A while back I was reading a discussion between some preachers online and one of them (I wish I remembered who) made a remark that hit me right between the eyes. He pointed out that as a kid, he wondered why his preacher was always talking about Paul and other Bible characters but rarely about Jesus. It was at that point that I realized that I had been doing the same thing. Over the course of the few years before I had preached all kinds of lessons about church doctrine, becoming better people, apologetics, etc. and very few about Jesus and His Gospel.

If the point of the Bible was to lead us to Jesus, and Christianity is about following Jesus’ footsteps, shouldn’t most of our preaching and teaching revolve around Jesus? As Charles Spurgeon said it, “If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.”

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t just my preaching – my whole Christian life had had very little focus on Jesus. I don’t know exactly how common an issue that is, but I know I’m not the only one. Here are 4 ways my Christianity had become Jesusless.

Patternism

I believe there’s a pattern of sound doctrine, and that it should be laid as a foundation for our beliefs as individual Christians and as congregations of Christians. But it’s not the pattern that saves us. Jesus does. We make every effort to follow the commands and doctrines He gave us, but nobody will be able to stand at the judgment and tell God, “I’m saved because I perfectly followed the pattern.” We don’t perfectly follow anything, and yet Jesus saved us despite our numerous imperfections (Rom. 5:8).

Moralism

Moralism views the Bible as a book that helps us become good people. Obviously using the Bible as a guide would make a person more moral and upstanding, but that’s not the point. The Bible makes it clear that no amount of individual effort can ever make us “good people.” Unfortunately, this convoluted version of the Gospel is often instilled in us at an early age, as many Sunday school lessons focus on the Bible’s moral teachings to help the child learn to “become a good person.” Beyond that, many Christian parents inadvertently teach a moralistic gospel, teaching children through implication that through hard work and dedication, they can become good people.

But the Bible doesn’t first teach us how to become good people. It first teaches us that we simply can’t. “…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). We aren’t just “mostly good people” who need covering for a few sins. We are hopelessly lost people without the blood of Christ cleansing us and His grace covering us daily. C.S. Lewis had the best quote to correct this mischaracterization of the gospel – “(The Christian) does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

(I explored my own struggles with moralism in more depth here.)

Bible knowledge

I always loved Bible Bowls and Bible class homework assignments as a kid. I swallowed all of that information up. However, it hit me a few years ago that all of that knowledge memorized and regurgitated had had little internal effect on me. In a sense, it was just trivia. That’s not to say that Bible bowls and Bible homework automatically lead to the kind of misunderstanding I had, but it’s certainly something to keep and mind and guard against lest the Bible become a book full of trivia to be recited rather than a transformational compilation of God’s own words.

Jesus pointed out that this was the Pharisees’ problem – “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). All the Bible knowledge in the world amounts to very little if it doesn’t lead us to the cross and help us become more like Jesus each day.

“Getting to heaven”

Churches are filled with people who want to go to heaven. Fewer churches are filled with people who want to look like Jesus, have Christ “formed in them” (Gal. 4:19), be “conformed to His image” (Rom. 8:29), and pick up their crosses and follow wherever He leads (Luke 9:23). When the focus of Christianity is getting to heaven, Jesus becomes a role player. He paid the price for our sins, and from there it’s up to us to stay on track and get to heaven.

When we put our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:2), we get a constant reminder of our failures, which leads to constant gratitude for His grace, which leads to greater motivation to keep on growing. There is no settling into a “going through the motions” rut when every day is motivated by being conformed to His image. Can you imagine how much different the church (and the world) would be if every Christian made their Christianity about becoming like Jesus rather than getting in to heaven?

The Old Testament showed us the hopelessness of mankind becoming good on their own, leading us directly to Jesus. The Gospels showed us the beauty of Jesus, full of grace and truth (John 1:17), setting the perfect example for us, bearing our sins, and rising again. The rest of the New Testament shows His disciples carrying out His mission, baptizing and teaching all that He commanded so His people could be conformed to His image. There is no Christianity without Jesus at the heart of every single day and every single thing we do.

Consider how much of your time as a Christian is spent on Jesus. I hope that, unlike I had been, your walk is centered on Him. But if not, if you find yourself using the Bible more as a pattern for perfect doctrine, a guide for a moral life, a book of knowledge to be digested, or a map to heaven with little emphasis on Jesus, I hope you’ll readjust the focus to put Him at the middle. If we understand, love, and appreciate Jesus, all of these other things fall into place.