Learning and Living the God-centered life

One Biblical Doctrine at a time…
The Gospel

Spiritual Amnesia

Elyse M. Fitzpatrick writes in her book Because He Loves Me the following:

Let me give you a little more help. What I’m calling spiritual amnesia might best be understood in this way:even though we believe the gospel, the occasions in which the gospel (the incarnation, sinless life, death, bodily resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God) actually intersect and powerfully affect our daily life are infrequent.

Healthy Church

from blog site of Ray Ortlund

It’s what everyone needs. Everyone.

Gospel + safety + time. A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time.

Gospel: good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the present power of the Holy Spirit. Multiple exposures. Constant immersion. Wave upon wave of grace and truth, according to the Bible.

Safety: a non-accusing environment: No finger-pointing. No embarrassing anyone. No manipulation. No oppression. No condescension. But respect and sympathy and understanding, where sinners can confess and unburden their souls.

Time: no pressure. Not even self-imposed pressure. No deadlines on growth. No rush. No hurry. But a lot of space for complicated people to rethink their lives at a deep level. If we relax, trusting in God’s patience, we actually get going.

This is what our churches must be: gentle environments of gospel + safety + time. It’s the only way anyone can ever change.

Who doesn’t need that?

Learn to ask better questions

I had a boss years ago who used to teach “the quality of your life will be in direct response to the quality of questions that you ask.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. If you are a Christian some of the day to day or week to week questions you may be asking sound something like this:

Why can’t I find a job?
Why are my kids always rebelling?
Why can’t my wife just learn to support me?
Why do I always get behind the slowest and stupidest person in the grocery store?

However, according to Elyse Fitzpatrick who wrote “Because He Loves Me”, instead we should be asking the following questions.
  • Why would God send his Son to die for me, his wretched enemy? (Rom. 5:8, 10);
  • Why would he make him who knew - no sin to be sin so that I might reap all the benefits of his righteousness? (2 Cor. 5:21);
  • Why would I, who was dead in trespasses and corruption, who carried out every wicked desire of my body and mind and who was, by nature, a child of his wrath, be made alive together with Jesus?
  • Why should I be a par- taker of his never-dying life?
  • Why am I not hanging on a cross? The only answer to these questions is that God, who is rich in mercy, has loved us with his great love and showered us with his grace (Eph. 2:2-6). This is our identity!

Maybe my old boss was right about those questions.

Describing the gospel

From the pen of F.E. Marsh (a commentary that is coming soon to the Blue Letter Bible).

Divine Gospel. ”Separated unto the Gospel of God” (Romans 1:1).

Gracious Gospel. ”To testify the Gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Wondrous Gospel. ”The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).

Life-giving Gospel. ”In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15).

Saving Gospel. ”The Gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13).

Peace-securing Gospel. ”Your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15).

Full Gospel. ”I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ” (Rom. 15:29).

Powerful Gospel. ”I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16).

Practical Gospel. ”Only let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27).

Glorious Gospel. ”Lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4).

Everlasting Gospel. ”Having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them” (Rev. 14:6).


The Law crushes but the Gospel cures

Tullian Tchividjian writes;

The law reveals sin but is powerless to remove sin. It points to righteousness but can’t produce it. It shows us what godliness is, but it cannot make us godly.

So, the law serves us by showing us how to love God and others. But we fail to do this every day. And when we fail, it is the gospel which brings comfort by reminding us that God’s infinite approval of us doesn’t depend on our keeping of the law but on Christ’s keeping of the law for us. And guess what? This makes me want to obey him more, not less!

As Spurgeon wrote, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.” Indeed, it is “the kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance” (Romans 2:4).

Online source

Christ crucified

This excerpt is taken from Christ and Him Crucified, ch.V, pg.45.

The cross itself, as God’s justifying work in salvation, and the preaching of the cross of Christ as the primary means by which He conveys its truth, removes every religious work of man from the realm of significance. Our religious works are not only useless in assisting God’s redemptive work in Christ upon the cross, but is also useless in assisting God’s means for conveying that truth.

