Monday, September 15, 2008

The gospel is for Christians too, Part 2

From the time of the apostles up to the present, there's always been the temptation to add to, or try to get beyond the gospel. We live in a gospel plus environment. In Paul's day, it was often the gospel plus circumcision or the gospel plus some secret knowledge/doctrine, i.e., Gnosticism. Some examples today might be the gospel plus tradition, or the gospel plus the victorious life, or the gospel plus social justice. In the church of my youth it was the gospel plus "a second work of grace" or "entire sanctification". Sadly this approach cuts the legs out from under the one thing that empowers Christians to gain victory over sin, engage in sacrificial mercy ministry, and grow in personal holiness. We never outgrow our need for the gospel. We need to hear it Sunday after Sunday. To do otherwise is to risk obscuring, ignoring and taking for granted the only hope for struggling churches, struggling marriages and struggling Christians. Here's Tim Keller with the second implication of the Galatians 2:14 principle.

Implication #2 - The sufficiency of the gospel.
Second, Paul is showing that we never "get beyond the gospel" in our Christian life to something more "advanced". The gospel is not the first "step" in a "stairway" of truths, rather, it is more like the "hub" in a "wheel" of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C's but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.

We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal. 3:1-3) and are renewed (Col. 1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom. 1:16-17). It is very common in the church to think as follows. "The gospel is for non-Christians. One needs to be saved. But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience." But Col. 1:6 shows that this is a mistake. Both confession and "hard work" that is not arising from and "in line" with the gospel will not sanctify you--it will strangle you. All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel. Thus when Paul left the Ephesians he committed them "to the word of his grace, which can build you up." (Acts 20:32)

The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not "used" the gospel in and on all parts of our life. Richard Lovelace says that most people's problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel--a failure to grasp and believe it through and through. Luther says, "The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine....Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually." (on Gal. 2:14f) The gospel is not easily comprehended. Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth. All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not "get" it. So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel. A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel--seeing more of its truth. This is true for either an individual or a church.

Tim Keller, The Centrality of the Gospel

I wonder Christian, are you experiencing sanctification or strangulation? Perhaps your joy and power is being stolen by one of two enemies of the gospel: moralism-religion and relativism-irreligion. To be continued...

No comments: