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From the Series: Certainty – Absolute Truths That Bring Joyful Assurance

BY MAX FERNANDEZ

 


For people to feel secure, they need to have an identity that they are sure of. They need to know who they are.

The problem is that most people look to themselves to find out who they are. The real issue though is that there is a God before whom all of us will stand on the Day of Judgment, as our passage points out. The weight of this passage cannot be understood without an understanding of the Day of Judgment (1 John 4:17-18).

The common ground upon which all of us can agree is that there is love and hatred in the world. If God is the Creator of love/hate, then He is also the Standard and Judge for determining the lines of love/hate and those who live accordingly. If God is big enough to create love/hate, to put this sense within all people ever born, and to create the beings who can exercise love/hate; then, how powerful do you think God is? Should we not shudder at the thought of being Judged by a God this powerful?

If you were a Christian who believed that Jesus was the son of God and the One who made you right with God — made you secure with God — but a false teacher began to change the truth of Jesus, then your security would be shaken. Thus, John maintains the reality of future Judgment but shows how those Christians could remain secure in the love of God and obediently love fellow Christians!

For us today, the message is the same. Be secure in your identity in the love of God and obedient in your duty to love fellow Christians!

IDENTITY: Believe in the Fullness of God’s Love! (1 John 4:16b-19)

  • IT IS A LOVE CHARACTERIZED BY REAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD (v.16)
  • IT IS A LOVE CHARACTERIZED BY [FUTURE-LOOKING, PRESENT-LIVING] CONFIDENCE BEFORE GOD (v.17)

It is a love that so secures the Christian because of the identity fixed in Jesus Christ. It is this that gives me confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as Jesus is, so am I in the world. I am as secure in the love of God (while I am in this world), as Jesus was secure in the love of His Father (John 17:23-24, 26).

  • IT IS A LOVE CHARACTERIZED BY FEARLESSNESS BEFORE GOD (v.18)

When you know that you are loved by God, there is no fear of punishment. Perfect love casts out this idea of torment.

  • IT IS A LOVE CHARACTERIZED BY INITIATION BY GOD (v.19)

God is the Source of this love, and thus we are made to know more about the very nature of God. God wants his children to be secure in His love.

Be ready for the Day of Judgment (real relationship)! Christians must live today with full faith in the reality of the future! Believing in the fullness of God’s love means that you will daily consider who God says you are, and you will believe this. This kind of love changes your perspective on the here and now because of the certainty of the future.

DUTY: Love Fellow Christians in Obedience to God’s Love (I John 4:20-21)

  • THIS KIND OF OBEDIENCE IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE LIAR (v.20)

The only way this kind of love is possible is by someone who has been truly changed by the love of Christ, received the indwelling Spirit of Christ, and who intentionally purposes to exercise this love towards other Christians.

  • THIS KIND OF OBEDIENCE IS BECAUSE OF LOVE FOR JESUS (v.21)

Why does John say that this is the commandment we have from him? This phrase is calling to mind when Jesus gave the disciples this commandment (John 14:15). Jesus Christ is worthy of our INTENTIONAL love toward our brethren.

What the world is yearning for is to be included, but God makes it clear that you cannot be included on your own terms because it was the terms of mankind that made them to be excluded from oneness with God and with others. Only in Jesus Christ is the love of God experienced. This experience then commands us to intentionally love others as we have been loved.

Christians have a secure identity, but we also have a sacred duty.

Read the full transcript of the sermon here.


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From the Series: Certainty – Absolute Truths That Bring Joyful Assurance

BY MAX FERNANDEZ

 


One of the earliest threats to early Christianity was Gnosticism. This teaching featured the “need for additional knowledge” or to “be in the know” in order to communicate with or know God. The teachings included: “men of God” who were uniquely gifted with knowledge that others did not have – including visions or revelations from the Holy Spirit; a view of the material world as evil; and a view of the makeup of man as three parts (spirit, soul, body).

