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Five Hallmarks of a Biblical Church - Part 5

Tom Pennington Selected Scriptures


I want us to continue our study this morning, really finish, the study that has been a part of our thoughts and minds now for a number of weeks, and that is "Five Hallmarks of a Biblical Church." As I thought about the final of the five hallmarks this week, I was reminded of how God has constructed even the solar system in which we live. The greatest source of power in our solar system is the sun. The sun, as you know, is really a medium sized star. It is a huge ball of gas with a diameter of 865,000 miles. That's 109 times greater in diameter than the earth. The sun consists of some 75 percent hydrogen, 20 percent helium, and 70 percent other elements make up the remaining 5 percent. At its surface, they tell us, it's a cool 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Its heat and its light are the product of constant nuclear reaction at the core. And at the core, instead of 10,000 degrees, as it is on the surface, scientists project and estimate that its temperature is some 27,000,000 degrees at its core. Its average distance from the earth is some 93,000,000 miles. That's a long way. That means when light leaves the surface of the sun, traveling at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, it takes 8 minutes and 20 seconds to reach Southlake. Our sun dominates our solar system. It makes up, they tell us, some 99.8 percent of the mass in our solar system. The sun is central. And yet for 1,000 years, Ptolemy and his disciples taught that the earth was in fact the center, not only of our solar system but also of the entire universe. They taught that the sun revolves around the earth. Then Copernicus showed up, and he said you're wrong. And it sparked a revolution, a revolution; and the center of the solar system was in place again, not in reality, but in the minds of people. As I thought about that, I was reminded of the fact that, sadly, the evangelical church today has lost its center. What we need in evangelical churches today is a Copernican revolution. A revolution in which the life of the church comes again to revolve around Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That distinctive, Christ and the gospel, always marks every truly biblical church.

We're examining the hallmarks of a biblical church. And we started our study in 1 Timothy 3:15, where Paul tells Timothy that he's writing to him hoping to come to him before long, "But in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know [Timothy] how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God." So that you will have the principles by which the church should be run. The church must have a biblical philosophy of ministry, a set of nonnegotiable biblical principles that guide its decisions and its ministry. We find those governing principles woven throughout the pastoral epistles, the three letters written to pastors in the New Testament: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. In those three letters that Paul wrote to young pastors, we find at least five essential hallmarks of a biblical church. Again, let me remind you of the five (we've looked at four of them now): a high view of God; a high view of Scripture; a biblical view of man; a biblical view of the church; and fifthly, the central place of Christ and the gospel. We've looked at the first four, and if you've not been with us, I would really encourage you to catch up. Go online and listen to that series, because it builds the foundation for what we're going talk about today.

Today though, we come to the fifth and final hallmark: the central place of Christ and the gospel. Now, normally we've begun with what it means. But because of misunderstanding, I want to begin today not with what it means but with what it does not mean, because I think it's very important for us to clear the ground here so we can build effectively. What does it not mean to have Christ and the gospel central in the life of the church? Number one: it does not mean that every Sunday the sermon should be a simple presentation of the gospel. If that happens, not only has the leadership misunderstood the purpose of the church, but frankly, the members of the church will starve to death. Some of you have been in churches for some period of time, as I have been, where that's what happened. And every Sunday the simple gospel was preached again and again, and yet never with its deeper implications for the Christian life and for sanctification, always just a simple presentation of the gospel. And you end up, your soul drying up, withering and starving.

A second thing it does not mean is that Christ and the gospel will be the central (that's the key word) will be the central theme of every message. Christ and the gospel will be brought into the message, but will not be the central theme of every message. When Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2, "I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified," he did not mean that all he ever taught the Corinthians was Jesus and the cross. In Acts 18:11, we read that Paul settled there in Corinth for a year and six months (18 months) teaching all the Word of God, all the Old Testament Scriptures among them. Read the letters of Paul in the New Testament. The theme of every paragraph of Paul's letters is not Jesus and the gospel; at the same time, it is woven throughout them. In Acts 20:27, Paul said to the Ephesian elders, "I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." And that needs to happen in a biblical church. So, we're not saying, when we say that the church is centered in Christ and the gospel, that they will be the central theme of every message.

