Illustration of a Healthy Church

Church on Mission

If our congregation were to be a church with the gospel, plus a group that enjoys being together in community, but we were not on mission to reach out to our neighbors and the Nations, for the sake of advancing Christ’s Kingdom, then we would just be another social club for people to attend.

Gospel + Community – Mission = Club

If we were to be a church with the gospel, and we were actively engaged in mission to our neighbors, but not together in community, then we would  be like a bunch of silos that aren’t truly showing off the body of Christ. We could not be considered like a city on a hill.

Gospel + Mission – Community = Para-Church

If were to become a church actively on mission, serving together in community with one another, but we had no gospel, or we were careless about the truths of the gospel, we would then merely be just another non-profit organization.

Community + Mission – Gospel = Non Profit

To be the church, to be what Jesus calls us to be, what he created us to be, is a Gospel-centered, missional, gathering of people living life together, sharing one another’s joys and pains, serving together in various ways for the good of our city, expecting nothing in return, all for the glory of Jesus, the joy of being together, and love for our neighbors.

We must be a church that is gospel centered, on mission in community so that we can be the organism, the family, the church that Christ gave the Spirit to empower, and of which he said could not be stopped. (Matthew 16.13-18)

Gospel + Community + Mission = Church

Gospel vs. Legalism

Gospel vs. Legalsim

What is the difference between legalism and the gospel?

  • Legalism (or Moralism) says God looks at how well we keep the law.
  • The Gospel says we are hidden in Christ. So God sees how well Jesus kept the Law (perfectly), all his works, and his death on our behalf.  Consequently, because we are hidden in Christ, God sees the work of Jesus when he sees us. The gospel says that, because of God’s grace, all that Jesus is and did is credited (imputed) to us, through faith.  (Colossians 3.3, Ephesians 2.8, Romans 5.2, Galatians 2.20)

So what is the difference between the gospel and legalism? It is the difference between Christianity and every religion in the world.

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.

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.

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.

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.

2 Mistakes Christians Make

Redemption Acccomplished But Not Applied

People tend to make two mistakes when they think about the redeemed life. The first is to underestimate the sin that remains in us; it’s still there and it can still hurt us. The second is to underestimate the strength of God’s grace; God is determined to make us new. As a result, all Christians need to say two things. We admit that we are redeemed sinners. But we also say boldly and joyously that we are redeemed sinners.

~ from Cornelius Plantings, in Beyond Doubt

The Difference That Makes All the Difference

Francis Schaeffer, of his own testimony, writes:

“I became a Christian once for all upon the basis of the finished work of Christ through faith; that is justification. The Christian life, sanctification, operates on the same basis, but moment by moment. There is the same base (Christ’s work) and the same instrument (faith); the only difference is that one is once for all and the other is moment by moment…  If we try to live the Christian life in our own strength we will have sorrow, but if we live in this way, we will not only serve the Lord, but in place of sorrow, He will be our song. That is the difference. The ‘how’ of the Christian life is the power of the crucified and risen Lord, through the agency of the indwelling Holy Spirit, by faith moment by moment.”

An important -even essential – distinction. It’s not just for the sake of doctrinal precision. It makes all the difference in how we live out our lives.

What If We Omitted Gospel, Community, or Mission?

The refrain from an old song says: “Two out of three ain’t bad.”  But would this be true for a church, or a Christian, who incorporates 2 out of 3 of the core values: Gospel, Community, Mission?

Consider these thoughts, framed as a mathematical equation:

Gospel + Community – Mission

If we have a Gospel Community, without the mission or ‘sent’ aspect in our DNA, then we become a church that is all about ourselves.  We may love the gospel, and love that the good news has impacted our minds, and even desire to live that out with other people like us.  But living as ‘sent ones’ to our neighborhood seems too difficult.  When this happens a Christian ghetto surrounds the church, and an “us vs them” mentality is created.  This misses the entire point of the “go” in Christ’s great commission. (Matthew 28.17-21)

Such communities of believers are often very good at living as gospel families.  They take care of each other well: they provide for one anothers’ needs, and they draw very close to one another. But the lack of  engagement with the world, and and absence of multiplication,  is  vividly evident.  Sometimes such an inward focus is even worn as a badge of honor, since it may be believed by our isolation we are not being ‘polluted’ by the world.