This should lead to obvious questions for us today, “How do we know what we know?” or “How are we sure that what we know is absolutely true?” and “Do we have all that we need to know today?” If you were speaking to Dr. Harari (professor at Oxford), he would tell you that human knowledge evolved by chance. If we were speaking to certain individuals from within our culture, they would want you to believe in Research Justice—a type of experience-based knowledge.

What both of these ideologies miss is objective truth. Within biblical Christianity, experience is tethered to absolute truth; and we can be sure of this truth. It is easy for Christians today to live based on their emotions or their experiences, but do we really need to live that way?

We must be sure we know the love of God and that we can rely upon it!

1 John 4:16a “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”

This verse answers the question, “How do I know the love of God, and why can I rely upon it?”

Because of the Real Gift of the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:13)

The gift of the Spirit implies certain truths:

  • God kept his promise to the apostles (John 14:26, 15:26).
  • The apostolic eyewitness testimony in the New Testament scriptures is foundational to knowing and relying upon the love of God (Ephesians 2:19-20).
  • There is an experience to the Christian life, one which strengthens/emboldens the inner man (Ephesians 3:16).

Kids’ Pause: God’s Word is the Record of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, and God’s Holy Spirit is the real Person given to all who receive Jesus as Lord. God’s Word and God’s Holy Spirit go together.

God can always be trusted to keep his word. You are not speaking on behalf of the Holy Spirit if what you are believing/saying is against the truth of God’s Word. Believing and living the Christian life is not something you do on your own. Even though Research Justice would say that knowledge comes from the experience of the marginalized and the Cognitive Revolution would teach us that what we know is a matter of chance development, the scriptures are actually the source of Absolute Truth, and the Spirit of God is God’s gift to us so that we might know the absolute truth of God’s Love.

Because of the Spirit-empowered Confession About Jesus [as the Savior of the world] (1 John 4:14-15)

First, there is the content of confession.

  • the Father sent confirms the economic subordination within the Godhead. There is nothing wrong with being told what to do. One of the beautiful ways that Christians manifest Jesus Christ is through submission.
  • the Son—the passage is Trinitarian. In addition, Jesus’ Sonship is unique and a material incarnation. We know God’s love through the incarnation of Jesus.
  • to be the Savior of the world. By implication, the world needs saving, and Jesus came to save or to deliver (John 4:42).

It is this message that the Holy Spirit indwells/empowers people to proclaim.

Second, the act of confession is evidence of possession by the Holy spirit. When you genuinely believe that Jesus is the Savior, you will show evidence of this belief in what you say about Jesus. “How do I know the love of God, and why can I rely upon it?” Because of the Holy Spirit and his work through me to openly confess Jesus as Savior.

Absolute knowledge does not begin with research justice, nor does it begin with a study of a theory of evolution. Absolute knowledge is based on absolute truth. Absolute truth does not eliminate experience. Christian experience comes by way of the Holy Ghost who is given to us, and this Christian experience is connected to the absolute truth of Jesus Christ in His word.

Research Justice falls short of Christian experience because Christian experience is connected to ABSOLUTE Truth.

Read the full transcript of the sermon here.


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From the Series: Certainty – Absolute Truths That Bring Joyful Assurance

BY MAX FERNANDEZ

 


Often on Mother’s Day, there is much talk of “a mother’s love.” Sometimes we hear or make the statement that “there is nothing like a mother’s love.” John is going to present a truth that will confront our idea of a mother’s love being the highest virtue. In I John 4:12, this is a perfected love. Indeed, only one love can be our eternal source of absolute certainty! All other ideas or concepts must be vetted by this one love. We do not know anything of a mother’s love unless we first know the highest and greatest love—that is the love of God.

We do not know anything of a mother’s love unless we first know the highest and greatest love—that is the love of God.

The Emergence of This Perfected Love (1 John 4:7)

THE IMPASSIONED COMMAND – Beloved, let us love one another

Believers who have been changed by the love of God should increasingly model not just the activity, but also the language which communicates this kind of love. John is not grasping for power by canceling certain language or by slandering, but rather he is manifesting a Christlike love in his language.