Thirdly, we're not saying that all we're talking about is a sentimental, emotional atmosphere in which there's a lot of talk about Jesus. There can be that and no real centrality of Jesus Christ and the gospel, as you'll see as we unfold this morning what it does mean.

Number four: it does not mean that a professed love of Jesus Christ is all that matters, and if they say they love Jesus then that's wonderful and we except them. Years ago, when I was managing director at Grace to You out in California—I think I may have told you this story before.—I interacted with the leaders of other radio ministries. And one day I was in the car on the way to a board meeting pertaining to Christian radio, I was on the way to one of those meetings, and in my car was the leader of Jack Hayford's ministry: a good man, I think a brother in Christ. But he was arguing that if someone says they love Jesus, we should accept them. And I said, well wait a minute now, let's talk about this for a moment. I said, what if we're talking about a Mormon who says with all his heart, I love Jesus? He just happens not to be the Jesus of the Bible. It's a different Jesus. What about that? Thinking, you know, I've got him now. And his response was, I don't know, I think if they say they love Jesus, that's enough. It's not enough. It has to be the biblical Jesus. There has to be a commitment to His work and person and to obedience to Him. So, that's not what it means. Christ and gospel holding a central place in the life of the church doesn't mean those things at all.

So, what does it mean? What does it mean? Again, let me reduce it to a single sentence for you. What does it mean to have Christ and gospel have a central place in the life of the church? Here it is: all the teaching and ministry of the church must ultimately be rooted in the truth of who Jesus is and what He accomplished. That's what we mean. All the teaching and all the ministry of the church is rooted in the truth of who Jesus is and what He accomplished, the person and work of Jesus Christ: the truth that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Old Testament Messiah; the truth that He was both fully God and fully man; the truth of His perfect sinless life lived in the place of sinners; the truth of His substitutionary death where He laid down His life to satisfy the just wrath of God against those who would believe, and His resurrection from the dead in which God stamped His approval on all of Christ's life and death; the truth of what Jesus taught personally in His ministry here on earth and what He taught through His apostles and continues to teach today through the New Testament letters that we have; the truth of Jesus'' second coming and His serving as judge of all. Listen, in the New Testament church, Christ and the gospel, the good news about who He is and what He did, were absolutely central.

Let me show this to you again in the pastoral epistles. Look back at the theme verse we've been looking at, 1 Timothy 3:15. Paul says, "I'm writing [Timothy] so that you will know how to conduct yourself in the household of God [that is the church of the living God] which is the pillar and support of the truth." Now, we've already looked at the verse. You understand that the church is a community, a family, God's family. That's what the church is about, but it also is a support for the Truth. The question is what truth? Well ultimately, of course, all of God's Truth, all of God's Revelation; but notice, here there is a central truth that the church is to support. Look at verse 16: "By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness." By common confession means "certainly" or "undeniably," "great" or "important" is the mystery. Remember that word mystery means "God's secret now revealed." Great or important is God's secret now revealed of godliness, true godliness seen and known in Jesus Christ. Because the next lines are about Christ. Christ and His work is the central message of the church. I could paraphrase the beginning of verse 16 like this: this is the great mystery of our faith, or, this faith of ours rests on God's great secret that He has now revealed, and that secret is about a person and what He has done. Because the six lines that follow—you'll notice in the New American Standard, they're set off as poetry because of the rhythm of these lines. They were probably either an early Christian creed that was memorized and recited or perhaps a hymn that was sung, but notice what it says about Christ.

Here is the truth on which the church stands and which it supports. "He… was revealed in the flesh." That means He, who previously existed, was one who took on human flesh. He "Was vindicated in the spirit." The Holy Spirit vindicated Jesus Christ's' claims to be the Messiah and to be the Son of God, probably by the resurrection as Paul says in Romans 1:4: "the Spirit declared Him to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead." The third line says He "Was seen by angels." This word seen is most commonly used in the Greek New Testament of Jesus' resurrection appearances. We looked at it just on Easter Sunday. Again and again it says "He appeared," "He appeared." That same word is used here. This probably means that angels witnessed the resurrection personally and then bore witness to the resurrection to humans. Which is exactly what happened, you remember, on Easter morning. The fourth line says He was "Proclaimed among the nations." Christ, and what He did, His death and resurrection, was the message that was preached to all the nations, all the peoples of earth. The fifth line says this message was heard by human beings and "Believed on in the world." It was believed; it was embraced. You and I are a testament to the reality of that fifth line. The sixth line says He was "Taken up in glory." He ascended into heaven and was given great power and authority and position and glory. That is the work of Christ. All of it's there in very condensed form.

