by Lauren Crane
Looking for peace, meaning and purpose in any place but in the good news of Jesus Christ will lead all believers into idolatry and will lead pastors to preach moral messages that do nothing to spiritually transform people.
Since becoming a follower of Jesus Christ as a junior in high school, Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis, Mo., has tried to make it his aim to focus on and preach on the true and living God and the good news of salvation. In a series of sermons at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on April 6-8, Patrick addressed the issues of idolatry and gospel-anchored preaching, and during a question and answer session with Southeastern president Daniel Akin, discussed his faith background, church planting and the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Patrick, who planted the St. Louis megachurch in 2002, came out of an unchurched background and only came to know the Lord through his involvement with a church-league basketball team while he was in high school. As he began to understand the Lord’s primacy in his life, Patrick said he started to understand that because of his acceptance by Christ, he could no longer live the way he had been.
“We obey Biblical principles not for our acceptance, but because of our acceptance,” Patrick said.
This focus on the Lord – both in our own hearts and in pastoral preaching – is a must for faithful ministries, Patrick taught. On April 6, Patrick first addressed the issue of idolatry, saying it is the most warned-about sin in the Bible.
Because idolatry is the core issue of sin, it is the focus of the first two of the 10 commandments. Patrick said, “If we break commandments 3-10, it is because we have firstly broken the first two commandments,” Patrick said. “Everyone is a worshiper of something. You were created to worship and simply must worship. We simply must trust something beyond ourselves, and whatever we look to begins to rule our lives.”
However, idolatry occurs when anything other than the Lord begins to take that spot of primacy in our hearts. “This is why the Bible teaches that idolatry as the only alternative to faith in the one true God.” Patrick said every believer is either a worshiper of God or an idolator, worshiping a God substitute.
Even good things can become idols, when they become “too good. If it becomes the main way you feel alive, it becomes an idol.” Patrick said people will look to idols to give them peace, meaning and purpose in life. “We want them to give us what only God can give us. That’s why they always disappoint.”
Some things that become idols are things that Patrick said, “are good things, but that become too good. Ministry is good, but it is not God. Even being a pastor is good, but it is not the best thing.”
A trap many pastors fall into is chasing after the idol of approval by preaching sermons that are more “feel-good” than gospel-centered, Patrick said. During his chapel message on April 8, Patrick sought to teach the young preachers how to preach in such a way that believers are edified and non-believers are converted.
“How do you preach in such a way that the believers in your church bring unbelieving friends? Do you talk about sin in such a way that post-moderns don’t blow you off?” Patrick asked. “The way is by preaching the gospel. You have all the resources because the Bible screams the gospel.”
The problem, Patrick said, is that pastors “aren’t great at tying our sermons back to the person and work of Jesus Christ as the grounds for our obedience.”
The same gospel that leads people to become followers of Christ is also prescriptive for how to live in obedience to Christ, Patrick said. “Does the Apostle Paul say he only preaches salvation? He talked to them about all things by talking about the person and work of Jesus Christ on their behalf.
When preachers today teach on all things, they must first identify the hero of the story – always Jesus – and not make biblical principles the hero. This will lead to sermons being gospel-centered instead of concerned with legalism or pleasing the congregations with “seeker-sensitive” messages.
“It’s not like we ever intend for Jesus to not be the hero, but we face pressure.” Patrick said, “You go into churches and feel pressure because the people beg, ‘Pastor, fix me.’ They want you to address ‘felt needs.’”
Addressing three of the most common ‘felt needs’ he sees in the church today, Patrick discussed how the gospel directly applies to money, marriage and sex by pointing to Jesus and his example. In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Patrick said Paul is trying to motivate the people to give generously by pointing to Jesus.
“He doesn’t do shame or guilt. He does directness. Jesus gave everything. Look on him.”
Likewise, Patrick said for those who want answers or advice about their marriage or sex life, Patrick said to look to the gospel as the source of guidance.
“Is it about you and what you must do, or is the about God and what he has done? The gospel is this: That God himself has come to rescue sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ,” Patrick said. The motivation for behaving a certain way in marriage or for governing your sex life a certain way is the gospel.
“You have to have your heart imploded by the generosity and love of the Lord,” Patrick said. “That will make you pure, loving and generous long-term. If you preach like this, you’ll begin to produce spirit-transformed people, not merely morally restrained people.”
This habitual cycle of identifying sin and idols in your life, repenting of them and being transformed to look more like the Lord because of his acceptance of you, will lead to spiritual transformation and a community of believers who resemble Jesus Christ.
The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.