THE IMPLICIT CAUSE FOR THE COMMAND – for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

To be born of God certainly means that one has believed on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but we often overlook that to be born of God is to be in an ongoing relationship with God. Anyone who actively knows God will actively be growing in love, not because they have experienced that love ONLY, but because they ARE experiencing that love continuously.

THE IMPLICIT CAUSE STATED NEGATIVELY – He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love – 1 John 4:8

This person has NEVER known God. Why? Because if they would have entered into relationship with God, they would have entered into relationship with Love. The security we have when we are loved is as strong and enduring as the Lover. God is the Lover because God is Love.

Kids’ Pause: Perfect love comes from God because that is who God is.

The Source, the emergence of this love is God himself. There is no other place to obtain this love. It is not any idea of motherhood, fatherhood, teenhood, or adulthood. It is not a love that is possible apart from this God.

The Extent of this Perfected Love (1 John 4:9-10)

REAL EVIDENCE of the Extent of God’s Love (1 John 4:9)

God’s love has been materially, physically manifested in that he sent his only Son (unique) into the world (John 1:14, 18). The implication of John’s argument is that apart from the incarnation, we really don’t have reason to know God/know love or what it looks like perfectly.

REAl EFFICACY of the Extent of God’s Love (1 John 4:10)

Verse 10 is further elaboration on the sending of God’s Son. John makes clear that this is not about our love for God, but rather how God made his love clear. Jesus was sent as the ATONEMENT for our sins. The love of God is seen as the cause for the Atonement (Romans 3:25).

Kids’ Pause: The life and death of Jesus prove that God is love.

The Evidence of this Perfected Love (1 John 4:11-12)

THIS LOVE DEMANDS ACTION (1 John 4:11)

If we have been loved, then we must love. Verse 11 is the moral consequence upon believers because of this great work of God.

If we have been loved, then we must love.

ACTION PROVES RELATIONSHIP (1 John 4:12)

The way people see God manifested is when we love as we have been loved. If we love, we manifest that God abides in us.

Kids’ Pause: People who have received God’s love in Jesus, love others like God has loved them.

God loves us because of who he is, has proven his love in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and has equipped us to love others as we have been loved as proof that we really know Him.

Read the full transcript of the sermon here.


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A Response to “Dismantling Racism in the Classroom”

BY VICTORINA HOLDING

 

The current melee in our country over irreversible past colliding with unresolved passion is a testimony to our love for life itself and to the validity of the phrase “to form a more perfect union” expressed in the Preamble to the United States Constitution. These two ideas should encourage and motivate us Christian educators to answer the urgency of a revolution – a revolution back to biblical education which highlights the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we find that justification, propitiation, and sanctification go beyond antidotal teaching strategies and guarantee our progress in continuing to perfect this Union for the next generation.

Justification comes with our redemption upon trusting in the finished work of Christ on Calvary. A pastor once simplified its definition with this thought: “Justification means ‘just as if we had never been sinners.’” The criteria revolve around the sinner no matter the social status: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The “all” in this declaration excludes no one in the same way that “whosoever” in the invitation means everyone: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). When Jesus spread His arms on the Cross, He opened them wide for all with no exceptions.

Our students must hear and act upon the gospel. Once a person receives Christ as his Savior, the only supremacy that matters is that of the true God, the Great I Am Who spoke the world into existence and Who holds it all by the power of His might (Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20:2-5). When God is supreme in a student’s heart, no other name can be put alongside God’s.

The word “supreme” is an absolute adjective; therefore, it would be wrong to say “more supreme.” To the saved, we commit idolatry when someone else (or something) is vying for supremacy in our lives; therefore, to label a fellow man supreme over us (whether perceived or in deed) is to admit that man has become bigger than our God.

