A good word from Martin Luther on the importance of preaching the gospel in Christ’s person and work before moving to preaching Christ as an example. As a preacher, we might unwittingly miss the gospel in our pursuit of making application.
Be sure, moreover, that you do not make Christ into Moses, as if Christ did nothing more than teach and provide examples as the other saints do, as if the gospel were simply a textbook of teachings or laws. Therefore, you should grasp Christ, his words, works, sufferings, in a two-fold manner. First as an example that is presented to you, which you should follow and imitate. As St. Peter says in I Peter 4, ‘Christ suffered for us, thereby leaving us an example.’ Thus when you see how he prays, fasts, helps people, and shows them love, so also you should do, both for yourself and for your neighbor. However this is the smallest part of the gospel. For on this level Christ is of no more help to you than some other saint. His life remains his own and does not yet contribute anything to you. In short this mode [of understand Christ as simply an example] does not make Christians but only hypocrites. You must grasp Christ at a much higher level. Even though this higher level has for a long time been the very best, the preaching of it has been something rare. The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that it is your own (Martin Luther, “Proclamation Verses Moralism” in Richard Lischer, ed., Theories of Preaching [Durham, NC: Labyrinth, 1987], 97).