Our flesh wants so very much to help God out and to help His message out with our religious observance: by our sacrifices and our good deeds.

However noble our intent, and however sincere our motivations, it does not help at all, but hinders; and only shows us to be unfaithful to the heavenly declarations of grace in God’s Word.

Mr. Toplady expresses this so beautifully in his hymn,

No price in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling

Understanding the Gospel


A shift has taken place in the Evangelical church with regard to the way we think about the gospel–and it’s far from simply an ivory tower conversation. This shift effects us on the ground of everyday life.

Shifting Away from Salvation
In his book Paul: An Outline of His Theology, famed Dutch Theologian Herman Ridderbos (1909 – 2007) summarizes this shift, which took place following Calvin and Luther. It was a sizable but subtle shift that turned the focus of salvation from Christ’s external accomplishment to our internal appropriation:

While in Calvin and Luther all the emphasis fell on the redemptive event that took place with Christ’s death and resurrection, later under the influence of pietism, mysticism, and moralism, the emphasis shifted to the individual appropriation of the salvation given in Christ and to it’s mystical and moral effect in the life of the believer. Accordingly, in the history of the interpretation of the epistles of Paul the center of gravity shifted more and more from the forensic to the pneumatic and ethical aspects of his preaching, and there arose an entirely different conception of the structures that lay at the foundation of Paul’s preaching.
Donald Bloesch made a similar observation when he wrote, “Among the Evangelicals, it is not the justification of the ungodly (which formed the basic motif in the Reformation) but the sanctification of the righteous that is given the most attention.”

Focusing On the Individual
With this shift came a renewed focus on the internal life of the individual. The subjective question, “How am I doing?” became a more dominant feature than the objective question, “What did Jesus do?” As a result, generations of Christians were taught Christianity was primarily a lifestyle; that the essence of our faith centered on "how to live;" that real Christianity was demonstrated in the moral change that took place inside those who had a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Our ongoing performance for Jesus, therefore, not Jesus’ finished performance for us, became the focus of sermons, books, and conferences. What I need to do and who I need to become became the end game.

Sanctification feeds on justification, not the other way around.
Believe it or not, this shift in focus from “the forensic to the pneumatic,” from the external to the internal, has enslaving practical consequences.


Jesus plus NOTHING = everything

From the blog site of Pastor Matt Richard

The other day I posted the following quote from Tullian Tchividjian on my Facebook page, "Jesus + Nothing = Everything"

As a result I had a lot of comments and feedback from friends.
"Do we even need the '+nothing' portion in this quote?"
"I'd like it better as simply Jesus= Everything"
"I like having both Jesus + anything = nothing and Jesus + nothing = everything. Much more clear and concise."
I think, as Christians, we can all agree that Jesus=Everything. However, why would we even think about having the descriptive phrase "+nothing" added for clarification?

The reality is that we need to have the phrase "+nothing" because our sinful nature will always attempt to add to Jesus. Our flesh can't stand the idea of Jesus with a period. Rather we want to add a comma so that we can allow for mankind's will and abilities to have a subtle yet prominent role in our spirituality.

The idea of Jesus period is offensive because it undercuts our role and our narcissistic inclinations. On the other hand, a comma allows for us to be involved in our spirituality, even if it is 1% involvement.

Think about this for a minute how we subtly add to Jesus.

  • Jesus + our sanctification
  • Jesus + our decision
  • Jesus + our obedience
  • Jesus + our repentance
  • Jesus + our right doctrine
  • Jesus + our response/devotion
  • Jesus + our prayer(s)
  • Jesus + our good works as evidence of salvation


The gospel is counter-intuitive

“Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away. And those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost.”

— Timothy Keller
Gospel Christianity
(New York, NY: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2003)


A plan of Redemption


“If you read Scripture carefully, you will never get the idea that the work of Christ is for well-adjusted people who just need a little redemptive boost. It never presents any human condition or dilemma as outside the scope of the gospel. Redemption is nothing less than the rescue of helpless people facing an eternity of torment apart from God’s love.”

