14 Aug Gospel Clarity & Gospel Culture
Every church should aspire to having a church culture that is shaped by the gospel. In order to make that a reality in any church, the gospel must be clear before the eyes of its members.
In third grade, my family’s genetic history of poor eyesight caught up with me. From that point forward, I have worn glasses or contacts to correct an extreme case of nearsightedness. As a result, every year I go see the ophthalmologist to get my prescription dialed in so that I can see clearly. Over the years, I have noticed that when my prescription needs adjusting, everything starts to get a bit blurry. Things are not as sharp and crisp as they once were. The same regular check-up I need for my physical eyes every Christian needs regularly for the eyes of his heart.
There appears to be a blurriness of vision in our day when it comes to seeing the gospel clearly. It would seem that for many, their understanding of the gospel has shifted from good news to good advice. Oftentimes when I ask some0ne what they understand the gospel to be, I will get a response that sounds like this: “Well, the way I think about it is that the gospel is that I try to live my life in the way that God has told us to live in the Bible. God has given us His Word and showed us how to live. I try my hardest, even though I fail, to live the way God would want me to live.” Others will equate the gospel with being a good American citizen or the shared values of those who call the great state of Texas home.
Here’s the problem. Before the gospel ever informs how we live, it is news about our failureto live that way and what God has done in the sending of His son Jesus to rescue us from Satan, sin, and death. In one of several “gospel nutshell” passages in the New Testament, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15,
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…
Paul says, “Here is the gospel. It is the good news that I received and then delivered to you. The gospel is the most important news anyone could ever hear and here it is: Jesus died for our sins according to God’s predetermined plan as it was revealed in the Old Testament, He was buried in a borrowed tomb, on the third day, He was raised to life by the power of the Holy Spirit, and all this is verifiable because He appeared to a whole bunch of people. So, if you don’t believe me…go ask them!” Now, notice Paul does not once in this gospel nutshell ever give any advice but rather, he reports news. Not once does he say “you should,” but his consistent refrain is “He was”.
We live in an era when many pulpits are filled with self-professed life coaches who give us advice on how to live, rather than those who would happily identify as pastors who report the news of what God has done. As a result, we need regular check-ups for the eyes of our hearts in order to see the gospel clearly. The gospel is not first about how you should live, but first about how God sent His Son to live in your place. The gospel is not littered with a list of things you must do. It is filled with the news of what God has done in and through His son by the power of His Spirit!
Now, the sharper we are on gospel clarity, the more we see how the gospel shapes how we live in response. Gospel culture is the way of personal and corporate living that emerges from the good news of Jesus. In legalistic environments, gospel culture often precedes gospel clarity because legalists do not understand the relationship between the two. Legalists expect gospel culture but do not express gospel clarity. In fact, until we sharpen gospel clarity, we can never shape gospel culture.
Let me show you what I mean. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul writes:
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
Look at what Paul says in verse 16 about the mystery of godliness. The word “mystery” does not mean something really difficult to understand or hard to figure out. Paul is not talking about an episode of Scooby-Doo or Stranger Things. The word means something that has been concealedand is now revealed. It is something that had been hidden in the past and has been uncovered in the present. In addition, the word “godliness” is used 9 different times in this letter to refer to a God-consciousness or God-centeredness that is woven throughout everything you do. It describes a life that is consciously aware of God’s presence in all our experiences. It is a life centered on God whether you’re awake or asleep, whether you’re thinking, dreaming, desiring, talking, eating, or drinking—whatever you’re doing. Demonstrating godliness means having your life centered around God.
Now notice what Paul doesn’t say. He doesn’t say that if you want your life to be centered around God, you have to focus really hard on centering your life around God. It’s not, “You have to focus on centering your life on God when you lie down in bed and arise the next morning. You have to focus on God in your thinking, dreaming, and desiring…in your talking, eating, & drinking…in your child rearing, parent honoring, and authority recognizing…in the way you love your spouse, the way you love your kids, and the way you love your parents…in the way you love your church, honor and pray for your pastors, and serve your brothers and sisters…in the things you watch, in what and how you spend, and in where you go…in your attempts to invite a neighbor to church, in your attempts to share the gospel with a family member, or to host a block party in your neighborhood…in your efforts to show hospitality…in your everyday life of discipleship & worship.”
Rather, what Paul says is that if we want a God centered life, we must shift our attention to the Person who can make us into that kind of people. You need to lift your eyes fromyourself and place them squarely onJesus, which is exactly what Paul does.
Let me give you a few examples of how sharpening gospel clarity will shape gospel culture:
- The doctrine of incarnation creates a culture of mission.
Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:16 that Jesus was “manifested in the flesh.” In John 20:21, we find Jesus appearing to His disciples in the upper room following his resurrection but prior to His ascension. Here, He says to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Jesus says that it was the Father who sent Him on mission to redeem fallen humanity. In the same way that He was sent on mission, He sends His followers on mission to take the news of His life, death, and resurrection to the nations. So, if you are lacking a heart for our community, what you need is a clearer vision of the incarnation of Jesus. He came, so we go.
- The doctrine of the resurrection creates a culture of hope.
In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul says that Jesus “was vindicated by the Spirit.” This is a reference to the Holy Spirit vindicating or clearing the name of Jesus through His resurrection from the dead. In Romans 6 Paul writes, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”Paul says the significance of our baptism is to reflect how we, like Jesus, have died and been raised to live a new kind of life. The doctrine of the resurrection and our identification with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through our baptism gives us hope that the way things have always been is not the way things always will be. So, if you arewithout hope today, what you need is a clearer vision of the resurrection of Jesus. Know that if you are in Christ, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in you and can bring all kinds of dead things to life and empower you to live a new kind of life.
- The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of unity.
In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul says that Jesus “was proclaimed among the nations and believed on in the world.” One of the things we know was a part of gospel proclamation in the early church was that God was in the process of forming a people for Himself who would be conformed to the image of Jesus. In Romans 8:29 Paul writes, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” If we as Christians are all being conformed to one standard, then as we become more and more sanctified, we will become more and more unified. A.W. Tozer illustrated this beautifully when he wrote, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So, one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” If there is strife and disunity in your relationships, what you need before conflict management principles is to sharpen your vision of the doctrine of sanctification and get a clearer picture of the One you have believed on in the world.
Without gospel clarity, gospel culture is unsustainable. Without gospel culture, gospel clarity is unremarkable. In order for the church to be “a Pillar and buttress of Truth.” it must have both. Clarity holds the gospel high for all the world to see, and culture sinks the gospel deep to give a convincing apologetic for its truthfulness.
May we give our attention to sharpening gospel clarity that a vibrant gospel culture might be shaped among us!
– Pastor Shannon Collins