Christ in His work, then, were absolutely central in the church; in fact, here we are told that Christ and the gospel are the primary truth that the church is to be a pillar of, or a support of. And this shouldn't surprise us. This is what Jesus, Himself, said. You remember, He said while He was here that the church would be built on Him. You remember in Matthew 16:18, after Peter's great confession, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," what did Jesus say? He said, "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock [not Peter, but upon the rock of the confession about Me you've made, that I am the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God] upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." This was to be central in the church. Christ, who He is and what He's accomplished is to be the center.

I want to answer another question though. That's what it means. But, why is it important? Why should it matter? I'm not going spend a lot of time here, but I just want you to get a grip on why it matters based on even what Paul says in the pastoral epistles. Why does it matter that Christ and the gospel be central in the life of the church? It matters for several reasons. Number one: because Christ and the gospel are central in God's eternal plan. Look at 2 Timothy 1:8. Paul writes, "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, [Timothy] but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, [God] has saved us and called us." That's the effectual call. That's when God is in the gospel message, wooing and drawing a sinner to Himself, irresistibly, effectively. "[He] called us with a holy calling, not according to our works [it wasn't human merit or effort], but according to His own purpose and grace [now watch this] which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity." There he's talking about election. We were selected, elected, by God's purpose and grace in Christ Jesus in eternity past. But this amazing plan, this amazing eternal plan of God's (verse 10) "[Has now] been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." Understand that Christ and the gospel are part of the eternal plan and counsels of God. They are central to God's eternal plan, and therefore, they ought to be central in the life of the church.

The second reason they're important is Christ and the gospel are central themes of scripture. It's what the scripture's about. You remember 2 Timothy? Look over at 2 Timothy 3:15. We looked at this several weeks ago now; we were looking at the scripture. But as Paul is writing about the scripture he says, Timothy, "from childhood you have known the sacred writings" [that's a technical term for the Old Testament, the Hebrew Old Testament; you have known the Old Testament, those scriptures, "which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." Paul says the Old Testament was about—what? At its core, it was about Christ and the gospel. You say how is that? Because in the Old Testament we have the message, He's coming, He's coming, He's coming; and in the New Testament we have the message, He came, here's what it means, and He's coming again—central to the theme of scripture.

By the way, our Lord Himself affirmed this. Look back at Luke 24. Luke 24:25. After His resurrection He opened their eyes to see this. Luke 24:25: "He said to them, 'O foolish men.'" This is the Emmaus Road disciples. "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!" He's talking about the Old Testament. "'Was it not necessary [based on Old Testament revelation] for the [Messiah] to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?' Then beginning with Moses [that's the first five books of the Old Testament], and with all the prophets [that's the rest], He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all [of the Old Testament] the Scriptures." You see it again with the rest of the disciples in verse 44. They're all gathered together around the Sea of Galilee: "Now He said to them, 'These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms [together, those three terms encompass the entire Old Testament] must be fulfilled.' Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, 'Thus it is written, that the [Messiah] would suffer and rise again from the dead and the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'" Jesus said this is what the Old Testament taught. I and the message of the gospel are central, He said, to the Old Testament. And of course, obvious and clear, that's true in the New Testament.

A third reason it's important is because Christ and the gospel are central in salvation. This one is really obvious, but look at 2 Timothy2:8. Paul writes, don't be ashamed of this testament. "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel." This is what my gospel was about: Jesus Christ, resurrected but human, a descendant of David. "For which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God [this message of the gospel] is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory." Now what's Paul saying here? He's saying I am in prison but the gospel isn't in prison. And I proclaim it because, and I endure all of this, for the sake of those who've been chosen by God, so that they can hear the gospel and by the gospel be saved. It is central in salvation.

