Values: The Gospel (Part 1b)

On Tuesday, I talked about the essence of the gospel. Today, we'll look at the implications of the gospel. How Does the Gospel "Work"?

It's not enough to know the gospel message. We must learn to apply this knowledge to our lives; to think in ways that are shaped by and conformed to the gospel. When thinking about the gospel, we must be careful to avoid reductionism. Though the gospel message can be simply stated, it isn't a "simple" message. It has depth and texture. Therefore, we must never content ourselves with a shallow understanding of the faith. Our devotion to Christ should be childlike (see Matthew 18:1-6; 2 Corinthians 11:3). Our knowledge of him should not (see 1 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 4:13-14). As we said last week, the gospel is not simply the basics of the faith; it is the faith. Tim Keller says,

“The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.”

The gospel is what saved us from the penalty of sin (Ephesians 1:13). But it is also saving us from the power of sin (1 Corinthians 15:2), and will one day deliver us from the very presence of sin (Romans 5:8-10; 8:29-30). The gospel is God's power for salvation (Romans 1:16-17). It reveals the beauty of God (2 Corinthians 4:4-6), and conveys the life of God (Galatians 4:19; 2 Timothy 1:10). Through the gospel, we receive the blessings of God (1 Corinthians 9:23; Ephesians 1:3), and make progress in the Christian life (Colossians 1:6).
The gospel is what motivates us to change. When Paul wants to motivate his readers, what does he do? Does he give pep-talks? Does he bombard his readers with techniques, rituals and rules? No. He preaches the gospel. In Romans 1-11, he systematically explains what God has done in Christ. Then in 12:1 he says, "Therefore (in light of everything I've just said about the gospel), here's how you should live." He does the same thing in Ephesians and Colossians. We change because of what God has already done (see 1 John 4:19), and in response to what he has already done (see 2 Corinthians 5:14).
Paul utilizes the gospel to confront racism and ethnocentrism (Galatians 2:11-21), to explain the meaning of marriage (Ephesians 5:18-32), and to promote financial generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1-9). The gospel speaks to every issue we face. Thus Keller is not overstating the case when he says that,

...the Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life-- spiritual, psychological, corporate, social--by thinking, hoping, and living out the “lines” or ramifications of the gospel.

Jeff Vanderstelt calls this, "gospel fluency." If you are fluent in a language, you speak the language; you think in the language; you even dream in the language. We use language to make sense of ourselves and our world. We should use the gospel in the same way.

Putting the Gospel to Good Use

So how do we develop gospel fluency? How do we apply the truth of the gospel in such a way that it brings real and lasting change? Let's begin at the personal level. The gospel speaks to every issue (including politics, culture, the environment, social justice, etc). But does it speak to us? Do we address our sin with the reality of what Jesus has done?

Keller has developed a helpful framework for applying the gospel to personal issues (as a side note, you've probably noticed my bro-mantic obsession with Tim Keller. Guilty as charged. Go read everything he's ever written and then listen to every sermon he's ever preached). When we reflect on what Jesus has done for us, we are immediately aware of two radical truths;

  • I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believed.
  • I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope.

You are so sinful that Jesus had to die to save you.                                                            You are so loved that Jesus was glad to die to save you.

Grasping these two realities creates a powerful new dynamic in the Christian life. On the one hand, you will be humbled by the depth your sin. On the other hand, you will be astounded by the goodness of God. And as your awareness of your brokenness increases, so will your appreciation for God's grace in Christ.

As Jesus said, she who is forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:36-50). Only grace will make you simultaneously humble (I deserve no good thing from God) and confident (I receive every good thing from God).

Case Studies

How do we apply these two gospel truths to our lives? Let me share two personal examples.

Approval

I idolize the approval of others. In light of the gospel, how should I think about my approval-idolatry?

On the one hand, this sin is far worse than I would dare to imagine. I crave approval not simply because I'm insecure, or have low self-esteem, but because I worship people rather than God. God created me. And he created me to worship him (Romans 1:18-20). Yet, I'd rather please frail and fallen humans than my pure and infinite God. My approval-idolatry is so monstrous that God's Son had to die to save me from it.

On the other hand, God already approves of me completely! I am righteous and pure in Christ. In Christ, I am totally loved and accepted.

I don't care about God's approval, yet God accepts me, 100%.

As I reflect on these realities, I am drawn to worship God. I desire to please God not out of fear or pride, but out of humble gratitude. Moreover, I am freed to serve others for their benefit, not to stroke my own ego.

Criticism

Because I love approval, I hate criticism. In light of the gospel, how should I think about this aversion? On the one hand, I must remember that I am sinful and broken. There truly is something wrong with me. The fact that others notice this shouldn't surprise me. In fact, I should probably be surprised at how infrequently people do notice this!

On the other hand, criticism doesn't define me. God never speaks a word of condemnation against me (Romans 8:1, 33-34). In Christ, his message is always, "you are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased" (see Zephaniah 3:14-17). The God of the universe has already made an eternally binding and totally authoritative pronouncement concerning who I am. Why should I care about what anyone else says?

When I reflect on the gospel, I'm liberated to (a) accept criticism (there really is something wrong with me!), and yet (b) not be defined by it (God has already defined me, no one else can).

This is a brief sketch. Applying the gospel to our hearts is a skill that takes a lifetime to cultivate. There are no secret techniques or formulas. It's something that requires diligent study, reflection and prayer. Additionally, it's something that can only be accomplished in the context of a healthy Christian community.

To help you get started, here are some more resources: