Over the past several weeks my fellow pastor, Tom Ascol, has been preaching on the law and gospel while working expositionally through the book of Exodus. Yesterday’s message was on the lawful use of the law, and it was excellent. Anyone who wants to understand the relationship of the law and gospel should download that sermon. Very clearly and simply stated (I will try to post a link when it is available online).
One of the things that struck me in Tom’s message was the necessity to have a high view of the law for there to be a true gospel-centered culture in the church. The law represents the character and desires of God, and the higher we appraise the law of God, the higher our awareness is of His holiness, righteousness, justice, and all other excellencies inherent to His divine nature. We have a glorious God who graciously have us self-revelation so we would know what He is like, what He wants from us, and how we can live in a way that pleases Him. A high view of the law will bring draw this out.
Additionally, a high view of the law will expose the sinfulness and seriousness of sin. The law was never meant to make us righteous in the sight of God (legalism) but to cause us to look for an alien righteousness found in Christ’s life. That is why repentance is necessary to salvation – it is essentially looking away from ourselves, our attempts of being right in the eyes, our performances according to man-made laws to offer self-atonement. Not only that, but the right preaching of the law causes every mouth to be stopped (Romans 3:19) as sinners realize there is no defense for our lives of lawless rebellion to the God who has rights over us as Creator. That’s the seriousness of sin, in that we have sinned against God, the one with whom we stand in judgment. According to Romans 7:7-12, we would not know sin apart from the law. The sinfulness of sin is exposed and even aggravated when there is a high view of the law (“through the commandment [sin] became sinful beyond measure”).
Together then, a high view of the law gives us a truer and deeper understanding of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. God is always more holy than we can perceive him to be, and we are always more sinful that we perceive ourselves to be. On the contrary, a low view of the law obscures beauty and brilliance of God’s holiness and gives damning comfort and false security to the sinner.
A low view of the law produces legalism, because the bar is so low that sinner’s feel justified in attempting to be made righteous by keeping it. A low view of the law also encourages sinners to substitute their own laws for the law of God, making self-righteous standards to live by, and judging others when they fail to live up to their own laws. Therefore, a low view of the law is the breeding ground for moralism where God is an utility to our self-righteous ends of moral justification (i.e., God helped me, not God rescued me).
A high view of the law leads Christ-centered, grace abounding salvation. With a clear view of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, there is a deep recognition and awareness of our need of reconciliation and redemption that can only come through the law-fulfilling life and sin-substituting death of Jesus Christ. You diminish the holy character of God and sinful nature of man, then the cross of Christ is depreciated and the gospel is cheapened. When there is a high view of the law, there is a corresponding high need for God to do for you what you are incapable of doing yourself–being made right in the eyes of God through grace.
If your desire is to be a part of a church that is saturated with gospel-loving, Jesus-treasuring, cross-exulting Christians, then it is incumbent that there be a high view of the law. A low view of the law leads to gospel substitutes. A high view of the law leads to gospel enjoyment and celebration. Don’t miss the relationship of law and gospel!
If you believe in the centrality of the gospel, you know that the good news of Jesus Christ is not just the door to the Christian faith, but it is the entire house. It is not only the entrance point but the pathway on which we walk our entire Christian life. Therefore, the journey of the Christian experience is growing more and more in the gospel.
There has been some discussion and even debate as to whether all the talk about the power and centrality of the gospel is neglecting the power and necessity of being filled with the Spirit. Are we talking about the gospel to the neglect of the Spirit’s working in our lives? Are we substituting the gospel for the Spirit when explaining how we operate as Christians in the world? I think those are valid questions, and I want to briefly attempt to answer the question in this post.
I am convinced that the overarching purpose of the Holy Spirit in the world is to magnify Jesus Christ. One of the most fundamental ways to know if you are filled with the Spirit is whether Jesus is being magnified and glorified in your life. That’s what the Spirit does. Jesus is magnified in the Gospel–because it is all about who He is and what He has done for sinners. Therefore, it stands to reason that the Spirit’s magnification of Jesus will be through sinners reveling more and more in the glorious gospel of our Lord.
That’s the logic I see in Scripture, but how does it work out practically?
God’s gospel is robustly Trinitarian. God the Father administrates salvation; God the Son accomplishes salvation; God the Spirit applies salvation. In His application of the gospel, the Holy Spirit brings us a true understanding of and genuine experience in the grace of Jesus Christ. Without the Spirit’s application, the gospel would not only be theoretical but our treatment would be at best superficial.