This seemingly simple truth combats even the very thought of “white supremacy” or “white privilege” and all other forms of “supremacies” (idols) that trip us up in our Christian walk. God is the One and Only Supreme Being; everyone else (including ourselves) must be smaller in our eyes. Justification not only gives us a sense of belonging; it also keeps us humble before the One Who has accepted us “just as if we had never been sinners.” Having been justified in the most equitable terms, Christians (black and white alike) have no reason to entertain the slightest sense of privilege over other human beings, nor to become paranoid over the possibility that a fellow man were usurping himself over us.

Privilege carries the connotation of gaining favor or goodwill, or of appeasement. This can easily translate to our biases, preconceived notions, or prejudices against each other. These ill wills run across cultures simply because of man’s sinful nature, so the remedy is not another psychological treatise or a political discourse. Our bent to sinning is a spiritual issue; therefore, only our Creator and Savior has the true solution. Christ’s blood alone is our propitiation: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). We do not need to appease each other by setting up camps with those who appear to meet our needs for approval or affirmation based on commonality of skin color, preferences, lifestyle, beliefs, and even creeds. Christ, our Propitiation, deems useless “cultural-switching” or “code-switching.” What a freedom we have in Him!

The gospel is that which dispels bias because none of us can be a propitiation for another: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2: 1-2). When our students understand this through our teaching and in our own lives, the fear of being bullied by other people’s biases and prejudices would not overcome them. I know how it feels to be verbally assaulted and to be stared down because of my race, but I have also realized the importance of praying for my fellow men who live in resentment and perhaps lack of understanding. Christ’s sacrificial death is enough for me, and I’m sure you could say the same. Then it must also be enough for all our students!

Most of our bullying of each other has been masked in the name of rights and righteousness. Monuments, statues, and traditions that remind us of both our strengths and weaknesses as a nation are coming down faster than the launching of our magnificent Space X. The aggressions are sadly ironic because the end could never justify the means: one “right” for another “right” until all the “rights” are overshadowed by resentment and even violence. Consequently, those “rights” are now being sacrificed at the altar of a fickle culture. We can assign blame to interest groups, bureaucracies, and institutions; but the greater blame rests on an educational system that has dismissed all absolutes, especially God.

Most of our bullying of each other has been masked in the name of rights and righteousness… We can assign blame to interest groups, bureaucracies, and institutions; but the greater blame rests on an educational system that has dismissed all absolutes, especially God.

I grew up sheltered in a godly home. Now I’m also realizing that I’ve been teaching in sheltered environments. In all my thirty-three years in Christian education, I can honestly say that I’ve only been acquainted with curricula portraying Columbus not as a perfect man, but an imperfect visionary. I cannot even imagine teaching from slanted literature books that magnified one race over another, which appears to have become more than talking points. I thank God for having been sheltered from these teaching resources; otherwise, I would not even be teaching in the classroom anymore.

I can also honestly say that I’ve never personally witnessed a racist action against a student or a fellow teacher. My training in pedagogy and classroom management has always been Bible-based and focused on the truth that my students are all created in God’s image. I had never even considered race or ethnicity to be some kind of a derogatory thought until I started paying attention to others’ arguments on this issue. Now I’m beginning to understand why each generation is more disillusioned than the previous because of educational institutions that have been inculcating dissenting views.

A curriculum that is not sympathetic toward Christianity is just the beginning. Through it, students are being taught half-truths about history. Herein lies the root of the problem because in a biblical worldview our “history” is, in reality, His (Christ’s) story. When Christ is erased in the story, the narrative is irrevocably flawed from beginning to end. Our Founding Fathers understood this Christian heritage. It is no wonder that John Adams, our second President and signer of the Declaration of Independence once warned us: “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Clearly it is not a matter of merely bowdlerizing a curriculum in order to neutralize its views. Forgive the cliché, but it is true that there are three sides to a story: his, hers, and the truth. Concerning Columbus, for example, I doubt that secular textbooks would mention that Christopher (“Christ-bearer”) Columbus was motivated by his Christian faith to sail to the New World. Depending on whose perspective we read, Columbus has been either praised or demonized; but I must admit that it was quite disheartening to hear someone dub the great explorer a “trash person.” Such rhetoric will soon find us canceling each other out simply because we will always find fault in one another.

