Gospel-Driven Sanctification

by Jerry Bridges

Early in my Christian life I heard someone say, “The Bible was not given to increase your knowledge but to guide your conduct.” Later I came to realize that this statement was simplistic at best and erroneous at worst. The Bible is far more than a rulebook to follow. It is primarily the message of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, with everything in Scripture before the cross pointing to God’s redemptive work and everything after the cross–including our sanctification–flowing from that work.

There is an element of truth in this statement, however, and the Holy Spirit used it to help me to see that the Bible is not to be read just to gain knowledge. It is, indeed, to be obeyed and practically applied in our daily lives. As James says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

With my new insight, I prayed that God would use the Bible to guide my conduct. Then I began diligently to seek to obey it. I had never heard the phrase “the pursuit of holiness,” but that became my primary goal in life. Unfortunately, I made two mistakes. First, I assumed the Bible was something of a rulebook and that all I needed to do was to learn what it says and go do it. I knew nothing of the necessity of depending on the Holy Spirit for his guidance and enablement.

Still worse, I assumed that God’s acceptance of me and his blessing in my life depended on how well I did. I knew I was saved by grace through faith in Christ apart from any works. I had assurance of my salvation and expected to go to heaven when I died. But in my daily life, I thought God’s blessing depended on the practice of certain spiritual disciplines, such as having a daily quiet time and not knowingly committing any sin. I did not think this out but just unconsciously assumed it, given the Christian culture in which I lived. Yet it determined my attitude toward the Christian life.

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What Of It?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book Spiritual Depression, poignantly asserts:

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.” 

We all have this experience. For some it is nearly debilitating. The weight of guilt from past transgressions or inactions drains the emotional bank account. The result, as Lloyd-Jones says, is “unhappiness”. Discouragement. And whenever discouragement is left untreated, there is always the risk that it metastasizes into full blown depression.

The issue is not that these thoughts are necessarily wrong. We all have regrets of things we have done and of things we have left undone. What is wrong is how these feelings warp our sense of identity, and consequently our emotional health. What is wrong is how these things rob us of our connection with the greater truths of God’s Promises, often making the one “listening” to these mental accusations feel unworthy, and therefore disconnected from God himself.

The answer is not to simply ignore these mental accusations. There is a very real sense that we are “guilty”, and that we are “unworthy” to enjoy God’s presence. As Paul reminds us in Romans 3.23, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”. John concurs with Paul, reminding us in 1 John 1.8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” and again in v. 10, “If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and God’s word is not in us.”

The solution to our unhappiness is found in what John writes in between, in v. 9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In other words, the remedy to our unhappiness begins by owning whatever part of the accusations are true. We own it, then “confess it” to God. (NOTE: However, we must take care to not embrace what is untrue.)

Lloyd-Jones, who was a medical doctor before entering into pastoral ministry, prescribes that we “talk to ourselves” as medicine for our souls. After “confession”, which is talking to God, we are to “talk to ourselves.” We are to remind ourselves of the promises of the gospel, such as the promises of 1 John 1.9, or any of the many similar promises that are laced throughout the Scriptures. These promises are “greater truths” than whatever is true of our guilt; greater because they are God’s truths, God’s promises to those who rest in his grace, through faith in Christ.

What would such a conversation look like? What might we say to “ourselves” when our minds feel flooded with accusation? The video above provides a powerful example. In this video, actor Joseph Fiennes plays Martin Luther in the 2003 biopic, Luther. In the scene, Luther declares:

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”

This is what is called “preaching the gospel to yourself”!

As Luther ostensibly said at another time:

“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”

How to Preach the Gospel to Yourself

Preaching Gospel to Self

Paul, in Colossians 2.6, instructs us: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…”  Simple words, but powerfully practical when unpacked.

How did we “receive” Jesus?  By faith and repentance – or by repentance and faith.  We are not quite sure which comes first, but perhaps that does not matter.  It may be that the order is different with different people. What matters is that genuine conversion involves both of these elements: Repentance of our sin and of all our desire and attempts to save ourselves through our good behavior; Faith in the gospel – the good news – of what Jesus has done on our behalf, and what is offered to us in him.

If these are the two elements by which we received Jesus then, according to the Apostle’s instruction, these are the two elements that should be characteristic of our day-to-day life in Jesus.  The old Puritan Thomas Watson once wisely noted: “Faith and repentance are the two wings by which we fly toward heaven.”  In other words, faith and repentance are not only the instruments by which the journey of salvation is initiated, these are the practices by which we travel.  These are the ingredients of spiritual growth leading to maturity.