— Paul David Tripp
Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands
(Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002), 195

The importance of gospel delight


“Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification. We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration, and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heart-warming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God. The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence.

When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers.

By the enjoyment of the love of Christ in the heart of a believer, we mean an experience of the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us”. Because the Lord has made himself accessible to us in the means of grace, it is our duty and privilege to seek this experience from Him in these means till we are made the joyful partakers of it.”

John Flavel (English Puritan – 1630-1691), was one of the main influences in Charles Spurgeon’s spiritual formation in the gospel.

The focus is Christ

This blog is adapted from Mark’s new book God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins (Tyndale).

Many people recognize their need for God—that their lives are a mess and that this world is headed for destruction. They know they need to be saved. But they imagine that salvation is within their grasp. They may reject the idea that they can earn God’s favor with works, but they are fully convinced that the solution is lies within them. After all, they reason, it’s just a matter of choosing—in this case, choosing God by faith using their autonomous free will. Evil and injustice may abound on the earth, and we may participate in it from time to time, but the one thing that is not fallen, corrupt, or evil is the will. It is perfectly free and able to choose God.

This is a naive view of human freedom. It results from a view of sin that is not as radical or as truthful as the view we find in Scripture. In the Bible, the will itself is so corrupt and enslaved that it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to see what Christ has done for us and to free us to respond in faith to him. As Jesus put it, no one comes to him unless the Father (through the Holy Spirit) grants it (John 6:65). Otherwise the human condition is considered hopeless, which is why the Bible uses such words as blind, dark, deaf, and dead to describe our situation outside Christ.

The good news is that our salvation is not dependent on our success at making right choices, even the right choice of faith. In fact, the Bible regularly reminds us that we cannot consistently make good choices with our corrupt wills. As Paul puts it, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19, niv). Instead of relying on an autonomous free will to remind us to make right choices, we are called to simply trust what Christ has done for us on the cross and through his resurrection.

The consequence of spiritual amnesia

One reason we don’t grow in ordinary, grateful obedience as we should is that we’ve got amnesia; we’ve forgotten that we are cleansed from our sins. In other words, ongoing failure in sanctification (the slow process of change into Christlikeness) is the direct result of failing to remember God’s love for us in the gospel. If we lack the comfort and assurance that his love and cleansing are meant to supply, our failures will handcuff us to yesterday’s sins, and we won’t have faith or courage to fight against them, or the love for God that’s meant to empower this war. If we fail to remember our justification, redemption, and reconciliation, we’ll struggle in our sanctification.

- Elyse Fitzpatrick - Because He Loves Me

How the gospel is spoiled

You may spoil the gospel by substitution. You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith—Jesus Christ—and to substitute another object in His place—and the mischief is done.

You may spoil the gospel by addition. You have only to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honor, and the mischief is done.

You may spoil the gospel by disproportion. You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done.

Lastly, but not least, you may completely spoil the gospel by confused and contradictory directions. Confused and disorderly statements about Christianity are almost as bad as no statement at all. Religion of this sort is not evangelical.

- J.C. Ryle

Gospel Centered Parenting

A few weeks ago, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Scott Anderson talked about Elyse’s ministry, biblical counseling, and gospel-centered parenting on DG Live, based off of her new book Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus.

If Elyse’s name sounds familiar to any of you that is good. One of her books is on our summer reading list - “Because He Loves Me.”

Why do we need more gospel centered preaching, teaching and books?

1. Because the gospel is “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3). In describing his ministry—a ministry that communicated “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27)—Paul described it as testifying “to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

2. Because you’re going to roll out of bed tomorrow a functional Pharisee. The instincts beneath your instincts, the impulses way down deep inside you, are law, not gospel. A good night’s sleep, not a heretical sermon, is all it takes to forget the gospel of grace.

3. Because the gospel is disputed and debated today. What is the gospel? What are the implications of the gospel? What is the relationship between the gospel and the kingdom of God? How does the gospel relate to growth in godliness? What is the connection between the gospel and community? These questions need answers from different people, with different voices and different backgrounds, who love the same gospel.