So in writing a “more perfect” history, should we not tell all sides of the story as much as we possibly could? The effective Christian teacher can present all sides and usher the students into healthy discussion and critical thinking. Our students must synthesize ideas and sharpen their abilities to discern and act upon their lessons, so much so that race is never the deciding factor. As Christian educators, we do not have to spend our energy justifying or propitiating for our students. Christ must be their all in all, or they will be nothing at all!

As Christian educators, we do not have to spend our energy justifying or propitiating for our students. Christ must be their all in all, or they will be nothing at all!

Lest we become ignorant idealists concerning our Christian heritage, we must address the reality of the flesh and its strongholds. Even after salvation, we can easily fall into false pride, privilege, bias, and prejudice. Again, the gospel stands ready to offer the solution. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection offers not only justification and propitiation but also sanctification – being separate from the world to be set apart for the Lord. Our students will benefit not only from seeing our lives sanctified, but also by realizing for themselves that they, too, can be sanctified. A true Christian school is indeed one that fosters in their students the freedom from an agonizing sense of worthlessness in the eyes of fellow men, and one that values each life as a gift from God.

When viewed in the image of God, every student becomes a breathing testimony of God’s grand design and purpose in the universe. One’s purpose in life then overrides misgivings and doubts whether to “assimilate” or not in God’s special place for his or her life. When we teach our students to follow the Lord rather than men, we afford them an identity that is equal to none; that is, identity with Christ and in Christ.

When we teach our students to follow the Lord rather than men, we afford them an identity that is equal to none; that is, identity with Christ and in Christ.

In Christ, students can be true to themselves without ever losing worth or value no matter their race, ethnicity, talents, abilities, and preferences. In Christ, the pursuit for excellence in all things should be as natural as breathing because God has equipped us for His glory. Our students must see the value of sound communication that reflects God’s orderliness and beauty. We must beware of secular and evolutionary approaches to grammar that seek to dismantle absolutes by making words relative. We must beware of cultural changes in language because our words do matter.

Our black students should not feel hypocritical to speak the English language that we inherited from the colonists just because others have wrongfully claimed it as “white-centric.” In fact it is condescending to even imply that excellent communication is not befitting black people. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used it with ease and great confidence when he delivered “I Have a Dream.” The syntax, figurative language, parallelism, and biblical allusions all reflect Dr. King’s mastery of a beautiful language that still moves us today. I have had the privilege of teaching many black and brown students who are great communicators. In Christ, there is no fear of being an outcast; all have equal access to the Giver of all that is good – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

Two major questions have been reverberating lately in the midst of a cultural war: 1) How did we get here? and 2) Where do we go from here? My answer to both questions might sound simplistic: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). The conditional conjunction at the beginning poses to us more pertinent questions: Are we willing to come back to God? Will we now agree that He is Supreme and is in absolute control? When America’s schools turned away from God, that’s when we started our way “here.”

So where do we go from here? We Christian educators must stay the course in biblical education. We must not apologize for our Christ-centered curricula, but we must keep enhancing our execution and application according to our students’ present needs. We must teach the unchanging truths behind justification, appropriation, and sanctification that counter not only ideologies but also our valid misgivings of each other. As we strive toward “a more perfect union,” we must study God’s Word more diligently, live out the gospel more consistently, pray for our leaders more faithfully, seek to win the unsaved more earnestly, love our students unconditionally, and teach to engage hearts and minds more passionately. We can be confident to continue in these solemn tasks “for God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

My fellow Christian educators, we are on!


