out as a sacrifice to him.
This is why I am more strongly convinced that our worship gatherings MUST put emphasis on what God has done so that we respond instead of whipping us up in some kind of frenzy to prove we love Jesus. This is why Christ-centered preaching is so vitally important, more than just expository preaching or definitely more than just listing out a set of instructions for us to follow. Over at Reformed Margins, David Cheng wrote a compelling piece Gospel-Centered vs Christ-Centered Preaching;
Christ-centered preaching aims to show people Christ in all his multi-faceted splendor. Our hearts need to see Christ in ways we’ve never seen him before. We need to see him in all parts of our Bible, both Old and New. We need more than a set of propositions about truth and good news, we need to see the good news, and to know the person who is the gospel.
We need Jesus. Our need for him will infuse our love for him and this is what propels us towards loving the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind. Christian, stop trying to make yourself love Jesus more. Look to him and what he has done and respond accordingly and you will find the love of God filling your heart.
Excellent piece as usual. So on point for to hear as a lay here with a heavy heart. I was however challenged by one statement ” Christ centered preaching is so vitally important more than just expository preaching”. I am challenged by that because this is exactly what we should be doing, preaching the truth of scripture in context based on the authors intent and how this is applicable to our lives today. I’m not sure I understand how this is ineffective or less affective. Since the bible points back to, forward to and back to God through Christ via creation, the fall, redemption and reconciliation and ultimate restoration (1 Cor 15:20-28) as seen through God revealing Himself to humanity in different ways during different dispensations. Is it not the responsibility of the preacher to preach and teach the scriptures expositionally revealing the truth of this God breathed love story as it was intended by God?
Thanks Andre. Christ-centered preaching does not negate expository preaching and in fact demands it. Yes, according to Heb. 1:1-2 God spoke through various means but that was all foreshadowing what he was accomplishing through the Son. So even in the OT, the preacher can show what whatever passage is being exposited means in terms of redemption through the Son. That also doesn’t negate practical application. But too often, and especially in the OT, the focus of the passage can be how you can be like character X instead of what character X says about Christ. The article I linked too spells it out a little better, I think. Give it a read.
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Thank you for your very thoughtful and encouraging article.
Hi Lisa, really appreciated this article and I can definitely relate to the cycles of pride and despair when the focus shifts away from him and and into evaluating the strength of our own love for Christ. Sinclair Ferguson once said in an interview that “We become like the person we spend time with…just as married couples begin to look similar, so it is with Christians who spend time with Christ” (paraphrase). I love that idea because it is a constant and necessary reminder against a performance approach to the Christian life and to sanctification. It’s not only about doing, but it goes far deeper, it’s about knowing and living in relation to the one from whom all sanctification flows. It can be transformative for spiritual disciplines as I need to be reminded they are not ends in themselves, but ways to spend time with Christ. I also need to be reminded that sanctification is not truly the ultimate goal, but knowing Christ more. The happy by-product is fruitfulness and growth.
P.S. Thanks for the mention!