The gospel of Jesus Christ is the most important truth a human being can grasp, and yet many of us would struggle to articulate it clearly. Even more so, those who do have a clear sense of gospel truth live as if it were an idea to be contemplated and debated more than actually lived out in the stuff of life. It is frightfully easy for us, myself absolutely included, to develop a life lived according to two gospels: one that we believe intellectually and another that actually guides our life.
It is into just such a situation that the Apostle Paul spoke these words to the church in the ancient city of Galatia:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
We see three major truths in this passage. First, there can be multiple versions of the gospel of Jesus. Second, there is one right version of the gospel, and everything else is false. We may see the gospel from different angles or describe it slightly differently, but there is only one gospel of Jesus. Third, getting the gospel right is of the highest possible importance because straying from that truth is literally deserting God himself.
Let’s take a few minutes together to clarify our view of the gospel and then look at what it means to have our life centered on it.
The Gospel of Religion
If you have been around the church for very long or ever been around a children’s Bible story book, you have probably heard a version of the gospel told through the story of Noah that sounds like this:
Once upon a time there was a man named Noah. In the midst of a world full of bad people he was the one good guy and so God loved him and blessed him. We should all try hard to be like Noah and do the right thing so God will bless us too.
The only problem with this message is that it is entirely false and doesn’t even vaguely resemble what the Bible is saying in this passage or any other. Accordingly to this story it’s all on us to be good and follow the rules so God will bless us. The more we do so, the more we are separated from the “bad guys” in the rest of the world.
This is the gospel of “religion,” i.e. man’s efforts to please God—and it’s exhausting. How good do we have to be to earn God’s favor? How many rules do we have to follow to receive his blessing?
The truth is Noah was a sinner just like everyone else. He wasn’t good so God would love him—God loved him and gave him favor, even though he didn’t deserve it (Gen. 6:5–8).
The Gospel of Grace
There is only one true gospel, and it is the good news—that’s literally what “gospel” means—that we are worse than we ever believed and Jesus is better than we could ever imagine. Paul says it this way: “. . . even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:5).
At the very heart of the gospel is the idea of grace, the unmerited favor of God, and therein lies the scandal. To believe in real grace, you have to believe that you don’t deserve God’s love.
Leave behind your competitive, judgmental spirit that always measures your righteousness against those around you. Let go of your sense of entitlement toward God.
It’s easy to say the words but it’s very, very difficult, actually impossible, for a human being to believe that we do not deserve God’s love in at least some way. We are born with innate self interest. What masquerades as self-esteem is actually what the Bible calls pride and is nothing less than the desire deep within our hearts to displace God with our own glorious divinity. We constantly distort the gospel of grace with the gospel of religion as we try to earn God’s love.
Even in the midst of this cosmic treason, Jesus came on a rescue mission to save us from sin and pride and this is the heart of 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, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
We were dead, Jesus died for us, and through his death and resurrection we can have new life in his grace. That changes everything!
The gospel-centered life is one in which everything we do, think, speak, and act out is radically transformed by the grace of God seen through Jesus.
A Gospel-Centered Life
A gospel-centered life is a life where every corner of existence is touched by the truth of the gospel of Jesus’ grace. It’s easy to talk about the gospel in terms of the nuances of what we believe.
However, the gospel must be more than simply right thinking. If we say we believe the gospel of grace and then we live as if we were under the gospel of religion, we only show that we do not actually believe in what Jesus did for us. Unfortunately, that is exactly what many of us do.
Every time you feel frustrated with God or angered that he is not giving you what you deserve, you show you believe the gospel of religion. You show that, deep in your heart, there is a sense of entitlement, that you followed the rules and God has wrongly failed to bless you in response.
Every time you believe that God is treating you unfairly and that you are twice as good a person as the next guy but have only received half of what they got, you show your faith in religion.
Every time you fail to give grace in the same way you have received it from God, you hold others to the same false gospel that has taken root in your heart.
In light of the gospel, we become people quick to repent and confess how we have failed at all these things and are still in desperate need of a Savior.
The gospel-centered life is one in which everything we do, think, speak, and act out is radically transformed by the grace of God seen through Jesus. In light of the gospel, we lay down our endless efforts to measure up before God and accept his gracious love. We become people who, despite the numerous ways we have and continue to be wronged by others, are able to forgive because of how we have been forgiven. We become known for lavish acts of service and love to others because of how we have been served and loved by Jesus. Even the way we speak to those around us is radically changed as we wait to jump to conclusions, hear each other out, and are patient. Maybe most important of all, we become people quick to repent and confess how we have failed at all these things and are still in desperate need of a Savior.
I implore you today, believe in and be changed by the gospel of Jesus’ grace! Abandon your efforts to earn God’s love. Leave behind your competitive, judgmental spirit that always measures your righteousness against those around you. Let go of your sense of entitlement toward God. Walk away from the gospel of religion and be transformed by Christ’s gospel of grace.