The components of a true understanding of the gospel is generally (and rightly) laid out as God, man/sin, Christ, and concludes with right response. How does the Spirit apply the gospel to magnify Christ in each of these areas?
The gospel begins with God. But how do we know who God is, what He is like, and what He expects from us? God has given us His Word, inspired and authored by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). In the Bible, God’s thoughts are communicated to us by His Spirit who also enables us to understand and appreciate them as such (1 Corinthians 2:9-13). The Spirit’s agency takes the Word’s instrumentality through inspiration, illumination, and conviction to give sinners true knowledge of who God is and what He requires of us.
In light of God’s holiness, we understand man’s sinfulness. The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11) so that the sinner is made aware of the sinfulness of sin. Apart from the Spirit’s application of the Word, we would not know ourselves accurately and recognize our need for salvation desperately.
As the Holy Spirit gives us true knowledge of God’s holiness and our sinfulness, we are left undone. Apart from Christ, it’s bad news because God’s holiness demands perfection and our sinfulness destroys any hope of salvation through self-righteousness and justification by our good works. The good news is that the same Holy Spirit who magnifies God’s holiness and our sinfulness also magnifies the riches of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ for sinners. He sheds abroad the love of God (Romans 5:5). The Holy Spirit calls sinners and draws them to Jesus (John 6:44). He opens deaf ears to hear the voice of Jesus who calls His own by name (John 10:4). He opens blind eyes to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). He is the one who unites us to Christ!
The only biblical response to the gospel is repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ. These are inseparable acts of a sinner who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. What God requires of us, He provides for us by His Spirit. We are responsible to turn from sin (repentance) and turn to Christ (faith), and we are granted such ability by the Spirit who enables us.
How the Spirit Drives Gospel Centrality
This work of the Spirit does not only take place at the point a sinner is converted to Christ. Indeed, this is the operation of the Spirit throughout the entire Christian experience! How do you know that you are growing in grace? You have a greater understanding and appreciation of God’s character and work. God does not become more holy in His essence, but your understanding and awareness of His holiness increases as you grow in your experience, led by the Spirit. Additionally, you grow in recognizing the sinfulness of sin and dealing with it biblically. You don’t make excuses for sin, rationalize it, manage it, ignore it, or attempt to cover it up with self-atonement measures. You own it because Christ owns you.
What happens when you are increasingly aware of God’s holiness and your sinfulness? You then become aware of how desperate and need you are for Christ’s righteousness and His grace. The reality of His life, death, and resurrection becomes increasingly dominant as your identity rests more and more securely in Christ. This is what the cross chart or gospel grid is all about.
Remember, the Holy Spirit applies the gospel–the accomplishments of Christ. By doing so, He magnifies Christ. If you were not increasing in conviction of the glorious excellencies of God’s character and ways as well as your sinfulness, then the need to revel and glory in the finished work of the cross would be marginalized and Jesus would not be magnified.
When the gospel is central, repentance and faith will be normal. In order for them to be normal, we need the Spirit working in us with the renewing work of the gospel to breed a life that is characterized by turning from sin and turning to Jesus all the time, more and more, until our faith becomes sight.
If you want to be gospel-centered, you need the Holy Spirit. He will magnify Christ through you because you can’t. He will magnify Christ through you because is very good at applying the gospel in your life so that you treasure and adore Jesus. May God lead us to enjoy the Spirit-filled, Gospel-centered life we were redeemed to experience!
A couple weeks ago, I argued that a gospel-driven church will have gospel-centered expectations when it comes to the Word. It is not enough that the preacher’s sermon is Christ-centered. The congregation should be trained to be, too. That entails not only expectations but also application, which is what I want to address in this post.
Before I explain the difference between morality-based application and gospel-centered application, let me briefly mention substitutes for application in general. If we are not careful, we can allow substitutes that fall short of actual application of the Word. One of them is meeting a knowledge quotient. You can come for the purpose of intellectual satisfaction (new insights, profound interpretation, etc) and still not have the Word applied to your life. In this case, we are creating smarter sinners and not transformed saints. Another substitute is emotional experiences. You can have your heart-strings pulled and not have your heart transformed by truth. Mountain top experiences only mean you have to come back down to level ground at some time. Another substitute is sentimentalism. This is close to emotional experiences, but it is different in that the message “works” only if it fits in your sensibilities or self-imposed template.
