Underestimating the Power of the Gospel

I’ve got to confess that for many years I misunderstood what the Gospel was for. The Gospel – the Good News about what God has given us in Christ – declares that we can be made right with God only by giving up not only our sin but also our righteousness. To embrace the righteousness God has given us in Christ, we must come with empty hands, trusting nothing and no one else but Christ.

That much I’ve always understood. It is the powerful truth of the Gospel that makes us right with God, the truth about Christ that we must believe to begin a relationship with Him.

What I didn’t understand is something Paul tells the believers in Colosse when he urges them, ”as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:6-7). That always intrigued me. Sure, receiving Christ is how you begin the life of faith, but how do you continue to walk in Christ? How does a man go about becoming “rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith”?

What I was trying to do was begin the life of faith by trusting in Christ but continue and sustain the life of faith by my own pitiful efforts (and they always have been pitiful). I never realized that the same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead, the power of God’s Spirit living in me, the power of the Gospel was how I would continue to grow in my faith.

In other words, Christ-followers must never lose sight of the grace and power and breathtaking beauty of the Gospel. It is not only how we begin our walk with Christ, it is how we flourish. As soon as we lose sight of the Gospel, we reduce our faith to a mechanical imitation and sheer grit. Perseverance and imitation of good traits may be helpful, but there’s no power there. The power lies in the Gospel, in God’s Spirit continuing to sustain and empower my life.

I was thinking about this a few months ago when the elders were dealing with a delicate and heart-breaking situation. As I was thinking about the problem that lay before us, I remember asking two questions. I first ask them of myself privately, and then later I asked the same questions in a meeting with the elders:
1. What does the Gospel mean in this situation?
2. What does the Gospel require of us in this situation?

Those two questions have haunted me since. What does the Gospel mean in my everyday life? What does the Gospel require of me here, right now in my present circumstances?

There are many possible implications here. I thought of a couple:

What does the Gospel mean in a difficult situation? (And what does it require of us?)

1. The Gospel means that even the worst possible outcome isn’t the last chapter. The death of Jesus was the death of the dreams of thousands, especially those who followed him so closely and loved him so dearly. What they couldn’t see – not until much later – was that God’s plan to bring grace and life to many could not move forward so long as Jesus was safe. The worst had to happen so that God’s best gift could be given. (What the Gospel requires of us is that we don’t judge the wisdom and purposes of God based on what we can see in the moment; His ways and methods and means are vastly more complex that we can begin to imagine. We can know that if we could see all that He sees and all that He is doing, we would enthusiastically approve of His methods and His timing.)

2. The Gospel means that we don’t have to keep score. You remember Jesus’s answer to Peter’s question about the maximum number of times we are obligated to forgive someone? The Pharisees put the max number at three. Peter thought he was doing well when he suggested seven, the perfect number. But Jesus said the scorebook is obsolete: “Seventy times seven.” In other words, there is no need to keep count. Grace isn’t a metric that can be tracked. (The Gospel requires that we confess, apologize, and forgive. Because God has dealt so graciously in Christ, we are free to give grace to one another. We don’t have to wallow in either bitterness or self-pity. We can and must respond to suffering and insult with grace because we have been shown such grace.)

What else would you add to this list?
What else does the Gospel mean when we are facing a difficult and painful situation?
What else does the Gospel require of us?

Email me with your suggestions and comments.

Paul Pyle
Discipleship Pastor