Christ and the gospel, number four, are central in sanctification. Look at Titus chapter 2. Remember, Titus is arguing that we should live our lives in such a way that adorns the truth about who God is. And he makes this reference down in Titus 2:11. "For the grace of God has appeared" [that's a reference to Jesus Christ, grace incarnate] "[He] has appeared, bring salvation [making it available] to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness [this is the gospel; the gospel instructs us to deny ungodliness] and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age," and to live looking for the return of Christ. And this is as it should be. Verse 14 goes on to say, because this is why He gave Himself: "to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." He's saying, "Listen, the gospel argues for sanctification." Understanding the gospel and its implications produces sanctification in our lives.

There's a fifth reason it's important, and that is Christ and the gospel are central in the believer's worship of and relationship with Christ and with God. Go back to 1 Timothy 2. As Paul urges that prayer be made for all men, he makes this theological statement. Verse 5: "For there is one God [only one true God], and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [and He] gave Himself as a ransom for all." That is, there were universal aspects of the atonement. He is a savior in the sense that He's offered to all men, but of course, effectually for those who believe. He said, "[This is] the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle … as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth." There's "one mediator." What that means is that we worship the true God, the one true God, through Jesus Christ. Christ, and Christ alone, is the accepted channel through which all our worship flows to the Father. To be truly worshiping, you must worship the Father through the Son. Luther explained it like this: "Knowing Christ and knowing the Father are tied together and are one and the same knowledge. This is why [Luther says] I have often said that the Father is known only in Christ, and neither will, nor can be, reached and found, worshiped and invoked, apart from this mediator. For outside Christ, there is nothing but idolatry and merely a false and imagined notion about God. Truly worshiping God consists in believing on Him whom the Father has sent, Jesus Christ."

Do you understand that? Do you understand that you cannot approach God except through Jesus Christ? That there will never come a time in your life here or in eternity when you will be able to approach God apart from the mediator, Jesus Christ? He is to be everything, and true worship only occurs through His intercession. We sing and pray in the name of Christ. We plead for forgiveness because of what Christ has done. We confess the confession that Jesus is Lord. We help meet the needs of others because of what Christ has done for us. When we teach or preach, we preach Christ and Him crucified. We take of the Lord's table because it memorializes the work of Christ on the cross.

Jesus is not merely the channel of our worship though; the New Testament goes on to say it is the Father's plan that Christ be the object of our worship. The mediator, yes, through which we worship God, but also the object and focus of our worship. Jesus Himself said this. By the way, this is one of the arguments for Jesus' deity. Listen to what He said. John 5:23: The Father's goal is that "all will honor." Honor is a synonym for worship. "That all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him." That's a remarkable statement. No wholly human being, who is only a human being, would ever justifiably say that. It's God's goal that "all," Jesus said, "will honor Me in the same way to the same extent as they honor the Father." Whenever you look at scripture and wherever you look in scripture, you see Jesus being worshiped. That's what distinguishes true Christian worship. If our singing and our teaching and our prayers don't consistently focus on Jesus Christ as the object of our worship, then we are not worshiping. With the coming of Christ, general, generic worship of God is no longer acceptable. You know, there're many churches that talk generically about God and loving God and serving God and living for God. It's well intentioned, but biblical Christianity is centered in Jesus Christ, the mediator. And true worship must not be generally about God, but it must have, as its object, Jesus Christ.

There's one final reason for having Christ and the gospel central and why it's important, and that is they're central in the believer's future. You see this in the pastoral epistles as well. Look at 2 Timothy 4. Paul, here, is charging Timothy to preach faithfully, and he does so based on what's going happen in the future. Verse 1: "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, [now notice what he says about Christ] who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing [by His second coming] and [by] His kingdom." By what's coming in the future, I admonish you to do the right thing today. What does that mean? It means Christ and the gospel are central in the believer's future as well. We anticipate, we look forward to His second coming, to His making all things right at the judgment and to His coming kingdom. Down in verse 18, Paul makes this clearer. Remember, Paul's in jail, a Roman prison. He'll never see freedom again. This chapter is the last chapter he ever writes. He will soon be executed for his faith. And this is what he writes in verse 18: "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever." Paul was able to live life here because he looked into the future and saw that Christ and what Christ had accomplished was central in his future. So a truly biblical church will be Christ and gospel-centered.

