Don’t run from the past

 

I can relate to Paul’s amazement at being shown mercy. I’ve lived in the same part of Maryland since I was a boy. Hardly a month goes by that I’m not reminded of who I once was.

 

Before God saved me in 1972, I, too, was a blasphemer. I lived for myself and my own pleasure. I lived in rebellion against God and mocked those who followed him. I spent my high school and college years deeply immersed in the local drug culture.

 

Sometimes, late at night, my friends and I would seek out quiet, isolated places where we could come down safely from drug highs. On more than a few occasions it was a D.C. monument. Other times a peaceful street under thick, deep trees. Or even the terminal at what was then a little-used airport called Dulles, where the doors stayed open long after the day’s flights had ceased and we could move through the nearly deserted canyon of a building.

 

Someday soon I’ll be near one of those places again, and the memories will flood back in. I’ll remember what I once was, and be reminded of what I now am.

 

Often my eyes fill with tears at the memories of my foolishness and sin. And in the same instant, my heart will be filled with an unspeakable, holy joy. I am no longer the same! By the finished work of Christ on the cross, I’ve been forgiven of the countless sins I’ve committed.

Many people today try to run from the past. I suppose I could try to as well, by leaving the hometown that holds so many reminders of my sinfulness. But I consider living here a gift from God. The regular reminders of my past are precious to me.

 

Why? Because, like Paul, I never want to forget the great mercy shown me.

C.J. Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life, 16-17

What happens if you don’t trust in Jesus

I had to post this because it follows up well the post I wrote a little while back on Rob Bell’s new book.

It also follows up well to yesterday’s post about the conversation I had with two Jewish friends who didn’t not want to trust Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sin.

Gospel for Life: The gospel gap

For those who have tasted its goodness, you know this. It’s your life. It sustains you and motivates you. You eat and drink it. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said “whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”! Sinners who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ live in the glory of the gospel. They consume it for the life-sustaining, love-motivating power that it gives. Indeed, this point must become abundantly clear, because the whole series is about exactly this principle—that the gospel is the key to the Christian lifestyle here and now.

HOW IT HAPPENS

When a person responds to the gospel with repentance and faith, clinging to the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation, they are taken out from under God’s wrath and place in the center of his unconditional, relentless, unstoppable love. For the believer, there is only blessing from here to eternity. This is what Christ bought for us on the cross. Every good thing we enjoy is an undeserved gift we can enjoy. Every ounce of suffering and pain will ultimately serve to further our joy in God throughout eternity (2 Cor. 4:16-18). In Christ, nothing can separate us from this. Not even our own sin. God has elected to show us infinite favor from everlasting to everlasting. It doesn’t get any better than this. This is the result of the gospel. This is what Christ purchased with his blood.

The unfortunate thing is that sin still dwells within us. And sin minimizes the greatness of this gift of grace. It obscures the glory. The ultimate aim of sin is to take God off his throne. It would rather make much of the self than the Savior. And because of this sinful tendency in every human being, the gospel is not as loved as it should be. Jesus is not as treasured as he deserves. And the resources within the gospel for godly living are neglected. We are often blind to what we have been given. Christians have infinite energy and power at their disposal but they often settle for so little. We would rather play with mud pies because we can’t imagine what a holiday by the sea is. Hence, the gospel gap.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Gospel for Life: All you need

Last series we learned how important it is that we get the gospel right. The whole Bible is ultimately about the gospel. If we get the gospel wrong we do much damage to our selves and to the church and to the world. A twisted gospel does more harm than good—even if it’s given with good intentions. We explored the four elements of a faithful gospel presentation: God, man, Christ, response. If those four truths are presented clearly, there is a faithful gospel presentation.