Such communities usually have a heavy emphasis on bible studies, men’s groups, women’s group, children’s programs, etc.  The groups will usually have an “open invitation” to those on the outside. But because they don’t believe they are “sent” to their community, they rarely see disciples made of the un-churched people around them.   Numerical growth typically comes from like-minded people moving into their area, or through having children, or stealing the members from other churches that may offer fewer activities or which may be going through some turbulent times.  Rarely will they be faced with the general public pushing into the Kingdom, because they never engage general public with the gospel message outside the walls of their church building.

The overall goal is usually to prompt a great understanding of the Word and theology, but it is often intellectually gluttonous and missionally starved… because the reason for the Word and theology is to drive us to glorify God and show us our role in God’s redemptive drama.  If it’s not being used towards that end then it’s being misused.

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Broken-Down House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad

I began reading Paul Tripp’s Broken Down House earlier this week. I had read it before, or rather I should say I skimmed it before, but did not take the time to allow Tripp’s poignant insights to resonate in my soul.  I raced through it last time, getting the general gist, but not digesting much in the way of spiritual nourishment.  That’s a mistake I am carefully avoiding this time through.

In Broken Down House Tripp uses the analogy of a home in serious disrepair as a reflection of our life in this world.  In the video above he introduces the themes he writes about.

Take a Repentance Tri-p

On a few occasions I have posted some thoughts and things about the concept of Tri-Perspectivalism.  Tri-Perspectivalism (or, as some call it, Tri-P) is a fancy word for the simple concept of looking at our spiritual lives, and the ministry of our churches, from three distinct perspectives.  Introduced by John Frame and Vern Poythress’ monumental work on the nature of knowledge, known as perspectivalism, the concept of Tri-P simply reminds us that Jesus perfectly embodies God’s authority, compassion, and wisdom, and expresses these through his offices of prophet, priest, and king, respectively. Guys like Dick Kauffman, David Fairchild, and Drew Goodmanson, among others, have provided significant insight about how Tri-P can be – and should be – applied to build well-balanced and gospel-centered ministry teams and congregations

I like the way a guy named Will Little summarizes the perspectives reflected by each office:

  • Prophets enjoy studying the Word of God, protecting sound doctrine, and preaching/teaching others about God with influential passion and enormous vision.
  • Priests appreciate and understand the needs of people, counsel them toward the Gospel, and get intimately involved with caring for the church and those around it.
  • Kings love to plan, organize, and implement systems in order to get things done on time (and within budget).

Will recently composed an article for The Resurgence, titled Triperspectival Repentance, where he warns about some dangers of misapplying this concept, particularly agianst the notion of using Tri-P as a personality or temperment label, like a DISC or Myers-Briggs; and where he explores how we can deepen (if that is the right word) our experience and expressions of repentance when we see ourselves – or rather when we see Jesus more fully – though the lenses of Tri-P.

Little points out how misuse of Tri-P can easily feed the commonly held counterfeit gospel of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that is plaguing the contemporary church:

  • Morality: The Prophet’s Idol.

In their flesh, prophets preach graceless rule-following, or stale doctrine, for the purpose of good behavior and/or right belief.  They will themselves be prone to derive identity and joy from success at (and control over) their personal legalisms rather than in those of God, our ultimate authority.

  • Therapy: The Priest’s Idol.

Apart from the Spirit, priests will preach the value of emotional stability and felt needs being met over truth being proclaimed. They will miss Christ’s gospel and fall into liberalism as they derive identity and joy from counseling, serving, and caring for people, rather than the person and work of God, the Wonderful Counselor.

  • Deism: The King’s Idol.

