GOING DEEP IN CHRISTOCENTRICITY
By David P. Craig
I am coming upon my last week preaching a series on the book of Colossians which has spanned 22 weeks. Of the seventeen commentaries I regularly consulted this one by scholar/pastor Samuel Storms was the most helpful for five primary reasons:
(1) It’s thoroughness. Storms organizes this book by giving 100 exegetical meditations on the entire book. No stone is left unturned. Every single phrase and word is expounded upon – in its context, in light of its theological significance, and its practical ramifications are articulated.
(2) It’s Christ-centeredness. Colossians is arguably the most blatantly Christo-centric book in the Bible. However, Storms passion for knowing Christ intimately is highlighted time and again in this book.
(3) It’s readability. This book is not really a commentary but is written for the average, educated follower of Christ.
(4) It’s meditative. Storms helps you think about the splendor of God’s majesty and deepen your satisfaction in Him through the wondrous work He has achieved for you in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(5) It’s saturated with Scripture. In particular, if you read every single meditation in this book you will have read through the entire book of Colossians 15 times. I believe that Storms has achieved his ultimate goal of writing this book as follows: “I believe that in reading these mediations on the Christ-exalting Word of Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, the Holy Spirit will awaken in your heart that Joy in Jesus that Peter can only describe as ‘inexpressible and filled with glory’ (1 Peter 1:8).”
If you were only going to have one book to guide you through understanding, meditating on, and applying the book of Colossians this is the book I would recommend you get – hands down. Thanks so much to Sam Storms for this gift to the Church and for all those who are passionately pursuing an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY: NO CHRISTIANITY WITHOUT IT
By Kevin DeYoung
If any doctrine makes Christianity Christian, then surely it is the doctrine of the Trinity. The three great ecumenical creeds—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed—are all structured around our three in one God, underlying the essential importance of Trinitarian theology. Augustine once commented about the Trinity that “in no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.” More recently, Sinclair Ferguson has reflected on “the rather obvious thought that when his disciples were about to have the world collapse in on them, our Lord spent so much time in the Upper Room speaking to them about the mystery of the Trinity. If anything could underline the necessity of Trinitarianism for practical Christianity, that must surely be it!”
Yet, when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians are poor in their understanding, poorer in their articulation, and poorest of all in seeing any way in which the doctrine matters in real life. One theologian said, tongue in cheek, “The trinity is a matter of five notions or properties, four relations, three persons, two processions, one substance or nature, and no understanding.” All the talk of essence and persons and co-this and co-that seem like theological gobbledy-gook reserved for philosophers and scholars-maybe for thinky bookish types, but certainly not for moms and mechanics and middle-class college students.
So in a few hundred words let me try to explain what the doctrine of the Trinity means, where it is found in the Bible, and why it matters.
First, what does the doctrine mean? The doctrine of the Trinity can be summarized in seven statements. (1) There is only one God. (2) The Father is God. (3) The Son is God. (4) The Holy Spirit is God. (5) The Father is not the Son. (6) The Son is the not the Holy Spirit. (7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father. All of the creedal formulations and theological jargon and philosophical apologetics have to do with safeguarding each one of these statements and doing so without denying any of the other six. When the ancient creeds employ extra-biblical terminology and demand careful theological nuance they do so not to clear up what the Bible leaves cloudy, but to defend, define, and delimit essential biblical propositions. The Athanasian Creed puts it this way: “Now this is the catholic faith: That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons, nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit, still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.”
The two key words here are essence and persons. When you read “essence”, think “Godness.” All three Persons of the Trinity share the same “Godness.” One is not more God than another. None is more essentially divine than the rest. When you read “persons”, think “a particular individual distinct from the others.” Theologians use these terms because they are trying to find a way to express the relationship of three beings that are equally and uniquely God, but not three Gods. That’s why we get the tricky (but learnable) language of essence and persons. We want to be true to the biblical witness that there is an indivisibility and unity of God, even though Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can all be rightly called God. The Persons are not three gods; rather, they dwell in communion with each other as they subsist in the divine nature without being compounded or confused.
Sometimes it’s easier to understand what we believe by stating what we don’t believe.
Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects monarchianism which believes in only one person (mono) and maintains that the Son and the Spirit subsists in the divine essence as impersonal attributes not distinct and divine Persons.
Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects modalism which believes that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different names for the same God acting in different roles or manifestations (like the well-intentioned but misguided “water, vapor, ice” analogy).
Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects Arianism which denies the full deity of Christ.
And finally, orthodox Trinitarianism rejects all forms of tri-theism, which teach that the three members of the Godhead are, to quote a leading Mormon apologist, “three distinct Beings, three separate Gods.”
Second, where is the doctrine of the Trinity found in the Bible? Although the word “Trinity” is famously absent from Scripture, the theology behind the word can be found in a surprising number of verses. For starters there are verses that speak of God’s oneness (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; 1 Tim. 1:17). Then there are the myriad of passages which demonstrate that God is Father (e.g., John 6:27, Titus 1:4). Next, we have the scores of texts which prove the deity of Jesus Christ, the Son—passages like John 1 (“the word was God”), John 8:58 (“before Abraham was born, I am”), Col. 2:9(“in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form”), Heb. 1:3 (“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his being”), Tit. 2:13 (“our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”)-not to mention the explicit worship Christ willingly received from his disciples (Luke 24:52; John 20:28) and the charges of blasphemy leveled against him for making himself equal with God (Mark 2:7). Then we have similar texts which assume the deity of the Holy Spirit, calling Him an “eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14) and using “God” interchangeably with the “Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 3:16 and 1 Cor. 6:19; Acts 5:3-4) without a second thought.
The shape of Trinitarian orthodoxy is finally rounded off by texts that hint at the plurality of persons in the Godhead (Gen. 1:1-3, 26; Psalm 2:7; Dan. 7), texts like 1 Cor. 8:6 which place Jesus Christ as Lord right in the middle of Jewish Shema, and dozens of texts that speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the same breath, equating the three in rank, while assuming distinction of personhood (Matt. 28:19; Gal. 4:6; 1 Cor.12:4-6; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Cor. 2:21-22; 13:14; Eph. 1:13-14; 2:18, 20-22; 3:14-17; 4:4-6; 5:18-20; 6:10-18).
The doctrine of the Trinity, as summarized in the seven statements earlier, is not a philosophical concoction by some over-zealous and over-intelligent early theologians, but one of the central planks of orthodoxy which can shown, explicitly or implicitly, from a multitude of biblical texts.
Third, why does any of this matter? There are lots of reasons, but borrowing from Robert Letham’s work (The Holy Trinity. Philippsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2004) and in Trinitarian fashion, let me mention just three.
One, the Trinity matters for creation. God, unlike the gods in other ancient creation stories, did not need to go outside himself to create the universe. Instead, the Word and the Spirit were like his own two hands (to use Irenaeus’ famous phrase) in fashioning the cosmos. God created by speaking (the Word) as the Spirit hovered over the chaos. Creation, like regeneration, is a Trinitarian act, with God working by the agency of the Word spoken and the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit.
Two, the Trinity matters for evangelism and cultural engagement. I’ve heard it said that the two main rivals to a Christian worldview at present are Islam and Postmodernism. Islam emphasizes unity—unity of language, culture, and expression—without allowing much variance for diversity. Postmodernism, on the other hand, emphasizes diversity—diversity of opinion, belief, and background—without attempting to see things in any kind of meta-unity. Christianity, with its understanding of God as three in one, allows for diversity and unity. If God exists in three distinct Persons who all share the same essence, then it is possible to hope that God’s creation may exhibit stunning variety and individuality while still holding together in a genuine oneness.
Three, the Trinity matters for relationships. We worship a God who is in constant and eternal relationship with himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Community is a buzz word in American culture, but it is only in a Christian framework that communion and interpersonal community are seen as expressions of the eternal nature of God. Likewise, it is only with a Trinitarian God that love can be an eternal attribute of God. Without a plurality of persons in the Godhead, we would be forced to think that God created humans so that he might show love and know love, thereby making love a created thing (and God a needy deity). But with a biblical understanding of the Trinity we can say that God did not create in order to be loved, but rather, created out of the overflow of the perfect love that had always existed among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who ever live in perfect and mutual relationship and delight.
*Article adapted from the Gospel Coalition blog: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/09/28/the-doctrine-of-the-trinity-no-christianity-without-it/
I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking than memorizing Scripture. That’s right. No other single discipline is more useful and rewarding than this. No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and more effective. Your counseling will be in demand. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified.