Now that brings us to the question, how is this demonstrated in the church? How can you recognize if Christ and the gospel are central in a particular church? Again, let me say this is not an inspired list; it's not an exhaustive list. It's just a list I've jotted down of some ways I think you can see this in a church. Number one: if Christ and the gospel are central in a church, the sermons will be Christ-centered, not man-centered. The sermons will be Christ-centered, not man-centered. I mean that in two ways. Not centered in the listener's. In other words, the sermons will not consistently be about better relationships, better communication in-in relationships and marriage, how to improve your finances, etc. They won't be consistent—that's not to say there's never a place for those things. I'm saying the messages will not consistently be centered in man. The focus of the Bible is whom? Jesus Christ. And so He will also be the focus of the messages in a biblical church.

But not only do I mean, by this first point, they'll not be centered in the listener's, but another important point is they'll not be centered in the preacher, the one teaching. The sermons will not be full of the man teaching and preaching. If you sit in a service and you hear a man string one story together after another about himself (and by the way, he usually tends to be the hero of every story), that is not a Christ-centered, cross-centered church. I am not the point of this church, Jesus Christ is. And if you leave thinking I'm the point, then I have desperately, desperately failed the Lord and you. Second Corinthians 4:5 says "we do not preach ourselves." Listen, this was a problem in the first century. "We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake." James Denney, the great Scottish pastor, understood that verse, understood the temptation to make yourself as the preacher the object of attention. And to help him remember that that should never be, he framed and hung in his church these words: "No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time. No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save at the same time."

A second way this is demonstrated in the life of the church is every truth taught will, in some way, be tied back to Christ and the gospel. I said earlier that it doesn't mean that Christ and the gospel will be the central theme of every message, but it does mean that Christ and gospel will be brought into the message, will be related to the message. Twenty years ago—as you know, those of you who've been a part of our church any time at all—actually, that's wrong, thirty years ago, I was diagnosed with glaucoma. So at least once a year, sometimes every six months, I go in for a visual field test where they test my peripheral vision to see if I've incurred any further damage. I have—my left eye is completely unaffected by the disease. My right eye has 90 percent nerve damage. A quarter of my right eye has a blind spot in it. And fortunately, in God's providence, it's covered by my left eye so I don't really notice it day-to-day. But I have to take this test.

Maybe you've had this visual field test. The technician props your head in this white half-globe. You prop your chin on that, and then the technician tells you to stare straight ahead at a red laser light. And as you stare at that center light, little pinpoints of white light begin, one by one, to shine all around on the inside of that globe. Whenever you see one of those little lights appear, you're supposed to press the button indicating that, out of your peripheral vision, you have caught one of those little lights. I don't know about you, but I thoroughly detest that test because it's very intense. You know, if you're a perfectionist this is a problem. You want to get every one right! And so, if several seconds go by without a light—I don't know, have you ever noticed this? If several seconds go by without a light, you start asking yourself, uhm, did I miss one? Did I blink? And so you start just hitting the button, just in case. Maybe that was one I saw. And in this test, if you let your eye wander from that central red light in the middle, then a loud buzzer goes off saying, you're cheating! You have to stay focused at the center. You have to look at the other lights only through your peripheral vision.

That is what Paul means when he said that he kept his preaching centered in Christ. In a biblical church, whatever subject, whatever passage the pastor may be preaching, he will keep his eyes centered on Christ and the cross. I don't mean that he will distort the meaning of a passage or spiritualize a text, but the great theme of the Bible is what? God is redeeming a people by His Son for His Son to His own glory, and whatever the text is, it is somehow developing that great theme. My responsibility, as a minister of the New Covenant Gospel, is to show you how.

