Man-centered vs. Christ-centered: an illustration

Previously, I wrote about the need to get back to preaching that is Christ-centered rather than man-centered (Every story whispers his name). With the following passage, I will give the typical man-centered approach to it and then the context-sensitive, Christ-centered approach. Hopefully, you will be able to see that the Christ-centered approach will help Christians return to their first love: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

The man-centered approach

Most of the time, this verse will be used to exhort people to go to God boldly with their requests. However, the way it is presented, it is more of an encouragement to go to God brazenly or presumptuously. We are usually told that whatever we want we can get from God if we just have enough boldness. The insinuation is that God owes us something and it is our right to demand it from God. That insinuation crosses the line from confidence (boldness) to brazenness or arrogance. In fact, sometimes God comes across as a “meanie” if He doesn’t give us that new car we want. Somehow it is God’s fault that we don’t get what we want rather than our fault (not asking according to His will, asking according to our lusts, etc.). This man-centered approach elevates man and demeans God.

The Christ-centered approach

To center on Christ with this passage, we need to back up and read some of the context. We could back up and read most of the preceding chapters, but for now, we’ll just look at the two previous verses.

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

Notice the preceeding verses are talking about Christ. That’s a good start for a Christ-centered approach. Verse 16 has a “therefore” so we do need to back up to see why the “therefore” is there. Verse 14 points us to Christ and tells us he is our great high priest and he is in Heaven. We no longer are served by a human high priest who ministers here on earth, but rather by a great high priest with direct access to God. Verse 15 adds more detail. Jesus Christ is not sinful like the human high priests or us. He is without sin. He was also tempted just as we are so he knows the struggles we face. He knows our shortcomings and where we need help. He knows everything there is to know about us. He has full-knowledge and he has successfully overcome every trial and temptation. He knows what it takes to overcome.

That brings us to verse 16 and coming boldly. However, we also need to look at the object of coming boldly: mercy and grace in time of need. We need mercy because we have sinned. We need grace to help in time of need because we can do nothing on our own. Because Christ is our great high priest with direct access to God and because he was faced with the same trials and temptations that face us yet he is without sin, we can have confidence that when we sin or we need help to face a trial or temptation, we can go to him to get the mercy we need or the grace we need. Christ did what we cannot do, and therefore we need to go to him and ask him to help us. Our confidence (boldness) comes from the fact that Christ has won the victory – not that God owes us something if we demand it.

The man-centered approach teaches that we just need to muster up more boldness (brazenness) to get what we want. The Christ-centered approach exalts Christ and points to him as the victor and the source of strength to face our trials and temptations. The man-centered approach is an exhortation for man to muster up enough boldness. The Christ-centered approach is an encouragement that exalts what Christ has done and is doing for us. Which approach helps to return you to your first love?

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