The chart above reflects both faith and repentance, and provides a tool to help us be able to “preach the gospel to ourselves”.

It reminds us that when recognize sin in our lives, our response should not be to simply resolve to “stop it”. We need to discern its source.  In other words, the sin we see, the sin which shows itself in our behavior (and in our attitudes), has deeper roots and causes.  So, like an explorer commissioned to trace the a great river to discover its tributaries and its origin, we are called upon to discover what “root sins” are tributaries of our behavior, and ultimately what idols are the original source.  Once discovered – or even while in the process of discovery – “putting sin to death” requires that we confess it and repent of it.  All of it – the sinful behaviors, the attitudes that lead to it, and the idols that source it.  Growth in grace is greater than mere moral reform.  Growth in grace is a work of the Spirit upon the heart which eventually and inevitably leads to a change in behavior.

Yet growth in grace does not come by confession and repentance alone.  Such may lead to behavior change, if we feel guilty enough and desire to change. But that is not growth in grace.  Growth in grace requires that we believe what grace gives; that we ponder what is true, and good, and beautiful: chiefly among such things is the gospel, the good news of what God promises – and does – when we trust  in Jesus.  (Philippians 4.8)   Reminded of the truths of the gospel, our hearts change; they turn toward God, causing us to hunger to grow more like him, and enabling us to rely more on his promise that what he began he will complete.  (Philippians 1.6)

This is the spiritual discipline of preaching the gospel to ourselves.

Gospel Greater Than God’s Law

Niagara at Night

Preaching through Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, I have received quite a bit of feedback – more than I receive during most series I have done.  Much to the relief of my thin skin, I have received no criticism (to date).  Most of the comments have been appreciative, either for the reminder of things that we need to remember, or for clarity on matters previously not understood.  (Either way, this is music to any ministers ears!)  The rest are questions – good questions; well-intentioned questions – concerning the role of our obedience. One godly man, a man I respect and enjoy, offered concerns about the possibility of people “hearing” cheap grace, knowing neither I nor our church believes grace is ever cheap.

These interactions have reminded me of what Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote regarding the possible charge of anti-nomianism:

If your presentation of the Gospel does not expose it to the charge of Anti-nomianism you are probably not putting it correctly.

(NOTE: Anti-nomianism means “against law” or “anti-law.  It is a $20 word for someone who sees no use or present value for God’s law or commands in the Christian Life.)

This semi-famous saying is excerpted from Lloyd-Jones commentary on Romans.  Lloyd-Jones’ insights are so well expressed that they are worth revisiting even now and again.  Below are his thoughts from Romans 3 (which include the above statement):

A very good way of testing any view that you may hold is this one: Is this view humbling to me, glorifying to God? If it is, it is probably right. You won’t go far wrong if whatever view you are holding is glorifying to God, humbling to man. But if your view seems to glorify you and to query God, well (there’s no need to argue or to go into details) it’s wrong. It’s a very good universal rule– that!

My last word of all is, again, a word primarily to preachers – indeed it’s a word to everybody in the sense that if ever you are putting the Gospel to another person, you’ve got a very good test whether you are preaching the Gospel in the right way. What’s that? Well, let me put it like this to you: If your presentation of the Gospel does not expose it to the charge of Antinomianism you are probably not putting it correctly.

What do I mean by that? Just this: The Gospel, you see, comes as this free gift of God – irrespective of what man does.

Now, the moment you say a thing like that, you are liable to provoke somebody to say: “Well, if that is so it doesn’t matter what I do.”

The Apostle takes up that argument more than once in this great epistle. “What then,” he says at the beginning of chapter 6, “shall we do evil – commit sin – that grace might abound?” He’s just been saying: “where sin abounded grace does much more abound.” “Very well,” says someone. “This is a marvelous doctrine, this ‘Go and get drunk, do what you like the grace of God will put you right.’” Anti-nomianism.

Now, this doctrine of the Scriptures – this justification by faith only, this free grace of God in salvation – is always exposed to that charge of Anti-nomianism. Paul was charged with it. He said, “You know, some people say that’s what I’m preaching.” Paul’s preaching was charged with Anti-nomianism…So I say, it is a very good test of preaching.