Having mentioned substitutes, perhaps the greatest enemy of gospel-centered application of the Word is moralism. It is answering the “What?” question while completely ignoring the “Why?” question. It is going to the “How?” question with too many assumptions about the “Who?” question. Moralism leads to man-centered “rededication” as opposed to gospel-centered repentance and faith. One is driven on the performance of man; the other is driven upon the performance of Jesus. Just so that we can see the difference and highlight gospel-centered application, consider the following:
Religion-based application focuses on what must I do first;
Gospel-centered application focuses on what Jesus has done first.
Religion-based application addresses only the fruit of our behavior;
Gospel-centered application strikes at the root of heart transformation.
Religion-based application says, “I must obey; therefore I’m accepted.”
Gospel-centered application says, “I’m accepted; therefore I gladly obey.”
Religion-based application explains that what you do defines who are you;
Gospel-centered application explains who you are defines what you do.
Religion-based application leads to emotional highs and lows based on shaky spiritual performances;
Gospel-centered application hitches your affections to your identity & acceptance in Christ.
Religion-based application has a philosophy of “try harder and do better”;
Gospel-centered application has a philosophy of “repent, believe, and repeat.”
Religion-based application says my problems are manageable and I can fit it;
Gospel-centered application says my sins are massive and only Jesus can fix it.
Religion-based application emphasizes my will power and assumed competency;
Gospel-centered application emphasizes God’s grace in my weakness and dependency.
Religion-based application takes ten looks at self and one look at Christ;
Gospel-centered application takes one look at self and takes ten looks at Christ.
Here’s the challenge. The default nature of man is to live on (a) religion-based application rather than (b) gospel-centered application. When I walked my disciple-making class through this, several of them confessed, “Tim, the (a) column is where I live, but I want to embrace the (b) column.” It was a great discussion and eye-opening time for us all. We cannot assume that simply because Christ is being proclaimed from the pulpit that the people are trained to apply the Word in a gospel-centered manner. But a great starting point is recognizing the difference between the two, exposing counterfeits and substitutes, and pressing one another in gospel community to live in light of the gospel in a manner worthy of the gospel.
What expectations do you bring to hearing God's Word preached?
The preaching of the gospel is a powerful means of grace for the Christian, but is that your expectation? What is the nature of your expectations every time you hear the Word of God preached? A gospel-centered church will have a congregation full of Christians with gospel-centered expectations every time the Word of God is proclaimed. Their commentary (and lifestyle) post-preaching will show the nature of their expectations, whether they are God-honoring or not.
When it comes to the preaching of God’s Word (or gospel) . . .
» If you expect to come away with intellectual insights, you will find something to satisfy knowledge cravings.
» If you expect the preacher will say something debatable, you will find something to blog about.
» If you expect to judge the quality of the preacher’s message, you will find something he said wrong or could have said differently.
» If you expect to have a to-do list for moral improvement, you will find opportunity for behavioral modification to try harder and do better.
ON THE OTHER HAND . . .
» If you expect life transformation, you will discover the Spirit exposing sin and fostering greater desire for repentance.
» If you expect to become like Jesus, you will be granted fresh eyes of faith to behold Jesus.
» If you expect to be used in the service of the kingdom, you will find the Word empowering and enabling you to bear fruit disproportionate to your abilities.
» If you expect to meet with God, you will find God will not pass you by without glimpses of His glory and grace.
The question is... what are you expecting whenever you come under the authority and power of God’s living and active, faith-engendering, sin-exposing, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered Word?
Luke 8:8. – Jesus
Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at grace baptist church since June 2008. Tim's passion is to demonstrate a life that trusts God, treasures Christ, and triumphs the gospel. Tim is the Director of plntd, a church planting network in association with Founders Ministries. He's also the director of the haiti collective, organizer for Band of Bloggers, and creator of P2R (Partnering to Remember) and the Memory Moleskine.
You can read more about Tim on his blog at biblestudytools.com,
Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church since June 2008. Tim's passion is to demonstrate a life that trusts God, treasures Christ, and triumphs the gospel. Tim is the Director of PLNTD, a church planting network in association with Founders Ministries. He's also the director of The Haiti Collective, organizer for Band of Bloggers, and creator of P2R (Partnering to Remember) and the Memory Moleskine.
You can read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.