Do we fall into preaching the benefits of a hidden Christ? That is, does Christ recede into the background as a “given” in our preaching, so that what we offer people is really all about them?
It is so easy to do this. It is not just the “you can be rich” preachers that do this. In Christ, after all, we are offered forgiveness, identity, status, hope, transformation, eternal life, heaven, etc. But these are all offered in Christ. They aren’t just handed over so that we can continue in our apparently blissful independence.
To see the danger here, I think we have to be much more alert to the shadows of Eden in which we live. We can easily think the Fall has left us with the propensity to do sins, but not realize just how pervasive and absolute that fallen state actually is.
Sometimes the gospel is presented along these lines: God’s perfect standard will not tolerate the slightest blemish. So because I stole a paperclip from work once, therefore my record is forever blighted unless I am forgiven by Christ. This “49/50 is still falling short of the glory of God” idea can convey a couple of false ideas. One is that God is petty. Another is that I only need a bit of help for salvation.
The truth is that all of us are at 0/50, since even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags. Even the good things we do are not good if they are done in fleshly independence from God.
Consequently if we preach the benefits of Christ and miss the greater matter of the relationship we were created for, then the fleshly impulse will drive listeners to make an expedient decision – i.e. trust Christ so that they can have the benefits of forgiveness, status, hope, etc. I sometimes refer to this as “get your ticket to heaven” preaching.
We have to see that this is still shot through with the sin of Genesis 3, rather than the wonder of a heart transforming gospel.
Let’s be careful when we preach not to make the subtle shift from preaching a gospel that draws people out of their self-love, to preaching a gospel that essentially reinforces that self-love.