Menu
Go

The Gospel Off-Centered, Part 2

By Jerry Wragg | 03.24.15 | The Expositors Blog

    To put it bluntly: being gospel-centered does not mean that we only talk of being justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Those three Sola’s are certainly the heart of the good news—the fulcrum upon which redemption turns.  But justifying grace is not the sum total of what Christ revealed and accomplished, nor did He leave our spiritual privileges and duties to guessing—not by a long shot.  To live a life centered in the truths of the gospel is to live under the authority and power of the whole counsel of God!  It is a walk of faith, living by every word that proceeds from the Lord.  Being truly gospel-centered—if it means anything—ultimately means being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:1-12).  It means striving to be holy “according to the power that works within” us (Colossians 1:29).  It’s about being Christ-centered, observing and teaching others to observe all that Jesus commanded.  It’s about walking by faith in the truth and not being paralyzed by less-than-perpetual emotional highs.

    For many today, such a description of the Christian life seems humdrum.  It doesn’t sound to them like a very passion-driven way to live.  Or they fear even worse, that it signals an undercurrent of self-atonement—legalism. After all, if we’re in Christ by His grace alone, 

    1. Shouldn’t we be the most emotionally-overwhelmed-by-love-and-gratitude kind of people on the planet?
    2. Isn’t that a more gospel-centered life than one of trying to crank up obedience through the almost inevitable drudgery of spiritual disciplines?

    The answer to the first question is: “Yes.”  Because of Christ we should always be overwhelmed by love and gratitude.  But deep conviction about the truth is what fuels spiritual growth, not emotionally charged experiences.  In fact, the more we learn from Scripture about our redemption, entrust our lives to the truth, and yield our will to Christ in the power of the Spirit, the more our convictions deepen.  And the deeper the roots of conviction, the sweeter and more overwhelming the fruit of gratitude.  If all you’re doing is using thoughts about grace to stir up thankful emotions you’ll eventually end up disappointed.  Emotions—especially of fallen sinners—are not to be trusted until they too are sanctified as a result of obedient faith.  Love and gratitude toward God are always proven through humble faith and conformity to His will.  To be gospel-centered is to live in the power of gospel-grace, learning to obey the commands given to us by that same grace.

    Back to the second question above: aren’t spiritual disciplines destined to become lifelessly external?  The answer is “No!”  Spiritual disciplines aren’t drudgery—not if they are pursued through a robust faith in the truth!  The fact is: gratitude itself is a practiced discipline.  Gospel-centeredness therefore is defined by the obedience of faith (Hebrews 11:1-40).  Believers are not only delivered from the penalty of sin, but also from the power and dominion of it.  If your walk with Christ isn’t producing a love for His commands, your ‘gospel-centeredness’ is way off-centered.  If your desire to obey Christ is dependent on whether feel strong emotions toward Christ, you’ve become dangerously one-dimensional in your spiritual growth.  Living a life centered on the gospel will always reflect far more than intermittent emotional flings with Christ.  It will result in a growing faith and conformity to His righteous will.  Anyone claiming a gospel-pulse can’t have thoroughly clogged arteries to the will of Christ.  People frequently refer to themselves as “gospel-centered” and yet seem unable to exercise strong trust in the promises of the gospel against daily temptations.  They’re often unaware that areas of their life seriously undermine the claim.  The following questions may help you examine the issue:

    • If you think worship is primarily about emotional ‘closeness’ with God, you’re gospel-off-centered…
    • If your walk with Christ is mostly about “sensing God’s presence” rather than knowing the word of God, you’re gospel-off-centered…
    • If you’re convinced that fearing God is not a biblical motivation for obedience, you’re gospel-off-centered…
    • If you believe that grace nullifies all moral duty to Christ, you’re gospel-off-centered…
    • If you think that union with Christ means spiritual growth “just happens” without actively killing sin, you’re gospel-0ff-centered…
    • If you’ve assumed that emotional sensations always precede and accompany obedience, you’re gospel-off-centered…
    • If you think saying no to the flesh should never be a ‘spiritually painful battle,’ you’re gospel-off-centered…
    • If you think self-discipline and striving to be holy are inherently legalistic, you’re gospel-off-centered…
    • If you believe true conversion doesn’t always involve separation from the world, you’re gospel-off-centered…
    • And finally, if your Christian life is driven by subjective experiences rather than humble faith in God’s word, you’re gospel-off-centered…

     Here is the first of five essential marks of a truly gospel-centered life:

    1. A Word-Centered Life

    To be gospel-centered is to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4)!  It means longing for God’s revelation as a babe hungers intensely for its daily milk (1 Peter 2:1-2).  And there are four overlapping disciplines of a truly gospel-centered approach to Scripture:

    1. Listen - Lovers of the gospel have spiritual ears to hear.  They study God’s word with a mind and heart open to the Spirit’s every confrontation, challenge, implication, admonition and warning.  ‘Listening’ to the truth is not about mystically waiting to ‘hear’ some audible voice or strong inner-impression.  It’s simply acknowledging our need for the mind of Christ on every issue, praying fervently that the Lord would have His way, and desiring every new understanding the Spirit brings to our minds and hearts.
    2. Embrace – To be word-centered is to gladly and gratefully embrace the sanctifying implications of the truth.  Many profess to be gospel-centered but refuse to accept what Scripture is revealing about their flaws.  They’re like “hearers of the word only,” who ignore the definitive truths of the Bible in favor of gospel-generalities (James 1:22-25).  Trafficking in the murky waters of subjectivity is far less convicting than thinking deeply on the specific pathology of our weaknesses.  Hungry Christians learn to love the precision and inflexibility of Scripture.
    3. Confess – A word-centered life is a confessional life.  There’s no way to truly embrace the heart-penetrating implications of the truth without also fully confessing personal culpability.  King David’s renown confession—sung for generations in Israel’s corporate worship (how would you like your guiltiness put to music for the church?)—set the example for genuine, unvarnished confession: “Against You and You only I have sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight.  So that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge” (Psalm 51:4).  Gospel-centered, word-centered living always exonerates the righteous character of God and just dealings with men.  Someone claiming to adore the gospel who habitually minimizes God’s holiness and sin’s offense is either deceiving or being deceived.
    4. Obey – Scores of professing believers faithfully attend “gospel-centered” churches, read dozens of blogs in a single day, duke it out at numerous online theological forums, and quote their favorite teacher’s pithiest zingers.  But I’ve noticed that often their private lives are a chronicle of dominating weaknesses for which they’ve become adept excuse-makers.  Tired and irritated, their life seems more like one edgy, non-conformist lifestyle choice after another.  It’s as if their response to frequent failure has become resignation—a settled ‘giving up’ on God’s promises and the Spirit’s sufficient power.  Yet a truly word-focused life is one of both confessed weakness and increasing spiritual strength!  What’s the evidence of a genuinely gospel-centered life?  It’s the fruit of the Spirit in obedience to God’s word (Galatians 5:16).

    All of the above overlaps with the 2nd mark of a gospel-centered life: A Faith-Centered Life.  I’ll deal with it next time in Part 3.

    © 2019 The Expositors Seminary. | All Rights Reserved |