4. Because the church is always one generation away from losing the gospel. Every generation must rediscover the glories of free grace for itself.

5. Because for every book exulting in or explaining or defending the gospel, a hundred more roll off the press which, wittingly or unwittingly, distract us from that which is of first importance.

6. Because the gospel is the central message of the entire Bible. Jesus said that even Moses was writing, ultimately, about him (John 5:46). The last verse of the Bible sums up the core message of the Bible: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev. 22:21).

The gospel is the scandalous news that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our disobedience cannot dent God’s approval of us and our obedience cannot help God’s approval of us, as we look in trusting faith to Christ. And the priority of this gospel, the functional need of the gospel, the contesting of the gospel, the retaining of the gospel, the constant sidelining of the gospel, and the unified biblical testimony to the gospel all unite to say—yes, we need more books on this gospel.

from Dane Ortlund’s blog site

Who is the subject of the gospel story? Hint: It isn't you

"The gospel is unintelligible to most people today, especially in the West, because their own particular stories are remote from the story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation that is narrated in the Bible. Our focus is introspective and narrow, confided to our own immediate knowledge, experience, and intuition. Trying desperately to get others, including God, to make us happy, we cannot seem to catch a glimpse of the real story that gives us a meaningful role."

— Michael Horton (Gospel-Driven Life, The: Being Good News People in a Bad News World)

If you would like to hear Dr. Horton discuss what should comprise the gospel story and what should not then CLICK ON THIS LINK.

Preaching the Gospel

A gospel challenge from Greg Stier

How could you preach a sermon without sharing the message of the free grace offered to us through the costly death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

To preach a sermon without giving the gospel is like telling a joke without giving the punchline, baking a pizza without any cheeze or drinking decaffeinated coffee…pointless.

  • There is no theological truth you will ever preach that is deeper than the gospel.
  • There is no action point you can give that is more practical than the gospel.
  • There is no story you could tell that is more dramatic than the gospel.

I could guilt trip you out (it may be someone’s last chance to hear the gospel before they die, etc) but I’d rather grace-trip you out. So let me give that a try.

The gospel is the best news in the world. We have been saved from hell (later) and hopelessness (now) through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on our behalf. We should be so stinkin’ excited about that reality that we can’t help but shout it from the mountaintops every single day and tie it into our sermons every single Sunday.

If you won the lottery you’d tell somebody. If you found the cure to cancer you’d tell everybody. This is way better than both put together and multiplied by a zillion!

The disciples couldn’t stop giving it in every sermon. Check out these verses in Acts 4:18-20, “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’”

The disciples couldn’t help bringing it up, not just in every sermon, but every conversation between every sermon. The Sanhedrin couldn’t threaten it out of them or beat it out of them…

“…when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Acts 5:40-42

Let us be like the disciples. Let us preach the gospel so much and so often that even the most ardent and obstinate church council couldn’t threaten it out of us if they tried.

When asked what his style of preaching was Spurgeon responded, “I take my text and make a beeline for the cross.” May we do the same.

Gospel Preaching is NOT

1. 5 Strategies in order to secure a happy marriage
2. 7 Steps to fulfill your full potential
3. 10 Things you can do to keep from having rebellious children
4. 8 Key Components to manage your finances

Hear this loud and clear. Jesus Christ the Son of God did not incarnate Himself, live for 33 years on planet earth, die on a cross, was buried and rose again then ascend to the right hand of God the Father so you can have kids that don’t rebel. Christ did not come so you can have a great marriage, manage your finances or improve your self image. Jesus came for the purpose of rescuing you from the wrath of God. And in doing so He pays the penalty of your sin - past, present and future and imputes His righteousness to your account so that you might know and enjoy God forever!

Gospel Preaching each and every Sunday should point us as a church to Jesus Christ the author and perfecter of our faith. And that is done by taking the church through the word of God, in order that the Spirit might empower the believers to see and savor Jesus. If the church, or if your church is not doing that consistently and continuously then you simply are not going to a gospel preaching church.