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BY TOM DEPEW

 

If you were to ask one hundred Americans what the gospel is, you would no doubt hear many different answers. If you were to ask that same question to the same number of professing Christians, you might hear something more related to Jesus’ salvific work on the cross. However, if you were to press those Christians on what the gospel actually means, it is likely you will hear a truncated understanding that equates to a “get out of hell free card.” This has been a common issue, not just in the Bible Belt, but throughout the entire country for years. As a result, in recent years the term “gospel centrality” has been popularized within evangelicalism. Gospel centrality is the belief that the gospel that saved is the same gospel that should be made central in every Christian’s life. Meaning, the gospel is more powerful than we think, and does more than we could ever imagine. Gospel centrality is not just a new fad that will come and go, but rather a profoundly biblical truth that has life-changing implications.

The gospel is more powerful than we think, and does more than we could ever imagine.

First, although the phrase gospel centrality is new, the principle is not. In order to understand what gospel centrality is, one must first be able to answer the question, what is the gospel? One of the most clear definitions of the gospel is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, written almost 2,000 years ago. In these verses, the apostle Paul sums up the gospel by saying, “the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” In verse 1, Paul said, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand.” In this verse, by using words like “received” and “wherein ye stand,” Paul makes it clear that they knew the gospel. So, why was Paul reminding his audience of the gospel? Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner, in their highly regarded commentary on 1 Corinthians, said, “Paul’s recounting of the gospel message reflects the fact that it is first and foremost a message about Jesus Christ and what he has done for us, rather than being a message primarily about us and how we can be saved.” Ciampa and Rosner shed some light on the heart of the gospel. Gospel centrality, at its core, is a belief that the gospel is all about Jesus. Paul also mentioned in the passage that the gospel was “…of first importance…” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Paul wanted the church in Corinth to understand the sufficiency and importance of the gospel. Referencing this verse in his book, Gospel Wakefulness, Jared Wilson argues that since Paul said the gospel is “of first importance,” churches today should not assume the gospel, but rather, the gospel “…should be the clearest, most prevalent message and theme of all a community’s worship and focus.” Wilson makes the case for what place the gospel should hold, both in the church and in the Christian’s life.

Furthermore, the principle of gospel centrality, namely the belief that the gospel is a message about what God has accomplished for mankind, has been believed and written about throughout church history. Martin Luther, synonymous with the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, when referring to the gospel, said it is something that we must “repeat and beat into our minds.” One might wonder, how does Luther’s statement relate to gospel centrality? It relates in signifiant ways because the truth of the gospel does not come naturally to sinners, whereas trying to be justified by the law, does. That is why one has to remind themselves of this beautiful truth constantly. In their book, Church History 101, the authors, when referring to the Reformation in 1517, point out that one of the things that led to Martin Luther nailing the 95 theses to the castle door in Wittenberg, was Luther’s new understanding of the gospel and all of its implications. To say that this event was one of the most transformative events throughout church history would be an understatement. The authors also argued that one of the byproducts of the Great Awakening in the eighteenth century was a more holistic view of the gospel. This is important to note because some of the most influential Christian writers in history, most commonly known as Puritans, were heavily influenced by this movement. There are countless other examples that could be used to demonstrate that although the phrase gospel centrality is somewhat new, the principle behind the phrase is certainly not.

Next, another important aspect of gospel centrality is how the gospel shapes the Christian. In Galatians 2, the apostle Paul admonished Peter’s racial pride by saying that his life was not in step with the gospel. What did Peter do that warranted such a strong rebuke from Paul? Peter, being a Jew, decided to not associate with Gentiles out of a fear of what people might think. During this time, racial tensions were high, and it was not common for Jews to mingle with Gentiles. Scot McKnight, in his commentary on Galatians, provides some additional context to this passage. McKnight points out that Peter’s upbringing was formed by the law, that is to say, he knew the law extremely well. In contrast, the gospel and all of its implications were extremely new. McKnight makes a good point that explains Peter’s actions. Peter, being an apostle, knew the gospel, but at the same time was still a sinner who had areas of his life that still needed to be transformed by the gospel. The inference here is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not just a message that saves, but it is a message that shapes every part of the Christian’s life.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not just a message that saves, but it is a message that shapes every part of the Christian’s life.

