The Present Help of the Gospel3
I want to do a basic terminology and philosophy recap for us. Language is really important, and as is always the case, we have to be using the words in the same way in order for the words to make sense and for communication to be effective.
The most important bit of language that I want to clarify is “gospel”; and I mainly want to rescue this word from common evangelical parlance.
Ordinarily, when we hear “gospel”, we are thinking invitation to move from unbelief to belief, as in an opportunity to be saved. Often, this looks back to the work of Christ on the cross as our substitute and sacrifice, and is an invitation to be made right with God. Certainly, it is no less than these things. But it is a mistake to hear when I or anyone else is saying things like “believe the gospel” that we are simply referring to an opportunity to move from unbelief to belief, as in an opportunity to be saved. Remember, the gospel is an announcement, news, a declaration. It is no less than, but substantially more than, cross and substitute. It is resurrection. It is ascension. It is the pouring out of the Spirit. It is the promise of a return. It is the good news of the person and work of Jesus. So. When we look at how the /gospel/ impacts us, as Christians, we are not only thinking about the gratitude of Christ being our substitute and sacrifice on the cross (his past action) but also how Christ, in flesh, really and bodily, is our present intercessor, helper, advocate, priest, and king. How he presently nourishes us with nothing less than himself. How he presently sustains us in trial. How he presently enables us to live more and more like himself, because we are united with him. Do you see? This is so critical to understand. To think that every time I mention believing the gospel I am just speaking to those who need an opportunity to consider whether or not they need to be saved is only part of it.
It is also an opportunity for us to consider, as Christians, moving from unbelief to belief as well. Our unbelief is not of the kind that keeps us out of the kingdom of God, but rather an unbelief that blocks the power of the grace of God from healing every aspect of our heart and life as followers of Jesus. Listen to this part of Paul’s great letter to the churches in Rome:
19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Ro 7:19–25.
Paul’s present hope was nothing less and nothing more than Jesus himself.
All of this is vital for us to get, vital for us to understand. It has taken me close to two decades of wrestling with this before I could even begin to properly grapple with it, much less speak about it in a way that didn’t seem foreign to me.
And here is the second refresher… and that is philosophy. It is a philosophy of preaching that is directly informed by the terminology I just outlined of the gospel. As Christians, we must constantly be engaged in a dance of repent > believe > fight. Repent of our sin (present tense), believe in the both past and present work of Christ on our behalf, and fight (present tense). One of the challenges is that sin is deceptive; it is a lie. One of the works that we must always be doing as believers, to quote a friend of mine, is understand why the lies we believe are working for us. Why are the lies we believe so comfortable for us? It is only then that the truth will have real power, when the lies are exposed to be 1) lies, and 2) powerless.
So my aim in preaching is not primarily bible study, though we study the bible. It is not primarily exhortation, though certainly the scripture exhort us. It is to declare, over and over again, the help and hope that we have in the announcement of Christ Jesus, his person, work, death, resurrection, ascension, present reign, and future coming. It is to bring that truth and that news to the lies that we believe about ourselves, our world, and our God, and see those lies exposed and expelled by the truth of the gospel. And then, to call us, once more, to repent of our sins, believe in Jesus, and fight as sons and daughters of the king while resting in Christ Jesus.
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