Monday, October 31, 2016

What is the Gospel?

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures" - 1 Corinthians 15:3

The relentless fight that God calls us to is to remember the gospel. This is central. Strategies and tactics are great, but without the gospel we are toast. It is not primarily a fight against our sin, or to strive for holiness, but FIRST a relentless fight to REMEMBER the gospel, that Christ has already won the fight FOR US.

But what IS the gospel? What exactly is it that we are remembering? One pastor commented that the gospel is the great jewel of the Christian faith, and like every jewel it has many sides. There are many posts that could be done on each of these beautiful facets but let us focus in this post on the CORE of the gospel.

First, the word "Gospel" comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον and means good news. The gospel is not good advice. It's not a bad announcement. It is the very good NEWS of what Christ has accomplished for us. And it is remarkably GOOD news!

Consider Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4,
1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Paul had already preached the gospel to those in Corinth, that is what birthed the church. Now he is writing a letter to REMIND them of that gospel again. They had received it, they are standing in it, and are being saved by it. BUT! He gives a call to hold fast this word of the gospel, and not to believe in vain. Our great danger is to give up, forget, and relinquish the gospel. It is so easy to replace it with our own efforts, or religious ritual, or worldly substitutes. The gospel should be the most obvious thing in the mind of a Christian, and yet Paul sees the need to restate the obvious. He goes on to state in verse 3 that the gospel is of FIRST importance. It is primary, central, #1, and nonnegotiable. 

Let's focus in and unpack the 5 words that Paul uses to summarize the gospel in verse 3, "Christ died for our sins". These are the most amazing 5 words in the world! 

  • Christ: The man who died is Christ, the Messiah, the incarnate Word of God. The second person of the Trinity, the One who commands the dead to be alive, who walks on water, and tells the wind to stop. This is Jesus of Nazareth. 
  • Died: This One, He died. Though He was innocent and undeserving of death, He was stripped naked, nailed to a Roman cross, and publicly executed as a common criminal. He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. 
  • For: This death was FOR something. It was not in a vacuum. It had purpose, meaning, it was intentional. It was the means to something better, something outside of just the event. This death accomplished something.
  • Our: Christ did not die for His sins, because He had no sin. Rather, He died for the sins of those who have trusted in Him. The sins are OUR sins, the ones that we have done. This is where things get so magnificent. Christ didn't have to die for His sins, and at the same time we should have died for our sins. And yet there's this incredible exchange.
  • Sins: The reason why Christ had to die was for our SINS. We have all transgressed and broken God's law. We have rebelled against His authority. We are corrupt, wicked, evil, and oppose God in His righteousness. This is what Christ died for. We deserved death, but Christ was the one who took this death upon Himself, in our place, FOR OUR SINS. 

Notice additionally that in verse 4 Christ was buried after death and RAISED back to life. The resurrection proves that God the Father was pleased with Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, and that He accomplished His mission! Paul also states in v3 and v4 that Christ's death and resurrection was "in accordance with the Scriptures", showing that God had predicted and planned from hundreds of years ago, recorded in the Old Testament, His plan of salvation through the death of Christ.

So this is the gospel: Christ died for our sins. Theologians call this "substitutionary atonement", meaning that Christ died in our place as our substitute, and that our sins were atoned for (paid for) by His death, satisfying the wrath of God. Therefore we are forgiven by God. This is the CORE of the gospel. But certainly there are many more facets and implications of the gospel! Here are just a few additional ways to describe the gospel, its implications, and some verses that explain the gospel:

  • The 3 Circles Presentation: Watch this video that teaches about God's good design, how we have lost that in our broken world, and how the gospel restores us back to God's design. 
  • Falling Plates: Watch this video about how God created you, loves you, and wants to rescue you through Jesus. 
  • You are a New Creation: For those in Christ, they become completely new. They are brought back to life and walk according to the Spirit. Check out this blog post for more
  • Jesus Heals our Shame: Jesus not only forgives our guilt, but He cleanses us of our shame. The shame of sins we have done, and the shame of sins done against us. Check out this blog post for more.
  • Romans 4:5And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness
  • John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Titus 3:3-7For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Yes! It is so good to hear the gospel. But we must do more than merely hear it. We must move beyond merely understanding it. Believe the gospel. Rejoice in the gospel! Remember the gospel. Share the gospel. Live out the implications of the gospel. Give thanks for the gospel. It is the most precious good news in history, and we give great praise to our Savior for His effective rescue, motivated by His great love for us. Thank you Jesus. 

Remember the gospel! 
The Relentless Fight

PS: For more on this, check out the great book by the same title, "What is the Gospel?" by Greg Gilbert

Monday, May 23, 2016

Book Review: Side by Side

Edward T. Welch has been counseling and teaching for over 35 years and written a vast library of books about anxiety, approval, depression, and shame. He knows relational ministry, as a long-time member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF).

