Traditional Christianity claims to focus its worship on Jesus Christ. But didn't Jesus Christ Himself direct our attention, including even our prayers, to God the Father?
Where do we put our focus?
You have probably heard the sayings on the radio or television, or seen them on bumper stickers: "Christ is the answer" or, "Accept Christ and you will be saved."
As Christians, we should not assume anything regarding our worship. Rather, we should be sure our worship practices are in accordance with Scripture. Many surprises await the student of the Bible who carefully and prayerfully looks into God's Word.
Let us look first at the sayings attributed to Jesus Christ about Himself. Did He say He should be our center of focus? The answer may surprise you.
Christ our Mediator
When Jesus Christ's disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, that would have been the perfect opportunity for Him to emphasize Himself. But, instead, He said: "When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name" (Luke 11:2, author's emphasis throughout).
Our Savior made it clear that God the Father is to be our focus when we pray and that we are to concentrate on His glory, power, might and love for us.
It is true that Jesus said we are to pray "in Jesus' name" (John 14:13, 14; 15:16; 16:24, 26). This is because He mediates between God the Father and mankind. "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). A mediator, in either a religious or secular sense, is an integral part of a communication process, but the focus is on the one in charge.
For that reason, Jesus Christ did not focus attention on Himself. If we were to pray directly to Him, we might overlook God the Father. Many branches of Christianity put more emphasis on mediators than on the Supreme Being. Many Catholics view Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the chief mediator. Many Protestants focus primarily on Christ and virtually ignore God the Father.
Christ revealed a loving Father
Christ came to reveal a God who loves us as a father loves his own children. As Jesus Christ said: "The Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God" (John 16:27).
In the back of the minds of many Christians is the distorted idea that God the Father is the vengeful God of the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ came to shield us from the Father's wrath. That is an erroneous view. In reality, there is no difference in the love the Father and the Son have for us.
Perhaps forgotten in this context is this passage: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:16, 17).
The apostle John summed up God in one word. "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8).
Focus on the Father
It is this loving God whom Christ wants us to glorify. In His last prayer to His Father before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus said: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do . . . that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me" (John 17:3, 4, 23).
Throughout His life on earth, Jesus Christ's focus was on God the Father, and Christ remained subservient to Him. ". . . The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner . . . I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me" (John 5:19, 30).
Jesus unequivocally gave credit to God the Father. ". . . The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me . . . If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him" (John 10:25, 37, 38).
According to Jesus Christ, even the words He spoke came directly from God the Father: "For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak . . . Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak" (John 12:49, 50).
He added: "The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works" (John 14:10).
Jesus Christ lived His life in perfect accordance with God's will, striving to constantly please the Father.
Apostles looked to the Father
What about the writings of the apostles? Didn't they focus their attention primarily on Christ? It is interesting to see how many times they actually referred to Christ and to God the Father.
For instance, in Paul's first epistle, his letter to the Romans, in which he explains the process of salvation, he refers to God the Father 145 times. If he wanted us to focus our attention primarily on Christ, Paul certainly would have referred to Him more and left out most references to God the Father.
But Paul, the writer of many of the epistles, does not do this. He consistently speaks of God the Father first and then Christ. The apostle Paul begins each of his epistles to the churches with the greeting "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," always putting God the Father first. When writing to disciples such as Timothy, Titus and Philemon, he also lists God the Father first in his greeting.
Paul knew who is to be the center of our worship: "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . . Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever" (Ephesians 3:14-17, 20, 21).
Source of misplaced emphasis
Sadly, much of the prejudice against a view of God the Father as the center of our worship has to do with a wrong concept of God's law. Many associate the Ten Commandments, and other laws based on them, strictly with ancient Israel and a flawed concept of the God of the Old Testament.
So, to avoid the obligation to obey the law of God, many shift their attention to their concept of Jesus in the mistaken belief that all Christ asks is that we "love one another" and rely on "faith" and "grace." The result, thanks to vague interpretations of these terms, is a wide variance of beliefs. Thus spring hundreds of competing denominations, all claiming the name and authority of Christ.
Yet it was Jesus Christ who complemented the commandments of God with His teachings. He said: "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:9, 10).
When asked by a young man what he could do to attain to eternal life, Jesus Christ was clear in His answer: ". . . If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17). To make clear His meaning, Christ then quoted several of the Ten Commandments and another scripture based on them: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (verse 18).
Jesus Christ never attacked or belittled God's commandments. On the contrary, He taught that "whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17).
As prophesied, Christ came to "magnify the law, and make it honourable" (Isaiah 42:21, King James Version). He clearly upheld God's law in His actions and instruction. His teachings are extensions of God's commandments, showing us their spiritual intent and how we should apply them.
Proper emphasis and perspective
If we are to follow the examples of Jesus Christ and the apostles, and their scriptural instruction, God must be the focus of our worship; Jesus Christ made it clear that we pray, in Jesus' name (John 14:13, 14), directly to the Father. Jesus perfectly reflects God's love and character. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father," He said (John 14:9).
By becoming God-centered Christians, we will hold the biblical perspective of always looking to God the Father, following the example of Jesus Christ Himself in all He did.
Our focus must be on God the Father, His merciful law and on Jesus Christ, the Son, with His teachings. Revelation 14:12 describes Christians in the time of the end of the age: "Here is the patience [or endurance] of the saints: here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus."