I have been savoring some timely books lately about living and ministering with the gospel in mind.
Books like Creature of the Word by Chandler, Greiger, and Patterson which tout a new kind of preaching, and a new kind of church community built around integrating the gospel into every part.
Many preachers and churches do not focus on the gospel. They focus on good works. They focus on what we can do for God, instead of what He has done for us. And if this foundation of Christ isn't laid clearly in every sermon, we can end up attempting to serve God in our own power, which will leave us flat out exhausted and disillusioned.
I'm just beginning to intake and appreciate this way of living, so I by no means am an expert here, but the sentiment is so wonderful and so breathtaking that I want to share with you what I understand so far.
My late grandfather in law, G. Mark Denyes pastored and led a church near the Twin Cities for more than 40 years, from a group of families meeting in the basement of a home to one of the largest facilities in the Midwest with thousands of families each weekend. His adoptive father was a Methodist minister in Canada for many years. For years he had preached good works, and late in his life he came to understand the gospel of Christ. He repented and lamented in his journal (we still have a copy of it today) that for so many years, in so many congregations he hadn't ever preached the gospel, but had failed by instead calling people solely to live better. I believe there are many ministers and Christians like this today. The lightswitch of the gospel hasn't turned on in their hearts and lives. Like John Wesley after serving as a missionary for years, their heart hasn't yet been "strangely warmed" by the gospel. We need God to do this in us - to show us that there is no other way but Christ. To reveal it to our minds and our hearts for our good.
Every other religion (just about) has good works. What makes them any different than us? Some are more "good" (if you can say that) than us. They don't even drink caffeine, while many of us drink too much. Some cover more of their bodies than we do out of a desire for sexual purity, and to quelch lust. Some pray far more often than we do. If we are calling people to be better people and to do better following Jesus, what makes our message any different than everyone else? We must instead call people to trust with every fiber of their being in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Yes, we serve Jesus. Yes, God calls us to a holy life. But that is not what makes us any different than every other religion in the world. What is it you say? God loves the world so much that He sends His only Son to die for us. Christ is the Way. Christ is the Answer. Christ is what we proclaim. Christ is our only Hope. Christ is the difference. It's the gospel that should infiltrate and saturate everything we preach, everything we say, everything we do.
A friend Carrie Kintz, who does PR for Focus on the Family recently sent me Focus's Director Jim Daly's newest book "ReFocus". It is a powerful book. Jim shares in a section entitled "The Gospel is the Way by Which Christians Grow" about Presbyterian Pastor Tim Keller of New York City: "Tim has successfully identified the source of a Christian's strength and regularly puts it into words. He regularly reminds his church members that they don't have to perform - they don't have to "measure up" to the world's standards. Instead, they can rest in the assurance that comes from knowing God. Living with this type of assurance is exceptionally freeing. It constantly reminds us that there is no good reason to be miserable, to carry this great burden of believing the entire world rests on your shoulders."
If we're not careful, we will subtley begin to preach goodness rather than the gospel. The gospel says it's not about the good things I do, but always about the goodness imparted to me through Christ, in the gospel.