It is interesting how you can be humming along in ministry, comfortably busy, enjoying what you are doing, convinced that you are making a real difference, when God hits you with a simple, basic truth that stops you in your tracks. Has that ever happened to you? It has been happening to me over the past couple of weeks.
It started at Montana Bible College’s Pastors and Leaders Conference. The theme of the conference was Christ Close to Home. It was meant to be an encouragement for churches to do a more effective job in connecting with their community in a variety of ways. The keynote speaker was Dr. Art Azurdia from Western Seminary in Portland.
While Dr. Azurdia said some great things, there was one thought that kept on popping back into my brain. It was simple idea. That thought was: It’s about the gospel, stupid! (In case you are worried, the stupid was aimed at me.) Dr. Azurdia called us to what he called a worldly Christianity, meaning not a Christianity that marched in step with the world’s values, but a Christianity that was in the world, impacting the world with the gospel. His primary text was John 17:17-19.
17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (ESV)
While he had much to say about these verses, what hit me over and over again was the centrality of the gospel. Sanctification. Truth. Consecration. All these words led back to the gospel. We can talk about all kinds of things, but the bottom line is that in light of heaven, life makes no sense unless it is spent in the work of the gospel. The basis for any ministry is not what we can accomplish, but what Christ has already accomplished. I had to ask myself the question, over and over – has the cross gripped me as the single most important thing in my life. Does everything in my life come back to the cross? Because as a Christian – not a pastor or a leader, but a Christian – everything in my life should come back to the cross. It’s about the gospel, stupid!
In addition, last week I started reading the book How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp. My associate and I had agreed to start reading and discussing it in our weekly meetings. The first chapter of the book is entitled “The Gospel Gap.” In it, the authors suggest that there are three facets to the gospel, only two of which the church teaches well. We do a good job teaching the past facet of the gospel – salvation and forgiveness. We do a good job teaching the future facet of the gospel – eternal hope. But we do not do a good job teaching the present component of the gospel – how the gospel applies to today. This “gap” in our gospel presentation has caused many believers to be blind to God’s daily provision of grace through the gospel. We struggle to do the right thing, underestimating the presence and power of indwelling sin, and do not depend on the present provision of God in Christ and his call to growth, change, repentance and faith. Again, I heard it – it’s about the gospel, stupid!
Why has God brought such a simple truth to the fore in my life? I am not sure. I do know that my wife and I are helping others deal with painful situations in their lives, those soul-sucking type of situations where people are tempted to have no hope. In these situations, we need to help them apply the freeing truths of the gospel. I also know that in my preaching and teaching – whether from the pulpit, in our men’s class – I need to make sure my messages are not about doing the right thing or teaching others in the right way but rather how the gospel applies on a heart level to each of our lives.
I don’t know what else God has in store for me to learn from this, but one thing I do want to remember always. It is this: it’s always been and will always be, about the gospel, stupid! May I never wander from that truth, the only truth that can set people free.