GOSPEL FOR RIGHT NOW

We finished by looking at an insightful passage in 2 Peter 1. It begins by saying that God’s divine power has granted to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” In other words, God’s people have all the resources necessary for godliness. He goes on to tell us that the lack of Christian virtue is the result of forgetting the gospel: “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” There are many implications we can draw from this, but I am going to focus on the broad application of it: the gospel is meant to change how we live right now. Look at it again: if you lack certain Christian virtues, it’s because you’ve forgotten you’ve been cleansed of your sins! You’ve forgotten the gospel! You starting to live your life like an unbeliever, totally unaware of what Jesus did on the cross. And so you forfeit the resources for “life and godliness” that enable a faithful Christian life. It’s not a There is no Gospel Gap—the gap between conversion and death—where we don’t need gospel. It’s for the right now. The mundane. Yes, there is much gospel for here-and-now.

Gospel for Life: Remember the gospel?

Earlier I mentioned how everything in the Bible is pointing to Christ. Everything in the Old and New Testaments exist to reveal a God that brings good news to his rebellious creation. The unfortunate problem with our understanding of the gospel is the sad limiting of its application. We have reduced the gospel to being the good news that saved us to have the qualifications that will get us into heaven. It’s like a ticket you get when you get saved that you only use when you come before the judgment seat. You get the ticket when you pray the prayer and you use it when you need to get into heaven. It has no value in between. This is not true—of course it’s not true. I wouldn’t be teaching a class called Gospel for Life if I believed the gospel had no immediate day-to-day application. But it does. And now, having laid the bedrock for the rest of this series, I want to point out something. I want to open your eyes to see something maybe you’ve read a hundred times but never have seen before.

REMEMBER THE GOSPEL?

2 Peter 1:5-7 gives a litany of virtues Christians ought to build their lives upon. “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.” Immediately following this passage is one of the most striking verses about the gospel: “for whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed of his formers sins.

Did you catch that? Peter draws a clear connection between Christian virtue and remembering the gospel. Our ability to live out daily Christian character is possible to the degree that we remember the good news of Jesus Christ. Our ability to have faith is tied to our memory of the gospel. Our ability to persevere is proportional to our thinking through the gospel. Our very godliness is limited to how much we keep the gospel on the fore of our minds. The gospel should effect everything we do. This is fascinating. And this is what the rest of our series is about. It’s Gospel for Life.

The next blog will go deeper into this concept.

Gospel for Life: God, man, Christ, response


WHAT THE GOSPEL IS

In Romans Paul builds a construct for us to understand the gospel.

  • God’s wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness. (1:18)
  • Every human being has rebelled against God and is in position to be judged by him. (2:1-8)
  • No human being will be justified by works. (3:19-20)
  • The solution to this problem is Christ’s death on the cross as a propitiation for our sins. (3:23-25)
  • The way we participate in this solution is by faith in Jesus’ work on the cross (3:26, 4:5)

In other words, the gospel can be clearly taught in four words: God, man, Christ, response. If we understand these four truths, we will be able to guard the message of the gospel faithfully. We will be able to share our faith better.

GOD, MAN, CHRIST, RESPONSE

God

We must first understand God. When Moses asked God what his name was he said something quite profound—more than Moses bargained for: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin, yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” (Ex. 34:6-7). There may be no better scripture that so succinctly describes God’s character. Here revealed is a full spectrum of God’s being. And it is vastly important that we come to grips with God as he says he is. He does not leave the guilty unpunished. I wish I could go more into this, so I’ll just say this: it’s impossible to love the gospel without knowing what the gospel saves you from.

Man

You can’t get a feel for the depths of our wickedness until you gaze into the awe-inspiring holiness of God. There are several accounts of Bible characters coming before a holy God and you know what they all do? They fall on their face and confess their unworthiness. It’s almost a backward thing, but the best way to come to grips with your sin is to contemplate God. That cuts people down to size. The second step to understanding the gospel is embracing the fact that sin has separated us from God; that each person has rebelled against him and is therefore under his wrath. This is where all humanity stands—no one will escape his judgment—all will stand before the throne to give an account. And unless there is a solution to our problem, we will be damned.

