At Grace Covenant we talk a lot about being gospel-centered as a church, and we encourage gospel-centered living among our people. From time to time we get asked by our newcomers, “What exactly does that mean? What does it look like?” Here is a brief explanation.
Before we jump into gospel-centeredness we need to be clear about the gospel itself. In the simplest of terms the gospel is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that accomplishes redemption and restoration for all who believe and all of creation. In his life Jesus fulfilled the law and accomplished all righteousness on behalf of sinners who have broken God’s law at every point. In his death Jesus atones for our sins, satisfying the wrath of God and obtaining forgiveness for all who believe. In his resurrection Jesus’ victory over sin and death is the guarantee of our victory over the same in and through him. Jesus’ saving work not only redeems sinners, uniting them to God, but also assures the future restoration of all creation. This is the gospel, the “good news,” that God redeems a fallen world by his grace.
Gospel-Centered: The Big Picture
Therefore, to be gospel-centered means that that the gospel – and Jesus himself – is our greatest hope and boast, our deepest longing and joy, and our most passionate song and message. It means that the gospel is what defines us as Christians, unites us as brothers and sisters, changes us as sinner/saints and sends us as God’s people on mission. When we are gospel-centered the gospel is exalted above every other good thing in our lives and triumphs over every bad thing set against it.
The Gospel-Centered Life
More specifically, the gospel-centered life is a life where a Christian experiences a growing personal reliance on the gospel that protects him from depending on his own religious performance and being seduced and overwhelmed by idols. The gospel centered life produces:
Confidence (Heb. 3:14; 4:16) When the gospel is central in our lives, we have confidence before God – not because of our achievements, but because of Christ’s atonement. We can approach God knowing that he receives us as his children. We do not allow our sins to anchor us to guilt and despair, but their very presence in our lives compels us to flee again and again to Christ for grace that restores our spirits and gives us strength.
Intimacy (Heb. 7:25; 10:22; James 4:8) When the gospel is central in our lives, we have and maintain intimacy with God, not because of our religious performance, but because of Jesus’ priestly ministry. We know that Jesus is our mediator with God the Father and that he has made perfect peace for us through his sacrifice allowing us to draw near to God with the eager expectation of receiving grace, not judgment.
Transformation (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13) When the gospel is central in our lives, we experience spiritual transformation, not just moral improvement, and this change does not come about by our willpower, but by the power of the resurrection. Our hope for becoming what God designed and desires for us is not trying harder, but trusting more – relying on his truth and Spirit to sanctify us.
Community (Heb. 3:12, 13; 10:25; 2 Tim 3:16, 17) When the gospel is central in our lives, we long for and discover unity with other believers in the local church, not because of any cultural commonality, but because of our common faith and Savior. It is within this covenant community, if the community itself is gospel-centered, that we experience the kind of fellowship that comforts the afflicted, corrects the wayward, strengthens the weak, and encourages the disheartened (- which is all of us at one time or another, and to varying degrees).
The Gospel-Centered Church
A gospel-centered church is a church that is about Jesus above everything else. That sounds a little obvious, but when we talk about striving to be and maintain gospel-centrality as a church we are recognizing our tendency to focus on many other things (often good and important things) instead of Jesus. There are really only two options for local churches: they will be gospel-centered, or they will be issue(s) driven.
Issue-driven churches can be conservative or liberal, and come from any denominational tribe. A church can get the gospel “right” on paper and still not be gospel-centered in practice.
Some churches are driven by doctrinal purity. In the pursuit of the truth it is not uncommon for a church to be more about their theological heritage than the founder and perfecter of our faith. Some churches are driven by numbers. The desire to see as many people as possible trust in Christ can lead to a pragmatism that gives the nod to anything that results in more people in the front door. Some churches are driven by a desire to be culturally relevant, while other churches are focused on how culturally distinct they can remain. In both cases something other than the cross is capturing the attention of the congregation. Some churches are driven by social or spiritual works that, while good, begin to eclipse the point of all good works.
Gospel-centered churches do not forsake these things, but they are not driven by them. They are driven by a love for Jesus and his work on our behalf. Therefore gospel-centered churches are so focused on Jesus and the hope of redemption that they are passionate and articulate about their theology. Their desire to know and make known Jesus demands doctrinal precision and leads them to want and work toward as many people as possible repenting of sin and trusting in Christ. When the gospel is central in a church it leads them out into the world on mission, while preserving their counter-cultural character as the people of God. The gospel-centered church is driven by love (for God and others) and this leads to joyful obedience that points back to God.
In saying this we don’t want to suggest that here at Grace Covenant we do not struggle with being issue driven. That temptation is always present, and it is why we work hard to maintain gospel-centrality by keeping the gospel always before us in our work and worship.
Helpful reading on maintaining gospel-centrality:
Adapted from the work of Joe Thorn, Redeemer Fellowship, St. Charles, Ill, and used with his permission