God’s Word is filled with exhortations to implant His truth in our hearts. David says that a young man can keep his way pure by treasuring God’s Word in his heart.
Psalm 37:31, “The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.”
Psalm 119:9-11, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
Solomon refers to this in Proverbs 4:4, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live.”
The words “hold fast” come from a single Hebrew term, meaning “to grasp, seize, lay hold of.” Scripture memory gives you a firm grasp of the Word—and allows the Word to get a firm grasp of you! Solomon also mentions writing the Word “on the tablet of your heart” and having Scriptures kept within you so “they may be on your lips” (Proverbs 7:3 & 22:18).
Now, I know you’ve been challenged to do this before. But is it happening? Perhaps you have procrastinated because you have mental blocks against it. Maybe you tried, but you either did not see the value or could not get beyond the method that was demanded by some memory program—little cards, booklets, check-up techniques, hearers, etc. Perhaps that seemed elementary and insulted your intelligence, I understand.
Okay…forget the methods…but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Take your Bible, turn to a passage that’s been especially helpful…and commit that passage to memory—all on your own. Don’t learn just isolated verses here and there. Bite off whole chunks of Scripture. That way you can get the flow of thought God had in mind.
Here are seven things I have found helpful:
(1) Choose a time when your mind is free from outside distractions…perhaps soon after getting up in the morning.
(2) Learn the reference by repeating it every time you say the verse(s). Numbers are more difficult to remember than words.
(3) Read each verse through several times—both whisper and aloud. Hearing yourself say the words help cement them into your mind.
(4) Break the passage into its natural phrases. Learn the reference and then the first phrase. Then repeat the reference and first phrase as you go to the second phrase. Continue adding phrases one by one.
(5) Learn a little bit perfectly rather than a great deal poorly. Do not go on to the next verse until you can say the previous one(s) perfectly, without a glance at your Bible.
(6) Review the verse(s) immediately after you have gone through this process. Twenty to thirty minutes later, repeat what you’ve memorized. Before the day has ended has ended, firmly fix the verse(s) in your mind by going over it fifteen to twenty times. (You can do this as you drive or do your job.)
(7) Use the verse(s) orally as soon as possible. After all, the purpose of Scripture memory is a practical one, not academic. Use the verses in conversation, in correspondence, in teaching, in counseling, in everyday opportunities. Relate what you’ve learned to your daily situation. You’ll be thrilled with the results.
*Article above adapted from Charles R. Swindoll. Growing Strong In The Seasons of Life. Portland, OR.: Multnomah Books, 1983, pp. 53-54.
About The Author:
Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the clear, practical teaching and application of God’s Word and His grace. A pastor at heart, Chuck has served as senior pastor to congregations in Texas, Massachusetts, and California. Since 1998, he has served as the senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but Chuck’s listening audience extends far beyond a local church body. As a leading program in Christian broadcasting since 1979, Insight for Living airs in major Christian radio markets around the world, reaching people groups in languages they can understand. Chuck’s extensive writing ministry has also served the body of Christ worldwide and his leadership as president and now chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation for ministry. Chuck and Cynthia, his partner in life and ministry, have four grown children and ten grandchildren.
Chuck’s prolific writing ministry has blessed the body of Christ for over thirty years. Beginning with You and Your Child in 1977, Chuck has contributed more than seventy titles to a worldwide reading audience. His most popular books in the Christian Bookseller’s Association include: Strengthening Your Grip, Improving Your Serve, Dropping Your Guard, Living on the Ragged Edge, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, The Grace Awakening, Simple Faith, Laugh Again, The Finishing Touch, Intimacy with the Almighty, Suddenly One Morning, The Mystery of God’s Will, Wisdom for the Way, The Darkness and the Dawn, A Life Well Lived, and the Great Lives from God’s Word series, which includes Joseph, David, Esther, Moses, Elijah, Paul, Job, Jesus: The Greatest Life of All, and his most recent addition, The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal. As a writer, Chuck has received the following awards: Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement Award, Evangelical Press Association, 1997 and Twelve Gold Medallion Awards.
In the United States today is the “National Day of Prayer” and do we ever need to be praying. Our nation is crumbling before our eyes spiritually, morally, economically, and in many other ways. The only way I can fathom any significant change is for the gospel to go forth in power resulting in repentance and faith in Christ in droves.
