Gaining a Greater Grasp of the Gospel
|By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2010|
|When we hear the word “Gospel,” we think we understand it, but do we know how to apply it to our lives? And yet this is exactly what God desires from each of us! The famous protestant reformer Martin Luther said we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day! But more than that, we need to learn how to live the Gospel! How do we do that?|
1 Thessalonians 2:13
- “We will never stop thanking God for this: that when we preached to you, you didn’t think of the words we spoke as being just our own, but you accepted what we said as the very Word of God which, of course, it was and it changed your lives when you believed it.”
Would you like to gain a greater grasp on the Gospel? Would it surprise you to know that it’s not enough to believe the Gospel; we also need to learn to live the gospel? But first let’s ask…
I. What is the Gospel?
It’s referred to in Scripture as the Word of the Lord, the Word of Christ, the Gospel of the Grace God, the Word of the Cross, the Word of Truth, the Message of Reconciliation, the Good News of the Kingdom, etc.
When we hear the word “Gospel,” we think we understand it, but do we know how to apply it to our lives? And yet this is exactly what God desires from each of us! The famous protestant reformer Martin Luther said we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day! But more than that, we need to learn how to live the Gospel! How do we do that?
- Romans 1:16, 17 – The Gospel is God’s power: the only means to personal, permanent and positive change.
- Colossians 1:6, 7 – The Gospel is continually bearing fruit and growing in the lives of those who believe.
- 2 Peter 1:3-9 – If we forget what God has done for us in the Gospel, we won’t change for the better.
God has given us His Gospel for personal (regeneration) and interpersonal (reconciliation) transformation. God has given us through the Gospel: a new nature (2 Cor. 5:17) as well as a new relationship (Rom. 5:1). Far too many Christians live with an inadequate, limited, substandard or truncated understanding of the Gospel.
Here’s an important question for all of us: Do we think of the Gospel merely as a door to the Kingdom or is it also the road on which we’re to walk every day of our lives in the Kingdom? In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus said: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and there are few who find it.”
The Gospel is not only a door to but also a path through the Kingdom that God wants us to daily walk on! The Gospel is not just the message of the Kingdom but also it’s the means of navigating the Kingdom. The Gospel isn’t just the means of salvation (justification); it’s also a method of transformation (sanctification). The Gospel not only makes us right with God but also it frees us to: daily delight in the grace of God. The Gospel frees us not only fully from the penalty of sin, but also increasingly from the power of sin. When do we usually first become aware of God’s holiness and our sinfulness? Answer: At Conversion.
How does Christ bridge the gap between God’s holiness and my sinfulness? Answer: Through the cross. What happens over time as we grow in our understanding/awareness of God’s holiness and our sinfulness? Second Peter 3:18a: says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
What is the Gospel? – (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 and 1 Peter 3:18)
The Gospel is the Good News of God’s Sovereign Love and Radical Grace in Christ:
- An Eternal Plan of how God will relate to man – (according to the Scriptures).
- A decisive and cataclysmic Historical Event – Christ died on the cross.
- An Achievement in and through this event – Christ dies for our sins (atonement).
- A Spiritual Victory over sin, death and the devil – the resurrection of Christ.
- Free offer of the Sovereign Grace of God – (not works, which is no gospel at all)
- Application of that achievement by the Spirit in regeneration and illumination.
- A Response enabled by the Spirit: honesty, humility, insight, repentance and faith
- Conveying the Benefits of the Gospel – justification, forgiveness, and reconciliation
- Resulting in the Fruits of the Gospel – saved for good works not by good works
- End Result of the Gospel is that we might be brought to God (1 Pet. 3:18).
II. The Way of the Cross
Our thoughts, words, actions and attitudes can, figuratively speaking, shrink or enlarge the cross of Christ. How do we enlarge the cross of Christ? By growing in our awareness of our sinfulness and God’s holiness! How do we shrink the cross of Christ? We shrink it by minimizing our sin and God’s holiness.
What are some of the basic ways we shrink the cross by minimizing our own sinfulness?
- Defending: Do you find it difficult to receive constructive feedback about your weaknesses?
- Faking: Do you strive to keep up appearances and maintain a respectable persona?
- Hiding: Do you try and conceal as much of your life as you can – especially the bad stuff?
- Exaggerating: Do you tend to think and talk more highly of yourself than you ought?
- Blaming: Do you quickly blame others for your circumstances or for your shortcomings?
- Minimizing: Do you tend to view your sin as normal and inconsequential – saying it’s not really that bad?
We primarily shrink the cross through pretending (hypocrisy) and/or performing (self-righteousness). 1) We pretend when we make ourselves out to be spiritually better than we are – that’s hypocrisy. 2) We perform when we reduce God’s standards to something we can meet in our own strength. Both are rooted in an inadequate view of who God is (holiness) and who we are in Christ (our true identity).
What if, instead of growing in our understanding of God’s holiness and our sinfulness, we diminish God’s holiness and our sinfulness? Then we shrink the cross rather than enlarge it. Why is this important? Since he who is forgiven much loves much, the bigger the cross, the greater our love for Christ (Luke 7:47). 1) Colossians 1:23 says we’re not to be moved away from the hope held out in the gospel. But rather, 2) Colossians 3:16 says we’re to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly as we teach and admonish with all wisdom.
Growing in our awareness of our sinfulness isn’t fun, but it’s essential to growth (radical self-confrontation). The increased awareness of our sin can be a crushing weight if we’re not resting in Christ’s righteousness. Our subtle tendencies toward pretending can take many forms: dishonesty (I’m not that bad), comparison (I’m not as bad as others), excuse making (I’m not really that way), false righteousness (look at the good things I’ve done). Because we don’t want to admit how sinful we really are, we deny and distort the truth. If we’re not rooted in God’s acceptance of us through Christ, we try and compensate by earning God’s approval through our performance. We try and gain God favor by living up to our mistaken view of His expectations.
How do these tendencies of pretending and performing find practical expressions in our daily lives? When our lives are not firmly rooted in the Gospel we rely on a false sense of righteousness to give us a sense of worth and value. These false sources of righteousness disconnect us from the power of the Gospel. They are also a way of judging or excluding others. Counterfeit sources of righteousness lead us into more sin – the sin of judging others. We become self-righteous when we favorably compare ourselves with others: 2 Corinthians 10:12: “We do not dare to [classify or] compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
Our standard (master, model and mentor) is Christ, not other Christians. We are to look to Him as our example, energy and encouragement. If we look to other Christians we will always be disappointed because we all have feet of clay. But if we look to Jesus we will never be disappointed, because He is the sinless Son of God who does all things well. That’s why the writer of Hebrews says, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards; and now he sits in the place of honor by the throne of God. If you want to keep from becoming fainthearted and weary, think about his patience as sinful men did such terrible things to him” (Heb. 12:2-3).
Do you want to know if you have a tendency toward performance? Ask, as God thinks of me right now, what is the look on His face? Do you picture God as angry, upset, disappointed or even indifferent? If you imagine Him as anything but overjoyed with you, you have fallen into the performance or self-righteousness trap. The Gospel truth is that in Christ, God is deeply satisfied with you! When you fail to root your identity in what Christ has done for you, you root your identity in performance driven Christianity. Living this way saps the joy and delight out of following Christ. Just as: 1) Pretending driven living minimizes our sinfulness; even so, 2) Performance driven Christianity minimizes God’s holiness.
Our subtle tendencies of pretending and performing show that failing to believe the Gospel is at the root of our more observable sins. How do we learn to apply the Gospel to our unbelief? As we preach the Gospel to ourselves, we find ourselves freed from the false security of pretending and/or performing. Instead, we can live in the true freedom and joy promised by Jesus (John 8:31-32; John 15:11).
III. Believing the Gospel
Do you believe and live the Gospel? If so, how do you know? What remedies in the Gospel will keep us from shrinking the cross and depending on our own self effort? According to 2 Peter 1:9, what is one of the primary reasons we don’t grow spiritually? We’re forgetful! The good news God has for us is that a vibrant belief in the Gospel frees us from ourselves and produces true and lasting spiritual transformation… At the root of our nature is an on-going struggle for righteousness and identity – both of which are found in Christ.
