The Gospel is the Center: Part 6 of a (probably) 10 part series on Discipleship
It has been a while since I have written a blog in this series. I apologize. I have been working extensively on the “Hearing God?” seminar coming up on May 26-27 (more details to follow this week!). If you have forgotten where we have come from in this series let me refresh your memory.
We have come to understand that when we believe in Christ for our salvation we have become his disciples. In fact, we have seen that disciple and Christian (if we are genuine believers) are really the same thing; a true follower of Christ is a disciple. A disciple is one who is intent on becoming Christ-like in everything; both in who they are and what they do. They seek to mortify sin in their lives and to live a life that is Spirit filled. We also saw that it is important for a disciple to be engaged with others in the context of the local church. God does not intend for us to grow in our faith alone, in fact it is clear that this is not really possible. We also saw that there is a great barrier to growing in our relationship with Christ - sin. We understood that it is a pervasive problem for us that cannot be solved by anything we can do. The last blog in the series ended thus,
If the problem is sin in the deepest parts of who we are, the solution cannot come from within us. It MUST come from outside of us. The solution to the problem of sin has always been and will always be the gospel.
It is to the gospel that we now turn.
In my many years of ministry I have come to realize a few things about the language we as Christians use. One of them is that we tend to use words without really knowing their meaning. Some words are so familiar to us, that we forget what they mean and the import that they must have on us. Gospel is one of those words. Since the gospel is the heart and center of the Christian life, and thus of discipleship, we must understand what it is, and how it should function in our sanctification.
I am indebted to a great many writers who have helped me understand the importance, beauty and simplicity of the gospel. Mark Dever is one such individual. I will borrow from his many works which articulate the importance of the gospel for evangelism, discipleship, and the church to help summarize the nature of the gospel and its importance.
The gospel can be understood in 4 simple words and articulated in 30 seconds or less.
God – God is our holy Creator and our righteous Judge. He has made us in his image and he created us to glorify him and enjoy him forever. BUT. . .
Sin – We have rebelled against God by sinning against his holy character and law. We have all participated in this sinful rebellion, both in Adam when he sinned and in our own individual actions. As a result we have alienated ourselves from God and we are now subject to his wrath against the sin that is within us. This sin, if left undealt with and unforgiven, will continue to damage every aspect of our existence eventually leading to our banishment eternally to hell. BUT. . .
Christ – God sent Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, to die the death that we deserved for our sins - the righteous for the unrighteous, the innocent for the guilty – so that God might punish our sin in Christ and forgive us as a result of the work of Christ.
Response – The only saving response to this Good News is repentance and faith. We must repent of our sins (turn from them) and believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation to God
Paul Tripp (Instruments in the Redeemers Hands) summarizes for us what the gospel means for us as we seek a deeper relationship with him. In the gospel, God’s ultimate goal is his own glory. Christ came to restore people to the purpose they were made for - to live every aspect of their lives in worshipful, obedient submission to him. He accomplishes this by breathing life into dead hearts so that we grasp our need for him. He lives sinlessly, keeping the law on our behalf. He lays down his life as a penalty for sin, so that we can be fully forgiven. He adopts us into his family, giving us all the rights and privileges of his children. He daily conforms us to his own image. He enables us by his grace to do what is right. His Spirit lives inside us, convicting of sin, illuminating truth, and giving us the power to obey. He places us in the body of Christ where we can learn and grow. He rules over every event for his glory and our good. He makes us the objects of his eternal, redemptive love. The Bible calls this change redemption. We are not only changed, we are restored to God. This is what makes all other change possible.
Let me borrow an example from Colossians 2:1-15. This example demonstrates the need for Christ and the gospel to be central to our discipleship. (What follows has been adapted from various sources, but I cannot remember which ones)
Radical Claim (vv. 1-5) – A call to live out of the humble realization that the gospel exegetes life. Christ is the source of all true understanding. He is at the center of the story. Wisdom is not first a theology or system of logic, but a person. I enter into wisdom by means of a relationship with Christ who is wisdom. This claim directly addresses one of the chief implications of the Fall laid out in the story. The Fall reduces us to fools. We need to understand that wisdom is found only in Christ.
Warning (vv. 6-8) – Don’t be taken captive by any de-Christified way of thinking about you and your world. The critique is harsh - any way of thinking that is not centered on Christ is hollow and deceptive. It purports to be something that it cannot deliver. It is a plausible lie. It appears to deliver but does not contain what is necessary. Christ is missing. It may sound spiritual. It may sound Christian. But if the gospel is not at the center it is hollow and deceptive. It is foolishness.
Radical Claim (vv. 9-15) – A call to humbly embrace the fact that sin renders us unable to live as we were intended. Christ is the source of all proper functioning. You have been given fullness in Christ. Sin renders us unable. I cannot do what God has called me to do in and of myself. The key to understanding is found in Christ. The center of my discipleship is Jesus Christ and him crucified (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
Christ must be dead center in the story of discipleship. Anything else is simply the offer of a system of redemption; works that do not save or sanctify. What is needed in our discipleship is constant redemption and thus we need to rely exclusively on our living and active redeemer. Only the gospel, only Jesus, can turn us around and make us go in a different direction. Remember “From him and to him and through him are all things” - this includes our sanctification. What Paul is telling us is that in our discipleship and in our ministry to others the principle encounter that we all need is with Christ.
The danger of the gospel, if I can say it like that, is that we think that it is part of our entrance into the kingdom of God, but not our continuation in it. It is something that we needed to believe at one point in the past, but it is not something we continue to need. It is easy for us to think that faith and repentance was necessary to get me in the door to heaven, but my own works and effort keep me in the Kingdom. Nothing could be further from the truth! Our discipleship is centered around the hope that is found only in Jesus Christ which is articulated in the gospel. Any other message encourages false hope. We should be careful that we do not turn the grace of God into the works of man in our sanctification and discipleship. The gospel is not a system of redemption, a set of insights and principles. If a system could give us what we need, Jesus would have never come. We need a Redeemer, who is the means of lasting change. This is true for us at all points in our salvation. Scripture is clear that personal transformation takes place as our hearts are changed by God's grace and our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit. This is what the gospel does in is. It continues to change us mold us and shape us into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. (cf Tripp)
The four words of the gospel - God, Sin, Christ, Response - remain ever true for us. We never get beyond this in our discipleship. We fall short of God’s glory, we remain in sin even though we are saved, Christ has won the victory over sin that I could never win, so I continue to repent of my sin, and have faith in Christ alone for victory over my sin. This is the way of sanctification. This is the way of discipleship.
Soli Deo Gloria