You see – what is not evangelical preaching is this: It’s the kind of preaching that says to people, “Now, if you live a good life; if you don’t commit certain sins; and if you do good to others; and if you become a church member and attend regularly and are busy and active you will be a fine Christian and you’ll go to Heaven. That’s the opposite of Evangelical preaching – and it isn’t exposed to the charge of Anti-nomianism because…it is telling men to save themselves by their good works…And it’s not the Gospel – because the Gospel always exposes itself to this misunderstanding from the standpoint of Anti-nomianism.

So, let all of us test our preaching, our conversation, our talk to others about the Gospel by that particular test…If you don’t make people say things like that sometimes, if you’re not misunderstood and slanderously reported from the standpoint of Anti-nomianism, it’s because you don’t believe the Gospel truly, and you don’t preach it truly.

Gospel Wakefulness

One of the more helpful works I have read concerning gospel-centered Christianity is Jared Wilson‘s Gospel Wakefulness.  Perhaps most insightful to me was Jared’s point that gospel-centeredness can be explained but cannot be taught.  In other words, it requires a grace of the holy spirit.  I do not think this realization moves gospel-centeredness into a neo-gnostic or higher life kind of category.  It simply is the realization that it is God who must work in us in our sanctification.  Thus the phrase Jared Wilson uses is Gospel Wakefulness.

In this video, Jared Wilson explain what Gospel-Wakefulness is.   This is not a short video, by any measure.  But it is worth taking the time – whether in one sitting, or in a series of starts-and-stops.

Counterfeit Gospels

Having begun a new series of messages at our church, Freedom: A Study of Galatians, I am struck anew by the passion with which the Apostle Paul uncompromisingly declares: “There is NO OTHER Gospel!”  What Paul does throughout his letter to the Galatians, and vividly in the opening verses, is to impress that claim upon his readers as he points out and combats the counterfeit gospels – philosophies which purport themselves to be good news, but which are in reality fraudulent teachings dressed in Christianese garb.  Paul’s response to these philosophies is to declare: “Even if we (Apostles, including he himself), or an angel from heaven comes and teaches you something other than the gospel you originally received, let them be eternally cursed!.” The essence of what he says is: “Anyone who tries to teach a fraudulent gospel can just go to hell!”  He is obviously serious about this to offer such a severe retort.

Counterfeit gospels are not just something from the Apostolic age.  They are all too prevalent today – and not only in heterodox churches.  They are present in the best of churches, and in the hearts of some of the most sincere followers of Christ. I suspect it is in our spiritual DNA, part of our broken nature. Are hearts are deceitful. (Jeremiah 17.9)  We are susceptible to gospel distortions – which Paul reminds us “are no gospel at all”.

Some time ago I picked up and read a book by Trevin Wax, Counterfiet Gospels.  I found it to be among the most helpful books I have read.Counterfeit Gospels

In one sense, nothing in the book was new for me.  Still, Trevin does an excellent job of explaining the gospel in it’s various aspects:

  • Gospel Story: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration
  • Gospel Announcement: Life, Death, Resurrection, and Exaltation of Jesus
  • Gospel Community: The Church

Just as important, he takes some commonly held notions and connects them to the different dimensions of the gospel. Included among the categories he connects with and compares to the gospel:

  • Activist Gospel
  • Moralistic Gospel
  • Pietistic or Quietistic Gospel
  • Therapeutic Gospel
  • Judgmentlessness Gospel
  • Churchless Gospel

In exploring these ideas, he shows that while at root they are in may respects good, yet how when misunderstood or misapplied they are contributing to an erosion of  the Faith.

What I don’t think I had ever before adequately considered was the connection of the categories Trevin identifies with the gospel. And what I think I appreciated most is that he identifies and examines not only the negatives of these  ideas, but he also explains their positives points as well.  He astutely points out that it is the very real positive aspects that make these points popular and palatable, and yet which also make them easily confused and dangerous.

In the short video above Trevin Wax provides a quick overview of his book, and briefly explains the categories he identifies.  So even if you find my description of his book a little fuzzy or confusing, take a moment to watch the video so Trevin can clarify what I am trying to convey.

11 Personal Heart Examination Points to Consider


It might be beneficial to periodically take some moments to consider if, to some degree, we are functionally forgetting the gospel.

“Forgetting the gospel?”

Yep.  As absurd as such a thing may sound, it is a very common spiritual issue for all of us.