We long for God’s approval and significance because we’re designed by God to find these things in Him. Paul said in Romans 10:3 in reference to the Jews: “…they do not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own….” Sad to say, too many Christians do the same thing. Pretending and performing are two ways of seeking to establish our own righteousness. When we pretend, we’re trying to make ourselves better than we are. When we perform, we’re trying to please God by what we do. Pretending and performing are vain attempts at self-righteousness and vain attempts at finding our identity apart from Jesus.
If we’re going to experience personal spiritual transformation, we’re going to have to continually repent of these sinful patterns of pretending and performing. Our souls must become deeply rooted in the truth of the gospel so that we anchor our righteousness and identity in Jesus and not in ourselves. More specifically, the gospel promises of Christ’s righteousness and our adoption must become central in our thinking and living. Romans 3:21-22 speaks of “righteousness from God that comes though faith in Christ to all who believe.”
What’s the only alternative to Christ’s righteousness? Self righteousness. The solution: 1) repent of any false sources of righteousness and learn 2) to preach the truth to ourselves, 3) to live graciously (the Gospel) and 4) to show others the radical kindness (grace) of God. The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:30-31:
- For it is from God alone that you have your life through Christ Jesus. He showed us God’s plan of salvation; he was the one who made us acceptable to God; he made us pure and holy and gave himself to purchase our salvation…. If anyone is going to boast, let him boast only of what the Lord has done.
If God’s alternative to self-righteousness is Christ’s righteousness, what is the key to our identity? The key to our identity is the fact that God has adopted us into his family by virtue of our union with Jesus. The Spirit confirms that truth within each believer (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:7). Our identity is grace-based!
How many Christians know who they are in Christ or how many are prone to forget who they are in Christ? We must repent of our orphan like mentality and draw on our true identity as children of the King! I challenge each one of you to regularly reflect on: who you are in Christ! You’re a new creation! (2 Cor. 5:1:7)
If you are seeking to find significance and identity a part from Christ, you’re looking in the wrong place! There’s nothing ultimately significant about spending eternity a part from Jesus Christ. There’s no greater source of identity than being 1) a child of the King and by grace being 2) a member of God’s family. First Corinthians 15:10a says, “whatever I am now it is all because God poured out such kindness and grace upon me.”
A healthy self-concept must be “graced based.” An unhealthy self-concept is “works-based.”
A grace based self-concept leads to security, humility and gratitude. A works based self-concept leads to insecurity, foolish pride and self-righteousness.
A grace based self-concept depends on what God thinks about us. A works based self-concept depends on what other people think about us.
The good news is that Christ has done everything necessary to secure God’s love and acceptance of us. 1) God’s majestic holiness should lead us to worship as well as to personal transformation (2 Cor. 3: 18). 2) Our exceeding sinfulness should lead us to a life of gratitude to God in response to His grace (1 Thess. 5:18).
At the root of our visible sins lies our struggle for righteousness and identity. Christ has provided an answer to the need for righteousness and identity in: 1) Who he is, 2) What he has done and 3) How he relates to us!
We must realize that pretending and performing are vain attempts at building our righteousness and identity. We must realize that pretending and performing will keep us from living Gospel-centered lives! God’s antidote to pretending and performing is radical honesty and genuine repentance! (Psa. 51:6a; 139:23, 24). Confident trust in the power and the promises of the Gospel! (Rom. 1:16-17; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Pet. 1:4). We must repent and believe anew the promises of the Gospel. As we walk in this way, the Gospel will take root in our souls and the cross of Christ will become a larger reality in our lives (John 14:21, 23).
Appendix: What’s so Great About the Gospel?
The Gospel means “good news,” but what’s so good about the Gospel? In Revelation 21:5, Jesus said: “I am making everything new.” Since we have responded to Christ in repentance and faith, what is new?