Spurgeon made this point again and again; in fact, he loved to tell the story to his students of a young preacher who preached one day with an older preacher sitting out in the congregation. (There's some pressure that comes with that, by the way. I remember the first time I preached with John MacArthur in the audience.) Afterward, this young preacher asked the older man, "So, what did you think of my sermon?" The older pastor said, "It was a bad sermon." He said, "What do you mean it was a bad sermon? I studied a long time. Did I not explain the text well? Were the illustrations not appropriate? Were the arguments weak?" "No," the older pastor said, "All of that was fine, but it was still not a good sermon." Exasperated, the young preacher said, "Well please tell me, why do you think it was such a poor sermon?" He said, "Because there was no Christ in it." The young man said, "Wait a minute." He said, "Christ wasn't in the text. We can only preach what's in the text." Here's what the old preacher said and Spurgeon loved to quote, "Don't you know, young man, that from every town and every village in England there is a road to London? And so from every text in scripture there is a road to Christ, and your business when you get to a text is to say, what is the road to Christ? And then make sure your sermon follows that road." Every sermon must ultimately be rooted in Christ and Him crucified.

Number three: where Christ and the gospel are central, the music of the church will consistently have Christ, cross-centered lyrics. Christ-centered, cross-centered, lyrics. As the Christian music industry has flourished, the companies have been looking to sell their music to as wide an audience as possible. And sometimes, I think, that means they like for it to be as generic as possible, because then the songs can be sung by a very wide audience—frankly anyone who believes there's a god. In a biblical church, the lyrics of the songs will center in Christ and His work. I don't mean every song, but I mean as a whole. I love the fact Seth does such a good job of that, of having the music that we sing so often be about Christ and what He's done.

Number four: the focus of the members' lives will be on following Jesus Christ. The focus of the members' lives will be on following Jesus Christ. You will hear about Jesus Christ. If you go to a church and you never hear about Christ, but all you hear about is God, that's a problem, because God made Jesus Christ the mediator. The Christian life is characterized as being a disciple, a learner, a student of Jesus Christ. The church is Christ's church, but sadly this isn't always true. It wasn't true of many of the churches that I knew when I was growing up. I remember when I became a Christian at 17 and went off to a Christian college, the more I grew in my Christian faith, the more something I was experiencing didn't seem to be right. It just didn't seem like the New Testament church. One night when I was a student, during the summer actually, I sat down and I read the book of Ephesians with one objective. My one objective was to discover the difference between the New Testament church and what I was experiencing. It became clear to me before I got to the end of chapter two. In the early church there was a-an absolute obsession with Jesus Christ, and that's true with any biblical church. He is the focus of the church. And by the way, this means that the church will focus on Christ and not the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's role is to exalt Christ. That's what He, Himself, said in John 16:14: "He [the Spirit] will glorify Me [Jesus says], for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you." The role of the Spirit is not to make Himself obvious, the role of the Spirit is to make Christ large. Where there is a biblical church, people will love Jesus Christ, there will be a constant call to obey Him as Lord. This is the test of a healthy church, and frankly, it's the test of a healthy Christian as well.

Number five: where Christ and gospel are central, they will be preached as the motive and power of spiritual growth. Christ and the gospel will be preached as the motive for spiritual growth and the power for spiritual growth. In other words, you won't just hear Christ presented as the way to get saved. But then, boy, when it's time for sanctification, you're on your own: good luck, I hope that goes well with you. A true Christian—listen carefully to me; this is so important. A true Christian never moves beyond Christ and the gospel. Spiritual growth only happens as we learn to apply the implications of who Christ is and what He has done to our lives. If you aren't growing spiritually, it may very well be because you have stopped growing in your understanding of and your application of Christ and the gospel to your life. I'm not talking about the simple gospel, I'm talking about a profound and deeper understanding of all that Christ is and all that He's done. Only as you understand that, you come to grips with that, you understand the implications of that, you apply that to your life, only then will you grow spiritually. Jesus Himself said in John 15, "Without Me, you can"—what? "Do nothing." And that was in the context of spiritual fruitfulness.

