This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “preach the gospel” or for that matter “live the gospel”. Both phases are widely used, but have you ever stopped to think about what it means? I am sure you’ve heard both of those phrases and what I hope to express in this post is what it means to live lives of testimony, that is lives that reflect the gospel.
In order to talk about these things, and discuss what a life of testimony i,s we need to define that which we are bearing witness to, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Tim Keller, defines the gospel as “a message about how we have been rescued from peril”. He says, “the gospel is not primarily a way of life. It is not something we do, but something that has been done for us and something we must respond to.” The truth of the Gospel tells us two very important things.
The gospel tells us what we have been rescued from. That is, sin and death. In all actuality, we are rescued from the fallen world that we have found ourselves a part of. Keller says, from the time of the fall in the garden the world has been afflicted by suffering, poverty, racism, natural disasters, war, aging, and death. Our human nature is tainted by sin and we are in dire need of being rescued. One key thing to remember, is we are all in need of a savior. There is not one of us who is outside the curse of sin and death and not one of us who can save ourselves. We are on an equal playing field, so to speak, when it comes to our need of a redeemer.
Second, the gospel tells us who has rescued us. As I just said, none of us can save ourselves. No matter how “good” someone is, no matter how many good works they do, how much money the give to charity, how many times the have read the bible, whether they are a lay person, a priest, a deacon, a bishop….no one has the ability to save themselves from the curse of sin and death. Therefore, we need a savior, someone to rescue us.
John Wesley, the great evangelical reformer, came to this understanding, surprisingly about a decade after he became a priest in the Church of England. Wesley was a devout and dedicated clergy man and devoted his life to prayer, fasting, study and good works. Probably, few could compare to him in regards to works and dedication to “religious life”. But he realized, after attending a Moravian meeting on Aldersgate Street in London that he had been trusting in his own strength for salvation and not in the strength of Christ.
When he came to this realization that Christ had died for his sin, and that Christ saved him apart from any of his works or good deeds, he was saved. In his journal after the experience he wrote, “I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sin, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Jesus saved John Wesley, not his good deeds and from that point on his good deeds and devotion came from his assurance in Christ, not from his self-propelled pursuit of holiness.
Keller reminds us that the gospel is not about something that we do but something that was done for us, but the gospel leads us to a whole new way of life. Those of us in the church, especially those of us who have known no other life than being in the church, must remember this. We must keep ourselves focused on the gospel to ensure we are living lives that testify to it.
Here are some of Keller’s examples:
When we are living a life that testifies to the gospel we say “I am accepted by God, therefore I obey” rather than “I obey, therefore I am accepted”
When our lives reflect the gospel our good works are motivated by a grateful joy that springs from us because what Christ has done rather than our good works being motivated out of fear or insecurity over the things we have done.
When we are living in light of the gospel our prayer life goes from a laundry list of petitions when we are in need or in trouble to an intimate time of fellowship with God, full of praise and adoration, where we not only present our petitions but also enjoy simply being in the presence of Christ.
Finally, when we are living in a way that testifies to the gospel our self worth is based on Christ’s redemption of us, it is based on him rescuing us from a life cursed by sin and death. This is contrasted to one who things they have reached some moral high ground because of their works and therefore feel as though they have some “in” with God and know what is best. The truth is, apart from Jesus, we are just like everyone else, even those who have not yet come to belief.
I laugh sometimes, when I am out in public and I happen to have my collar on. Sometimes, I have to stop at Hannaford or Stewarts and haven’t been able to change after church or a meeting. I am always noticing the reactions of complete strangers have when they see my collar. I can liken it to a student slouching in class, but as soon as the teacher walks in they sit up in their chair. It is funny to me because I am no better than anyone else, I’ve just been called to a different purpose but this collar or the vestments I wear on Sunday don’t change the fact that my life has been changed by Jesus. I am just as much of a sinner as anyone else, and apart from him, I am nothing.
That is true for everyone in the church, and sadly, that is not always what is reflected as we go about our daily lives. There are many people, representing the church, who do so forgetting what the gospel actually is and what it has done for them. It is the good news that Jesus Christ has rescued us from a life of sin and has reconciled us to God. It is something that was done for us it is not something we do.
I talk a lot about love and doing loving things and as I have said over and over, so did the apostle John. But love isn’t the primary motivator for why we do good, love is the expression and the action we show in response to the gospel, which is the ultimate expression of God, who is love.
In Jesus’ prayer in John 17 he says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
Let’s break this down….Sanctify them in the truth…. Meaning continually make them holy, continually change them because of their belief in the gospel. The gospel has power, simply proclaiming it has power, and we don’t need to water it down, or change it, or enhance it, we just need to trust in it’s work. The gospel is the truth. Jesus came to this world to live out that truth and we are also called to do the same.
So we are back at the beginning. How do we “live the gospel”?
First, We trust in the truth, we trust in the testimony of God. In John’s letter he writes, “this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” Jesus is the only way to obtain eternal life. A Christian’s duty is to not lord that over others but they are called to trust and rest assured in that truth. John says he writes this so that other may have eternal life. We want to share Jesus and his power to transform a life, by offering Jesus in any other way than the way to eternal life we are not standing living the gospel.
Second, when we are living the gospel we are properly in touch with reality meaning we know where we came from, what Jesus did, and how we have changed. We believe and admit that it is nothing that we have done that makes us right with God, but what Jesus has done. This will be much more receptive to those who are still seeking.
Finally, when we are living the gospel our good works and good deeds will be done with joy, they will be a response and overflow of the love, the joy and peace that has filled our hearts through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Staying focused on the gospel will keep us thankful, and humble, and trusting in God’s strength. When we lose sight of the gospel we start doing the good to prove something, to show how great we are, to feel good about ourselves.
Our good deeds, our outreach, our kind gestures, our prayer and study is much more effective and much easier when we allow God to lead us in it all, rather than lead these areas of our lives our self and hope that God will show up.
John Wesley, after his conversion experience, continued in all the holy activities and good things he had been doing before but with his ew trust and reliance of Christ, he felt a peace which not only made his ministry more effective but gave him a sense of assurance. Christ’s testimony, the gospel, assured him of eternal life.
When we live the gospel it means we trust in the gospel. Our trust in the good news of Jesus Christ, is a game changer. There is so much freedom and assurance when we fully accept the gospel and allow it to change us. The gospel is God’s testimony, its more powerful than anything you can say or do, it is the key to eternal life and our goal is to allow that key to turn the lock of our heart, opening us up to a new life defined by the love and grace of God.