One of the mysterious means God has given us as Christians to work in this world is the gift of prayer. Whereby Christ mediates our prayers in the power and through the working of the Holy Spirit to the throne room of God the Father. God answers our prayers in accordance with His sovereign plans.
Today I will be working through the twelve steps of prayer below presented as a template and expounded upon in the excellent book on prayer by Dick Eastman entitled: “The Hour That Changes The World.” Dick Eastman’s book is highly recommended in that it provides a plethora of outstanding resources on how to pray biblically, and therefore with great effectiveness and power. Today I will be praying through these twelve steps with a special emphasis on praying for the USA – and it’s much-needed revival!
Dick Eastman suggests using this template to pray for an hour. You may not be able to pray for an hour – and that’s ok. It’s not the time that matters. It’s really about your intimacy with God and focusing in and honing in on what’s important to Him so it’s also important to you – and you become a doer of what He wants done on earth. Revival starts with the Church and then results in penetrating culture. I hope you will join me today in praying for our beloved country and for all the nations of the earth that so desperately need to repent of their sins and trust in Jesus’ provision for them on the cross, and through His resurrection.
The Hour That Changes The World – By Dick Eastman
(1) Begin with Praise – Recognize God’s Nature
Psalm 63:3, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
(2) Waiting – Silent Soul Surrender
Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
(3) Confession – Temple Cleansing Time
Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
(4) Scripture Praying – Word Enriched Prayer
Jeremiah 23:29, “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
(5) Watching – Develop Holy Alertness
Colossians 4:2, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”
(6) Intercession – Remember The World
1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
(7) Petition – Share Personal Needs
Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
(8) Thanksgiving – Confess My Blessings
1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
(9) Singing – Worship In Song
Psalm 100:2, “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
Joshua 1:8, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
(11) Listening – Receive Spiritual Instruction
Ecclesiastes 5:2, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”
(12) Praise – Recognize God’s Nature
Psalm 52:9, “I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.
THE GOSPEL: KEY TO CHANGE
By Tim Keller
The Greek term “gospel” (ev-angelion) distinguished the Christian message from that of other religions. An ‘ev-angel’ was news of a great historical event, such as a victory in war or the ascension of a new king, that changed the listeners’ condition and required a response from the listener. So the gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God. What is this news?
God has entered the world in Jesus Christ to achieve a salvation that we could not achieve for ourselves which now 1) converts and transforms individuals, forming them into a new humanity, and eventually 2) will renew the whole world and all creation. This is the ‘good news’—the gospel. And it is good news in three important ways.
1. The gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance. Jesus lived the life we should live. He also paid the penalty we owe for the rebellious life we do live. He did this in our place:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:4-10);
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21);
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
We are not reconciled to God through our efforts and record, as in all other religions, but through his efforts and record. Christians who trust in Christ for their acceptance with God, rather than in their own moral character, commitment, or performance, are simul justus et pecator – simultaneously sinful yet accepted. We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope at the same time.
Without this unique understanding of grace-salvation, religions have to paint God as either a demanding, holy God who is placated by back-breaking moral effort, or as what C.S. Lewis calls ‘a senile, old benevolence’ who tolerates everyone no matter how they live. The problem is that if I think I have a relationship with God because I am living morally according to his standards, it does not move me to the depths to think of my salvation. I earned it. There is no joy, amazement, or tears. I am not galvanized and transformed from the inside. On the other hand, if I think I have a relationship with God because the Divine just embraces us all, no matter what how we live— that also does not move me to the depths. I simply have the attitude of Voltaire, who, on his deathbed famously said, “Of course God forgives—that’s his job.” Any effort to take away the idea of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and replace it with a moralism (i.e., being moral, working for others, imitating Jesus) robs the gospel of its power to change us from the inside out.
The gospel is, therefore, radically different from religion. Religion operates on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted”. The gospel operates on the principle: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.” So the gospel differs from both religion and irreligion. Not only can you seek to be your own ‘lord and savior’ by breaking the law of God (i.e., through irreligion), you can also do so by keeping the law in order to earn your salvation (i.e., through religion). A lack of deep belief in the gospel is the main cause of spiritual deadness, fear, and pride in Christians, because our hearts continue to act on the basis “I obey, therefore, I am accepted.” If we fail to forgive others–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to believe we are saved by grace, too. If we lie in order to cover up a mistake–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to find our acceptance in God rather than in human approval. So we do not ‘get saved’ by believing the gospel and then ‘grow’ by trying hard to live according to Biblical principles. Believing the gospel is not only the way to meet God, but also the way to grow into him.