Christ

Glory to God, there’s a solution. And the solution is Christ. In the beginning of Genesis 3 Moses describes the fall of mankind into sin and rebellion. In the very same chapter, God speaks to Adam and gives the first declaration of hope. The very first hint of the gospel. It’s called the proto-evangelium—“He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” It is the promise that someday there will be an answer to the problem of sin. The head of Satan will be crushed. And that crusher is Christ.

Paul said that this was a trustworthy saying, “that Jesus Christ came to save sinners.” Christ is the solution to our sin problem. The Bible says that through faith in Jesus Christ we are forgiven by God, we are reconciled to God, we are regenerated into a new creation, and God’s wrath is totally and completely removed from us. Jesus bore it for us. To those who respond to the gospel in faith God treats like his sons and daughters—he is relentlessly for them. Christ is the mediator between God and man.

Response

A faithful gospel presentation always ends with an opportunity for response. The call to repentance and faith is an urgent thing. We do not know how long we have to live. We don’t know when that appointment comes—the appointment that is followed by judgment. This is vital to understand. No one gets saved until they respond to the gospel. Hearing it won’t save you. Knowing it won’t save you. Belief saves. It’s not good news for you unless you believe it.

This post is the continuation of a series:

Gospel for Life: What the gospel isn’t

It’s imperative that we understand the gospel. We can’t botch this one up—it’s the most valuable piece of information in the world. Satan knows it—sadly many American churches don’t—they would rather major on minor themes—ones that aren’t so offensive.  Satan hates the gospel, he’ll do whatever it takes to obscure it, minimize it, distort it, and attack it. He’s doing a stellar job, too. Defining the gospel with clarity seems to be incredibly hard these days. So first, I’m going to show you four things the gospel is not.

WHAT THE GOSPEL ISN’T[1]

The gospel is not simply that we’re all okay.

The teaching throughout the entire Bible is that God is a judge. When God spoke to Moses describing his character, he made sure to include that he “does not leave the guilty unpunished.” Every sin will be accounted for and paid for in some way. For those who trust in Christ for salvation, Jesus will pay it. For those who reject him and his gospel, they will pay for it by receiving the full punishment for their sins: eternity in hell. I emphatically say: we are not all okay.

The gospel is not simply that God is love.

Here’s an instance where only part of the truth is told. It is no question that God is love—that’s crystal clear in 1 John. But that’s not the only word that describes God. God said his name was Jealous. The Bible says that he’s an “all consuming fire.” The Bible says that his wrath is being poured out against all unrighteousness. See, God is love, but he’s also a judge. To simply say that God is love is not the gospel—that message does not make any mention of our problem, which is that we are sinners in need of a savior. If there is no knowledge of sin, there is no need for salvation. Jesus is unnecessary. The cross is simply extraneous. God is love is true, but it’s not the whole truth—and therefore, it misleads.

The gospel is not simply that Jesus wants to be your friend.

This kind of mentality is rampant in youth groups. It’s the idea that Jesus is some hippy push-over who gets along with everyone and wants everyone to get along. He’s the friend that’s always saying “Can’t we all just get along?” But the Jesus of the Bible is not this way, and this is not the gospel. It’s true that Jesus desires intimacy with his children—but that message doesn’t have anything to do with salvation. The gospel, as Paul says, is “the power of God for salvation”—not the power of God for friendship.

The gospel is not that we should live rightly.

If that’s the gospel, we’re all doomed. The gospel is a message of grace, not works. The gospel is life-changing news, not rules. Most unbelievers equate Christianity with a new lifestyle. The gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ—is not live this way. It’s not behave! This message only breeds legalism and teaches people to rely on their own morality to get them into heaven.

This is the continuation of a series:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: The Bible

Part 3: Just one gospel

Part 4: Faith comes by hearing

Part 5: A confusing message?

Part 6: Objective reality– or nothing


[1] These four ideas are taken from The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever; Crossway, 2007

Gospel for Life: Objective reality– or nothing

One of the marks of postmodernism is what we call tolerance. When it comes down to it, tolerance destroys gospel work from the inside out. The idea of tolerance sounds friendly, but underneath the demure façade hides the disease that eats at biblical authority. Truth, by nature, is discriminative. If the Jesus is Lord, then Caesar can’t also be Lord. If someone says Caesar is Lord, or that anyone else is Lord, they are wrong. Period.