Number six: the gospel will be clearly and completely articulated. The gospel won't be unclear. There won't be any question about what the gospel is. The gospel will not be preached as a psychological gospel, a social gospel, a call for cultural transformation. By the way, beware of N. T. Wright and his devotees who are following this so redefining of the gospel. Listen, the gospel is the Good News that God has made personal and individual reconciliation with Him possible through the life and death and resurrection of His Son. It involves the fact that God is a righteous creator who deserves to be obeyed, and it involves the fact that man is a rebellious sinner who has not obeyed his rightful King and Creator. It involves the fact that Christ is the gracious Savior, that He came to offer Himself, to live the perfect life, to die a substitutionary death and be raised again. And it includes the fact that you must respond to what Christ has done in repentance and faith. Wherever Christ and the gospel are central, you will hear words like "repentance" and "believe," "repent" and "believe." The gospel will be clearly and completely articulated.

Number seven: there will be both an individual and corporate desire to tell others of Christ and the gospel. An individual and corporate desire to tell others of Christ and the gospel. May God continue to increase our desire individually and corporately to do that in this church. This is one of my greatest prayers, for me personally, and for all of us.

Number eight: having Christ and the gospel at the center will determine with whom we fellowship. Having Christ and the gospel at the center will determine with whom the church fellowships. There is a local church here in the Metroplex that has opened up dialog, intentional dialog, with other religions. I mean having other religion's leader's into the church exposing the people of the church to that. There are other churches that join with false religions, cults, false churches, to accomplish good causes. Listen, the truth of the gospel ought to be more important to us than becoming co-belligerents, even on important issues like abortion, the sanctity of marriage, social justice. We should be more concerned about protecting the gospel than protecting our planet. We should be more passionate about defending the atonement than defending the environment. The church cannot allow any cause to be more important than Christ and His atonement, and that ought to frame-up the boundaries of our fellowship. In a biblical church, Christ and His gospel will hold the central place.

Now again, let me make this personal. Those are ways you can see it in the church. But let me ask you, I want you to ask this question before the Lord today: can you honestly say before God right now, as the Lord knows your heart, my life revolves around Jesus Christ, my life centers in Jesus Christ? Do you put Jesus and His kingdom first in your decisions? Matthew 6 says, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness," and then everything you need in life will be added to you. Do you do that? Are you willing to let Jesus determine where you will serve Him and what you will do with your life? I often quote David Livingstone's prayer, the missionary to Africa. He braved Africa for the sake of Christ and the gospel. He said in his famous prayer, "Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever any tie except the ties that bind me to Your service and to Your heart." Have you ever, honestly, have you ever said that to God? I remember the circumstances when I said that to Christ. It was on the floor of a hospital room my junior year of college, and for me it meant changing majors from pre-law to bible. Do you consistently seek to obey Jesus' revealed commands? Do you seek to obey Him? Jesus said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do the things that I say?" This doesn't make sense. Don't call me your Master and yourself My slave, and then refuse to do what I tell you to do. Do you consistently seek to follow the commands that our Lord has given us in this book?

Before Copernicus, the Ptolemaic system was helpful. It could predict the hours of sunrise and sunset. It could chart the movements of the heavens to a certain degree, but it was terribly flawed. And as a result, it provided a warped perspective of the earth's role in the universe. Then Copernicus came along and he said, no, the sun is the center. Listen folks, spiritually, we live in a solar system that has laws as fixed as that of our earthly solar system, and the spiritual solar system in which we live revolves around Jesus Christ. Sadly, many churches, many individual Christians, have their calculations all wrong. They think the universe revolves around them, and then they make tragic decisions based on this flawed premise. Listen, will you determine today that Jesus Christ will be the center of your life as a Christian, that you will make decisions relative to Him, you will live for Him, you will seek to obey Him, you will follow Him as His disciple, He will be your Lord? He is, but He calls you to acknowledge it. Maybe you're here this morning and you have to acknowledge that whatever you may claim, you have lived life with yourself at the center. I plead with you today, turn to Christ. Repent of your sin, of your idolatry, of worshiping yourself rather than Christ, and let Him save you, let Him change you. Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your Word. Help us to live in such a way as a church, and as individuals, that Christ and the gospel are the galactic center of our spiritual universe. Father, forgive us for the idolatry of replacing Christ and that news with anything else. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.