American Christianity is all too often known for its focus on “the self.” We focus on what Jesus can do for you and me, and every human being on the planet. If you accept Christ into your life, or so we are told, you will finally get that new car you’ve always wanted, and the illness you’ve suffered with for years will go away, not to mention that you will be popular and debt-free! Essentially, the life you’ve always wanted will be yours, if only you would give your life to Christ. That is often how the marketing ploy seems to work. Of course it doesn’t take long for the “new-believer” to realize that it doesn’t work that way. That you will be hated (John 15:18), persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12), and suffer (1 Peter 4:12) never seems to be part of the scheme.
I certainly don’t want to diminish in any way the fact that the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). The gospel message must be proclaimed the world over to individual men and women. People need know that if they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and turn from their sins, the most incredible, amazing, and fulfilling life awaits them. However, I believe that in our zeal to market the Christian faith to a post-modern world, we have actually distorted the gospel message. Allow Jonathan Edwards to explain:
“The excellence of Christ is such that the discovery of it is exceedingly contenting and satisfying to the soul. The inquiry of the soul is after that which is most excellent. The carnal soul imagines that earthly things are excellent: one thinks riches most excellent, another has the highest esteem of honor, and to another carnal pleasure appears the most excellent. But the soul cannot find contentment in any of these things because it soon finds an end to their excellence.”
When we try to market the Christian faith by saying the reward of Christ is all the worldly things we have ever wanted – healthy, wealth, and happiness, we set the “new convert” up for disappointment. As Edwards already explained, no worldly thing ever truly satisfies because it is not “that which is most excellent.”
Edwards continues: “But Jesus Christ has true excellence, and so great excellence that when they come to see it, they look no further. The mind rests there. It sees a transcendent glory and an ineffable sweetness in Him. It sees that until now, it has been pursuing shadows, but that now it has found the substance. Before it had been seeking happiness in the stream, but now it has found the ocean. The excellence of Christ is an object adequate to the natural cravings of the soul and is sufficient to fill the capacity. It is an infinite excellence – such a one as the mind desires – in which it can find no bounds.” Taken from “Sermon XII” in “The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2”
We seem to have missed the fact that the reward of accepting Christ is……Christ! He is the One whose glory, beauty, and excellence far surpasses any earthly thing. Christ himself is the reward and inheritance for all God’s chosen ones. And far from being a disappointment, the Lord Jesus Christ is an infinite source of joy, contentment, and happiness both in the present world, and even more so in the world to come – heaven. The apostle Paul knew of the beauty and excellence of Christ better than anyone. He writes:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)
We need to stop trying to improve the gospel when the substance of the gospel is already supreme and preeminent and entirely satisfying – Jesus Christ. The gospel is not about me or you or anyone else, save Christ the Lord. Until we rest satisfied in Him alone, our lives will be consumed in the pursuit of “that which is most excellent,” but never truly finding it.