Core Values Study: Gospel Centrality

In his article The Centrality of the Gospel Tim Keller explains from Galatians 2:14, “…the Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life– spiritual, psychological, corporate, social–by thinking, hoping, and living out the “lines” or ramifications of the gospel. The gospel is to be applied to every area of thinking, feeling, relating, working, and behaving. The implications and applications of [life in-line with the Gospel] are vast.”

This, I believe, is a major fault of many American Christians and churches. The gospel has been misunderstood and misplaced. I am afraid (and hope I am wrong) that the concept of the gospel as being central in many churches is a more of a mirage. Here’s some reasons why I believe this…

1. Ask church goers to explain the gospel and many will stumble for words, or generalize the gospel into incomplete terms. This is why I believe it became popular to teach Christians a memorized “presentation” of the gospel. Their understanding of the gospel is absent.

2. The word “Gospel” has been trivialized or generalized. In much the same way the term “Christian” has come to be used to describe social identification, “gospel” has come to be minimized as a subculture identifier as in, for example, the field of music. Many may think they go to a gospel-centered church because they sing gospel music, for example.

3. Many are convinced that being evangelistic or seeker-sensitive means they are gospel-centered. Some preachers think that because they invite people at the end of a message to come forward and accept Jesus that they are preaching the Gospel. As a result, this has contributed to the problem.

These are not difficult traps to fall into. I have no intention to demonizing Christians and churches who fit these labels. I too have and am liable to slide into this category, but by the grace of God. Nevertheless, the consequences of these falsehoods are devastating.

So, what is the gospel? John Piper gives his explanation in this 6-minute clip.

The word “gospel” comes from a Greek word that means good news. It is the message of good news that God has sent Jesus Christ, His Son, as the only sufficient and sinless One to be punished for our sins so that by grace through faith (and only faith) in Him, we are forgiven, saved from eternal punishment, and given an eternal inheritance fit only for a child of God.”

To fully understand the Gospel, you must have an understanding of God, Humanity, Sin, and Jesus Christ:

GOD:

God is eternal and creator of all things. He is sovereign over all creation, meaning He is all-powerful, all-knowing, always present. He is holy, meaning perfect in every way. The Ten Commandments, or the Law of God, is a written representation of His holiness. He has kept the commandments and remains perfect in thought, word, and deed. His perfection also means that He is perfectly loving and perfectly just. He is providentially working all things in the world according to His purposes.

(Psalm 99:9, 145:9, 15-16; Revelation 15:4, 1 Chronicles 29:11-12; Job 23:13; Genesis 1:1, 50:20; Ephesians 1:11; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 3:1, 4:10)

MAN:

When we see God as He really is, the Gospel begins to make sense to us. If God is the way the Bible describes Him, how does humanity measure up? Humanity is the crown of God’s creation, the last creation in the creation order. Adam and Eve were the first created humans, and represented for us in the garden all of humanity that would follow.

“Adam, made in the image of God, distorted that image and forfeited his original blessedness—for himself and all his progeny—by falling into sin through Satan’s temptation. As a result, all human beings are alienated from God, corrupted in every aspect of their being (e.g., physically, mentally, volitionally, emotionally, spiritually) and condemned finally and irrevocably to death—apart from God’s own gracious intervention. The supreme need of all human beings is to be reconciled to the God under whose just and holy wrath we stand” (The Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement, 4. The Fall).

(Genesis 1:26-30; 3; Psalms 8:3-6; 32:1-5; 51:5; Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 17:5; Matthew 16:26; Acts 17:26-31; Romans 1:19-32; 3:10-18,23; 5:6,12,19; 6:6; 7:14-25; 1 Corinthians 1:21-31; 15:19,21-22; Ephesians 2:1-22; Colossians 1:21-22; 3:9-11)

JESUS:

When we understand the nature of God and the nature of man, we see why humanity is separated from God and deserving of eternal punishment. This understand helps us see why the Gospel is good news.

“Christ is the eternal Son of God…He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin.

Then He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever-present Lord” (The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, II. God, B. God the Son).

(Isaiah 7:14; 53; John 1:1-18,29; 17:1-5; 20:1-20,28; Romans 8:1-3,34; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 1:1-3; 12:2; Revelation 1:13-16; 5:9-14; 12:10-11; 13:8; 19:16)

FAITH & REPENTANCE:

The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833 explains well the portion of the Gospel that invites our response in this way:

“Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger, and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and relying on him alone as the only and all-sufficient Saviour” (The New Hampshire Confession, 8. Of Repentance and Faith).

(Mark 1:15; Eph. 2:8; John 16:8; Acts 2:37-38; 16:30-31; James 4:7-10; Rom. 10:9-13; Psalm 51)

These doctrines are central to understanding the gospel. And the gospel of Jesus Christ is the central message of the church and the Christian at every stage of our existence. We need to hear it, sing it, preach it to ourselves, apply it to our lives, and share it with the world around us.

As Tim Keller states in his article on The Centrality of the Gospel:

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 it 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 key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel.”


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