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because it's the perfect introduction to train regular Christians to be used powerfully by God to help one another. In the fight against sin, we need all the help we can get, and Side by Side gets practical in what loving accountability looks like. This book slows it down and makes it easy, giving practical steps in application of the Brothers in Arms post. And as we've emphasized on TRF, we need to Get to the Heart, which Side by Side focuses on wisely.

Some key highlights:
  • Brief: One of the best features is its brevity. This book isn't likely to intimidate even a beginning reader or run-of-the-pew Christian. Clocking in at 160 pages, it distills meaty content down to bite-size chunks. 
  • Simple & Doable: The model of ministry is slowed down and explained well. For example, there's a whole chapter (5 pages) on just greeting people. Important, and doable! 
  • Needy/Needed: The main point is that we all are needy, and we all are needed. So we share our need, and hear about the needs of others, and then we pray together. Welch summarizes on page 84, "Knowing others well enough to pray for them - that's help at its most basic and at its best." 
  • Sin & Gospel: It's not a watered-down book. Welch directly talks about sin, suffering, and the hope of the gospel. All of this combines together a patient focus on the heart, and a prayerful dependence on the Spirit. 

In summary, Side by Side is a great introduction for folks interested in helping one another in the great fight of faith. It may not feature wartime metaphors like this blog, but the content is solid and will help you win the fight against sin and FOR faith. You can buy the book on Amazon here, or buy a few copies and go through it with some other friends from your church or fellowship to help create a culture of relational ministry. It comes with discussion questions at the end of each chapter, plus a study guide pdf and leader's guide pdf you can download online.

Side by Side,
The Relentless Fight

PS: Still not convinced? Check out Tim Challies' review here

Monday, March 21, 2016

Get to the Heart

"Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." - Proverbs 4:23

People change from the heart. Therefore our ministry must move beyond behavior and action items, and get to the heart. We've talked on TRF about getting to our own hearts, in the post Attack the Base. But how do we help others with heart change?

First, what is the heart? The Bible describes the heart as the seat of our motivations and affections, and it's from the heart that our lives are lived. Jesus says in Mark 7:20-23 that it's from the heart that all our sin flows, since our hearts are filled with sin (Jeremiah 17:9). So the heart is more than just our emotions, it's also our beliefs, and what we love.

Why do we need to get to the heart? Because that's where true and lasting life change must take place. Our behavioral sins are on the surface, but the real source is the heart. As you're helping someone understand their sin and repent, if you just address the behavior, it's like using a weedwhacker on dandelions but only cutting off the flowers. The roots are still growing! We have to get to the heart to unearth the motivations. Jack Klumpenhower gives a great illustration in Show Them Jesus, the image of a shark swimming: only the fin is visible, while the rest of the shark's body is underneath the water. And so it is with our sin: the behavior is just the tip of the problem, the heart needs deeper exploration work. Another model to understand change from the heart is the Three Trees model from CCEF. Our behavior is the thorny tree of bad fruit, but our hearts are the root system feeding and producing the bad fruit. If we just replace bad fruit with good fruit, that's "fruit stapling", every religion and self-help program can do that! For gospel-change, we go deeper. Once the root changes to gospel-beliefs, then gospel-fruit starts to form.

Quick examples:
  • Sally is struggling with looking at pornography. Behavior-change would just advise an internet filter or memorizing some verses. Heart change goes to the root: she's lonely, angry at God for not providing a husband, and looking at porn is her way of coping. She believes porn will give the comfort that God won't. 
  • Edward is spending significant money on new technology and designer clothing. Behavior-change would give him tips on stewardship and help him form a budget. Heart change goes to the root: he loves the praise of man, and believes that he'll be accepted if he has the latest gear. 
  • Martha talks excessively, often talking over others. Behavior-change would recommend memorizing James 1:19, or learning some good listening techniques. Heart change goes to the root: she is prideful and selfish, she believes that what she has to say is more important than what everyone else has to say. 

How do we get to the heart with others? You need to ask more questions. Getting to the heart requires digging, and questions are your shovels! Ask, "What do you really desire and WANT in this situation? What are you afraid of? Why do you respond this way? What does this behavior give you?" If the person is already aware of the heart, you can be more direct with asking, "What's going on in your heart? What lies are you believing?" Caution: Be gentle as you get to the heart, you want to be kind to the person. Also be patient, getting to the heart is not a simple one-question process. It may take longer than expected, but it's worth it.

As you uncover the heart, you shift to the gospel: "How does Christ give you those things you desire? How is Jesus better? How does the Gospel intersect with what you've shared? What would it look like to believe and live the gospel in this situation?" This is critical. We aren't aiming for merely heart awareness. We're aiming for heart CHANGE. And change comes about through the powerful gospel! Titus 2:11-14 says, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." Our goal is transformation, not just information.

In summary: True change comes from the heart. Our sin results from not just wrong thinking or wrong behavior but wrong LOVING. We get to the heart by unearthing the motivations, fears, and desires of those we're discipling, and then point them to the superior delight in Christ, through the gospel. This results in sustainable life change for God's glory.

Get to the heart,
The Relentless Fight