Consider 2 Peter 1.3-9:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

What Peter is saying here, after reminding us of some of the implications of the gospel (v. 3-4), that we should be diligent about cultivating godly characteristics (v. 5-7) because this cultivation process is part of God’s means of producing spritual fruit in us (v. 8).  Conversely, the absence of, or lack of, godly characteristic and/or spiritual fruit is not primarily from a lack of diligence, but due to a mental disconnect from the gospel (v. 9).  Peter is not at all suggesting that we have lost our slavation. He is simply explaining that when we turn our attention from the gospel – that we have been “cleansed from our former sins” – the transforming power of the gospel is somewhat diminished in its potency.  This forgetting the gospel is the cause of fruitlessness and lack of spiritual growth.

So it is a good idea to consider things like the following descriptions. If some of these apply, it may be an indication that at this point in time we are functionally forgetting the gospel.

  • The gospel doesn’t interest you – or it maybe it does, but just not as much as some other religious subjects.
  • You take nearly everything personally.
  • You frequently worry about what other people think.
  • You treat inconveniences like minor tragedies (or maybe even major tragedies).
  • You are impatient with people.
  • In general, you have trouble seeing the fruit of the Spirit in your life.  (Galatians 5.22-23)
  • The Word of God holds little interest.
  • You have great difficulty forgiving.
  • You are told frequently by your spouse, a close friend, or some other family members that you are too “clingy” or too controlling.
  • You think someone besides yourself is the worst sinner you know.  (1 Timothy 1.15)

If we find some of these description appy, it is not reason to despair. The remedy is simply to remind ourselves of the gospel – ponder it; preach it to ourselves. (Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent is a good resource to remind us of the gospel.)

Remember: We renew ourselves in the gospel by reminding ourselves of the gospel.

Evidences of a Backslidden Condition

Through the prophet Jeremiah the Lord dispenses a treasury of wisdom and insight. Perhaps among the most valuable of those insights, at least to my thinking, is found in Jeremiah 17.9:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

The Lord also reminds us, through Jeremiah and scores of other places in his Word, that he is concerned about the heart; more concerned about the heart than even the behavior.  This is because the heart is the key. Whatever owns the heart will dictate the behavior – good or evil.  Yet, according to God, in the passage above, our hearts often deceive us.  We think one thing, unaware of all that is actually going on deep down within.  All looks calm on the surface, but underneath a sinkhole may be developing.  So it is essential that we learn to plumb and decipher our own hearts.  It is at least as important to do this as it is to evaluate our actions (or lack of them).

In his remarkable book, Revival, Richard Owen Roberts suggests to us that the real problem today, in society and in the church, is backslidden Christians.  The Free Dictionary defines backslide as

  • to revert to sin or wrongdoing
  • to lapse into bad habits or vices from a state of virtue, religious faith

Or as another old sage has expressed it:

A backslider is a person who was once emptied of his own ways and filled with the ways of God, but gradually allowed his own ways to step back in until he was all but empty of God and full of himself again.

This condition, whether you accept Roberts’ analysis or not, is quite common. We see it not only in our contemporary culture, but also throughout the pages of the Scripture:

  • Israel all throughout the OT
  • Paul points it out to the Corinthians, Galatians, etc.;
  • John speaks of it to most of the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3;

This should illustrate to us that the problem of backsliding, though not a biblical term, is a biblically recognized human condition – or rather it is a universal condition of humanity effected by the Fall.  There is none of us who is immune to it.  But there is both a remedy and a preventative inoculation that will help minimize susceptibility. The remedy is the gospel. The inoculation is a frequent and regular self assessment, and the applying of the gospel to every hint of infection the assessment reveals.

In Revival, Roberts provides a list of twenty-five possible evidences of a backslidden condition.  While this list is neither authoritative nor exhaustive, it does provide a pretty good index of symptoms to look out for.

Let me encourage you to read through it, jot them down, and honestly evaluate the present state of your personal life and the life of your church:

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REAL Christians Waltz

French Waltz

Listen to how Bob Flayhart, Senior Pator at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL, describes a Gospel-centered Christian Life:

A Gospel-centered life is the Christian Waltz. A waltz is a dance made up of three steps. Christians need to consider the Christian three step when it comes to growth.

In the first step, we acknowledge our need as we see our sin in light of the Law. In the second step, we look to Christ to change us. In the third step, we fight against sin and fight to choose righteousness in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Repent! Believe! Fight!…Repent! Believe! Fight!…Repent! Believe! Fight!