2. The gospel is the good news of changed lives. Paul says to Christians, ‘your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3), and in numerous places he says that we are now ‘in Him.’ This means, on the one hand, that the Father accepts us in Christ and treats us as if we had done all that Jesus has done (cf. Col 3:2a). But this is also means Christ’s life comes into us by the Spirit and shapes us into a new kind of person. The gospel is not just a truth about us that we affirm with our minds, it is also a reality we must experience in our hearts and souls. For example, In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul wants the people to give an offering to the poor. He says, “I don’t want to order you. I don’t want this offering to simply be the response to my demand.” He doesn’t put pressure directly on the will (saying ‘I’m an apostle and this is your duty to me!’) nor pressure directly on the emotions (telling them stories about how much the poor are suffering and how much more they have than the sufferers). Instead, Paul vividly and unforgettably says, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). When he says ‘you know the grace’—he uses a powerful image, bringing Jesus’ salvation into the realm of money and wealth and poverty. He moves them by a ‘spiritual recollection’ of the gospel. Paul is saying, ‘Think on his costly grace. Think on that grace until you are changed into generous people by the gospel in your hearts.’ So the solution to stinginess is a re-orientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, where he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to worry about money—the cross proves God’s care for you and gives you security. Now you don’t have to envy any one else’s money. Jesus’ love and salvation confers on you a remarkable status—one that money cannot give you.
Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 5:25ff, where he urges husbands to be faithful to their wives. What is the point? What makes you a sexually faithful spouse, a generous-not avaricious- person, a good parent and/or child is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding makes in your heart—the seat of your mind, will, and emotions. Faith in the gospel re-structures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting. The gospel changes your heart.
3. The gospel is the good news of the new world coming. The plot-line of the Bible is this: 1) God created the world,
2) The world and humanity fell into sin and decay, 3) But God sends his Son to redeem the world and create a new humanity, and 4) Eventually the whole world will be renewed. Death, decay, injustice, and suffering will be all removed.
The gospel then is not just about individual happiness and fulfillment. It is not just a wonderful plan for ‘my life’ but a wonderful plan for the world. It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew everything. Gospel-centered churches do not only urge individuals to be converted, but also to seek peace and justice in our cities and in our world
Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth via giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit that they are weak and lost. This pattern creates an ‘alternate kingdom’ or ‘city’ (Matt.5:14-16). in which there is a complete reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. When we understand that we are saved by sheer grace through Christ, we stop seeking salvation in these things. The reversal of the cross, therefore, liberates us from bondage to the power of material things and worldly status in our lives. The gospel, therefore, creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition–all these things are marks of living in the world, and are the opposite of the mindset of the kingdom (Luke 6:20-26).
All of the above are important ‘perspectives’ on the gospel. The first stresses the doctrinal content of the gospel. The gospel is the news that Jesus Christ died and rose for our salvation in history. The second stresses the personal individual impact of the gospel. The gospel is a transforming grace that changes our hearts and inmost motives. The third stresses the social impact of the gospel. The gospel brings a new ‘order’ in which believers no longer are controlled by material goods or worldly status and have solidarity with others across customary social barriers. These three ‘perspectives’ are all Biblical and should be kept together. There is a tendency for Christians and churches to focus on just one of these perspectives and ignore the others. However they are inseparable and inter-dependent on one another.
If, for example, you stressed the social perspective to the exclusion of others, you might call loudly for social justice, but your ministry will not convert people and give them the changed lives they need to persevere in humbly serving the needs of the poor. If you stress the doctrinal perspective to the exclusion of the experiential and social, you might have a ministry that is doctrinally accurate but it will not produce changed lives, so why should anyone believe your doctrine? If you over-stress the personal perspective, you might ‘psychologize’ the gospel so that it is presented as strictly a way for an individual to overcome his or her guilt and unhappiness. But it will not get the person out of him or herself—which is what you need most to be happy. We were built by God for service. All three perspectives are necessary. This full approach to the gospel creates a church that does not fit neatly into the traditional ‘conservative/sectarian’ nor ‘liberal/mainline’ categories.
The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social-change. Change won’t happen through ‘trying harder’ but only through encountering with the radical grace of God.