God made us as complex beings. We have heads and hearts (and wills too); that is, each one of us has both a centre of understanding and a centre of emotion. We are not robots, but flesh and blood. But not mindless flesh and blood; we are to be guided by truth.
We rightly dislike the excesses of the Charismatic movement which cause people to be led by emotion and fancy instead of God’s revelation. But, whilst warning about that ditch on one side of the road, are we equally aware of the ditch on the opposite side — the ditch of dry intellectualism?
Unless preachers minister to people’s hearts, they are not ministering to the whole person whom God made in his own image. They are not actually ministering to people as people. And unless preachers allow Christ to minister to their own hearts, they are failing to equip themselves to minister to others properly.
We all vary in how emotional we are. Some people are fairly hard to shake emotionally and others can be disturbed comparatively easily. Nevertheless, we are all at root emotional beings. We all need to feel the comfort, challenge, rebuke and correction of God’s words and of Jesus himself.
The Lord’s people need to know those things in their lives. They need not simply to assent to the truth that is preached, but to feel it, rejoice in it and live by its power. True preaching aims to come through the mind and, while in the mind, be used by the Holy Spirit to stir up the affections in order to assault the will.
There is much anti-intellectual preaching about, that bypasses the mind and tries to stir up the affections directly. This is wrong. But it is also wrong to aim at the mind and no further.
We need to preach a felt and known Christ, so that others might also feel and know Christ. Anything short of this is, actually, unfaithfulness.
When a person comes and reads you the rule book, they may have given some help, but it will not wipe away your tears or give you courage to go and resist, or to conquer. But if someone comes and speaks to your heart, and Jesus himself comes and dwells in you through those words, you can do anything (Philippians 4:13).
A people who are full of Christ can only be a people full of prayer. This gives us another measuring stick — are you a person full of prayer? This must be so, because Christ is alive today, reigning in glory at God’s right hand, with all authority in heaven and earth.
This puts a new perspective on our problems and needs. We do not have any ultimate problems and only one real need!
Because Jesus has defeated Satan, sin, hell and our final enemy, death, therefore all ultimate problems have been dissolved away. There only remain temporal problems, which will eventually pass away.
Jesus will not allow anything to go astray from his plan and no believer can fail to arrive with him in glory (Romans 8:28-39). We can run any ‘risk’, where it is wise for the kingdom, because the eternal ‘risk’ has been removed.
Our one need, then, is to make connection with this living Jesus. Our one need is to draw upon his resources, call upon his power and receive his aid, according to his promise (Matthew 28:20; Luke 10:42).
We just need to ask the Father in the name of Jesus! He has all we need. He is willing to give it to us and has ordinarily bound himself by a simple law: we will get it through asking. If we seek, we will find; and if we knock, then the door shall be opened to us (Matthew 7:7-11; John 14:13-14).
For the same reasons, people who are really seeing the glory of Christ will be a self-sacrificing people. If there are no ultimate risks in life, then nothing is lost by giving all to Christ.
If Christ is the greatest glory in the universe, there is nothing and no one better to give our lives to. If we belong to Jesus, purchased by his blood, then all already belongs to him. A mere sense of ‘duty’ cannot approach these motivations.
All the good teaching in the world, unless it truly brings Christ to our hearts — and our hearts to Christ in the power of God’s Spirit — will be too weak to accomplish the task of nation-wide mission. But if these ideas really do get to us, then nothing will hold us back.
Reformed believers and churches, then, if they have the truth at its purest (in its power and not just outward form), should be the boldest pioneers to unreached peoples and to the challenging areas of this nation and other nations. Seeing the glory of Jesus, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain for him.
We have seen that the centrality of Jesus is the foundation of every church’s life. When the foundation is right and solid, everything else falls into place: our doctrine, preaching and praying; our serving one another in love; our worship, and our self-giving in order to advance the kingdom.
Jesus taught us that kingdom life is like organic life. If the roots are bad, then the fruit will be bad too; if the roots are good, the fruit will also be good (Luke 6:43-44). It is essential that our Christ-centredness is real and not a look-alike.
There are lookalikes that can pass for the real thing. We can persuade ourselves that we are doing well, but God looks at the heart and not the outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7). ‘Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life’ (Proverbs 4:23).
If the real cry of our hearts is not ‘to win Christ and to be found in him’ (Philippians 3:8-9), then pretending will just make us hypocrites. There is no substitute for true Christ-centredness in the church. It is essential.
This challenge must come personally to preachers and pastors, before it can come to their churches. Unless the work is first done in them, it cannot be done through them. E. M. Bounds once wrote that while men are looking for great plans, God is looking for great men.
Many churches are looking for great leaders, organisations and strategies. God is looking for great lovers of Christ. Kingdom greatness means Christ-likeness, and nothing else.
True reform and progress in our lives and churches means making sure that we are building on the only foundation that we can build on, and no other (1 Corinthians 3:11). Christ must be all, not just in our confessions, but in reality.