Kings are prone cast vision for numbers, systems, and goals. When detached from the gospel these things are often for the purpose of success rather than or more than for resting in the King of kings. King-types will succumb to deriving identity and joy from getting things done, as if God were a distant deity who isn’t involved in getting things done on our behalf.  (See Psalm 127.1)

Martin Luther, in the first premise of his 95 Theses, observed:

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” 

With this in mind, Little points out that ultimately, repentance is God’s work of changing us to focus on God, rather than on our measly attempts at performing, whether theologizing, rule-following, serving people, or getting things done. As we focus on God, we can deepen our lives of repentance by perceiving him more completely than we do now.

  • Prophets easily perceive God as the Word of God, fulfilled and embodied in Jesus as the perfect voice, vision, and revelation of God. Prophets can repent by meditating on God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, resting in the most powerful prophet, and by seeing Jesus as our perfect King and priest.
  • Priests easily perceive God as the Wonderful Counselor, working intimately as the Holy Spirit as the perfect servant of God. Priests can repent by meditating on God the Father and God the Son, resting in the most compassionate priest, and by seeing Jesus as our perfect prophet and King.
  • Kings easily perceive God as the King of kings, ruling and reigning with the authority of a perfect Father who plans, organizes, implements, and manages the universe. Kings can repent by meditating on God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, resting in the most organized King, and by seeing Jesus as our perfect prophet and priest.

Little concludes with wonderful application:

Too often, we reduce TriP into three buckets, give ourselves a 20-50-30 percentage breakdown (or whatever) and then work to improve our scores to try and be more like Jesus. But remember, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13) If we focus on ourselves, we miss the whole point. We can instead see our gaps in the three buckets as opportunities to repent and perceive Jesus’ whole gospel, loving in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18), resting in the God who saves us and shapes us to image him as he sees fit.

Gospel-centered Foundation

Tom Wood and Scott Thomas explain the essence and importance of being truly gospel-centered:

We are persuaded that the gospel must be the central foundation for effective, God-honoring biblical [leadership].  It is imperative, therefore, that we know what the gospel is and how it informs our practices. Terms like justification, adoption, sanctification, and sin are often clearly defined in several historical church documents, creeds, and confessions of the church. But there are surprisingly few classical definitions of the gospel.

There is a reason for this.  Some have attempted to distill the deep truths of the gospel in terms of laws (the “Four Spiritual Laws, for example) or have tried to visually illustrate the message by means of a bridge.  Others summarize the main points with headings like: God, Sin, Christ, and Faith, or by giving the high points of the story arc of the Bible.  This approach communicates the gospel through movements in redemptive history and is often summarized by creation, sin, and redemption, or by creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

In truth, the gospel is more of a story than a simple definition.  In order to really grasp the gospel message, you have to immerse yourself in the narratives of the Bible, because transforming faith is more than just a statement that we accept; it is something that connects with both our minds and our hearts. It is a true story, rich with drama, action, and eternal significance.

This passage is excerpted from their excellent book, Gospel Coach.

Recovering the Grand Cosmic Significance

“We need to recover the grand, cosmic significance of Jesus’ saving activity that moves the gospel out of the narrow realm of self-preoccupation. One of the marvelous things about the gospel is that He has saved us so that we can be a part of His redeeming activity. The gospel, properly understood, is much broader than our concerns for personal survival, security, significance, success, or even self-centered sanctification. It presents us with a plunderer, and it bids us to throw ourselves away in the pursuit of this new world order.”

~ Bob Heppe

Wading in the Gospel Deep

The message of the gospel is shallow enough for a child to wade in and yet deep enough to drown an elephant, and to grasp it we suggest following the summary of the gospel story through the four narrative acts of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. As each act of the drama unfolds, it’s important to keep in mind that the gospel is first and foremost God’s story.  Though it has important implications for our lives today, it is a story written and conceived by God himself.  It describes how his created beings committed cosmic treason against his just and loving rule, and how he took the loving initiative to rescue his people out of their rebellion and from the consequences of our folly, guilt, and certain death.  The full story of the gospel communicates the compelling truth about God, what he requires of us, and what he has done for us. It tells us the truth – about our world, about who we really are, and about our destiny.

~ Tom Wood & Scott Thomas, from Gospel Coach