An emphasis on the love and grace of God lays the dance floor,or the foundation, for the waltz. Unless Christians are convinced of God’s love for them and His favor over them by virtue of their union with Christ, they will minimize their sin and engage in blame-shifting and excuse- making in order to feel justified before God.

Unfortunately, many in the Church today teach believers a Two-step. The two-step is to simply repent and fight. They acknowledge their sin and proceed with new resolve to try harder to avoid sin. The problem with this approach is it bypasses the cross of Christ and the power of the resurrection.

11 Indicator Lights of Spiritual Condiditon

Engine Warning Lights

In my old Jeep it is not uncommon for one of the indicator lights to flash on. Sometimes more than one may illumine.  Whenever this occurs it is an indication that there may be a problem.  Because it is an old Jeep, some lights pop on more frequently than others – often enough that it would be easy enough to ignore.  But to disregard any of these signs, common or not, could prove costly in the long run.

What is true of that old Jeep is, in a way, also true of my life.  For one thing, I have some miles on me, and no little wear and tear.  And sometimes my body will provide me with warning signs. But what of the parts of me that are not physically detectable?  They also can go out of kilter.  And neglect of these areas is even more perilous than neglect of the body. (1 Timothy 4.8)

Fortunately there are some indicators of our Spiritual vital signs.  While not “scientific” the following inventory, adapted from a list developed by Jared Wilson, are excellent personal examination points to consider:

  1. The gospel doesn’t interest you – or it maybe it does, but just not as much as some other religious subjects.
  2. You take nearly everything personally.
  3. You frequently worry about what other people think.
  4. You treat inconveniences like minor tragedies (or maybe even major tragedies).
  5. You are impatient with people.
  6. In general, you have trouble seeing the fruit of the Spirit in your life.  (Galatians 5.22-23)
  7. The Word of God holds little interest.
  8. You have great difficulty forgiving.
  9. You are told frequently by your spouse, a close friend, or some other family members that you are too “clingy” or too controlling.
  10. You think someone besides yourself is the worst sinner you know.  (1 Timothy 1.15)
  11. The idea of gospel-centrality makes no sense to you.

“OK”, you might say, “I have checked the list and see that a few of these lights come on at least every now and again. So now what?

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Gospel-centered Church


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.

The Gospel

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: 

Feather Pen

Adapted from the work of Joe Thorn, Redeemer Fellowship, St. Charles, Ill, and used with his permission

Living Dangerously

Danger Sign (Black)

One of the dangers of [obedience based Christianity] is that it can lead people to think God owes them a reward for their obedience. Their perspective in life is:

  • ‘If I do certain things, I expect God to come through for me’.   And when He doesn’t, they think: What’s wrong? Why isn’t He doing something to help me, and what can I do?
  • In the opposite direction, some people live in fear that because of their sin, God will punish them…This is a trap.

If we think we earn God’s favor by our obedience or disfavor by our disobedience, we will expect God to come through for us or, at the other extreme, will always be living in fear that ‘the other shoe will eventually drop’.

~ Jerry Bridges, from The Transforming Power of the Gospel

Appropriating Grace

Circle of Life (Celtic)

Here is an important reminder and challenge from Richard Lovelace, from his monumental Dynamics of Spiritual Life:

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives… Many… have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for their justification… drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance… Christians who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure persons… Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce, defensive assertion of their own righteousness, and defensive criticism of others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger.

This paragraph, surprisingly, caused somewhat of a stir when I posted it on my Facebook page yesterday.  Most appreciated it. Some who expressed appreciation, I wondered if they really understood what Lovelacve was saying.  I hope so.

So, how do we respond if we find ourselves among the majority who are not functionally appropriating the justifying work of Christ?

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Sad State of Evangelicalism

Broken Cross

An excellent, “must read”, article by Mark Galli for Christianity Today:  The Troubled State of Christian Preaching.  This is a great example of a “I Wish I’d Said That”.  All of Galli’s insight resonate …

Here is the gist of Galli’s tought, set within the context of the Presidential Inauguration and Louie Giglio being put on the un-invite list:

Even when we try to make Jesus first, we end up inadvertently making ourselves first.   …Unfortunately, in a desire to reach the world for Christ, some inadvertently …make much about our ultimate significance. Jesus becomes merely the means by which we feel better about our place in the universe. Need purpose and meaning? Follow Jesus, that will do the trick. In this subtle shift, we become the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega.