A Legalistic Jesus, a Culturally Acceptable Jesus, or an American Jesus: How Are You Preaching Jesus?


preaching Jesus

A few years ago I began a preaching series through the book of James. To be honest, I decided to preach through James because I felt it addressed some issues I wanted to address, from Scripture in our congregation. James is a book that doesn’t mess around. It addresses weak and shallow faith, joy in suffering, and pride and elitism in the body of Christ.

What surprised me, however, was how much James spoke to me, as a pastor. I was especially convicted by the way James 3 challenges the way pastors approach the text when they stand in the pulpit on Sundays.

Most of us are aware of James 3:1’s shot across the bow. “Not many of you,” James writes, “should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who are teachers will be judged with greater strictness.” I’d always read this verse as a warning to pastors to make sure they understand the weight of their calling. But there is more here, I think, in James’ warning.

The rest of James 3 addresses the tongue, how this “untamed…world of righteousness” can cause much destruction. As a child, growing up, I’d heard many sermons on the tongue and how gossip in the church can hurt church unity. But I’d never connected these warnings about the tongue to James 3:1. That was, until the weight of the entire passage hit me like a ton of bricks.

What James is saying here is this: the words you say in the pulpit matter. They can either be words of gospel life or words of death. When a pastor ascends the stage and stands in the pulpit, he is essentially speaking for God to God’s people. And when people sit and listen, they are assuming that what you are preaching and saying is what God has already declared in His Word.

This is why we have to get the text right. God uses good, sound, gospel preaching to communicate life to His people and to the lost. But bad, unsound, false doctrine leads to spiritual death.

And nothing is more important than the way we preach Jesus. Now, no evangelical pastor would say that he’s not preaching Jesus. Jesus is why we get into the ministry. It’s why we go through seminary, deal with the difficulties of church life, and represent God to God’s people.

But how are we preaching Jesus? I think there are three ways we are tempted to get Jesus wrong:

1. We preach a legalistic Jesus.

When I assumed my first pastorate, I was confronted by a member who asked me: “Are you going to preach the list?” I wasn’t sure what she was asking, but soon learned that she was used to preaching that specifically preached for or against certain forms of media. She was used to the sanctioned list of what music or movies were acceptable. At times, I wanted to preach this way, not just regarding pop culture, but a variety of other behaviors that I didn’t prefer or agree with. But I couldn’t do it with integrity. I cannot preach, we cannot preach, what is not in the Scriptures.

There is a danger for pastors to preach more than what the Bible is saying. To put our preferences and likes and dislikes on the same level as orthodoxy. This not only confuses people, it is spiritual hubris to tell Christ that we should add to His written revelation. When we do this, we are doing as the Pharisees did and “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). It’s better to simply preach faithfully the Word of God and let the Holy Spirit do His work in the hearts of the people we serve.

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SOURCE: Lifeway
Daniel Darling

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