If a gospel is wrong, then it’s wrong. To tolerate a false gospel that misleads adherents is not loving—even if the messenger has good intentions. It betrays the truth, it betrays Christ, and it damns those who buy it. Therefore, we must be zealous to keep the gospel pure and undefiled.

OBJECTIVE REALITY IN THE GOSPEL

The implication is that the gospel is an objective reality. It is external to ourselves—we don’t make it up. It’s out there, and we either believe it or reject it. We must come to grips with the objectivity of the gospel when trying to keep it pure and undefiled. So, when talking about the gospel, we must put aside opinions, feelings, and beliefs that aren’t informed by the word. We leave those at the door. In this study, the Scripture is our authority. If we are to learn what the gospel is, we must get our answers from the Book. Otherwise, it will be a false gospel, and there will be much carnage.

This is the continuation of a series:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: The Bible

Part 3: Just one gospel

Part 4: Faith comes by hearing

Part 5: A confusing message?

Gospel for Life: A confusing message?

What’s worse is that the gospel can so easily be manipulated, adjusted, or twisted in slight, subtle ways and in doing so it can lose its saving power. Sometimes the gospel is only partially proclaimed, making it a false gospel that does not save. Sometimes emphasis lies too heavily on blessings within the gospel and not on the gospel itself—whereby people come to profess it not because they desire salvation from their sins and reconciliation to God but rather the goods that have been offered. So it must be clear what the message of the gospel is. You would be surprised to see how many different definitions of the gospel we would get by polling one hundred church goers. We’d probably get seventy to eighty different definitions. This is a problem.

Satan is no fool. If we understand Satan at all, we know that the greatest attack he can make on the world is to mess with the gospel. He will contribute to the damnation of more souls by slightly adjusting the gospel. The Bible says that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light! That means he knows how to make himself irresistibly attractive to some people. The lies that are so easily bought into are the lies that look so much like the truth. Many people calls themselves Christians but are actually believing a false gospel—one that looks so similar to the biblical one but in the end lands you right in the center of God’s fiery wrath.

Greg Gilbert wrote a book that has a very pertinent question for its title: What is the Gospel? In it he clearly shows us the biblical gospel as taught in God’s Word. In the beginning, to illustrate the unfortunate confusion around he quotes many different gospel definitions that have been given by “Christians” in the public sphere. Enjoy.

The good news is, God wants to show you his incredible favor. He wants to fill your life with “new wine,” but are you willing to get ride of your old wineskins? Will you start thinking bigger? Will you enlarge your vision and get rid of those old negative mind-sets that hold you back?

The message of Jesus may well be called the most revolutionary of all time: ‘The radical revolutionary empire of God is here, advancing by reconciliation and peace, expanding by faith, hope, and love—beginning with the poorest, the weakest, the meekest, and the least. It’s time to change your thinking. Everything is about to change. It’s time for a new way of life. Believe me. Follow me. Believe this good news so you can learn to live by it and be part of the revolution.

The good news is that God’s face will always be turned toward you, regardless of what you have done, where you have been, or how many mistakes you’ve made. He loves you and is turned in your direction, looking for you.

The gospel itself refers to the proclamation that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is the one, true, and only Lord of the world.

As a Christian, I am simply trying to orient myself around living a particular kind of way, the kind of way that Jesus taught is possible. And I think that the way of Jesus is the best possible way to live…Over time when you purposefully try to live the way of Jesus, you start noticing something deeper is going on. You begin realizing the reason this is the best way to live is that it is rooted in profound truths about how the world is. You find yourself living more and more in tune with ultimate reality. You are more and more in sync with how the universe is at its deepest levels…The first Christians announced this way of Jesus as “the good news.”

Well, what is the gospel? Is it really that confusing?

This is the continuation of a series:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: The Bible

Part 3: Just one gospel

Part 4: Faith comes by hearing