Another example of how the gospel shapes the Christian can be found in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul, the author of this book, was writing to the church at Philippi for the main purpose to give them hope in uncertain times. The way that Paul chose to give them hope is very telling; he reassures them of God’s sanctifying work in their lives. What a tremendous thought, not only does God save sinners, but the Bible is clear that He is committed to our sanctification for the ultimate purpose of making us more like Christ. Jeff Vanderstelt, in his book titled Gospel Fluency, said, “The gospel is good news for our sanctification—the ongoing work of God saving us and conforming us daily into the image of Christ. Our activity in this process is ongoing repentance from unbelief to belief in the gospel.” Vanderstelt brilliantly makes the connection between God’s sanctifying work in the believer and the responsibility of the believer. God does the saving, sanctifying, and securing in the Christian’s life. The Christian, on the other hand, clings to the glorious gospel of Christ. This also seems to be the thought that J.C. Ryle had in mind when he so eloquently said:

If we would be sanctified, our course is clear and plain—we must begin with Christ. We must go to Him as sinners, with no plea but that of utter need, and cast our souls on Him by faith. . . . If we would grow in holiness and become more sanctified, we must continually go on as we began, and be ever making fresh applications to Christ.

Ryle probably never heard the phrase gospel centrality, but one could argue that he was most certainly gospel-centered. So, how does the gospel shape the Christian’s life? In short, the gospel takes the eyes off the sinner and places them solely on the savior, Jesus Christ.

Finally, the last facet of the gospel is how it shapes the church. The apostle Paul, when writing to the church in Ephesus explaining Jesus’s ultimate plan for the church, said, “that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:27). In this verse, when Paul uses words like “holy” and “without blemish,” it is clear that he is not referring to the current status of churches today. No honest church member would be able to describe their church with those adjectives. So, if this is Jesus’ ultimate goal for the future, and not right now, what does God expect from churches today? To answer this question, one first needs to go back to the passage in Ephesians, “…Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). Knowing that Jesus does not just love the future, perfect version of His church, but actually loves the fallen, helpless version of His church is truly amazing. This truth means that Christ is committed to making us perfect and spotless. Ray Ortlund, in his book The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ, proves this by saying, “When men look for a bride, they often look for a beauty queen. But Christ chose the dirty one who needed his cleansing.” Ortlund strikes a chord regarding the love that Jesus extends to undeserving sinners. The degree to which a believer understands what Christ accomplished for the church and His affections towards the church, will be reflected in the believer’s relationship to the church body.

The degree to which a believer understands what Christ accomplished for the church and His affections towards the church, will be reflected in the believer’s relationship to the church body.

Another example of how the gospel shapes the church can be found in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.” Paul was writing to this group of believers to share with them his thankfulness for God’s work on their behalf. In these verses, Paul mentions that when he brought the gospel to them, he did it in three ways: “in word” meaning the proclamation of the gospel, “in power, and in the Holy Ghost” referring to the power of the gospel, and finally “in much assurance” which is to say, he was fully persuaded by the importance of the gospel. In verse 8 of this passage, Paul continues to say, “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad…” Michael Holmes, in his commentary on 1 Thessalonians, pointed out that the Thessalonian congregation lived out the gospel truth that they believed with their community. What a striking thought, the gospel is not just a truth to be believed personally, but it is a truth that shapes the way we interact with the church and our community.

In conclusion, gospel centrality, when properly understood, is like drinking a cup of ice cold water in a hot desert. Without the truth of the gospel, we end up trying to live the Christian life in our own strength, which leads to either discouragement or self-righteousness. Centering our life on the gospel avoids both of these ditches, because the gospel enables us to live the way that God intended. Seeing this principle throughout church history, and understanding how it shapes the Christian and the church, all prove the significance of this precious truth. Only God knows how much longer the phrase “gospel centrality” will be popular, but one thing is certain: this principle will last forever.


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