New Covenant – Luke 2:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25
New Abundant Life – John 10:10; Romans 6:23
New Commandment – John 13:34
New Commission – Matthew 28:18-20
New Way – Romans 6:7; Hebrews 10:2
New Nature – 2 Corinthians 5:17
New Self – Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 3:10
New Identity – 1 Corinthians 15:10
New Father and Family – John 1:12
New Christ like Attitude – Philippians 2:5
New Purpose in Life – 2 Corinthians 5:15
New World Order – Hebrews 9:10
New Kingdom – Colossians 1:12-13
New Birth – 1 Peter 1:3; Titus 3:5
New Heavens and Earth – 2 Peter 3:13
New Song in Our Hearts – Revelation 5:9; 14:3
New Spiritual Bodies – 1 Corinthians 15:44
New Relationships – 2 Corinthians 5:19-20
New Desires – Philippians 2:13
New Power – Ephesians 5:18; Acts 1:8
New Discernment – 1 Corinthians 2:12-14
New Worldview – 2 Corinthians 5:16
New Revelation – Ephesians 3:5
New Freedom – John 8:31-34
New Spiritual Fruit – Galatians 5:22-23
New Found Faith – Acts 20:21; Romans 1:17
New Righteousness – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31
New Heart/Spirit – Ezekiel 36:26
What Is the Gospel and Why Is It So Important?
The Gospel concerns the greatest person in the world… (Christ the King – The Sinless Son Of God).
Who did the greatest thing in the world… (He Died On the Cross and Rose from the Dead)
To meet the greatest need of the world and… (Forgiveness of Sins and Reconciliation with God)
To convey the greatest benefit to the world… (An Abundant and Eternal Life of Love in Christ)
The greatest privilege in the world… (Being Used By God to Accomplish His Purpose)
Is for those who have accepted Christ as savior… (Through Repentance from Sin and Faith in Christ)
To share the greatest news in the world… (The Good News of God’s Love in Christ)
With the neediest people in the world… (Those Who Are Dead In Their Trespasses and Sins)
So that all might glorify the one true God in this world… (Through Our Thoughts, Words, Actions and Attitudes)
The Goal of the Gospel is Love: 1 Timothy 1:5
The goal of our charge – (the truth of the Gospel) is love – (Gal. 5:22)
God’s law/commandments are summed up in love (Rom. 13:8-10)
The Gospel enables us to love and rightly relates us to both God and others.
Which comes from: The root or wellspring of love is a magnificent trilogy!
This love is rooted in a man’s response to the love of God in Christ!
Love comes from having the proper God-given motives, conduct and convictions.
1. A Pure Heart – (Motives) our hearts must be cleansed from self-centeredness.
In Matthew 5: 8, Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
If we are to obey Matthew 22:37-40 (agape love is unselfish and unconditional)
Pure as opposed to impure – polluted by sin. A pure heart is a properly motivated heart.
By desiring God’s will we have a desire for God’s love and God’s glory.
One who is pure in heart hungers and thirsts for God’s righteousness.
One who is pure in heart desires to please God and to be helpful to others.
The heart represents the core of our being. A pure heart is one that is cleansed from sin.
Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
2. A Good Conscience (Conduct) 1 Timothy 5:19 – as opposed to the seared or defiled conscience.
One with a good conscience is able to look at oneself in the mirror and not feel ashamed.
A good conscience is a healthy – a properly functioning clear conscience (Acts 24:16).
A good conscience is not a perfect one but one able to rest in God’s grace and forgiveness.
A good conscience is one which is conditioned by the absolute moral values of God’s Word.
A good conscience is free from guilt by the application of Christ’s blood (1 John 1:9).
3. A Sincere Faith. (Convictions) Unhypocritical – faith links us to God who is the source of love.
You can’t be genuine if you are trying to be something that you are not (i.e., hypocrite).
A sincere faith implies belief in the truth upon which our faith is based (John 17:17).
Our faith enables us to enjoy a pure heart and have a desire to maintain a good conscience.
A sincere faith is based on genuine convictions regarding the truth of God’s Word.
What is the bottomline? The Gospel is designed to enable us to live a life of love (John 13:34, 35).